Gaming Theology 004: Community

How can Christians have Biblical community while playing video games?

As Christians, we should seek to emulate God in every way we can.  God, being an eternal, triune community, has created us to exist in community as well.  Christians have been relying on each other for survival since the first gathering of believers.  Persecution, poverty and joyful service brought them together, and kept them together.  In John 13:35, Jesus himself says that his followers would be known by how well they loved each other.  It is impossible to love someone well without being with them, and therefore community is an essential part of every Christian’s life.   Tim Challies says, “We are in community for mutual encouragement, mutual labor, mutual support, and so much else. But we are also in community because holiness is a community project.”  We need to be in community to be made more and more like Jesus, what higher goal is there to achieve?

According to Tertullian, pagan Romans would literally say about Christians, “See how they love one another!”  And not just one another, they were also known for loving those around them.  Starting around year 251, a plague known as “The plague of Cyprian” tore through the roman empire and the rich, educated nobles fled infected areas.  There was no known way to treat the disease so flight seemed the only logical way to cope with the epidemic.  Christians, however, rejoiced at the opportunity to serve the pagans, knowing that death was not to be feared because their King had already overcome it.  Christians banded together to serve food to survivors and bury dead unbelievers who had been abandoned. They washed the sick and even used their collective money to emancipate slaves.  All of this while being violently persecuted by the Roman government.  They would not have been able to do this if they did not find joy in being, serving, living and even dying together.

Not only is it essential for the Christian, but it is something that is an intrinsic part of what it means to be human.  Of course there are some people who find themselves on the fringes of society or who prefer to be alone, but that seems to be an exception to the rule as opposed to a large part of the population.  Despite the fact that video games are the worlds number one source of entertainment, here in North America, gamers are typically stereotyped as loners or socially awkward people who never leave their parent’s basement, except to get chips and energy drinks.  While there may be some gamers who fit that bill, it does not mean that video games and community are antithetical to one another.  In fact, the way video games are progressing, even if someone did have a hard time leaving their house, it is getting easier to connect to others via text, chat and in-game shared experiences than ever before.

GAMER

This is not what a typical gamer looks like, just so you know.

Now some people may scoff at the idea of an ‘in-game’ experience being something you can actually bond over, but that’s probably just because they haven’t done it before.  I have friends who are really into soccer.  They play multiple times per week and if I get together with them after a big win or loss, it can be sensed.  They have a connection that I don’t share with them, but I really enjoy seeing.  They work hard to achieve a common goal that as hard as I try to care about, just isn’t for me.  I have no judgment towards people who do not enjoy video games, but there seems to be a lot of judgment for those who do.  As much as traditional sports bring people together, virtual ones do the same for those who are passionate about them.  The first time my fire team beat Atheon, Crota and Oryx (Raid bosses in Destiny), there was a connection forged.  We know each others strengths, weaknesses, when someone is having an off day or when someone pulls something off that you wouldn’t normally expect.  We are as much a team as people playing soccer, baseball or hockey, though our skill sets are quite different.  It isn’t only multi-player games that help us connect to each other either.  Branching plots, random encounters, and creative building can be a great way to see how someone looks at the world and can help you get to know them.

BYE FELECIA ORYX

Thank you Kiprios, Jokir, Jmz4, AllstarAdrian and Broodking 🙂

Wether you’re playing soccer or Halo, communication is key.  Video games open up another world of people to interact with.  One of my best friends is someone that I met playing Destiny.  He was a part of a group that played together often and I joined them once because one of their members was someone I used to go to church with.  Based on what we talked like online, what things we joked about and what we said we did other than game, we knew we’d get along.  Thankfully, we actually live close to one another and are friends who get together in real life now too.  I first heard about Calvinism via the Mac port of “Halo: Combat Evolved”.  Sounds pretty silly, I know, but it’s true.  While I was shooting Spartans I noticed people bashing a guy because of his name, “calvinist”.  They were talking about how racist and out of touch with reality “Calvinism” was, while the one with the name did a great job being respectful and defending his position.  I was intrigued, so I put up my email address, (not usually a wise move) and asked him to explain it to me another time.  The guy added me on MSN messenger and pretty much convinced me that the position was biblical.  It took a few years for me to fully accept it, but eventually I was able to tell “calvinist” that I was one too.

There are many online communities focused on eSports, lets play’s, twitch streaming (even twitch collective playing) and gaming news/commentary.  Likeminded people from all over the world can “get together” because they like Playstation, Minecraft or Mega Man Legends, and discussion can branch out endlessly.  Because of a common interest, you may have an opportunity to talk with many people who you will never meet in the physical world.  However, these virtual communities can be quite hostile to Christianity.  It seems as though the loudest voices in the gaming spheres are very liberal and intolerant of views that do not jive with their worldview.  What an opportunity for Christians to show themselves as loving individuals who care about people, art, expression and the truth by setting a positive tone for the conversations, keeping from abusive trolling and acting graciously when others do not do the same.

esports

Just look at ALL of those loner basement dwellers, gathered together for video games.

In addition to online interaction, real world get togethers focused around video games can be great too.  I’ll never forget the first LAN party I was invited to.  It was with my dad and his friends playing Age of Empires 2.  I did terribly.  I was defeated first and while that sucked, but I got to be a part of the conversation that took place while the game was happening.  Since you don’t need to be running across a field for an hour while playing a video game, you can be actively helping someone or defeating them, while you talk about something totally different.  Not only that, but in my personal experience, conversation while gaming seems to be much more open than sitting across from one another focusing solely on the topic at hand.  I spent countless hours talking about deep theological truths, listening to personal stories of hurt, encouragement, calling each other out on how we had acted or been talking, and even prayer together over Xbox Live, all while my “Fire Team” tried pushing each other off of ledges in the Tower while playing Destiny.  This type of fellowship has strengthened my relationships with church members, coworkers and even my little brother.  Battlefield: Bad Company 2 brought us closer together than me being almost eight years older could keep us apart.

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I’m not trying to say that video games or other online communication/communities are or even can be a substitute for real life interaction.  It is very possible that you are someone, or know someone who is addicted to or is using video games as an escape from real world problems.  If this is you, please look for help.  You need to be part of a Church, and if you are, but are not yet connected to anyone on a personal and meaningful way, it’s time to volunteer.  Talk to your pastor about what areas the church needs you or what small group opportunities there are for you to join in on.  Your church needs you, more than you need to get your Warlock to level 99, or to get your KD to 2.9 or whatever gaming goals you have set for yourself.  As much fun as it might be, set your goal to having our culture look at the church and say “See how they love one another!”

6 thoughts on “Gaming Theology 004: Community”

  1. I can totally relate. The few conversations I’ve had about religion while gaming have been great. It’s time for the stereotypes to be broken! One thing I have noticed is people who don’t play games, or don’t play much could never really have those experiences though. Even in your example, you talked about praying while your team tried pushing each other off in the Tower. That would likely only happen with people who play games regularly and/or like the game they are playing. Most people that just wanted to pick up Destiny for the first time could not spend 10-20 minutes sitting in the tower while you prayed in the party chat. So, while these powerful, moving interactions do happen, I think it’s important to note there is a barrier of entry. Of course, once you overcome that barrier, the result is a fruitful conversation while playing a game you enjoy. Additionally, most people that play “casually” may think of their mobile gaming experience and say ‘there is no way I could have a spiritual conversation while flinging birds into pigs’ (this is also usually for technical reasons). Just another example of how you really have to be a “gamer” in order to experience what you were talking about. Maybe you can expand on this in the next podcast.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What you are playing does play a huge role in what type of interaction is available to you. Some mobile games do have the option of communication, such as Order & Chaos Online, but platform, game genre and involvement level are vital to what kind of community is possible. I loved how Video Game High School showed the different gaming communities very differently, and while the “Social Gamers” were the least appreciated/valued by the rest of the school, even they were important to the school’s overall culture. James wrote a pretty good article about Casual/Hardcore Gaming/Gamers. If you haven’t already read it, here’s a link!

      https://thereformedgamers.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/the-truth-about-hardcore-and-casual-gaming/

      Thanks for the interest 🙂

      Like

  2. This was an excellent article Cody. I especially agree about how gaming can indeed bring people closer together in the right context. We live in a world of stereotypes, and I think taking a Christian approach to our hobbies can break those stereotypes down.

    Liked by 1 person

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