What The Church Can Learn About Change From ‘Gamer’ Culture

Photographer: ZeroCoolGS
Electronic Arts Booth at the 2005 Game Convention
I know I talk a lot about change and Christianity. Because, well, like it or not, it’s here. You can change or be left behind. But I never advocate change for the sake of change. We are in the middle of intense cultural transformation. I want to see the church lead the way, because I believe we know The Way. My concern, and why I keep beating this drum, is this: if we keep fighting for an illusion of past cultural significance, influence, and glory—that doesn’t even matter!—we’ll miss what does matter: people who need Jesus.

Forewarned is forearmed

I’m going to make a giant logical leap in this post. I am going to take an article about ‘Gamer’ culture and apply it to church culture.
Why?
Because I believe the cultural challenges we face as church people are not all that different than cultural challenges faced in other areas of life and spheres of influence.
I am hoping that by showing the futile energy being spent on an outdated paradigm in ‘Gamer’ culture—and that being something most readers don’t relate to or care about (and thus, have no pre-built defenses)—I can then help you see that the same scenario (an outdated paradigm and the futile energy being spent on it) is at work in the church today.
I am hoping that this very real-life analogy will jar some into understanding who otherwise couldn’t get there.

Part 1 – An illustration of change. An application to us.

Leigh Alexander’s takedown of ‘Gamer’ culture is prescient and without mercy. And devastatingly accurate. (And, I acknowledge, part of a much larger story.) *[Updated link with more info below]
After pointing out the current realities forcing change, notice how she recognizes what is at stake, and why:

‘Gamers’ Don’t have to be Your Audience. ‘Gamers’ are Over.

“This is hard for people who’ve drank the kool aid about how their identity depends on the aging cultural signposts of a rapidly-evolving, increasingly broad and complex medium. It’s hard for them to hear they don’t own anything, anymore, that they aren’t the world’s most special-est consumer demographic, that they have to share.

This is hard for old-school developers who are being made redundant, both culturally and literally, in their unwillingness to address new audiences or reference points outside of blockbuster movies and comic books as their traditional domain falls into the sea around them. Of course it’s hard. It’s probably intense, painful stuff for some young kids, some older men.

But it’s unstoppable. A new generation of fans and creators is finally aiming to instate a healthy cultural vocabulary, a language of community that was missing in the days of “gamer pride” and special interest groups led by a product-guide approach to conversation with a single presumed demographic.

There is what’s past and there is what’s now. There is the role you choose to play in what’s ahead.”
Leigh Anderson

The current cries for change in the church are hitting our white, middle-class baby-boomers really hard (not all, of course). It is for the same reasons specified above: “It’s hard for them to hear they don’t own anything, anymore, that they aren’t the world’s most special-est consumer demographic, that they have to share.”
Younger generation in the church are tired of playing by outdated methods and language, and the world at large has simply left the playing field.
BUT TOO MANY ARE NOT NOTICING!

I know it’s hard to watch your domain fall down around you into the sea. But it is a needed correction.
See we’ve been lied to—we’ve been told that we could build something through God for ourselves. And after spending all that effort to make our Christian oasis, we’re not really willing to mess it up with something so messy as “the other.” There is a world out there that does not look like a Norman Rockwell painting. And any nostalgic sentimentality that wants to recreate that is not consistent with the Kingdom of God.
There’s a big world out there. If we pull up our religious window shades and let the Light shine in, we’ll see something bigger, and more diverse, than we could have ever imagined. It’s not an evil, scary thing to hide from, buttress against, and preach against. It’s a people deemed so precious, Jesus left the perfection of heaven to reach them.
How dare we not discard our self-created, illusions of cultural superiority, bound up in Christianese, fake paradises, to follow His example.

Just to make sure the point is clear, I’m going to take some liberties and reword the sections I quoted from Leigh Alexander’s article above:

“This is hard for people who’ve drank the kool aid about how their identity depends on the aging cultural signposts of a rapidly-evolving, increasingly broad, complex, and anti-Christian world. It’s hard for them to hear they don’t own anything, anymore, that they aren’t the world’s most special-est ministry demographic, that they have to share.

This is hard for old-school church ministers who are being made redundant, both culturally and literally, in their unwillingness to address new audiences or reference points outside of the language of their generation as their traditional domain falls into the sea around them. Of course it’s hard. It’s probably intense, painful stuff for some young kids, some older men.

But it’s unstoppable. A new generation of Christians and creators is finally aiming to instate a healthy cultural vocabulary, a ministry of inclusive community that was missing in the days of “political christian pride” and special-interest churches led by a business-minded approach to conversion with a single presumed demographic.

There is what’s past and there is what’s now.
There is the role you choose to play in what’s ahead.”

Part 2 – A response to change. A response for us.

The article quoted above is one of 5 “championing fair gender representation in video games” cited in an intense reactive campaign called, Operation Disrespectful Nod that eventually resulted in Intel pulling their ads from Gamasutra’s site.
You can read the whole thing on the Verge here:
Intel Buckles to Anti-feminist Campaign by Pulling Ads From Gaming Site

A closing paragraph from the Verge article:

What’s more clear is that Intel’s decision was a kneejerk reaction by the company so desperate to avoid bad press that it didn’t look at the human cost of the operation. Certainly the #GamerGate movement has secured support from genuinely concerned people who define themselves by their hobby and see it under fire from those with political motives, but it’s increasingly difficult to defend a movement that decries what it argues is censorship, and then organizes co-ordinated strikes to silence those calling loudest for fairness and equality in our video games.

Change is hard. Honoring the past and preparing for the future are challenging. When people hear that they have to change, they feel rejected. In the church, when people here that ministry methods must change, they feel devalued in their sacrificial, ministry work of decades.
Boomers think Millenials are overly catered to.
It takes one to know one.
In my experience—reading blogs, books, and countless personal conversations—many boomers are having a hard time coming down from a pedestal they have always viewed as normal.
Though sympathetic, I’m growing impatient.
There is a time where patience shows value.
There is also a time where patience devalues everyone else.

In both this actual situation, and the illustration I’m making, when including additional voices and viewpoints makes the former prevailing voice feel excluded, that former prevailing voice is simply out of touch. Yet most of what I’ve witnessed mirrors this pattern: calls for change, intense response campaign, knee-jerk reaction supporting status quo…
And it’s “increasingly difficult to defend a movement that… silences those calling for” a greater emphasis on reaching the marginalized with the Gospel and a refreshed commitment to more effective, modern discipleship methods.

So, one response is to huddle and cuddle and circle the wagons and launch a campaign of more intense exclusion.
Another response, and what we are looking for in our leaders, is to cultivate the mind of Christ:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Philippians‬ ‭2‬:‭5-8‬ NIV)

“There is what’s past and there is what’s now.
There is the role you choose to play in what’s ahead.”

*[Update] For more information on #GamerGate and writers like Leigh Alexander who are facing tremendous backlash, try this article on re/code: “What is Gamer Gate and Why is Intel So Afraid of It.”
One quote from the article: “…it all comes back in the end to who these people are and what they represent: Change.”
Yep.

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