I was living in Brooklyn, New York, in 2014, when my nighttime hours became consumed with a popular multiplayer video game.
The game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a first-person shooter game that goes by the nickname CS:GO. I became hooked on it during my postcollege years, when *Hunter, a friend of mine in Boston, invited me to play remotely with him and some friends in California. *CS:GO alias used in place of real name.
Because of our different time zones, gaming sessions began at 11p.m., when I should have been going to bed. Soon, long hours of gaming started sabotaging my sleeping schedule, my morning prayer routine, and even my Mass attendance on Sundays. When I did go to church, the emptiness and uselessness of my gaming habit were magnified.
Even as I kept playing CS:GO, certain Scripture passages would race into my mind. One passage in particular remained in my heart: “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth . . . . All things are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). I knew that gaming was taking the rightful place of God in my life. But excelling at the game made me feel successful, and I wasn’t ready to quit.
“Give Me One More Month.” The problem was, I was within reach of Master Guardian Elite rank—a badge of honor among my CS:GO friends. Counter-Strike rankings are based on a combination of skill and achievement. These usually increase as a player spends more time playing the game. If the player pauses for a month, he has to spend time regaining his form. This becomes an incentive for him to squeeze in as many games as possible, to improve his skills and his rank. This is why I didn’t want to stop playing, even though my conscience was troubling me.
By September 2014, I had been playing the game intensively for five months. I knew it was disrupting my life, but each time I thought about quitting, I would come close to the Elite ranking and press on. At the end of the month, it came time for me to go to a Catholic men’s retreat that I had attended several years in a row. As I left for the retreat center, I told God, “Give me one more month to reach Master Guardian Elite rank. Then I’ll get back to you.” The lure of the game had a choke hold on me, but I had no willpower to make a change.
“Draw the Line.” At the retreat, I was placed in a discussion group that had been labeled “Q.” A friend in my group asked me what was going on in my life. Spontaneously, I told him I had been playing a lot of CS:GO. I didn’t mention that my conscience had been nudging me to quit. I also stayed silent about the fact that the more I played, the more irritable and selfish I was becoming. I didn’t talk about how the game was disrupting my work schedule and isolating me more and more from Catholics my age who had been a positive influence in my life.
During our lunch break, another person asked me which discussion group I was in. I told him “Q,” which reminded him of the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes: Qoheleth. He jokingly replied, “Group Q for Qoheleth! ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!’” All I could do was smile wryly; I knew God was trying to get my attention.
At my next opportunity to pray during the retreat, I felt that Jesus was asking me to repent. But I also sensed that he still loved me. As I sat there, I felt him say to me, “Thank you for coming here.” I was touched that God would actually thank me, and my heart opened up a little more.
“Draw the line and cross over it,” the Lord said to me quietly. “Leave behind everything that you’re holding onto—any sin, any attachment—and repent.” It was a moment of decision for me. I sat down with a Bible and began spilling my thoughts to God.
Saying Yes to Jesus. God, you know how much I like this game. I told you I would quit if I didn’t achieve Elite rank by the end of October. But that would mean another month of pursuing what I know is vanity. Besides, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to quit after all.
I felt heavy. I had hoped God wouldn’t ask me to quit, but he had. He knew that it would pain me to let go but that it would hurt even more to keep saying yes to something that was wreaking havoc on my relationship with him. Now he was giving me a chance to renew my yes to him instead.
In my Bible, I read a passage from St. Paul: “Bring to completion this act of grace” (2 Corinthians 8:6, NIV). Then I remembered a video I had seen on YouTube, of someone who had experienced conversion and joined the Catholic Church. The person said, “How could I look at Jesus hanging on the cross, bleeding for my sins, and tell him no?” I closed my eyes, and the overwhelming desire to play CS: GO finally dissolved. My prayer changed too.
If you are asking this of me, Jesus, I say yes. You died for me, and I don’t want anything to interfere with my relationship with you. I surrender. Please accept this offering of mine. Lord, I love you.
A New Hunger for God. In response to God’s prompting at the retreat, I found the ability to give up playing Counter-Strike. It was difficult to remove myself from the team I had grown to be friends with, but the Holy Spirit gave me courage to share with them that God was telling me to quit the game. One of my friends jokingly replied, “God is telling me you should keep playing!” But I knew in my heart that I needed to stand by my decision.
The whole experience taught me that God is indeed a “jealous” God—one who hates to see his children settle for lesser joys (Exodus 20:5). At that retreat, I realized that God had missed me during all those nights I was absorbed in CS:GO. I think that’s why he thanked me for coming to the retreat.
I am very happy to say that my restlessness has been replaced by the sure knowledge that God loves me. I have also discovered new desires in my heart. Instead of hungering for success in the video game, I am longing once again to spend time with the Lord and welcome his peace-giving, joy-giving influence in my life. What a pleasant trade!
Wesley Falcao lives in South Orange, New Jersey.