Since 2000 the sale of video games has increased by over ten billion dollars to an average of 15.2 billion dollars earned. It is an expanding industry that has placed digital games into the hands of the youth of America for decades. Time Magazine reported in May of 2014 that on average gamers over the age of 13 spent 6.3 hours a week playing video games in 2013. This proved to be an increase of over a half an hour a day per person. With more time taken each day for gaming, whispers in the church start asking if the church has any place in the video game community. The problem isn’t just if the church as a place, but if they have earned a place in the community.
The main problem with the Christian church being accepted in the gaming community is that many key figures in the church have come out against video games. Former President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy James Tonkowich compared violent video games, like Halo, to alcohol and pornography in a recent article. Tonkowich stated “if you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it.” This statement doesn’t pull any punches towards gamers and runs right at youth pastors who use Halo and other games like it to bring youth into the building to hear the gospel.
The battle between using cultural trends to evangelize to the cities around the church and to keep the church void of any non-Christian ideas is not a new concept. For centuries the church has used the culture to change people outside of church walls. The story of Saint Patrick is one where he reached the people of Ireland by often giving them examples of Christ as it related to their culture. Patrick would explain the complex teaching of the trinity by pointing to the three different leaves on a shamrock as different leaves but all part of the same single shamrock. The use of cultural trends often leads people to become believers in Christ.
Youth pastors use cultural trends as additional opportunities to reach the lost. In an interview with Joey Synder, the youth pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church, he states that he believes “You have to find a balance for today’s culture in your youth ministry but make sure it stays Christ centered.” Synder has worked in different youth ministries for almost 10 years throughout Kentucky and has seen several cultural trends lead youth to become followers of Christ. He would continue on that “You have to set lines that are Christ-like. These lines have to be very clear and inside your ministry and you can never step over them.” These lines have to be specific and can never be tampered with or you will lose the ability to witness to the community and may end up appearing two faced.
Crystal Richards, a volunteer youth worker for 12 years and former teacher believes that video games have their place in church. “I hate video games, they stress me out,” Crystal would say “but when I see a group of 10 teenagers gather around a TV after or before a bible study excited and often talking about God you can’t argue that it brings people together.” Crystal would continue, “as a unpaid worker and having a second job you have to find ways that allow you to reach the youth of the community without being next to them everyday. Games like Halo allow you to connect on multiple levels and still share the word of God.” In the research for his book What I wish My Youth Minister Knew about Youth Ministry, Mike Nappa discovered that between 33 and 42 present of the youth are influenced by the volunteers in the ministry and how often they attend the group encourages to look outside the box at creative ways to build community in the youth.
In the video game world of Halo is a strong example of a clear line that can be set in any youth ministry. It has been rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, ESRB, as being a mature game. The rating of the game came because of language, violence, and blood and gore. The majority of the blood and gore in the game you experience is purple which leads the gamer to believe it isn’t real. Youth ministers typically host events to reach youth in the community surrounding the multiplayer aspect of the game. In the multiplayer aspect of the game their is no language in the game. Since the majority of television shows that air after 7pm contain the same ratings as Halo many youth ministers look for ways to include it in their ministry.
With the line drawn, ministers are able to create comparisons between games and if it doesn’t cross the line, it can be allowed. Another of the popular titles out now is Grand Theft Auto V. GTAV is known for having intense violence, nudity and drug use throughout the game and in the infographic above shows the massive amount parental warnings issued in the specific game to earn the Mature rating from ESRB. These warnings and the gameplay stops the ability to use it inside any Christian or non-christian youth events. Youth pastors like Synder believe that their is a line that shouldn’t be crossed but ministry should be as creative as possible. Joey would share that “anything in ministry is possible as long as long as it doesn’t cross the line and always glorifies God.”