What A Video Game Taught Me About Aging, Frailty, and the Fear of Death

By Jason Kettinger | Posted at 5:10 AM

I’m OK with the fact that I probably play too many video games and watch too many sports. I’m not that important, and no one is relying on me for survival as of yet. But I learned something the other day from a game I was playing. Indulge me, for this requires some explanation.

My favorite game is MVP Baseball 2005, from EA Sports. For one, I love baseball, and secondly, EA is justly well-known for making semi-realistic, fun sports games. The year corresponds to the upcoming season, so as far as this game is concerned, the last completed season was 2004, which featured a freakishly talented Cardinals team—winners of 105 of 162 games that season—and the surprising Red Sox, who climbed out of a three games to zero hole in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees to win in seven games. If that weren’t enough, they won the World Series in four games over the Cardinals.

Even were I not a St. Louis native, I’d play with these Cardinals. In any case, the fad in sports games for the last decade or so has been “franchise mode,” where one can not only play with a team, but guide its day-to-day operations, budget, and personnel decisions. Choosing this mode, (called ‘Dynasty Mode’ in this game) I patiently played through an entire season, all 162 games, over the spring and summer, usually after midnight when the day’s tasks were done.

I made fair trades and stayed within the budget. Finishing 155-7, my imaginary Cardinals waltzed through the playoffs to a World Series title. I was looking forward to drafting players, re-signing players, and not re-signing others who made too much money. And then, the dreaded feature of these games came into view: “Player Progression.” After each season, the attributes of players change. Some will improve; others decline, and sharply in some cases. I knew that a decent chunk of the core group of my Cardinals team were in their mid-to-late thirties. It’d catch up to me, as it did to several members of that actual 2004 Cardinals team.

I didn’t want to continue, and I haven’t. I couldn’t stand to see the skills of my favorite players—though they are video game facsimiles of them—in decline. Why do men watch and play sports? It is innate in humanity to seek a glory that is bodily. We see a glimpse of what we were made for as people run, jump and throw. When an elite athlete declines, we remember his highest excellence even as we watch his struggles. By this we are reminded that we will all become frail, succumbing to death in due time.

For others, the heights of the intellect become the depths of the forgotten, the lost, the unknown. Unless we hope in the one whose own resurrection from the dead declared the inauguration of the Kingdom of God and the beginning of a new heavens and a new earth—Jesus Christ, the firstfruits—we will be chained to the cruelest of idols. We will not be strong and vital as we once were, and will not remember the glory of it, either.

What is life, if not eternal? What is love, if not perfected? You tell me there is no evidence for belief, no proof of His handiwork. At best, it is a comforting notion for weak-minded people; at worst, a tool for oppression. I can only say in reply that the world is alight with beauty, with laughter; deep joys mix with deep sorrows. Every day, we see heroes and villains, we see a world that is good and a world waiting for something, for someone, to set things right.

We can’t just live in the past. But that past tells us that we ought not be resigned to cynicism. Every second, every breath, screams at us if we listen: This means something. I’m parking on the couch to watch Jim Edmonds highlights; someone pass me a beer and a Bible.

Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor to Open for Business.