I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to travel to Gen Con, one of the world’s largest tabletop and miniature gaming conventions as a missionary with GameChurch. GameChurch attends all different kinds of pop culture conventions to tell people Jesus love them, and through that to bridge the gap between gamers/geek culture and the Church. What an experience! Not only was I in this temporary gaming metropolis, surrounded by a culture I love, but I got to be there handing out books with the Gospel of John, telling gamers Jesus loves you!
Over the years, many misunderstandings arose between the church and gamers. GameChurch wants to initiate a conversation between these two parties – to bridge the gap, so to speak. I have been a gamer since before I can even remember. Playing the NES with Super Mario Brothers 3 and the like are some of my earliest memories. I have been gaming longer than I have been a Christian. Because of that, I saw the way that Christians judge video games, and part of me thinks that has affected me in my walk with Christ.
When coming to Christ, and even now, I questioned whether I should play games or not. The negative stigma towards gaming that the Church pushed over the years has not helped this. For every Pokémon fan, there’s almost as many people saying that the Pocket Monsters are demonic and evil. The furor and controversy over Nintendo’s creation calmed down over the years, but newly popular Pokémon games reignite the debate. It has been something I have wrestled with and am working on, but what I felt at this convention is like nothing I have felt before.
Being in a group of people who speak your language and share your joys brings out something in you. They were not the outsiders in this community. There is a shared passion, enjoyment and camaraderie among gamers and geeks. Sit at a random table for a demo, and you build relationships, even for 10 minutes at a time. There is something different that a convention like this presents that other don’t: it encourages interaction and relationship building.
Sitting in the booth is all about interaction. What do you have? What are you making? These are the questions that people ask themselves when eyeing Gen Con exhibitors, and whether or not they feel it is worth their time to check out. Presenting Jesus to people here is another challenge since Christianity’s presence isn’t represented much in these settings, as noted earlier, which hinders interaction. So how do we bridge the gap?
One way is showing that we, as Christians, are also gamers! We are Star Wars fans who are excited for Rogue One; we are excited about Final Fantasy XV finally coming out; we wonder if winter will ever be coming. The list goes on! We have common ground, and common ground starts conversations. You would be surprised how easy it is to start a conversation with a random person when you are geeking out. Building that relationship opens doors for conversations on faith.
We don’t want to kick down their doors screaming “Repent!” If we do that, we simply push people away and cause more harm than good. If you want civil conversations, start civilly. Just sitting there in the main hall, handing handing out books and swag that says “Jesus Loves Gamers”, and tells them “Jesus loves you. Enjoy the convention” catches them off guard! There’s no unwarranted push. If people do want it, we don’t force the issue – that’s not how relationships work. People must make a decision for themselves. I had some really great moments talking to people, sometimes not offering anything to them. Here are a couple examples:
- A father and son walked by and saw the booth. He was laughing at it, in a good way though! He picked up one of the books and started reading it. He saw it was serious and not a joke. His facial expression changed from laughter to surprise. He was so happy that we were there. He took some gear for him and his son.
- I talked with a gentleman wearing a Judas Priest shirt about metal music for about 5-10 minutes. I complimented him on his shirt and we just started talking about band like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. I didn’t offer him anything. We just talked. He looked around the booth while we were talking seeing all the Jesus gear. Afterwards we parted, making me wonder if just talking to him about a common interest and not condemning him for metal music made an impact. It’s not everyday you talk classic heavy metal with a Christian at a booth in a gaming convention!
- I got to talk to many people about Bloodborne and Dark Souls. Bloodborne, even though I beat it, was not my cup of tea. The game was too weird and creepy for me, but I really enjoy Dark Souls. The Bloodborne game was a big seller it seemed. I saw a lot of people with it the first couple days. The Dark Soils board game, slated to come out in 2017, had a new demo that ran on Friday and Sunday. I got to use my interest and knowledge of those series to start conversations. One morning before the doors opened to the public, I got to try the Dark Souls demo. After a little bit, the doors were opened and I was surrounded by people. Here I am, in my khakis and my “Jesus Loves Gamers” lanyard surrounded by people watching me try to defeat the Dancer of Boreal Valley. I left the crowd of people after almost killing the boss. Very Dark Souls like! Later that day, I believe, one of the people who worked for the company making the Dark Souls board game came by the Gamechurch table and grabbed some swag. I may not have had anything to do with that, but you never know when you can make an impression even by just being there and not doing anything out of the norm.
- A guy walked by with a vest that had a bunch of metal and extreme metal patches on it. I noticed an Agalloch patch on it. I don’t see those often. I complimented him on his patch and as he kept going he grabbed some of our stuff.
- This last one I was not directly involved but was in the booth behind the people who had this interaction. I asked then if I could borrow the story that they posted as they could word it better than I. (Thanks guys!) : “Out of all my conversations with fellow gamers this weekend, the one that stands out the most was a young woman I met on Sunday morning. Our booth sat at the intersection of a T and she was walking directly towards it, staring at our banner, looking very confused. So, I answered the question on her face: “Yes, we’re serious!” She came over and I offered her a Jesus FTW and said, “Jesus loves you.” She stared at it for a moment and then pointed to a self-adhesive rainbow colored ribbon with the word “Gaymer” on it attached to her badge. “Is this a problem?” she asked. I told her, “No. Jesus loves everyone.” She took our little book and said, “I’m . . . . going to have to think about this,” and moved on to the leather shop next door. But she was thinking about it – and I hope she sees us there again next year because I’d love to continue the dialog.”
Those are just a few examples of what took place over the long, fun weekend that was Gen Con. It brought me out of my comfort zone and, and helped me as a person and in my faith. I realized that I can be who I am, with my hobbies, and use them to help the Kingdom. I may not have all the answers on whether or not they should play a certain game – I still wrestle with those things myself -but we can at least start the conversation and relationship building that could lead to many great things!