My memories of computer gaming start with a Binatone system in the 1970s – two rectangles faced off by smacking a square ball over a line down the middle of the screen. I remember graduating to a real computer with the arrival of the Commodore 64, which I took round to a mates house and declared, “look at the graphics mate, just LOOK at the graphics” (as a man made up of squares, hit a square ball using a line with a bit sticking out at the end in the best attempt at the time of a realistic golf game).
To say things have moved on since then is somewhat of an understatement.
However, despite my early interest (and a brief foray with an xbox in 2002 because of Halo) I am out of touch with this world now. Yes, as a youth worker I have made use of the obligatory Wii or Playstation at youth clubs through the years, I have battled it out in Fifa and
Which is why I am so grateful for this book from Alastair Jones and Andy Robertson. Right off the bat let me say that there is profound theological reflection here that is not just applicable to the theme of the book, but spirituality full stop. The following, about our approach to engaging with video games, grabbed my attention in their opening chapter exploring what video games are,
This approach – of looking for inherent meaning in the games we play, rather than projecting meaning onto them by inclusion in other rituals – means we can start capitalise on what games uniquely offer.
They go on to say,
Video games are hugely diverse and varied. They address an almost unending breadth of topics: from cancer to prayer to childhood abandonment to ecstatic worship of creation and even the fleeting nature of life. Most of these are not discovered or accessible to faith communities because of their niche nature and being drowned out by the noise surrounding bigger block-buster games.
Which begs some questions.
- Do we, in our youth work practice, look for inherent value or is everything we encounter a “tool” to be applied elsewhere or added to enhance what we already want to say?
- Whether it is gaming or something else – do we take the “headline news” and move on?
We maybe have to sit with these questions and allow our preconceived ideas to be challenged.
Helpfully, at the end of each chapter in this book are questions for reflection. You can make these personal, and they are phrased in a “what do you think” as an individual – but, why not open these questions up and explore them in your teams? Our learning and discovery is so often richer for exploring what we perceive and know in community.
In chapter 2 “Spaces Video Games Crate” again, the authors pose some challenging questions – which I see have implications beyond video games for how we construct and organise our worshipping spaces and engagement with young people,
Rather than reading or watching, players are invited into a game’s narrative and setting and granted permission to be themselves – or a fantasy version of themselves. They are not able to be an external observer of what is unfolding, and are instead implicated in the plot.
Wow. Ok, think about that for a moment. You cannot engage in a game and be a passive recipient. There is something inherently immersive about gaming. Can the same be said of our worship?
Whilst there might be challenges for us “non-gamers” to get to grips with the gaming world, there is also insight for those immersed in this space. “Inherent meaning” is leaping out at me again, as Alastair and Andy comment on the gaming industry itself – reviews look at the functional aspects of gaming, graphics, sound and game mechanics – rarely asking “what is this game about?”
As we think about spiritual spaces we create for and with young people what is out focus? Do we look primarily at what we are going to do and how we are going to do it, or do we allow the deeper question of why we are doing it “what is this for?” to shape our worship and our practice overall?
In Chapter 3 it feels like the rubber hits the road. How is the world understood through they eyes of a young person who’s life is lived on and through screens?
I identify as a Gen Xer – I’m a digital immigrant, as pose to a digital native – I might not be immersed in the world of gaming, but here I am writing a blog for a digital platform which I will then share via Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn and maybe even Instagram (!) – yet, I see these spaces as places to visit not spaces to live. Young people see this space differently, so differently perhaps that to not grasp this is to miss the fact that for many this place – where they live on-line through gaming, chatting, participating, sharing and creating – is the only place where they might discover a deeper spirituality – a spirituality that makes sense in the space they inhabit, that they don’t need to leave in order to have meaning and encounter.
Chapter 4 is full of games you might never have heard of, but give you a place to begin your own journey.
I played “Passage” at a recent event where Alastair Jones was speaking and – it freaked me out – I won’t spoil it, it is free to download – a very simple game, reminiscent of those I started out playing back in the day . . . but, with a bit of theological reflection in advance of playing I had a profound moment! Give it a go . . .
As I read through the different games mentioned in this chapter the scope, themes, nature is almost endless – I got to thinking about how in youth ministry I have often used a video clip to emphasise or make a point, sometimes it is subtle or even obtuse (because I like the clip and will use it anyway!) other times it is like batting the young people over the head with “the truth”. What is fascinating about games – and using them as Alastair and Andy do – is how the wondering and the learning is not something we manufacture – as young people play games and reflect on their experiences, surely deeper learning and discovery happens than showing my favourite clip from “Avengers Assemble”?
Chapter 5 gets practical with “where do you start” stuff. I also love how they mess with Kolb’s Learning Cycle around the stages of learning – which just demonstrates so well how valid, important and necessary it is that we engage with gaming – and, more importantly, engage with the young people who inhabit this world and discover how we might reach them and engage with them where they are.
Maybe, if you buy this book you might shift from being a digital immigrant to a digital missionary. Every space young people inhabit has the potential to be a spiritual place, a place for encounter with God and with others than leads to transformation.
Get hold of this book and make a start on exploring spirituality in gaming and the online world.