Now Recruiting – Join the Theology Gaming Network (TGN)

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As many of you may know, I moonlight as the Community Manager for Theology Gaming University. Recently, we created a way to promote and showcase our member’s work via the Theology Gaming Network (TGN). I encourage you to read on and consider joining us.

Theology Gaming

1. What is Theology Gaming (TG)?

TG is a community dedicated to the intersection of games and life with Christ.

2. What is the Theology Gaming Network (TGN)?

TGN exists to unify the voices of folks thinking about how following Jesus relates to games. This translates to Theology Gaming cross-posting community member’s content and aggregating it all under one Theology Gaming banner.

3. What kind of posts does TGN allow?

Anything that relates to Jesus and games. Longform essays, Youtube videos, podcasts, galore! As long as it’s relevant to games and relationship with God, it’s golden.

4. What are the benefits of joining TGN?

– Increased visibility for your written work/blog

– Access to a built-in audience of 10,000 unique views a month

– A TGN logo on your site, (it’s nifty!)

tgn5. Membership Requirement

Contribute one piece of content a month (that’s it!)

There’s not much to it. We’ve taken the time to create the content platform; now we want to see it grow and prosper with your help. In sum, you should have fun making this stuff; it’s not a job, nor should you treat it as such. We want to promote your work, and help you out!

Submit all inquiries to viewtifulzfo at gmail.com, or contact Zachery Oliver on fB!

This article was originally posted on TheologyGaming.com on June 15, 2015

Off Campus – UPDATE – The Female Perspective: How Do Video Games Impact Relationships?

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Theology GamingToday I am off the JBG campus and over at Theology Gaming. Check out the additional response I received for the videogame relationship survey (A3). The closing line is a keeper:

Keep on gaming (and crafting stuff in World of WarCraft continuously! I need new stuff!).

With the magic of the internet, you can visit Theology Gaming with this nifty link!

Should Men Put Videogames Away As “Childish Things” For Their Wives / Girlfriends?

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This tale is as old as 1989.

Boy meets girl. Girl dislikes boys hobby. Boy gives up hobby for girl. Girl gives up nothing. Swap the genders; swap the roles. Rinse. Wash. Dry.

I have known countless guys who have given up their favorite hobby due to a spouse or girlfriend disapproving– I am sure that this is true for the female species as well. Once upon a time, these guys enjoyed playing video games. They used them to drop stress levels, rest, and relax. For some reason though, chemistry, the alignment of the stars, who knows, they end up coupling with someone who disapproves/looks down upon their hobby. So they have to quit, have to walk away from something they love to be in love.

I just don’t get it. If you are in a loving relationship, your spouse or girlfriend should accept you for who you are. They shouldn’t be out to change fundamental parts that make up you. Sure, your bad habit of tossing clothes on the floor may need to be corrected, because let’s face it, your mom always cleaned up after you. Too personal? Sorry.

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Video games are often seen as a less mature hobby than following a team of guys in tight fitting clothing. Huh? How is it that working on cars, following a sports team, or going hunting are somehow more respectable and less “little boy”? A hobby is a hobby. Video games are no worse than stamp collecting. Except that unlike a stamp collection, video games deal with:

  • Complex realities
  • Connecting players through interdependent activities
  • Challenging players with complex decision making

My wife has been accepting of my hobby from the get go. She encourages me to sit down and play games. She realizes that I often use video games to de-stress. As long as I am not playing World of Warcraft (the marriage killer), I’m golden. This does not mean that I play games every day of the week. Gaming for me, married, with a kid, looks more like a couple of hours a week. Some nights, my wife even joins me. I’ve always appreciated that about her. She loves me for who I am.

I am tired of those around me feeling guilt, having to change, just to conform to the person they love. If you are in a loving healthy relationship, your significant other will understand the healthy hobbies you chose to pursue.

Note: My friend Scott reminds me that the picture I painted above is painted by an individual who is loving, mature, and self-controlled–most of the time. Video games, as with any hobby, can be distorted and abused in the hands of an undisciplined individual. In order not to feed into the video game stigma your wife/girlfriend might view the hobby through, Scott suggests setting some ground rules:

  1. Be mindful of your wife/girlfriend, even though the game demands attention.
  2. Always be ready to pause. Pretty much everything is more important than your next in-game checkpoint, so put the controller down if you need to.
  3. Tell her how long you intend to play – and stick to the plan.

No matter the hobby, communication and respect are foundational to building healthy relationships. I want to encourage you to let go of any video game guilt you might carry, set some healthy ground rules, and game on.

Throwback Thursday – Game Mechanics: Unnecessary Checkpoints

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Growing up, I lived in a valley that was hedged in by foothills and mountains. The south end of the valley featured a Border Patrol Checkpoint. Set up to combat illegal aliens and drug smuggling, the checkpoint was situated roughly 70 miles north of the Mexican border. Unnecessary? Politics aside, I think so.

Recently, I have been playing through Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen on the Nintendo DS. As the games title insinuates, DQIV is broken into chapters or side stories. The first 5 chapters focus on what turns out to be the support characters. Chapter 6 unites the support characters with the hero of the game, you.

Dragon Quest IV marks my first entry into the Dragon Quest series. While I have enjoyed the 20+ hours I have spent in the game so far, I do have a minor gripe, the unnecessary leveling checkpoints.

20 year old gameplay mechanics aside, Dragon Quest IV commits the sin of the invisible wall. Every few levels, these invisible checkpoints force players to stop and grind (level up) until they are at a sufficient level to proceed in the game. Dungeons, monsters, and bosses are some of the most common level checkpoints found in the game. While I know that this is a common RPG mechanic, I have never been so aware of it. Perhaps this is due to the age of the game? I’m not sure.

Grinding is one of those bite-the-bullet game mechanics. Properly instituted within a game’s design it can be a mechanic that one barely notices. While I am enjoying the time spent with Dragon Quest IV, I can’t help but wish that a more organic type of leveling system be created. However, I do find some sort of twisted comfort in level grinding. The old and the familiar, right? Until next time.

Bad Parenting: The Diablo Debacle

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As a dad, I struggle with trying to discern what types of videogames are appropriate for my son and I to play. I have to remind myself that he is only six years old. Despite being a competent player, he isn’t one of my friends, someone who can make content decisions for himself. The little guy is my son, so I have to make media choices for him.

diablo-IIISometime last year, I made a bad decision–more like a ton, but this is just one example. Despite an all knowing parental voice telling me that playing Diablo 3 with my son was not a good idea, I proceeded forward. He loved the game! We found ourselves criss-crossing the map hunting down bad guys. Monsters that would burst, giving birth to electric eel-like monsters. All writhing in pixelated bloody glory. We were having fun. I wasn’t being a good dad.

I ended up having to confess to my son that I had been wrong. Diablo 3 was not a game that him and I needed to be playing together. I apologized. He cried. He wanted to battle monsters with his daddy. I assured him that there were plenty of other games that we could play together. He asked when he might be able to play Diablo 3. I told him that he could play when he was able to understand exactly what is going on in the game.

This was one of those parental failure/redemption moments. I want to encourage other dads and moms out there to consider what types of games they are playing with their children.

  • Is the content appropriate?
  • Does the game’s worldview run contrary to beliefs one is trying to instill?
  • Are you just playing the game because you want to play it, ignoring the voice in your head telling you that you need to stop?

Being a parent that is open, honest, and willing to admit mistakes allows your child to see you as real. That is a win-win in my book. Picking age appropriate media, another win.

Surf Report

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Surf ReportWelcome to the Monday edition of the Surf Report. A quick summary of my weekend.

.: God:

Why is Good Friday called Good Friday? What is good about betrayal, torture, and death? I understand Jesus’ death on the cross being a good thing but do not understand the goodness of Friday. Unless the word good, used in a more antiquated sense, meaning ‘holy’ is the sought after definition. Holy Friday, Sacred Friday, even Passion Friday convey more depth and meaning.

I learned something this weekend. Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1a when he says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” David goes on in verses 16-18:

Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.

What David describes in Psalm 22 is prophecy fulfilled under Christ. Interesting to note that crucifixion did not yet exist in David’s time and yet he writes about it.

.: Life:

Spent some time outside this weekend. Trimmed bushes and filled up the trashcan.

Went to the Caldwell Zoo. Which is a most excellent menagerie. Ever had a white tiger roar at you? I hadn’t either until Saturday. Scary.

Celebrated Easter with my in-laws on Sunday. My brother-in-law cooked up some steaks, which were perfect! Had a good time hanging out with them and playing Ticket to Ride. Even though I lost.

.: Gaming:

My wife and I played Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris for the first time this weekend. Mechanically, the controls feel tighter than Tomb Raider and the Guardian of Light. The gameplay is fun, varied, and adventurous. However, by the end of our first level we were both feeling eye strain. Not sure if it was due to how far the camera is pulled back or TV video settings, but our eyes hurt. Going to have to look into this.

Wave SplinterThat’s it for this weeks Surf Report. Make sure to comment below and have a good week!

Off Campus – Theology Gaming Podcast #65: The Worst Games

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Last week, I had the privilege of sitting down with Zach, Ted, and Elijah to talk about some of the worst games ever. Expectations, marketing, and questionable game design elements fueled our discussion. I encourage you to tune in if only to listen to Ted sing a small portion of a Paula Abdul song. Yes, really.

Listen to the podcast here

What are some of the worst games you’ve played?

Not Alone

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For years I thought I was alone in writing about videogames from a Christian perspective. I was wrong. On January 23, 2013, Zachery Oliver contacted me. His initial correspondence sparked what has become a collaborative friendship. Zach and I have since launched Theology Gaming University (TGU). A Facebook group dedicated to open discussions on faith, life, and videogames.

I want to take a moment to invite you to join our growing community. Come ready to be challenged in your faith and your perspective on gaming. 2015 is going to be a great year for TGU, so come join us!

Surf Report – 4/1/2014

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Surf Report
Welcome to the Tuesday edition of the Surf Report.

.: God:

Sunday morning I listened to a great discussion in small group. The topic was on evangelism and how there are different roles in bringing others to Christ (sowing, watering, reaping, etc.).

.: Life:

Saturday, my father-in-law came over and helped me take down the handicap ramp out front. Looks much better now.

Hall House

Phase I of our front entry project.

.: Gaming:

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Friday night I had some time to myself. So I fired up the PlayStation 3 and decided to pick Tomb Raider back up. About an hour and a half later, I found that my opinion of the game has not changed. Tomb Raider is a videogame that basks in tension, torture, and somehow female empowerment. The entire time I was playing I kept thinking, “I wish this was an Uncharted game.” I wanted the fun of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark versus the seriousness of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Six missions left until the end of the game. I will persevere.

– LINKS – 

– “But man, if you’re looking for some deep philosophical themes or life-changing experiences, Chrono Trigger (or most any game, for that matter) will not be the place to look at all.” – Adults Playing Chrono Trigger

– Also, I enjoyed The Theology Gaming Podcast #33 – A History of Healing. Great discussion! Would love to hear other topics such as: resurrection, circumcision (as mentioned), baptism, etc.

Off Campus – Fallout: Fire Emblem Awakening

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NOTE: Spoilers ahoy!

I am not happy.

One year, twenty-plus hours later, I have completed Fire Emblem Awakening. I spent hours upon hours fighting for the Halidom of Ylisse. I grew to love the characters just as one would with a good book. Yet, in the final levels of the game, the developers violated the rules they had set up from the beginning.

In most games, especially in JRPGs, you expect a certain level of dramatic tension AND a consistent way to represent it. After a while, you assume the story will direct itself, while you do all the fighting/hard work of progressing the story. In Fire Emblem Awakening’s case, what had been a fairly linear story was suddenly injected with player choice.
Head on over to Theology Gaming to read more

Death in Motorville – Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

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(Bryan Note: This essay was originally published over at TheologyGaming.)

“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure” ~ J.K. Rowling

Every story has to have an inciting incident. A moment that propels the protagonist to respond with action. No matter the greatness of the action however, forward motion is key.

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In the lands of the digital

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch opens in an idyllic American town. Seemingly breathed to life out of a Norman Rockwell painting, Motorville is sweet Americana. The game opens with Oliver, Ni no Kuni’s protagonist, dwelling in this perfection with his mother, Allie. As in many stories branded with Walt Disney’s name, Oliver’s father is no where to be found.

Living in a town called Motorville, one would think there would be into a thriving automotive culture. Something akin to the car culture of Southern California. Well, one would be right in their thinking. Oliver’s friend, Phil, is a tinker who has built his own race car. After showing the car to Oliver, Phil asks him to sneak out, later that night, and come for a test drive. So, Oliver waits until his Mom is asleep and then quietly tip toes out of the house. A decision has been made, the adventure has begun.

Outside of town, Oliver gets behind the wheel of Phil’s race car. Goggles in place, Oliver races the car down a road that runs alongside a river. Meanwhile, in another realm, the White Witch zaps Oliver’s car which causes one of the wheels to come off. He quickly loses control and swerves into the river. Drowning, Oliver gasps for air. The situation looks dire until his Mom shows up and saves him. Carrying him out of the river, she places him on the road above. Due to a weak heart, she then collapses and dies. Oliver is now alone.

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Grandpa Ayers, my brother and I at Mount Palomar, CA.

In the lands of the real

My own father–or Dad, as I like to call him–drives a big rig for a living. This means that he is home maybe 2-3 days a week, depending on the week. With my Dad rolling down the highways, I was left with a lack of a strong male role model growing up. Thankfully, God filled that void in the form of my Grandpa Ayers. However, like Oliver’s Mom, my Grandpa was taken from me suddenly. I wasn’t alone, but I felt that way.

My Grandpa’s death led me to a series of events that catapulted me into the lands of East Texas; his death was my inciting incident.

Back to the digital

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Mr. Drippy comes to life!

A funeral comes and goes, the game shows Oliver in his room crying. His family is no longer a party of two. Crying begets tears, one of the tears falls upon a stuffed animal Oliver’s Mom made for him. Mr. Drippy is this odd creatures name. Suddenly, he comes to life! Mr. Drippy, Lord High Lord of the Faeries, invites Oliver on a quest to save his Mom. A decision must be made…and Oliver decides he has nothing to lose. Following Mr. Drippy into the Ni no Kuni world, Oliver has a mom to save…or does he?

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Everyone has to travel in style, right?

In reality that comes from above

God is calling, there’s no bigger love

– Newsboys, Reality

As a Christian, I am a citizen of Heaven.

  • I know that Jesus defeated death by dying on the cross.
  • I know that my Grandpa Ayers is in Heaven and that one day I will see him again.
  • I know that I do not have to embark on some epic quest with the Lord High Lord of the Faeries.

The Lord calls me to go, tell others about him, and help train up Christian brothers along the way. Death has no power over me; death is simply an Earthly signal that I have gone on to work and serve my God. I can’t wait.

Surf Report – 1/8/2014

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Surf Report

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of the Surf Report.

.: God:

“We plunged into John 8 and looked at how Jesus coined the phrase, “He who has no sin casts the first stone” and then as the only sinless person is like, “I don’t condemn you.””
via Love Subverts

.: Life:

Sandwiched between two links this week is my life.

In review, December was a pretty awesome month. The Hall family watched God provide financially for both Christmas and current/future student loans. A random envelope here and there were proof that He is working behind the scenes…even when it doesn’t feel like it. Funny how God’s character doesn’t change despite our situations. He is not a mere god of the moment but the God that created the heavens and the earth. I can’t wait to see what He has in store for my family and I in 2014.

.: Gaming:

“In other, more succinct words: the game came first, rather than the pride of the singular director.”
via Theology Gaming

Healthy Christian Criticism

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Have you ever wondered what healthy Christian criticism looks like in regards to video games? I know that often I have been guilty of intentionally writing a negative review from the outset. I am guilty of making blanket statements just because I have been offended by a gameplay mechanic or content found in a game. Just because I am/was offended, I have illogically reasoned, all Christians must flock to my side and be offended as well. As I have grown and matured in my walk with Christ, I have found that criticism is a much more nuanced creature.

Of Games & God

Kevin Schut, in his Of Games & God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games, talks about what healthy Christian criticism looks like:

To start with, good criticism is not automatically positive or negative. If we want to judge something fairly, we can’t prejudge it (although it’s impossible to completely avoid this). We also can’t judge something without examining it. p.175

Schut continues by saying that context is the key in:

…understanding where a game fits in gaming culture, in the gaming industry, and in relation to other games. p.175

Just as when we study the Bible, we must also examine the cultural and historical context of what we are reading. Asking questions such as:

  1. What is the developer/author/writer trying to communicate?
  2. What does this mean in light of the overall video game industry and it’s history?

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The book continues:

…good criticism draws on or at least considers as many different critical perspectives as possible, even if we ultimately reject some of those ideologies.

Carefully considering non-Christian perspectives is, in my opinion, a healthy thing to do. Healthy Christian criticism is not defensive or prickly. p.175

In dealing with non-Christians online, I often find myself getting defensive (even with fellow Christians). This is not how Jesus would have responded. I have found that when I start growling that this is a signal to take a breather and step away from the situation. We don’t always have to have the answer or the last word, right? Right?

Fourth, my faith, the teachings of Christian tradition, and the words of Scripture are by far the greatest motivator in my criticism.

My worldview is based on my belief in Jesus… p.176

And finally:

…good criticism leaves the door open to the possibility of a change in perspective. p.176

Again, how often do we come to the virtual table with prejudged notions. I have noticed a disturbing trend in some online Christian communities where anyone that thinks differently than the group norm is quickly shutout and shutdown. Open communication and a lack of fear of where a conversation might head are needed with good criticism, period.

Healthy Christian criticism comes from a non-reactionary place filled with grace. In light of Scripture, we are able to take that which we consume and weigh it accordingly.

Off Campus: Bryan is over at Theology Gaming today. Come visit!

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Once upon a time, in a Mushroom Kingdom not too far away, there lived a plumber by the name of Mario. Now Mario spent his days as a one-man rescue unit for Princess Peach, seeing as the Mushroom Kingdom seems perennially inept at defensive measure. Sure, the odd goomba might find itself stomped on occasion, but never did eros love infiltrate the kingdom beyond a chaste kiss. The phileo love of friendship remained the common bond that united all together, including Luigi.

Click here to read more

Passion

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I am passionate about:

  • Solid Bible teaching. I want to see fellow Christians challenged in their faith straight from the Bible. 
  • Keeping the focus solely on the Gospel and not on personal preferences.
  • The videogames industry being influenced with the love of Christ. I’m still not sure what this looks like, whether it includes handing out beer and Bibles, but I’m always processing this one. Currently I am exploring starting a GameCell at my church.
  • Helping others avoid the same mistakes that the Internet helped me make. I want parents to be aware of the parental controls on their children’s devices; I want individuals to take preventative steps to protect themselves from the wild west of the Internet.
  • Blogging. Yeah, you wouldn’t know it from my posting frequency, but I have always enjoyed sharing my life and what I’m learning with you. I love writing and it is not something I allow myself the time to do enough.

Working the 8-5 grind, I often get lulled into patterns that prevent me from focusing on my passions. This walking dead-like slumber causes me to forget how much I love my wife and son and how blessed I am to have them in my life. I am noticing that it is only through being intentional with what I consume media-wise/what I do daily that I am able to overcome this personal apathy.

So what about you? What are you passionate about?

What I’m Learning: As A Dad

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Since my son was old enough to hold a controller, I have shared my love of videogames with him.

We started with Super Mario Bros. on the family NES. Since then, we have progressed from him passively watching to now actively participating in playing games such as  Skylanders and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. At four years old, my son loves videogames and is quite good at them–humble dad brag–.

Screen time, which encompasses the iPad, TV shows, and videogames, has become a hot commodity in our house. If my son had his way, he would never unplug and instead become a digital potato. Not just any potato mind you, a stinky potato.

My struggle as a parent is to balance “screen time” with all of the imaginative play that awaits in my son’s toy box. Hot Wheels, super hero masks, and Legos are but simple gateways to pretend worlds of adventure. Sharing my love of videogames, with my son, has caused him to associate “daddy time” with “time to play videogames”. On the deepest, nerdiest level, I should be proud of this but I’m not. I want more for my son than just virtual worlds. On a selfish level, I want more for myself than to have to spend “precious” game time playing in some sort of G-rated world.

Here is what I am learning though: Videogame time with dad has nothing to do with what videogame is being played or whether or not my son has a controller in his hands. All that matters, ALL THAT MATTERS, is that the two of us are spending time together. If that means that he sits on my lap and watches me play, he is fine with that. He just wants to spend some time with his dad.

Even from the beginning, he has always wanted to spend time with me.

Even from the beginning, he has always wanted to spend time with me. I should be honored.