Thank You for a Great 2018

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Standing on the edge of 2018, I would like to thank my friends and family for supporting me and my writing. THANK YOU! I’ve been at this on JBG for over sixteen years now. Kind of crazy to think about! Time does fly.

Reading over posts I’ve written this past year, we’ve put some miles behind us:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been replaced with Fortnite, in the Hall household.
  • JohnnyBGamer crossed the 3,000 view mark this month (December). I TRY and not focus on numbers, but I was excited over this. I’ve written more this past year than I did in 2017 (118 posts versus 48). While I’m not quite back up to my 2016 numbers (4,700 views/101 posts that year), I’m getting close to it again.
  • I didn’t realize it, but I stepped down and away from Theology Gaming FB Group this year (seems like a long time ago now). While that transition hasn’t always been easy for me… I’m proud of what I accomplished there as a Community Manager, with a great group of guys, and I wish them the best in the years to come.

I wrote the following post back in April of this year. While I’m still sorting through these thoughts, I’m also more confident in just writing and sharing life… just being me without being a front/organization (I’ve ALWAYS struggled with this). Thanks for reading in 2018, I can’t wait to see where we’ll go in 2019.

Thinking Aloud

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.

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?

Moving on

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I stepped down as Community Manager of Theology Gaming a few weeks ago. After three years of cultivating conversation and community, I’m done. The mental background noise of what began to feel like a part time job has diminished. I am free. And yet, I miss the online community where I could throw ideas at the wall to see what stuck.
Right now, I find myself evaluating:
  • Where to go next.
  • What to do with my blog.
  • And on a deeper level, what it means to interact with others online. The internet is weird when it comes to relationships. Instant messaging brings about a false sense of freedom in conversation. You find yourself saying things that you’d never say in physical space. Even weirder, the internet lacks permanence. You can talk to people for years and then poof, they are gone. What does that mean? How are we supposed to react?

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JohnnyBGamer has always been my space, online, to create and share. That won’t stop anytime soon.

Joe and the God who helps

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Joe, over at Theology Gaming, writes about Dark Souls and community. You can read more here.

There’s a life lesson in here somewhere. How many times in my own life have I set out with unwavering determination to accomplish a thing, armed only with my own knowledge and experience? More frequently than not those experiences serve to remind me that I don’t know as much as I thought I did. It’s certainly not that I think I know it all; I just think I know enough.

Get Up And Play With Your Kids

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The Gospel Coalition’s Trevin Wax wrote “4 Principles for Parenting in a World of Video Games“. His article contained some practical advice but featured a tone laced in fear. Zachery Oliver, over at Theology Gaming, wrote a rebuttal titled “Kids and Video Games“. My wife, Tabitha Hall, wrote the following as a response to both articles:

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Model good media behavior in front of your kids.

If you restrict your child’s screen time, then make sure you model that while they are up. Meaning, don’t sit on your recliner and watch sports or play a video game by yourself all day. Turn off the TV. Get up and play with them.

If the rule at your house is no phones at the table, turn your phone on silent and put it away. Want your kids to love to read? Then let them see you reading a book and discuss the book with them. Pick a book to read aloud together with your kids.

Something I believe both Mr. Wax and Mr. Oliver have to remember is that every family’s technology engagement will look different, and no one needs to be judged on their own personal plan. Rather, as I believe Mr. Wax was trying to point out, there needs to be a plan for technology in the home. Not a rigid plan with no flexibility for the child, but a fluid plan that can change with the ebb and flow of the family.

Our family decided to keep technology out of the bedroom. We have a limit on how much screen time our son can consume at one sitting. Twenty minutes is our norm before we encourage that he do something else. Technology is not going to go away, it will just get more influential as time progresses on.

As a parent, you help your child solve a problem by brainstorming solutions. You help them practice their catching, bike riding, or even their shoe-tying skills. In the same way, my husband and I are trying to model good technology behaviors to our son.

Best Theology Video Games Of 2015 – Destiny: Taken King

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This year, I had the chance to help the guys over at Theology Gaming with their Best Theology Video Games Of 2015 list. Had fun writing about Destiny: Taken King.

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Best Mirror Of Our Faith Journey
Destiny: Taken King

Sin. Repentance. Redemption. Destiny mirrors the faith journey of the Christian. Made in the console shooter creator’s image, this 2014 title launched with solid mechanics and an uneven tale. Broken from a story perspective, mired in sin, Destiny was yet embraced by the gaming populace.The Dark Below and House of Wolves expansions launched the game into an orbit of repentance. Redemption found in the Taken King. Sin, downfall, always but a step away. Developer Bungie continues the journey through the valleys and mountain-top experiences of game development.

Off Campus: Best Theology Video Games of 2015

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Helped work on a Best Theology Video Games of 2015 list with the guys over at Theology Gaming. Want to invite you to check it out. It’s good. Made me want to play Metal Gear Solid V.

I even make the bold claim that Destiny: Taken King is the Best Mirror Of Our Faith Journey. Read to the end.

Theology Gaming Review: Super Mega Baseball – Extra Innings

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Super Mega Baseball seems perfect for fathers and sons to play together (or mothers and daughters, for that matter). It’s not too hard to give your opponent a leg up if they’re still learning the game. And even better, you can play co-op against the computer if you don’t want to oppose each other. It makes me wish I had my own five year old to play the game with. – Super Mega Baseball – Extra Innings

GameCell: Confusion Night

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My friend Josh wrote about his latest GameCell get together:

Christians don’t talk enough about how life gets really freaking confusing, especially when you’re following Jesus. Then, when that thick cloud of disorientation comes, it’s easy to lose your senses. Most of our GameCell crew doesn’t follow Jesus, but I wanted to prep them when they do follow him and find themselves feeling super confused. So we dove into the story of Job a bit. And we talked about the occasional benefits of confusion – especially in video games.

You can read more over at Theology Gaming.

Off Campus – 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom – The TG Interview

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Hey guys, I’ve been enjoying your book, 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom. How did you arrive at making a devotional? Do you really think faith and fandom mix?

Eric: I definitely think they mix. I am constantly finding things in TV, movies, comics, etc. that remind me of Biblical principles or seem to parallel stories from the Bible. One time I even felt like God was really using a scene in a movie to speak to me. I was watching The Amazing Spiderman 2 and it was that scene toward the end where the kid, still in elementary school, runs out into the street in his Spiderman costume all ready to take on this crazy guy in a mechanical Rhino suit. Just at the right time Spiderman comes in and says “thanks kid, I’ll take it from here.” At that moment I felt like God spoke directly to me: “It doesn’t matter what is going on, you step out to face something huge in my Name and I’ll be there! I’ll take on the battle for you.” I even teared up as I was sitting in the theater watching it.

After I started the blog portion of Nerd Chapel, I realized that there was a lack of a daily devotional for nerds/geeks/gamers. You see them out there for hunters, sports enthusiasts and many that are gender-focused, but none for this crowd. I felt like it was something I really wanted to take on and could really fill a notch in our niche community that has not been filled previously. There are more online blogs like mine, but no one had really taken on a planned journey in the form of a book. I asked Nathan to join me because I knew he would be able to figure out things I could not figure out and that he also has a heart for this same audience.

Nathan: It was originally Eric who came to me to write this devotional. He called me and said, “You ever notice how there’s a devotional for just about every subculture you can think of but not one for geeks and nerds?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s make one!”

It was as simple as that…initially. We spent many hours figuring out how to structure the book. Eric initially wanted it to be read over the course of 40 days, but when seeking ideas from the Fans For Christ Facebook group, it was suggested we make it 42 days long in reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy since “42” is the “Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It was a great place to start and entrenched the book in geek culture.

Eric and I split the writing duties in half–i.e. we each wrote 21 entries–and made sure we didn’t repeat too many of the illustrations. Eric wanted it structured so readers would progress through the spiritual disciplines without making it obvious they were. While the book was his vision, I did most of the editing and handled the publishing end. We initially tried to submit it to a small Christian publishing house, but they were swamped with submissions, so we decided to go the self-publishing route because we didn’t want to wait. It was smart in the long run because that publisher went out of business.

To answer your second question, I do think faith and fandom can mingle. As I say in the book, God has imprinted Himself in everything, and that includes the stories and activities nerds and geeks love. Superman is a Christ-figure. Jedi live by arguably Christian principles (though their philosophies are bit more Buddhist in nature), and both Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were written by devout Christians. Not to mention, as humorously pointed out in a College Humor video, religion and nerd-dom have much in common. Perhaps those connections weren’t intended (even by Lewis and Tolkien), but they can nonetheless be mined from those things.

Read the rest of the interview over at TheologyGaming.com.

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.

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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 – Theology Gaming Podcast #78 – Witcher Booty

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For the second week in a row, I’ve made it on the Theology Gaming Podcast. TGN record! This week, I talked with Zach, Justin, and Ted about what games we’ve been playing and The Witcher 3. Sex in videogames? Apparently. I encourage you to give it a listen if you have a chance. Good stuff.

If you want to join our Facebook community, Theology Gaming University, click here.

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!

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?