Go Into All The World[s]: Evaluating Christian Presence in the Online Gaming Community

“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’”

Mark 16:15

A screenshot of a planet during the game's dev...

INTRODUCTION

The online gaming community is one quickly growing “unreached” subgroup of society and, as with any social phenomena, the Christian church has responded in a number of different ways.  One response involves a flat-out refusal to enter into this virtual world, citing the negative aspects and potential pitfalls associated with online gaming.  In one example, an author responds to the growing popularity of Pokémon by dismissing all games that involve violence or fantasy (two major components of many online games today), because they “desensitize children” to violence and evil.[1]  In fact, much of the research done on the gaming community attempts to discern possible connections between in-game and real-world violence.[2]

Another serious critique of the gaming phenomenon looks at the addictive qualities of online gaming.  There are many case studies of individual gamers struggling with addiction.  In one well known case, a couple from South Korea lost their daughter to malnutrition as they spent the majority of their time at an internet café.[3]  Such stories have led treatment centers across the globe, like Morningside Recovery in Newport Beach, CA, to offer programs specifically tailored to video-game addiction.

Although some Christians have responded to the gaming community with a degree of apprehension,[4] and for apparently good reason, others are actively engaging the virtual world.  When these Christian gamers are asked specifically why they play games with violence, many of them stress the disparity between the virtual world and real world with comments like “I’m only killing pixels.”  The right-wrong debate may not be settled for some, but for millions of people the question is a moot one; they play.[5] This research will sidestep the important conversation about the benefits and risks of video games to look at the Church’s presence in the virtual world, make some preliminary observations, offer (hopefully) constructive critique, and draw conclusions about a more nuanced approach to proclaiming the gospel in this vast landscape.

THE GAMING CONTEXT

In any attempt to evangelize, Christians must exhibit the kind of “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:5) which takes the time to understand the context of the people they are reaching while loving them sincerely.  For these reasons, this article examines the demographics of the MMOG community, considers its role as a “third place,” and considers some of the possible motivations and values that gamers[6] possess.

For the sake of focus, the following research deals primarily with people that play MMOG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Games), a demographic boasting a significant portion of adolescents.  Although games with a number of different platforms have historically moved toward social interaction (cf. Atari’s Pong vs. the Facebook game applications), the MMOG’s have developed an accelerated communal structure, offering more in-depth immersion and user connectivity.

Demographics.

Gamer

Stereotypes about the kinds of people who play online games abound, but the most popular feature a male teenager struggling with one aspect of responsibility or another.  Recent studies, however, have revealed that the gaming community is increasingly diverse.  In one study, roughly 40% of gamers were found to be female.[7]  Even though the majority still slants toward the male gender, this is a significant shift in the culture of gaming.  The gender divide differs in a number of nuanced ways.  When comparing age and gender distribution in Nick Yee’s extensive Daedalus Project, he discovered that “male players tend to be between 12 and 28, while female players tend to be between 23 and 40.”  The spectrum of male players, then, ranges from early to late adolescence and the female range includes late adolescents to adults.[8]  Therefore, any outreach aimed at the MMOG community necessarily focuses on a largely adolescent population.[9]

One of the questions put to MMOG players by the Daedalus Project asked “How important is religion in your life?”  Nearly 70% of 3,000 respondents selected “Not Important At All.”  Therefore, it is probably fair to deduce that gamers are largely disinterested in “religion” (although they might label themselves “spiritual” in a general sense)[10] and could be considered “unreached.”  The MMOG gaming community, then, features a large amount of unreached adolescents and serves as the focus for this article.

MMOG As A “Third Place.”

The sense of community built around gaming cannot be overstated.  Several software companies understand this and have capitalized on its social nature by marketing their cross-game products intended to enhance communal presence (i.e. Steam, Xfire, Ventrilo, Teamspeak, Origin, and many others).  Almost all of these programs include instant messaging, VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol, using microphones), and some display each gamer’s unique array of video games for further interconnection between players.

Cheers Sign
(Photo credit: Photomatt28)

In an article entitled “Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name,” Constance Steinkuehler (Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison) and Dmitri Williams (Univ. of Illinois) evaluate virtual worlds in respect to the “third places” of Ray Oldenburg; third places being the spaces which catalyze social interaction for people outside of work and home.  In order to assert the third place-ness of the gaming world, Steinkuehler and Williams demonstrated how this world fit all of Oldenburg’s “eight characteristics” (see Appendix A), excepting one.[11]  The only characteristic for which they concluded the virtual world did not literally fit was “Low Profile.”  While they agreed that the social community could be low profile, they observed most MMOG’s as ornate, fantastic, and  extra-normal.[12]  I disagree with their conclusion that MMOG’s do not fit this criterion in a literal sense.   I would contend that the gaming medium, the computer itself, is often situated in a low profile environment and, therefore, fulfills all eight characteristics of a “third place.”

The online gaming world certainly fits these criteria and, as any gamer would attest, fits them well.  By its very nature, the online game is a place of relative ease and social lubrication, neutral ground and a level playing field.  It involves a high degree of witty banter (cf. “trolling”) and provides a relatively stable set of usual participants.  The implications of these for evangelism are obvious, but will be taken up later in the article.

Possible Motivating Factors.

The Daedalus project generated a set of “primary motivations” that lie behind gamers’ desire to play.  This list included three categories; Achievement (becoming powerful, making progress, competing with others, analyzing game mechanics), Social (socializing with others, making good friends, working with others on a team), and Immersion (exploring the world, role-playing, escaping real life problems, customizing your character, being immersed in the MMO).[13]  Out of a survey of over 2,100 people, 19% chose progress as their primary motivation (the highest chosen category) while 14.5% chose immersion, 12.7% exploration, 10.2% socialize… on down to the bottom three; 4.4% power, 4.0% role-play, and 2.7% escape.  Once these responses were categorized according to average age, the data seemed to show that the older participants (average age 30.2 to 33.9) possessed more “casual” reasons for playing while the younger crowd (average age 25.6 to 27.3) chose relatively aggressive reasons (competition, power, analyze).

Some observations I have made from listening to participants in the gaming community reflect this set of desires, but there is one more nuance of a speculative nature that I would like to offer.  It is possible that gamers are attracted to the virtual community because of its economy.  Let me explain; in most games, everyone’s characters begin at roughly the same levels of skills, power, investment, and reward is reliably equitable for effort; something hardly characteristic of real-life situations.  This “level playing field” concept can be especially attractive for people with social and/or physical impairments that might hold them back from the sorts of social interaction they find online.

CURRENT OUTREACH STRATEGIES

In this vast, virtual world inhabited by millions of gamers, the response of the church has often been to call them away from gaming.  As was stated earlier, such an approach is a plausibly valid one, but the focus of this article is on the evaluation of the Christian presence already at work in the gaming community.[14]  Flat-out refusal to engage aside, the church’s response has largely fallen into one of two approaches; creating alternatives and creating space by forming online “clans.”

Creating Christian Alternatives.

In dependable Christian fashion, some have responded to the growing world of online gaming by creating Christian alternatives to popular games; a strategy employed by the Church in regards to pop music, television, movies, board games, clothing, and seemingly every other marketable form of cultural expression.  The proponents of this approach usually cite the negative messages of the most popular video games, along with their use of magic, witchcraft, demonology, violence, greed, sensuousness, along with every other type of vice, and such critique is hardly defenseless in light of games that encourage players to steal cars, shoot cops, deals drugs, and rob prostitutes (cf. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City).  While the morality of participating in certain virtual worlds is debated, the Christian alternatives have arrived.  Two such games interact seriously enough with the PC model of MMOG’s so as to be considered in this article.

Although a small selection of Christian games for mainstream consoles (ie Nintendo) and PC based pedagogical tools have been around for years prior, one massive leap into the alternative gaming genre came in the form of Catechumen, a single player game developed by Rev. Ralph Bagley in 2000.  He claims that there was little interest for investors until the Columbine shootings of 1999, after which support for such an alternative game increased dramatically.[15]  In Catechumen, which largely resembles the original Doom, the player takes on the role of a Christian during the times of official Roman persecution and must free his instructor from captivity in the catacombs beneath Rome.  To do this, the player wields a series of different swords that shoot lightning bolts of Holy Power at enemies, who happen to be demons and demon possessed guards.  The player comes equipped with a muscular angel companion and Scripture references that periodically pop-up on the screen as you progress.[16]

Another serious attempt at Christian alternative gaming built off of the successful  Left Behind Series which made a massive splash on the literature scene when it occupied the top four slots of the New York Times bestseller list in 1998.[17]  It wasn’t until November of 2006, however, that the series would be marketed as both a single player and online multiplayer PC game by Inspired Media Entertainment as Left Behind: Eternal Forces.  This game is reminiscent of the Command and Conquer series, featuring an aerial view from which the player controls different classes of troops, among them builders, nurses, prayer warriors, and soldiers.  The plot line follows the series’ plot; Jesus has raptured his church and the unbelievers were “left behind.”  A few converted to Christianity and formed the Tribulation Force, intent on battling the wiles of the Anti-Christ Nicolae Carpathia and his Global Community forces.  The goal of the game is to either convert the citizens and Global Community followers to the Tribulation Force, or defeat them with military prowess.

Some nuances of Left Behind: Eternal Forces left many gamers wanting.  From cumbersome camera mechanics to multiplayer connection issues, many have described it as poorly made.[18]  In one example, all of the units that the player controls have Spirit bars which continuously degrade, requiring the player to constantly resupply them through prayer; a process which becomes increasingly repetitive and boring.  Additionally, killing enemy units, though it accomplishes goals, lowers Spirit bars faster and requires extra prayer (such a feature is probably intended to counterbalance rewards for violence).  If the player doesn’t continuously check a unit’s level of Spirit, they are likely to revert to an unaffiliated or evil status.  One critic jokingly asked, “Who knew that leading people to the Lord would involve so much micromanagement?”[19]

If such a critique weren’t enough, certain aspects of the storyline left players frustrated and even offended.  The game developers were accused of, among other things, displaying questionable gender stereotypes; when civilians are converted, only men can then become the priest and builder units while only women can become nurses.  This is but one example of many that caused what one of the authors, Jerrry Jenkins, himself called a “public flap” (something he considers “ridiculous to the point of lunacy”).[20]

Although Catechumen, Left Behind: Tribulation Force, and other Christian games have aimed at alternatives to the regular gaming environment, nobody, to my knowledge, has developed a legitimately attractive Christian MMOG.  Left Behind is as close an attempt as there is, with its multiplayer option, but cumbersome mechanics, connectivity issues, questionable plot, and massive public backlash prevent some people, including me, from seeing it as a decent alternative to the available array of attractive games on the market.[21]

Creating Space Through Christian Clans and Gaming Communities.

Another approach to engaging the gaming community for Christ involves a number of Christian subsets of the larger virtual community itself, often called “clans,” “guilds,” or “alliances.”  There are hundreds of these Christian gaming societies attempting to attract players from across the gaming spectrum and unite them under a common banner (see Appendix B for an extensive listing).

CGO

These groups were often started by a close knit group of friends and began to branch out into the community as they came into contact with other Christian gamers, reflecting a “grass-roots” sort of outreach (this probably has something to do with the gaming community’s tendency to foster user created content, investment, and initiative).  The expressed goals of the Christian clans differ from one to the other, but many of them exhibit the following affirmations:

  1. Provide a positive atmosphere (i.e. no swearing, name-calling, or cheating) in the midst of an often negative gaming community.
  2. Spread the knowledge of Jesus (although this isn’t usually explained beyond the other two affirmations).
  3. Open to Christians and non-Christians alike, who are willing to follow the rules of conduct.

Less than the majority of these specific gaming clans, though a significant amount, include rough creeds about their beliefs, and they seem to use either wide, ecumenical language, or they closely mirror conservative Evangelical church confessions.

The life of a Christian gaming association is located in its forums and VOIP channels.  The forums provide channels for discussion of various games, administrative news, Bible studies, questions about life or God, technical issues, politics, RL (Real Life) biographical information about members, and other subjects. The VOIP channels serve to enhance in-game communication and other group meetings.  Some clans spend money renting servers for specific games that their membership plays, giving them control of rules and the ability to moderate in-game activity.  These servers often generate a flow of traffic from players “outside” of the clan and provide some level of interaction with the gaming community at large.

GOALS AND METHOD FOR EVANGELISM

The goal of Christian evangelism is the knowledge of and volitional assent to the Lordship of Christ.  It is one thing to know that Christ is Lord; as it says in James 2:19 “even the demons believe- and shudder!”  It is something else to give your allegiance to the ruler of all creation.  As we consider reaching out to the gamers located in the MMOG community, the person and work of Jesus Christ must be the focal point of our message.  The knowledge of the gospel includes the arguably universal acknowledgement that things are broken (including us), that God has made, and is making all things right through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from the dead.  The primary way that things are “being made right” is in their relation to God; specifically, God is reconciling all things to himself through Jesus (Col 1:20). This includes gamers, their relationships, and the worlds that they inhabit.

Incarnational Witness.

God entered our world in a new way through the life of Jesus.  He became one of us, moved next door, even “bec[oming] flesh and dwell[ing] among us” (John 1:14).  He is the “avatar” of the invisible God (Col 1:15).[22] This is what theologians call the “incarnation;” God and man become one.  From this concept, incarnational witness has emerged; Jesus’ followers are called to enter into the lives and worlds of the people they are called to love and evangelize.  This looks markedly different than the model which dominates church life today; the “come to us” idea of attractional witness.[23]  Although creating attractive churches and programs is hardly a bad thing to pursue, it simply isn’t enough.  Christian are called to “go into all nations and make disciples” (Matt 28:19), not “call all the nations unto yourself, the disciples.”  This requires an entering into another world and, in a sense, acclimating to the environment.

An integral part of incarnational witness is the model of the “middle step.”  Instead of coming into contact with people and immediately presenting the content of the gospel, incarnational witness uses shared experience in order to gain access to other people’s lives and attentions.  Those who ignore the middle step (shared experience) in the MMOG community might be someone copying and pasting “Jesus is Lord” over and over in general chat, but, more likely than not, many will automatically dismiss them as “trolling” (or worse).

The beauty of evangelization in the MMOG context is the nature of gaming itself.  The games that adolescents play are ready-made, extremely accessible middle steps.  Allow me to explain.  Imagine a 40 year old man trying to affectively engineer a middle-step with adolescents at the local basketball court.  This would take, if it would work at all, a decent amount of time and relational maneuvering to execute.  In the MMOG, however, players cross paths and enter into shared experiences on a consistent basis, sometimes at the rate of every 10 minutes (cf. the gameplay in APB: Reloaded).  These sessions involve strategy, teamwork, and facing crises.  Lack of physical proximity aside (or maybe because of it!), one would be hard pressed to generate a better middle step in such a short period of time.  The key for Christian witness is to be consciously invested in these experiences, building relationships, modeling the sort of character molded by Christ, and taking every opportunity to explain the “hope that is in you, with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).

Keys to Persuasion.
Stop! Now talk to the hand
(Photo credit: Daniel Dionne)

Persuasion has acquired something of a negative connotation, specifically in regards to religious proselytization, and rightly so.  Christians have used the “bait and switch” method to trick people into hearing or reading the gospel (cf. gospel “money” tracts), attending Christian meetings, having awkward conversations, and watching Christian movies.  These sort of tactics rarely produce change in people, and probably least so in adolescents, whom value sincerity and transparency in others.[24]  Persuasion of a Biblical nature, however, involves a sincere love for the unreached and a desire to see them reconciled to God through Christ.  As Paul put it, “therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2Cor 5:11).  Our present goal is to persuade adolescent gamers to change their minds. In order to maximize our persuasive efforts, we must look critically at characteristics of persuasive people, the motivations of MMOG players, and what might amount to meaningful response.

Characteristics of persuasive Christians include being natural, open and real, respectful, and simple.  In the context of MMOG’s, this means respecting the communal norms and rituals established by each game.  Being “natural” means feeling free to engage in playful joking, bearing the inevitable troll with grace and humor, answering questions without getting defensive, and allowing others to express themselves without harmful ridicule.  Being respectful in such a context demands that players respect the flow of conversations; even though ingenuity and wit are encouraged conversation changers, attempting to force a religious tone upon a conversation could have negative effects.  Keep in mind, however, that over 53% of MMOG players said they chat about “Real Life Personal Issues” while gaming at least sometimes or often.[25]  Gamers are willing to have conversations about religion in general and their faith in specific, but such opportunities will occur somewhat organically.  Christians must prepare themselves to respond when they do.

As we saw earlier, the highest percentage of gamers in the Daedalus Project chose “progress” as their primary motivation, followed by immersion, exploration, and socialization.  In what ways might the Christian gospel speak to these motivating factors?  Does the Christian message speak of progress?  Absolutely; as followers of Jesus, we are constantly challenged by Scripture to pursue excellence (Col 3:23-24), growth (1Pet 2:2), maturity, and progress in our pursuit of God (Heb 5:12ff).  Speaking of spiritual gifts, Paul instructed Timothy to “practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1Tim 4:15).  If such admonishment isn’t a slogan for MMOG motivation, then nothing is.

The truth is, the gospel isn’t opposed to immersion, exploration, or socialization either; in fact, these things are inimical to the gospel.  The incarnation demonstrates immersion (Phil 2:5f), the great commission commands Christian exploration (Mat 28:16f) and the Trinity speaks of sociability as inherent to the very nature of God, extending into the relational nature of the Christian community.  These are only a sample of connections between the gospel and the motivations of MMOG players, but they are important keys in the persuasion process.

One difficult question to answer must be asked; what does meaningful change look like for an MMOG player?  An easy answer harkens back to the goal of evangelism; “volitional assent to the Lordship of Jesus,” but is that the only form of “meaningful” change?  The Assimilation and Contrast effects suggest that it isn’t.  If a hardcore Christian gamer attempts to immediately persuade a non-Christian gamer, whom hates Christians, to deeply love Christ and his followers, the result is often the opposite desired; such a gamer will hate Christians all the more (Contrast Effect).  On the other hand, if in the midst of their gaming a Christian and Christian-hater have meaningful interaction and the Christian attempts to get the Christian-hater to only moderately dislike Christians, such is likely to happen (Assimilation Effect).  All this to say that gradual change is a realistic, honorable, and functional part of the evangelism process.

Still, the outcomes of volitional assent must be defined.  If a Christian gamer witnesses to an online friend and that friend makes a decision to follow Jesus, certain things become central for the Christian to communicate.  The concept of “following” the teachings and lead of Jesus is the necessary starting place, but focuses should also include responding to God’s love, obedience, and connecting with a church.  This last emphasis is probably the most difficult one to follow through on in an online environment.  Nevertheless, the importance of church connection must, at some point, be stressed as an important part of belonging to God’s community (Heb 10:25).

Evaluating Current Strategies.

The first category of Christian outreach to the gaming community involved creating alternative games.  Such efforts, admirable as they are, amount to something like an attractional model.  Instead of entering into the communities themselves, these games stand conspicuously outside of the group, asking players to leave the fold to try out their wares.  Even though the attractional model might influence some, as Jerry Jenkins insists it does,[26] there will always be gamers who refuse to “walk through the doors.”  How will these games impact unreached adolescents?  And what if they do?

The biggest problem with alternatives is their quality.  If, and only if, we decided to create Christian alternatives to contemporary games, they must be developed excellently.  When the number of Christian alternatives increases while the quality lags seriously behind their “worldly” counterparts, the message of the person of Christ is needlessly associated with subpar and kitsch stereotypes.

The second category, Christian clans, is a more integrated approach.  These gamers are attempting to enter and engage the gaming community in a more direct way.  Still, most of these clans operate on a “separateness” intended to serve Christian gamers by creating moral atmospheres (an important goal), but stop short of any aggressive attempt to connect with non-Christian gamers in the virtual places they inhabit.  Some Christian clans purportedly aspire to such efforts, but their goals are unclear and their success is difficult to measure.

CONCLUSIONS

The Christian church is tasked with going into all the world and proclaiming the gospel to all of creation (Mark 16:15).  If taken seriously, this command necessarily extends to the virtual creations and virtual worlds inhabited by an increasing number of adolescents every year.  I would like to offer three final suggestions for any Christian or church seriously considering its call to evangelism or youth outreach in an MMOG context; first, any attempt at creating alternative Christian gaming must commit to the absolute highest standards of excellence, matching or excelling those of “regular” game developers.  They should also take into account the reality that not even most gamers will play their games.  Secondly, Christian clans should not only commit to building safe communities for young Christian gamers, every one of them should develop true “outreach” separate from the safety of their controlled environments.  This might look like teams of gamers committed to the principles of persuasion, witness, gentleness, and respect, while aggressively implanting themselves in other gaming communities in the vein of incarnational witness.  Finally, whether one is a member of a Christian gaming clan, involved in developing alternatives, or simply a part of the church at large, fellow Christians must rally around those who would pursue such evangelistic efforts in MMOG’s.  Instead of an ambivalent relationship with this growing demographic of unreached adolescents, the Church must commit to its gamers by providing community, support, accountability, encouragement, and a tether to real-life, while understanding both the potential pitfalls of gaming and  Jesus’ call to go into all the world[s].

——————————————–

Appendix A: Ray Oldenburg’s 8 characteristics of “Third Places”

Characteristic Definition
Neutral Ground Third places are neutral grounds where individuals are free to come and go as they please with little obligation or entanglements with other participants.
Leveler Third places are spaces in which an individual’s rank and status in the workplace or society at large are of no import. Acceptance and participation is not contingent on any prerequisites, requirements, roles, duties, or proof of membership.
Conversation is Main Activity In third places, conversation is a main focus of activity in which playfulness and wit are collectively valued.
Accessibility & Accommodation Third places must be easy to access and are accommodating to those who frequent them.
The Regulars Third places include a cadre of regulars who attract newcomers and give the space its characteristic mood.
A Low Profile Third places are characteristically homely and without pretension.
The Mood is Playful The general mood in third places is playful and marked by frivolity, verbal word play, and wit.
A Home Away from Home Third places are home-like in terms of Seamon’s (1979) five defining traits: rootedness, feelings of possession, spiritual regeneration, feelings of being at ease, and warmth. [27]

 


Appendix B: List of Christian Gaming Clans

=AT= Anav Tsiyr«A°G» Army of God{BIC} Brothers In Christ}

CoG{ Children of God

<CC>< Christian Crew

Chirstian Coalition of Countries

+CGO+ Christian Gamers Online

~cKs~ Christian Key Smashers

=CS= Christian Snipers

{CS} Christian Soldiers

CS7~ Christian Soldiers 7th Division

{CSF} Christian Star Fleet

|CoR| City of Refuge

[LORD] Clan Lord

{G4CD} Clever Dragon Gaming

[CS] Day of Defeat Christian Soldiers

[D.O.G.] Disciples of God Revolution

]DES[Double Edge Sword

-)ET(- Easy Targets

[HOA] Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse

-=]FGA[=- Friendly Gamers Alliance

[4Him] Gamers 4 Him

+g4J+Gamers 4 Jesus

{GBG} Gaming By Grace(GFC) God’s Frozen Chosen}GHS{ God’s Humble ServantsGS Good Samaritans

}GoC{ Guardians Of Christ

-^IW^- Invisible Warriors

[ISI]Iron Sharpens Iron

=ITC= In The Clouds

-}KinGDoM{- Kingdom Clan

*MoG* Men of God

Men of Valor

-=Of-God=- Of God Clan

[R] Redeemed

(RC) Resonate Christ

-=SBD=- Saved Before Death

S@V3D Saved Crew

+SbG+ Saved by Grace Fellowship

}SoC{ Soldiers of Christ

[SOFW] Soldiers of Foreign Wars

JL Team Jesus Lives

=TCM= The Christian Militia

[ToJ] Tribe Of Judah

{TF} Tribulation Force

<T|F> Tribulation Force Gaming

(WWA) World Wide Ambassador [28]

*with “clan tags”

Other Christian Gaming Clans:

The Forgiven


[1] Jackson, John Paul. Buying and Selling the Souls of Our Children: A Closer Look at Pokémon.

(Ft. Worth: Streams Publications, 2000), 35.

[2] Another significant section of research in this field studies the applicability of gaming for educational and training goals.

[3] BBC News. S Korea child ‘starves as parents raise virtual baby’. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8551122.stm (accessed June 8, 2012).

[4] Patrick, McCormick,  Moral Kombat.  U.S. Catholic.( Chicago: Apr 2009. Vol. 74, Iss.  4), 42.

[5] The gaming company Blizzard announced in 2011 that World of Warcraft had 11.4 million subscribers. Ziebart, Alex. World of Warcraft dips to a mere 11.4 million subscribers. WOW Insider. http://wow.joystiq.com/2011/05/09/world-of-warcraft-dips-to-a-mere-11-4-million-subscribers/. (accessed June 7, 2012).

[6] From now on “gamer” will be used interchangeably with “MMOG player.”

[7] Tamsin Osborn. The Virtual Battle of the Sexes. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7796482.stm (accessed June 7, 2012).

[8]Nick Yee, Age and Gender Distribution. The Daedalus Project, 2003. http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/000194.php (accessed June 7, 2012).

[9] It is often difficult to form rigid age related delineations in online outreach, due to the high degree of anonymity.  An integral part of this article, however, is the assumption that evangelism in the MMOG community is nearly synonymous with youth outreach and evangelism.

[10] Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes. Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them. (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2009), 5.

[11] Constance Steinkeuhler and Dmitri Williams,Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name:
Online Games as “Third Places”.
  http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol11/issue4/steinkuehler.html (accessed July 7, 2012).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Nick Yee, Primary Motivations. The Daedalus Project, 2008. http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/001612.php?page=1 (accessed June 7, 2012).

[14] On something of a side note, some youth ministries involve the use of multiplayer games, like the Halo series for Xbox, as tools for outreach.  Although this is technically connecting with adolescents through the “video game” medium, I do not believe it qualifies as outreach into the gaming community, and certainly does not meet this article’s MMOG criteria.

[15] Matthew Davis, Christians Purge Video Game Demons. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4534835.stm (accessed June 7, 2012).

[16] Rick Casteel, Guid 2 Games: Catchumen. http://www.christiananswers.net/spotlight/games/2001/catechumen.html (accessed June 7, 2012).

[17] Jimmy Akin , False Profit: Money, Prejudice, and Bad Theology in Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind Series,

http://www.catholic.com/documents/false-profit-money-prejudice-and-bad-theology-in-tim-lahaye%E2%80%99s-left-behind-series (accessed June 7, 2012).

[18] Brett Todd, Left Behind: Eternal Forces Review. Gamespot, 2006.

http://www.gamespot.com/left-behind-eternal-forces/reviews/left-behind-eternal-forces-review-6162370/ (accessed June 2012).

[19] Ibid.

[20]Jerry Jenkins, Left Behind Video Game Controversy, Left Behind Website. http://www.leftbehind.com/05_news/viewNews.asp?pageid=1322&channelID=17 (accessed June 7, 2012).

[21] However, there are some Christian game developers working to move on from  the unexcellent” and “preachy” stigmas. Owen Good, Christian Game Developers Want to Leave Bad Games Behin. Kotaku.

http://kotaku.com/5821259/christian-game-developers-want-to-leave-bad-games-behind (accessed June 7, 2012).

[22] This metaphor should not be pushed all the way to Modalism (i.e. the Father is the Son).

[23] Roxburgh, Alan J. and M. Scott Boren, Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One (Baker Books. Kindle Edition, 2009), 20.

[24] Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes. Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them. (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2009), 144.

[25] Nick Yee, Additional Player Demographics. The Daedalus Project, 2007. http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/001556.php?page=2 (accessed June 7, 2012).

[26] Jerry Jenkins, Left Behind Video Game Controversy, Left Behind Website. http://www.leftbehind.com/05_news/viewNews.asp?pageid=1322&channelID=17 (accessed June 7, 2012).

[27] Constance Steinkeuhler and Dmitri Williams,Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name:
Online Games as “Third Places”.
  http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol11/issue4/steinkuehler.html (accessed July 7, 2012).

[28]Cheryl Gress, Christian Gaming Clans, Christian Game Servers Website.

http://www.christiangameservers.com/index.php/christian-clans (accessed June 7, 2012).

[Adapted from a research paper presented at Fuller Theological Seminary]

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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  • I really like your style of writing, excellent job. I am adding this article to my “Gaming Articles” folder for use in the book I am writing on Gaming Evangelism. Good work in scratching the surface.

    I am surprised you didn’t use my exhaustive list of Christian Gaming Clans & Guilds, as opposed to the one by Cheryl Gress from christiangameservers.com, which is a condensed copy of mine that they used by permission of me of which I told them to give credit for their source and obviously they didn’t.

    You said, “Some Christian clans purportedly aspire to such efforts, but their goals are unclear and their success is difficult to measure.” You should not blame the online Christian communities for your inability to ask the right questions in order to receive the data you intend on receiving.

    All in all, you made some great comments and excellent observations. I look forward to additional posts about Christian gaming.

    Many blessings,

    |CoR| Pres-Cool_Hand_Luke

    • Thanks for your comments Dade.

      I didn’t intend to criticize Christian clans, I’m just pointing out that “clans” themselves aren’t inherently “missional.” Most of them run their own servers and do a great job of providing places for the unreached to visit, but that isn’t the same as going to these people where they are (in the places they game). I’m sure some might, but it would be cool to see it become something that clans really invest in.

      I still believe that some (or most) Christian clans’ goals are unclear when it comes to [missional] activity in the gaming community. Nearly all of the clans I researched had very clear goals, but when it came to incarnational ministry things were generalized if they were present at all. I think many of them assume Christians-playing-video-games qualifies as “incarnational.” Forums, websites, Bible studies, and servers are great, but they aren’t the same as “implanting themselves in other gaming communities” (emphasis on “other”). Such an effort might look like a clan sending some of their own to spend most of their time in different clans and servers while maintaining a relationship with their “senders.”

      Thank you for helping me clarify my thoughts, even if you still disagree with me. It is possible that I overlooked some information, as no amount of research will ever exhaust any given subject.

      As for the list, I didn’t see any posted indication of where it came from. Would you mind if I used your list here?

  • Allen,

    In your reply, you proved my point. I would totally agree that at face value documentation may not reveal the total story, but you still have to ask the question to get the right answer. If your research entails reading articles, posts, and books and does not include questioning the sources for accuracy, clarification and verification, then yes you will always find validation for your presupposition.

    Why do I bring this point up? Most clans make an exerted effort to research, survey, and plan for new games or avenues for online outreach. Usually this is determined by two factors. First is by what is new that’s coming out. Secondly by what the current members are playing at that time. Our clan is different in that it was establish for the sole purpose of outreach. Our mission is to bring online gamers to Christ, disciple online gamers in Christ, and have fun doing it, although our actual mission statement does not accurately say that at the moment and we are updating it. That is my point. If you had actually questioned or surveyed the clan leaders, I would venture to say that you might have received a different response than what your article represented.

    A good example is your statement that “their success is difficult to measure”. Based upon who’s measurement? What data are you trying to ascertain that is difficult to measure? In my book that I am writing, the foundation is data that proves a Christian online gaming ministry can be successful. The data that I have collected for over 10 years in preparation for writing this book was measured and based upon those measurements and can confidently say there are success stories. There is no difficulty in measuring the data, but there is difficulty in gathering the data from servers, forums, and testimonials. That is what I addressing.

    What difference does it make? The difference is whether or not any Christians should venture forward into the online gaming mission field. The overall assessment sounds more like a warning than an encouragement, and one that is not based upon on any measured success or failure stories, but rather academic observations.

    Obviously this is something I feel passionately about. I didn’t intend on making a whole discussion around this. I have looked at a couple other articles you wrote and I really enjoy your style of writing. Synonyms FTW.

    Blessings my friend,

    |CoR| Pres-Cool_Hand_Luke

  • This article shines a light on the multiple ongoing efforts of ministries and other gaming organizations in the ever-expanding community of online gamers. Nicely done!

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  • Anonymous

    I enjoyed the article. As a 40 yo female, it was nice to see that my demographic was covered 🙂 Sadly, our guild wasn’t, although it may be seen as an offshoot of {TF}Tribulation Force which was our Counter Strike Clan. I am part of The Forgiven, a World of Warcraft guild that has been going strong for 7 1/2 years, has approx 450 members and was a founding member of the small guild alliance on the Terenas server. It has allowed us to routinely and specifically run in groups that are not Christian based to build relationships with others outside of our faith. I can not begin to count the amount of times that I have been on a voice server, doing something in game, when someone shares a difficult time they are going through and I can ask if it would be okay to pray for/with them. Some of the people we have developed relationship with have approached us specifically to ask for prayer. The gaming community is definitely one of those fields that are ready for harvest. (John 4:35)

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it and that you all are a presence in that community. I’ll add your clan to article.

  • Thomas O’Brien

    As an extremely avid gamer, i love this brother! So many of the points where well hit. The Assimilation and Contrast effects is something that i have many times experienced. Especially in an MMORPG. I have spent days of playing time with people inside and outside of the guild i was in. Soldiers for the Cross (SFTC). Alot of vocal gamers on the chat channel will view themselves with enough confidence to express their viewpoints on the chat channels. Many times people will slam anything religious right away and since we are all stubborn… this either turns into a very public argument or worse.

    The flip side is just as many people respect your mentality when you group frequently. Even the filthiest mouth can learn to talk without cursing lol. And it is true about many clans being unclear of their goals and being able to measure success. For every christian clan that starts another one falls apart. Many do create a safe haven for gaming. Its great for bringing in kids and keeping it clean.

    But it is very difficult to not have progression or some type of achievement mentality in a game. Most people that group do so because more can be accomplished, or make the game better. Most people that do group up (clans or pick up groups… pugs) want to enrich the game. So if you are not able to enrich their game, they wont group for long. And thus, no middle ground can be established. So if your entire guild is sole concerned with evangelism… they need to understand that you are targeting people that bought the game to play the game. that means… YOU better be able to play the game or you will be an annoyance, not a witness. Someone shouting “Jesus Loves you!” at the stables while the rest of the map is controlled by the enemy is about the worst image i can imagine… and i have a little more patience than most. Grouping requires a common goal… sometimes the game does it for you (pvp ques… or mission grouping) or sometimes people find their own. Not many non-believers are going to buy a video game, and hope they can drag someone through the game while being evangelized with. But when you give that person i bag at a low level… grow up with him and slay Gruul the Dragon slayer… now that is middle ground for ya!

    And i would love to see a great christian game made. It just not out there yet. The Left Behind game was like playing pong when you could just grab Red Alert III and be blown away. So what would the game have to have to be successful?

  • “killing enemy units, though it accomplishes goals”

    Not true. There are absolutely no goals in the game which involve killing enemy units.

    “From cumbersome camera mechanics to multiplayer connection issues, many have described it as poorly made.”

    These issues were completely and satisfactorily dealt with in patches that the game automatically checks for every time it is launched. In fact, at least one reviewer significantly upgraded his score for the game due to these patches.

    “In one example, all of the units that the player controls have Spirit bars which continuously degrade, requiring the player to constantly resupply them through prayer; a process which becomes increasingly repetitive and boring.”

    The degradation is actually very slow. With the Spirit bars at full (which doesn’t take long to accomplish), one can easily play an entire level without having to worry much about them, if at all.

    • Thanks for the update. I myself haven’t played Left Behind: Eternal Forces since just after its release. I’m glad to hear they patched up some of the really weak portions of the game.

      When I played the game, it was definitely useful to kill opponents at certain moments. Is that still true?

  • I am the Community Leader of Awakened to Redemption Christian Gaming Portal (awakened-red.enjin.com), and I am the leader of our Guild Wars 2 faction Salt of the Earth [Salt]. My personal goal is to see ministry to be developed in the communities. This has been a heavy burden on me for almost 10 years now. I would dedicate more time writing, ministering, leading a Bible study if this area of ministry could provide money for me and my wife. This is a huge mission field that needs people who are supported like a missionary to reach the billions of people who play various games. Though my focus is MMORPG’s, I have seen a few become saved, returned to Christ, friendships created that have provided networking/prayer/fellowship. I do not want to replace the church, but I would love to be a ministry of a church that can see how the online community is hungry for truth because they will alone, lost, hopeless, and powerless in the real world that they hid in gaming. I love to game, it is my hobby, and I have fun playing with people in my gaming community. I also see the need to minister and mentor those in search. There needs to be a wake up call in churches and Christian ministries to help gamers who have the skills like I do to support them to expand the ministry to be apart of the church not a separation of it.

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