Digital media, in its various forms, can be difficult and slippery to understand. The temptation is to see it as an optional extra to the business of faith and hope in the real world.
As Karen O’Donnell wrote in a previous blog, “this can be exacerbated by a sense that the digital space is incompatible with the incarnational nature of our Christian calling; as if engaging in these digital spaces is somehow disembodied.”
However, many are discovering that (as O’Donnell suggests) digital technology and media can actually help “amplify and deepen the reach of formation opportunities”. With the right guidance, digital media can provide new ways to live out incarnational faith.
This is true for video games as well as social media or teaching resources. But video games don’t only extend the way we can connect with each other. They also create new virtual spaces that offer fresh opportunities for incarnation.
If you don’t play games yourself, you are likely to stop reading at this point. Video games are often seen as purely frivolous entertainment for juveniles in bedrooms. But my work and writing about games, faith and Christian spirituality has uncovered that there is more to them than that.
Video games create spaces that players enter. They are incarnated in new worlds of unimaginable narrative possibilities. More than that, these are spaces where spiritual encounter, ethical questioning and even finding faith can happen.
As I wrote in my Grove booklet about Digital Spirituality, “It is video games’ unique nature — their wildly unpredictable experiences, beautiful recreations of other worlds, intricate interactive invitations to experience life from different perspectives — that creates such unusual spaces.”
In the words of That Dragon, Cancer developer, Josh Larson, “The medium of video games is fundamentally structured for travellers who enter a strange land and wonder what the meaning of their life is all about.”
This is a lot to get your head around. The key change of thinking is seeing gaming media not as a new way to extend our current faith practices, but as a new place to incarnate new ways of practicing faith.
By Andy Robertson, a theologically trained video game journalist who writes for national newspapers and works as an expert for the BBC.
Andy recently published the Grove booklet “Exploring Spirituality in Video Games” (Y49 in the Grove Youth series, available for £3.95). The booklet shows how youth workers can use video-game spaces meaningfully to explore emotional, ethical, spiritual and even worshipful themes, and argues that delving into this untapped resource can help young people to engage with a host of real-life questions and issues.
Andy also creates resources to help non-gaming (and gaming) Christians to engage in this world of video games. Most popular are his weekly videos about games and meaning, available from just $1/month from Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/geekdadgamer). Andy is also writing a new book called Taming Gaming: Guide Your Child to Video Game Health (https://unbound.com/books/taming-gaming/) with a chapter specifically about how faith and community groups can benefit from video games. This is available to pre-order as an ebook or hardback today.
Would you like to know more about how Christians can engage with popular culture? Try this BigBible blog post about TV by Bryony Taylor. Bryony is the author of the great book More TV, Vicar?, and she has just created a new free discipleship course based on the Sean Bean TV series Broken.