Video games in church?

Jesse Dymond, Anglican Church of Canada reports on

“What is wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted.” It’s a question most of us in the church have heard, if not asked, in our continued struggle to contextualize the Gospel message and our religious traditions in the world around us.

But in this case, the question was asked in a letter written in 1890 about the new-fangled hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Shocking? Perhaps. But it’s a good reminder that while change is hard, time changes our perspective.
...
Earlier this year, members of Exeter Cathedral were invited to play a video game during an evening service. To Robertson, it simply made sense: worshippers were able to control a simulated flower petal as the wind blew it though the fields. It seemed a perfect compliment to the Liturgy’s creation theme. Despite the community’s positive experience, the media was less understanding, calling the game “a gimmick.”

The article raises all sorts of questions for me, as I’m sure it does for you. Was the integration of a video game considered to be novel and/or distracting because it was outside of the traditional worship experience, or was it because it involved a certain kind of technology? Would a passive use of technology like watching a video have been more widely accepted than an interactive one, where worshippers were invited to take part? Or are we simply uncomfortable making the connection between worship and play?


More comments at GamePeople.

Comments (9)

I am a life long avid gamer. Having watched simulation style games move from Avalon Hill's great 12-65 hour board simulations to our ubiquitous video games I am more than a little delighted to see the technology and the game concepts move into worship.
This is not their first foray into significance. Games, especially video games, are all explorations of good vs evil issues. The hottest game out at the moment is Diablo III which is about killing demons. But these games, including the ones that make some people cringe deal with serious moral and social issues and invite us to look into our souls as we play.
I dare say there is more internal exploration of who I am and who I might be in games today than in Church.

After you look at his TEDx talk go back and look at Jane McGonigal's talk which you can find at http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html

Exactly how is playing a video game, even in church, *worship*?

The hottest game out at the moment is Diablo III which is about killing demons. But these games, including the ones that make some people cringe deal with serious moral and social issues and invite us to look into our souls as we play. I dare say there is more internal exploration of who I am and who I might be in games today than in Church.

Michael--I don't see my 16-year-old son or his friends engaging in any moral reflection when they play first-person-shooter games. It's all about killing and "winning."

I hate these games. I have limited control over what my kid does because he lives half-time with his other parent, who does not have the same issue with these games that I do. I don't see anything moral about them. I think they engage my son and his friends at the basest level--the desire to have power-over, even if it means killing. (We won't even touch on the rampant sexism and homophobia in gaming culture....)

I would love to hear more about your experience, and how you believe that gaming (especially gaming that involves killing) fits into an attempt to live a Christ-like life.

I will kick it up a notch. I help to lead an Anglican/Episcopal community that meets INSIDE a virtual world. We are a group that gathers 4 nights a week for Compline, and we are from all over North America and also New Zealand. The best way to learn how Christians are using new technologies to gather as church is to come and see.
http://stmatthewsbythesea.blogspot.com/

Caoilin, not meaning to put too fine a point on it, but I have trouble seeing that anything based in SecondLife approaches gathering as a church. You don't meet the people you're dealing with, just their avatars. You might not even know their real names. It might be a 'virtual community,' but it's at least one step removed from real life.

Paige,
Gamer and youth minister here. It's impossible to fully respond to your comment without knowing what games your son is playing, but just as I would encourage you to talk with your son about the movies/books/tv shows he watches, I'd encourage you to talk with him about the games he's playing. Certainly, there's a lot of games that don't encourage a Christian life, there's a lot of games that tell or present the Christian myth in an interactive way.

Example: the last mission of Fallout 3 asks the players to make a choice to sacrifice their "life" to give life back to the nuclear war-ravaged Washington DC wasteland. The Mass Effect Series features a soldier named Shephard who must sacrifice their life to save the galaxy. Bioshock creates an alternative world inspired by Ayn Rand that illustrates the vacuousness of a self-centered life, and rewards the player for choosing others over themselves. The Dragon Age series features gay and lesbian characters at the center of their stories, and, if chosen, to be the love interest of the player's character. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion features a hidden king who is incarnated as a god and sacrifices himself to destroy the avatar of death and evil.

16 year olds, by default, don't do moral reflection, whether that's from a book or music or whatever. That has to be taught. It's why we assign books to read in HS; they don't do it on their own. Games are just a medium to tell a story, but the difference between a book and game is that the player is able to form the central character and to apply their moral reasoning in context of the stories. Games that tell the Christian myth don't just tell the old old story, they invite the player to participate in the story. But it takes parents and priests and youth ministers and others to encourage the critical and moral thinking to recognize the story as a Christian myth and draw lessons from it.

I'm not sure I would set up a console and encourage people to play it during a worship service; but using the story, images, language of the games, seems an appropriate way to translate the Gospel into a language youth and young adults are going to access.

There's a danger to video games, of course; I don't think it particularly has anything to do with sexism or homophobia, though, as evil as both those things are. Instead, the real danger is developing a view of life, themselves and others that is 'game like...' You should throw away the xBox if your 25 year old son complains that the real problem in their life is that they lack external, image pieces to complete their life. "If only I had the right kind of [fill in the blank] my life would be great." That's the sign they're living in the video game. But I don't think that's where a constructive, critical engagement with games is going to lead to that.

Exactly how is playing a video game, even in church, *worship*?

Well, if framed as "playing a game", I suppose it isn't.

But if framed as digitally-controlling beautiful graphic images for the Glory of God, then???

JC Fisher

"But if framed as digitally-controlling beautiful graphic images for the Glory of God, then???"

And if I frame my grandmother as having wheels, she would have been a truck. ;-) It's not at all clear that digitally controlled beautiful graphic images in and of themselves are done to the Glory of God, any more than any beautiful conventional image are.

"And if I frame my grandmother as having wheels, she would have been a truck."

I'm sure your grandmother would be he..aven-on-wheels, Bill. ;-p

Seriously, have you never seen multimedia used in worship? I think this could be a more participatory form of that (as congregational singing is to the choir). OCICBW.

JC Fisher

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