Video Games are Places of Faith
I’ve been watching and studying video games for a few years now. In that time Ive noticed the landscape of video games change. Ive now come to realisation that video games as Places of Faith. Video games have gone from pointless or mindless entertainment to unique experiences with huge budgets, teams, insights from the field of psychology and more and are complicated systems. They are now also digital environments where people are accepting Christ through different ways of engagement.
Video games are a central feature of youth culture. According to statistics 99% of 0-8 year old children play video games (Source: “Esports: Engaging Education,” Digital Schoolhouse: Shahneila Saeed, https://www.digitalschoolhouse.org.uk/media/Documents-and-reports/Esports-Engaging-Education-SCREEN.pdf ). Approximately 70% of 9-18 year old people play video games ( “Player Diversity & Demographics,” Ukiepedia: UKIE, https://ukiepedia.ukie.org.uk/index.php/Player_Diversity_%26_Demographics). These statistics are significant considering that video games have only existed for about 50 years, and the number of users continues to rise. Contrast this with the CofE recently reporting that sadly most of their churches do not have young people. (“Children & Young people in the Church of England and the factors that are common to growth,” Evangelism & Discipleship: Church of England, https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/ files2020-01GS%202161%20Children%20and%20Youth%20Ministry%20Full%20with%20Appendix%20-%20Final.pdf). This indicates a sharp contrast: video games seem to be capturing the hearts and imaginations of young people, whilst the Church has been ineffective in serving the younger demographics with dynamic content that are culturally or socially relevant.
This is not to say that video games are in direct competition with Christianity. Christians have a long tradition of engaging with culture: there are theologically reflective paintings and sculptures that have provided believers with spiritual experiences. According to Jill Stephenson, these engagements with culture “lowers the barriers to entry for new users.” Furthermore, Joe Kincheloe coins the term Christotainment which he explains as a process through which evangelical Christians “appropriate” and “sell” Jesus through modern media forms in order to evangelise children and young people. Christians have a history and tradition of engaging with culture and media forms for the sake of evangelism and video games are simply one of the newest forms of media, one that we should master and use appropriately as Christians have historically done.
Taking this into account Ive noticed the change in the Christian video game market, it has grown and evolved. Video games are no longer as simple as Pong or Tetris or in the Christian context; Captain Bible and the Dome of Darkness, we are now dealing with powerful digital experiences. It is important that we as Christians know why this is important and what we are dealing with. Take for example the Christian game ‘That Dragon, Cancer’. Created by Numinous Games. Their video game design includes combining the new standards of the video game industry along with insights and concepts of Christian spirituality, such as the poetry of the psalms, meditation and reflection through lighting candles in a church. By incorporating these meaning-making moments they have forged an entirely new video game experience, effectively drawing people closer to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. They have won numerous awards and received global recognition, and the game has been streamed millions of times by users and has begun to be used in Seminaries in the United States to teach Pastoral care (source: John W. Auxier, “That Dragon, Cancer Goes to Seminary: Using a Serious Video Game in Pastoral Training,” Christian Education Journal, Vol. 15 (2018): 105-117.). This is suggestive that elements of Christian Spirituality and video games create powerful experiences for the user.
Additionally its important to look at the top three children’s Christian game apps available for mobile – SunScool, Bible App for Kids, and SuperBook – which either have features of gamification, mini-games, or are a video game with a combined number of over 55 million downloads. The organisations that operate these apps have mechanics embedded into these games to encourage the users to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour, One of these apps in particular has shared the statistics showing how many children have accepted Christ through their app, using these mechanics, they boast a 30% success rate. The evidence shows that people are being introduced to the Christian faith, developing faith, and accepting Christ through video games. This is achieved through teaching theological and biblical literacy through gaming. This is significant as there are very few churches or preachers in this generation that can claim to have millions of attendees, viewers online or listeners, and even less, have a fraction of the responses to accept Christ. This highlights the fact that video games are an effective pedagogy for teaching and tool for sharing the Gospel.
A recent study from Mathew Pullis who investigated the theological views of young people before and after excessive gameplay. His study looked into a group of Catholic young people who were involved in Church and played Fortnite everyday. Pullis constructed a theological theme of the afterlife that was prevalent in Fortnite and questioned the young people about their views on the afterlife. The results of the study were that these young people’s perception of the afterlife changed from what they were taught in Church according to Catholic tradition, to something more similar to what happens in Fortnite after you die in gameplay, being able to speak to their friends and help them in real life scenarios. He determined that video games were capable of changing the way we perceived God, therefore making them theological spaces (source: Mathew Pullis, “Death in Fortnite: Fortnite’s Theological Representation of Death and Its Perceived Effect on Youths in Malta,” Theology and Ministry, Issue 6, (2020): 104-129.). Furthermore, Pietari and Meri Hannikainen argue: “Organised religion has always used visual, auditory, narrative, and interactive aids to help people make a connection to the transcendent. Games combine all of these, and thus have the capability to be influential and immersive emotional experiences, that can also trigger religious or spiritual experiences.” This perspective demonstrates that there are many ways that Christians can worship, which might include interacting with icons, crosses, rosary beads, theologically reflective paintings, carvings, and sculptures as well as Christian films and series, this now includes video games.
My last blog shared how through an esports tournament the gospel message was preached and more than half of the gamers at the event accepted Christ. Esports therefore give us an opportunity to share the Gospel with individuals that perhaps would not walk into a normal Church service. God Squad Church is a church that operates online and holds Saturday night services on Twitch. People have accepted Christ through Pastor Souzys message as he streams his gameplay regularly. Most recently pastor Craig Groeshel from Life Church (https://www.life.church) shared a gospel message in @altspacevr and two individuals responded.
These new insights reveal that video games are places of faith, Video games are places where people can be introduced to Christianity, can develop faith, and can provide an integral opportunity to accept Christ.. With this new theological insight, church leaders and Christians can now have a distinct perspective on video games. Instead of critiquing or condemning them, they can now use video games to share Christ and in evangelism or outreach efforts in a creative, innovative and unique way. Through this understanding Christians will then better serve the younger generations by providing them with dynamic content that the gamer will remember long after they put the controller down. I believe that this trend will continue to grow and develop through the growing popularity of video games and Christians entering this field.