I am going to fly my geekified gamer flag and tell you that I play video games. Yeah, I know, I’m 42 and should probably get a life. But if you are in ministry, particularly if you hang out with youth or young adults, you might want to consider at least trying a few out. Here is why...
Admittedly, while I’ve never considered myself an avid gamer, I have been playing video games most of my life. The first system I ever played was an Atari 2600. The first system that my family owned was an Intellivision.
Then, like a lot of 80’s kids I played Nintendo games like a maniac growing up. Back then I was playing on a black and white TV. The Legend of Zelda, Kid Icarus, Double Dribble, The Mario Series, Kung Fu, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out… the list goes on and on. Whatever I could get my hands on I played.
Then when I started high school, video games took a back seat to school. But later in college and grad school I became a social-gamer, only playing multi-player games.
In college, Mario Kart was the gathering point. While in Princeton, the James Bond series was the hot item. It wasn’t until I got out of Seminary that I started back into playing on a regular basis again, mostly because the majority of our high school boys played them.
We set up shop in the Presbyterian Church basement, networking multiple XBOX consoles to large screen TVs and packing in sixteen players and loads of additional spectators into a tiny little room. Numerous youth came to Christ as a byproduct of our video game ministry - kids who would have otherwise probably been in life-altering trouble.
Of course we dealt with the inherent ethical concerns that video games raise. Once, while holding a Halo 2 tournament during a multi-church block party a Mennonite man asked me what I thought about the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” While he was not a technophobe by any means, the question was implicit of his general opinion of video games and particularly of those that have violent subplots. We had a good conversation and I assured him that nobody had actually ever died while playing in one of our tournaments. And while the Bible doesn’t directly talk about the concept of “respawning,” it does talk quite a bit about a similar concept - resurrection – that often opened the theological door for discussion.
We set several precedents in our gaming outreach ministry early on. I made a point of finding out whether parents permitted their teenagers to play video games at home and what kinds. I also was intent on having all of the games that we had available be team-oriented games that were internally networked. We decided not to put our systems online - we were going to play with the people in the room.
The cool thing about those gatherings was that kids who often didn’t get along in school would come in and get put on teams where they would then be forced to cooperate if they wanted to do well in the game. I saw kids over the years that literally were at each other’s throats before they entered the game room and as they emerged they had become brothers. Something about defending each other in virtual battle made them coalesce as teammates and want to defend each other in real life. All of a sudden kids who were being picked on at school were being defended by their Halo church brothers. It was pretty awesome.
Anyone who has ever played online knows that there are a plethora of tiny twelve-year-olds who drop F-bombs like they were the first words they ever spoke as a baby. I personally believe that there are distinctions between cursing, swearing, and cussing. On a side note - I also think that adults who play online have a responsibility to model behavior when in party chat. But we avoided such outside influences by remaining offline, and since the game room was in church, kids became very conscious of how many expletives they and their peers were expelling as they got sniped from across the map. Soon, kids began confiding in me as to how they were struggling with what came out of their mouths and were asking what could I suggest that might help them to curtail such actions.
When the Rock Band Era hit, we found ourselves all jamming out in the basement, singing classic rock songs. I have the lovely singing voice of a yak under attack, but I can sing in tune. So I said what the heck, and soon we had a bunch of kids headbanging in the basement. I began to notice youth who I had never seen singing in church before singing praise songs in worship. As it turned out, come the Easter Sunrise service that the youth annually put on, the kids who sang during Rock Band were far more eager to sing than kids who hadn’t been involved.
As the years went on and gaming systems developed, so did the way we engaged in ministry. I used my XBOX 360 online play as a way to communicate with family and friends and as a medium to provide counsel for others. Teenagers and even adults hundreds of miles away or even just in random play parties are often far more apt to open up online more than they would in other scenarios. You might be amazed at the things that people will share in an online lobby for Call of Duty. In the midst of crisis and coping, most have been happy to find a listening ear.
This is certainly not to say that there are not potential pitfalls to video games but, if approached objectively, they, like other technological mediums, can certainly be effectively used to proactively advance the cause of Christ. But of all the reasons that the church needs to utilize video games in ministry efforts, here is the most pressing one – there are 2.5 billion gamers worldwide. That is 32% of the world’s entire population.
Reality Changing Observations:
Q1. What do you think are the best ways to positively engage gamers?
Q2. What are the most virtuous video games that you have ever seen or played and why?
Q3. If you could design a video game to positively impact gamers, what would you create?