What if I told you that there’s a massive mission field just waiting for you and your team to plug into? What if there were a way for you to connect with your youth in a way that is both relational and deeply relevant to their lives—all without the need of leaving your homes?
THE DIGITAL FRONTIER
The mission field I’m talking about is digital—the world of video games. If you’re not technologically-inclined, those words might fill you with frustration, confusion, or even dread. Or maybe you’re a gamer yourself, and the idea of incorporating gaming into your ministry feels completely natural. However, if you fall into this second category, you’re in the minority. By and large, video gaming hasn’t been taken seriously by the Church in America. At best, it has been ignored as frivolous or as a childish waste of time. At worst, it has been branded as “sinful” and even “demonic”.
If the church continues to ignore and dismiss video gaming, we will miss out on one of the biggest opportunities to reach into the culture and connect with our youth and their families. In 2018 alone, total video game sales in the U.S. exceeded $43.4 billion—over twice the combined revenue of the music industry and motion picture box office during the same year. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s annual report, 75% of Americans have at least one video gamer in their household. Of those gamers, 21% of them are under 18, with another 40% of them in the 18–35-year-old range. In other words, youth and their parents are playing video games.
COVID-19 AS A TIME OF OPPORTUNITY
This is especially good news considering this unique moment in history when many of our traditional church gatherings are on hold or have been greatly modified to meet the current need for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. With large, in-person meetings not possible at the moment, churches around the country are scrambling for ways to continue doing the work of cultivating disciples. Instead of hosting yet another Zoom meeting, why not try an online game night? An opportunity for practical, hands-on discipleship, video games are the perfect avenue for connecting with your students and for students to connect with one another.
Think about it: you wouldn’t hesitate to join your youth on a soccer field or basketball court. If I asked you about the benefits of playing sports with students, you might tell me about the power of teamwork, the health benefits of physical activity, growing critical problem-solving skills, or the opportunity to demonstrate real-life applications of the fruits of the spirit—patience, self-control, kindness, generosity, and so on. All of these benefits and more apply to video games as well, whether that be through a team game like Overwatch, battle-royale games like Fortnite, creative sandbox games like Minecraft, or even party games like Drawful.
MEET THEM WHERE THEY’RE AT
Your youth are already playing video games, whether you play with them or not. They may be playing with the adults in their families, but it’s likely that they’re playing with minimal adult supervision, connecting with people from around the world, and being influenced by the culture they find there. Rather than looking at these possibilities as a threat, we can choose to see it as an opportunity to join them in something they’re passionate about in order to build a stronger connection with them. On the other hand, if we continue to dismiss this aspect of their lives, we risk sending the message that there are areas of their lives we don’t care about, spaces where the gospel can’t reach or doesn’t matter.
Jumping into the land of video gaming can be overwhelming if you’re not a native to this realm, so here are a few tips for getting started.
1. Ask your youth for suggestions.
Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, ask your youth what they’re already playing and excited about. If you have a Facebook group or email list for your church, ask the students (or their parents):
- What are your favorite games?
- What platforms are you playing on (PC/console/mobile?)
- What kind of video games do you prefer? (Team, battle royale, creative, casual, etc.)
2. Research on your own.
3. Gather to play.
Share your plans with parents so there won’t be any surprises, and plan your first gathering! Start with one of the games your youth suggest, or take your pick from the list we’ve provided. Some of these are cross-platform, meaning that you and your students can all play together regardless of whether you’re on a PC, a mobile device, or a video game console. However, a few of them are specifically designed for a mobile gaming experience, which might be a great place to start if you don’t have a gaming console in your household or if your PC struggles to run games.
4. Pick a communication platform.
How will you talk to each other? Will your group join a Zoom meeting? Will you use the game’s in-game chat? Will you use a Facebook messenger voice chat? Discord is another communication software specifically designed for gaming, so maybe consider using that. Your students might have recommendations here, too. Which brings us to our next point.
5. Ask them to teach you.
If you’re new to gaming, or even just new to the game you’ve chosen, consider asking your students to teach you how to play. Not only is it a great opportunity to model humility, but it gives them a chance to show off their experience and practice leadership skills, as well as patience.
6. Model Christ-like behavior.
Don’t forget, your students are watching you! It can be easy to forget this in the heat of the moment especially when the other team comes out of nowhere with the win. This is an opportunity to show your students what it looks like to lose well, or even win well. If you find yourself reacting badly, that can be a moment to show vulnerability and talk about course-correcting when you mess up. How you interact with your students and with strangers online as you play is just as important as what you teach during your Bible study time.
7. Set time aside to talk.
You don’t need to make everything into an allegory or find parables in every moment. But do take time to discuss your gaming sessions. What did it feel like when your team just couldn’t win, no matter what you did? Was it frustrating to have less-experienced teammates? Was one of your students acting more aggressively than usual? Why? The more you treat games as a normal extension of daily life, the more your students will trust that you respect them and their experiences.
8. Have fun!
In the end, don’t forget to simply enjoy the time with your students, and provide an opportunity for them to enjoy it, as well. Curate space where you can deepen your relationships with each other and learn from one another.
|Cross-Platform Games: |
A few of these games are free-to-play with optional in-game purchases.
Ark: Survival Evolved
Paladins: Champions of the Realm (free-to-play)
Most of these games are free to play with optional in-game purchases.
Riptide GP: RenegadeMario Kart Tour (free-to-play)
Uno & Friends (free-to-play)
Draw Something (free-to-play)
Drawful 2 (the host will need a copy on PC or console and can then stream via Zoom, but players only need a mobile device and a computer to join the Zoom call)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
April-Lyn Caouette is the Chief Resource Nerd at Love Thy Nerd, which exists to be the love of Jesus to nerds and nerd culture. Her passion is to help both nerds and church leaders alike learn to love their nerdy neighbors the way Jesus does—unconditionally, personally, and without reservation. She writes, edits, and solicits articles and training materials for Love Thy Nerd, and has also written for GROW Curriculum and Explore the Bible for Students.