Arcade Hero

On perseverance in self-mastery



In the early 1980s, while walking through an enclosed shopping mall I decided to visit a gaming arcade. The place was buzzing with youth decked out in spiked purple hairdos, dragon tattoos, riveted leathers blazoned with gang symbols, and long drooping chains from hip pockets. The din of silicon pings and buzzers muffled the occasional whoop over a virtual victory. Along the walls, some fifty flashing table consoles were jostled by kids feeding quarters into hungry coin slots. At the front desk the manager viewed the whole operation with a jaded eye, ever vigilant for the troublesome teenager who in a rage might damage an expensive machine.

I was in my mid-thirties, close to their parents’ age and hardly a welcome observer. “Just looking,” I said to the desk manager, and he nodded.

So focused were the players, they didn’t notice me. A small gathering at one console was applauding the vigorous performance of a kid obviously skilled enough to have just won a high rank on his ascent to stardom. His buddies cheered, struck with awe as he greeted the challenge of the next proficiency level without fear. I watched him nimbly assault levels ten and eleven — an hour later — without a glitch or fumble. His quickened neuromuscular coordination was primed by practicing hours daily. We all lost track of time watching him conquer his virtual domain.

Then came the climax of his power and glory. In a flourish he conquered level twelve and lifted his head high as deus ex machina in a deep booming voice announced he indeed was the latest master. He need only register his name, which the manager did as indicated on the machine. His devotees parted a path for him, as if paying homage as he passed through their midst. He was the master of their universe and all that he surveyed. In their eyes he was officially canonized and revered.

I left as quietly as I entered, musing that each of us is called in one way or another to attain self-mastery. But we find ourselves easily detoured and distracted from heavenly pursuits by mundane attractions. We pursue our name recognition on a donation tree at church, a cornerstone of a building, a best-selling book, a street sign, or some invention. We crave the applause of a theatre performance, the power of politics, or just the fame and fortune of winning big.

Then there’s the potent illusion of stamping our surnames on the children who succeed us, as if by them we live forever. In a few generations, they won’t remember us at all, except if by some accident our yellowed photograph slips from an old dusty album. Then they’ll have to flip it over to learn who it is that looks so old and frumpy. What lives on is the DNA genetic code that we conveyed through each successive generation. Our mortal bodies are only temporary hosts and disposable vehicles, like tin cans that get trashed and recycled when empty.

That arcade champion knew how much failure and agonizing practice it took to be a consistent winner. On earth as it is in heaven. Perseverance in self-mastery despite our many failings may get our name written forever in heaven’s hall of fame.

“Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20)


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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