By Laurene Wells
Foreign Missions are a prominent focus in church ministry programs. Street ministry is also a common church ministry program. And with the economy sliding into another Great Depression faster than a ball player can catch a fly ball, homeless ministries and soup kitchen ministries are exploding with staggering attendance. Children’s VBS programs are an annual summer pilgrimage for our nations youth. And short term missions to disaster zones are always needed somewhere in the world. These are all wonderful and much needed ministries that help many people. But there is yet an unreached people that churches have almost entirely ignored, as if they are invisible to the watchful eye of ministry and outreach pastors. In every town and city across the nation, even around the world, are people who self-identify as gamers.
They are everywhere. They may have had some exposure to Christianity as a child, or maybe not. They may be subsisting on boxed macaroni and cheese. They may have a job they hate, or they may be out of work. They might be in a relationship, or they might be hurting. They might be a teenager, or they might have a teenage child that has run away from home, or they might have grandchildren that they rarely get to see. They come from all walks of life, a wide range of socio-economic status groups, and range in education level from high school dropouts to top ranking graduates of a PhD. program. One thing they all have in common is a passion for games. Some play games for the competition, some play for the social interaction, but almost all play to escape. They play to escape the life they are stuck in and be someone else for a while, to be a hero, to have power to change their situation for the better, to experience success in a game that they feel like they are missing in life. And they are forever searching for a better game, one that will meet that inmost need, that deepest craving for something better, something more, something meaningful.
Christian game developers are making games to meet that need. To try to reach these unreached people. Christian game developers know that gamers are not in the soup kitchens, they aren’t in the refugee camps, they aren’t on the street corners, and they aren’t in VBS programs. They are in their livingroom, staring at a TV or computer monitor, with a plate of cold food sitting beside them, immersed in a game world that takes them away from all the troubles, trials, and traumas that this life has pounded them with to experience just a few moments of triumph. Christian game developers are trying to make games that will appeal to gamers on this level, that will bring a message of hope, a message of peace, a message of victory in Jesus that they have never experienced before. But because there are so few churches who are clued in to the need for this ministry in games, and because the secular game industry really is not interested in games as an outreach ministry, most Christian game developers are struggling to obtain the kind of support they need to be successful in making high quality games that gamers will want to play.
The average age of gamers in the United States is 37 years old. Approximately 72% of American households play games. Depending on which study you read, between 78-85% of Americans believe in God. Yet only 35% of the population attends church regularly. It seems plausible that some of these people, who believe in God, but are not attending church mightbe at home playing games instead.
Potentially as many as 100 million Americans who believe in God are at home playing games on Sunday mornings. They are seeking something in games that feeds a deep spiritual craving that they have not found in church. They are wounded, disconnected members of the church body that need to be restored. They need the nourishment of the Word of God without being beaten over the head with it. They need a safe environment to experience God again, or for the first time. In short, they need to experience the love of Jesus in a game.
Any game that can get them to open the Bible, whether that be the one on their shelf or the digital words in the context of the game experience, and read the word of God, has an opportunity to reunite them with the God who loves them. God speaks to us through the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
If we can get it into their hands, He will take it from there. As they experience the healing love of Jesus, they will recover from the wounds of this world, and pursue a closer relationship with God.
For gamers, this healing can start with Christian games. And to make quality Christian games that developers are proud to put their name on and present to the world, they need support from other Christians. Christian game development is an odd hybrid of ministry and business. Churches often don’t completely understand where Christian games fit into their ministry. They don’t immediately see how they can use games in their youth programs, family nights, small groups, and other local and short term mission ministries, so they don’t know how to interact with the Christian game developers attending their congregation. They may not even realize how much work is involved in making games, or how much Christian game developers must sacrifice to follow this calling. Christian game developers must invest their time, their resources, their skills, and usually their life savings in the long arduous process of creating the game.
Christian game developers are passionate about reaching the world for Christ through games, and feel absolutely that God loves gamers too, and that gamers need to experience the love of Jesus too. Yet when they try to present their work to fellow Christians in the church they are met with a range of responses from misinformed confusion to hostile confrontation. What they need is approval and support, or encouragement at the very least.
Christians need to buy Christian games to support the Christian game development industry. They need to buy Christian games for their own families, and for gifts to friends and relatives as well. Even people who know nothing at all about how to make a game can still be Christian game evangelists by sharing the games other Christians make with their church youth group, local colleges, and family ministries. Christians who can afford it need to invest in Christian game development companies and help get new games produced. Christians with game development skills need to seek out Christian game development teams and join this brave new ministry that is reaching out to the unreached people all around the world right in their own homes, through games.
Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”
Laurene Wells is the owner of Heaven’s Blessings Tiny Zoo, a game development company staffed entirely by volunteers who are working to reach the world for Christ through games. Their flagship project, Visions, is a Christian MMORPG currently in development. The team produced a racing game called Chariots that was released in 2008. Laurene has been a volunteer for the Christian Game Developers Conference (CGDC.org) every year since 2006. Laurene has also personally designed and produced a card game called Messiah, and a board game called Treasures in Heaven. Learn about all these games on the company website atÂ http://tinyzoo.com.