Not By Faith Alone

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As I was reading though the Book of James, chapters 1 and 2, this morning, I came across the following verse:

Faith in action, right? My hope is that wherever God is leading me, I am not just sitting on my faith butt but instead actively living out my faith.

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Thinking Aloud

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My church’s youth room is decorated with black and grey tones. Even the ceiling tiles have been painted black. The overall effect reminds me of a dark cave; a dark worship cave.

As I was waiting for my wife to get out of a summer camp meeting, I talked to a few of the guys hanging out in the youth room. I was immediately asked, “Do you play Fortnite?”

Wyatt, sitting next to me, suddenly perked up, “What’s Fortnite?”

I talked with this kid, we’ll call him Alex, about the game. He gave me a history lesson on the rise of battle royale games, how most of them stemmed from a game called ARMA.

I was reminded just how nerdy gaming culture can be when Alex dove into a PC versus console debate.

“I’m a part of the PC master race.”

I’m sure you are, Alex, I’m sure you are.

My youth room encounter got me thinking about this site, my thoughts towards ministry within the gaming culture, etc. I am reminded that gaming culture spans a large swath of demographics. That when I think of gaming culture, I think of those who are closer to my age, not someone like Alex.

Reminded me that I started this blog to encourage others in the gaming space. That JohnnyBGamer has always been about promoting a balance between life and gaming. My original tagline, for the site, was: “Because there is more to life than just gaming.” I created that tagline in the midst of a season of watching friends being consumed by what they were consuming, video games. I hated that, I hated the control gaming had upon them, had upon me.

At this point in life, I am at a place where gaming doesn’t have as strong as a pull as it once did. But in talking to Alex and his friend last night, I’m reminded that there are others still in the midst of that struggle. A struggle where kids I know, kids around me, are out of control in their gaming. Makes me wonder…

How can I help parents:

  • Curate the types of video games their family consumes
  • Promote healthy media consumption habits for their children

How can I help gamers:

  • Ask questions about the games they are playing
  • Learn healthy online habits for interacting within gaming culture
  • Be aware, overall, that there is more to life than just gaming

I am not sure where God is leading me right now. But these are thoughts I’m processing through in this season after stepping down from Theology Gaming. Whether I step out and do something “big”, become more purposeful with this blog, or just take the gaming lessons I’ve learned, along the way, and use them to help my son navigate the gaming space.

Don’t Pull That!

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For those of you who do not know, I am a games director, at church, for a Bible verse memorization program (Awana) we have. Over two 30 minute sessions, I get to play all sorts of crazy games with the kids.

My Goal: Tire the kids out while having fun.

Last night, our schedule was a bit different. The kids are singing during the worship service on Sunday. Which means they needed time to practice:

  • Song cues
  • Hand motions
  • And becoming acclimated to standing on stage

Due to the practice time, game time was going to be reduced for the evening. The kids were scheduled to head out to the outdoor playground after worship practice. My wife, who runs the Awana program at church, told me I had the night off.

I ended up driving out to church anyways. Figured I could help corral kids and be there just in case it rained (we had a 40% chance) to run game time.

All was going well, I arrived early and ate dinner with Tabitha. We were sitting there talking when the fire alarm suddenly went off. A prerecorded voice told us that there was an emergency and that we needed to evacuate the building.

Turns out, a little kid pulled the fire alarm that is conveniently located on the indoor kids playground; the fire alarm that is right at kid height. With strobe lights going off in tandem with the alarm, I found myself Googling how to shut off a pull alarm. Turns out you need a special key.

In the midst of all of this, my pastor, who was supposed to be teaching, was having to deal with the alarm company. I ended up taking over for him in talking to the alarm company so that he could return to teaching. The gentleman on the phone guided me to a closet, where the fire alarm’s central panel was located. There I found two wires that were not connected to the battery that powers the fire alarm system. The alarm company told me that in the process of the system trying to reboot, that it tried to reboot/use power from the battery, somehow unplugging the wires. Plugging the wires back into the battery, I restored the system, and thus saved Jurassic Park.

Did I mention that the volunteer fire department sent a member over to check on things? Apparently he lives across the street. He was telling dispatch that he didn’t see any smoke coming from the church and that there were lots of cars in the parking lot. I’m thankful that he came over to check things out… and cancel the fire trucks that were about to be dispatched.

Once the alarm was shut off, I walked into the Worship Center to listen to the kids sing. On the way over, I noted that it was now raining outside. Great.

We ended up having a shortened game time. Lots of running around and screaming inside our kids worship area. It was crazy but helped the kids burn off energy as the barometer fell.

I’m thankful that none of this happened on a Sunday morning. While the lighting effects from the strobes might have been cool, the overall alarm would have killed the worship vibe.

From Across the Net – “Video games studied in new theological framework”

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Via the Baptist Press:

So what’s the point? Millsap is not saying that mashing buttons is a path to a deeper understanding of God or defeating the next game’s challenge is a discipleship tool. The idea is just that it’s worth considering the stories and scenarios that gamers encounter from a theological perspective.

“But because so many video games now go in a narrative direction and tell a story, it makes sense that we would want to consider them from that perspective. I need to ask myself important questions, and think about whether I believe what it’s saying is true. If a video game is intending to tell a serious narrative and I don’t approach it seriously, thoughtfully and from a Christian perspective, then I’m not doing it justice.”

You can read more here

Far Cry 5 and Faith Distorted

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A man comes to town and befriends a preacher. He mixes truth-spoken with drug-fueled visions. He kills in the night and then moves on to capture the hearts of men. The town is soon flooded with one man’s lies. What is this perverted faith being presented in Far Cry 5?

The use of religious imagery and language are often intertwined in video games. Faith presented as a misunderstood mystery.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1

Two Examples:
  1. 1998’s Xenogears delved into crucifixion, a Roman form of the death penalty. The game then took things a step further by having the crucifixion take place on a hill called Golgotha. Sound familiar? Japanese RPG’s have a tendency of pulling parts and pieces from all different cultures and shoving them into their narratives.

2. Ken Levine’s BioShock Infinite plays around with the concept of baptism being a key turning point in a man’s life. The beginning of the game going so far as to use baptism as a point of entry into the City of Columbia. Press X to Accept Baptism.

What should the Christian response be to distortions of faith in media?

  1. We should not be surprised at non-believers not understanding spiritual things.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

2. We should recognize / be aware of certain genres of media having a predisposition to use religious imagery and language just because they can.

3. We should call out / shed light on depictions of faith that are not accurate and veer into cult territory. Far Cry 5‘s baptism trailer clearly depicts an unhealthy faith and devotion to a man, who will fail them. In watching the trailer, I’m reminded that God is not oppressive; God is not about control. No, oppression and control are tools of the devil.

Unlike the tagline at the end of the Far Cry 5 trailer, God does not call Christians to trust Him blindly nor to pray and obey Him out of fear:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. – Proverbs 3:5

In the end, Far Cry 5‘s fictional Hope County, Montana is in need of a spiritual cleansing. These people need to experience the freedom that Jesus Christ offers and be freed from the cult-ish slavery they are mired in. Being a Far Cry game, violence and rivers of blood will be the only way to purity.

Will you make the trip to Big Sky Country when the game is released?

Will you embrace the violence, the distorted faith presented?

Why Do We Play?

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A few weeks ago, I asked the Theology Gaming Community:

The TG Community answered:

  • Entertainment
  • Bridge gaps of distance
  • Stories
  • To slow down and enjoy friends
  • To learn new systems/rules
  • To be invited into a piece of art, by the artist, as a collaborator
  • To forget about problems
  • Video games are fun
  • Enjoyment
  • Escapism
  • Fantasy of having increased power/capability
  • Gaming brings people together

Sam went on to say:

Mainly it’s my time to ‘turn off’ from any sort of stresses in real life and just sit back and enjoy something. But there are other huge things I’d miss if I wasn’t gaming. Mainly the excellent communities you become a part of, and I have found, since starting college, it’s a great way to keep in touch with friends who went elsewhere.

Joe emailed me his reply:

Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies. It’s a classic tale of man versus adversity. Human ingenuity wins out over a catastrophe that almost certainly should have spelled certain death for the three brave crewmen. It’s a great story to watch, but as a viewer I can only be a passive observer of this story. Kerbal Space Program, however, allows me to be the solution as well as the cause of all my Kerbonaut’s problems. What should be a routine trip around the moon turns into an epic series of rescue mission because of my inability to effectively design spacecraft. Running out of fuel, botched engine burns, missing solar panels, and the inability to dock two spacecraft turn Kerbal Space Program into an interactive rescue simulation. The best part of all this? My experience will never be exactly the same as anyone else’s. 
That’s the appeal of gaming to me: personalized entertainment. While most games will offer a similar overall experience to its players, little details and interactions are unique to each person. Nobody has the same struggles as I do in Kerbal Space Program. My approach to clearing Liberty Island in Deus Ex will be different than anyone else I know. Dark Souls fosters camaraderie with fellow players who follow the same story beats, even though not everyone will struggle with the same sections. Though I play the same game as thousands and millions of other people, my own experiences with that game are unique to me. This is what sets gaming apart from every other form of media. It’s fun, it’s dynamic, and it’s accessible. Why wouldn’t I play games?  

For me, gaming is about:

Relationships  The conversations that happen while trying to outscore my wife in King Domino.

Nostalgia – Playing Chess with my son reminds me of all the times I played Chess with my Grandpa. I miss him and those times we had together playing Chess, flying remote control airplanes, and telling stories.

Imagination – As with good books, video games allow me to visit other worlds and step into the shoes of someone else.

Discovery – Digital worlds come with their own individual sets of rules. I love seeing what a game world will allow me to do/not do.

Connection – Nothing like discussing games with fellow enthusiasts, taps into my nerdier side.

Sampling All The Flavors – I love constantly trying new games which allows me to experience the different gaming mechanics they each bring to the screen.

Why do you play?

A Reminder That We Are Called To More

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My church has been hosting a time of renewal with Life Action Ministries. One of our speakers last night encouraged us to write down 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Every time the verses mention the word love, we were instructed to write our names there instead:

Bryan is patient and kind. Bryan is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Bryan does not demand his own way. Bryan is not irritable, and he keeps no record of being wronged. Bryan does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Bryan never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

In our relationships, as Christians, people should see Christ in us.

Putting my name into those verses is a great reminder of how I should be living. Our speaker further encouraged us to write down the verses on a card and place them where we can see them everyday. Reading them to remind us that we are to be “little Christs”.