Game Church is a ministry that is attempting to reach out to the gaming “subculture”. They do this through active participation in the video game world and through running a digital outreach through a blog and podcast. In this interview, Drew Dixon talks about the ministry of Game Church and what church leaders at “normal churches” can learn from this niche-ministry. This is a fascinating interview talking about an important subculture in our community … we hope you’re inspired to reconsider how you are reaching gamers in your community.
Quick Facts About the Gamer Subculture. [source]
- 59% of Americans play video games.
- 51% of American households own a game console. (Those households have game console average two systems.)
- The gender of gamers: 52% male … 48% female.
- $21.5 billion is spent annually on the video game industry in the US alone.
00:40 // Rich welcomes Drew to the show.
01:00 // Drew introduces Game Church.
01:43 // Drew talks about the importance of Game Church having a presence in today’s culture of video games.
02:45 // Drew talks about how he engages with people at conventions.
03:48 // Rich talks about how Game Church communicates the message of Christ through gamer language.
04:29 // Drew talks about is role in Game Church and Gamechurch.com.
05:50 // Drew talks about the Game Church podcast and how he’s trying to play a meaningful part in the world of video games.
06:33 // Drew compares the good and the bad in video games.
07:39 // Rich questions whey there’s a stigma within churches about video games.
10:15 // Drew talks about church leaders connecting and engaging with gamer culture and taking an interest in the things their people care about.
13:14 // Drew talks about a video game he currently enjoys playing and a new video game he is looking forward to playing.
14:51 // Drew encourages people to take up Gamechurch.com and Game Church City to help in the mission of engaging gamers.
Helpful Tech Tools // Google Drive
Ministries Following // Christ and Pop Culture
Influential Book // The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
Inspiring Leader // Tim Keller
What does he do for fun? // Plays with his kids. Soccer. Arsenal.
Rich – Alright, well happy Thursday everybody and welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich Birch, the host around these parts. So excited to have Drew Dixon on the phone today as a part of this, it’s going to be a great conversation, I’m excited to have Drew. He’s from an organization called Game Church which I think I’m going to be introducing you to today. So Drew welcome to the show.
Drew – Thanks glad to be here.
Rich – Well Game Church, you know I bumped into this, a friend of mine, actually [unclear 00:00:48] who’s both done a course for us on unSeminary and also been on the podcast in the past, she said, “You’ve got to reach out to these guys at Game Church, they’re doing some interesting stuff.” So why don’t you tell us, what is Game Church?
Drew – Game Church is a non-profit ministry based in Ventura, California. There’s two big arms to what we do I guess, we go to VO Game trade shows and conventions and nerd culture conventions. So not just video game shows but things like the Electronic Entertainment Expo which is the largest trade show in the United States. There’s a big fan community called Penny Arcade that we go to every year and we go to a lot of the Comic Cons, like oh gosh, there’s a bunch. We go to a lot of these Comic Conventions and we’re there to tell people, “Jesus loves you, have some free stuff.”
So we have a Gamer Bible that’s got Jesus on it with an Xbox 360 controller and so it’s The Gospel of John with some gamer commentary, gamer thing commentary in it and so really that kind of Game Church is motivated by this reality that people love video games. We live in a culture where something like, I think recently, 190 million Americans play video games for like an hour or day. So that’s an incredible statistic and so we think the church shouldn’t ignore that, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that people are into those things and if people are into those things, then we should be into them too. Not that we have to love video games but I think Christians should be people who care about what their neighbors care about and want to engage the things that their neighbors are engaged in, for the sake of the gospel.
So we are there to be… you can’t go to these conventions and be like, “So how many sins did you commit this week?” At these conventions people are there to have fun and they’re there to play games. We are there to say, “Hey we want you to know that games are awesome, God is the father of all things, He’s the source of all things and we think games are great too. So we’re just here to tell you that Jesus loves you and that there’s hope, there’s a God who is sovereign over all things and loves them.”
So we’re not there to be confrontational but we are there to be a presence because there’s Christians outside the show, with signs that say, ‘If you read comic books or if you play computer games you’re going to Hell’. So we want to be a voice that’s says, “That’s not we’re here for, we’re here to tell you that Jesus loves you, have some free stuff,” and they’ll read that
Bible, that Gamer Bible and they’ll find out about the greatest story in the history of the universe, the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rich – One of the things I love about what you guys have done and I think you have done an incredible job. I’m not a huge gamer, I have dabbled a little bit, but the thing I have appreciated about what you guys do, is I think you do an incredible job, trying to contextualize using gamer language to communicate the message of Christ, which I think is great, I think it’s amazing. I think we need to find ways to continue to re-articulate this story in a way that connects with today’s culture.
What are some of the ways that you’ve done that, you’ve talked about the Gamer Bible, the picture of Jesus with the PS4 controller, what are some of the ways you’ve done that?
Drew – Yeah, another big thing is, and I didn’t get into this earlier and I should have, but the main thing that I do at Game Churches, I’m the editor and chief of the website. So at Gamechurch.com we have site that’s dedicated to exploring the spiritual side of Video Games and we’re very much committed to doing that in a way that’s interesting, that’s engaging, that’s thoughtful that is our audience, our intended audience, it’s not Christians with that website.
We talk about it all the time and guys come in and want to write for us and we say, “Look do not write this like you’re writing to the guys in your Sunday school class, write this like you’re writing to anyone you’d have a conversation with at a convention or somebody that you might play games with or somebody that lives down the street. Just write it to people.
So on that website we do interviews with game developers, where we talk to them about their religious beliefs. 90% of those guys are either agnostic or atheist, I’m not exaggerating that’s just where they are. Most of the video game developers we talk to are not religious people and so that gives us an opportunity to engage them and talk to them about what matters to them, what they care about and have a conversation about spirituality, which I think is pretty rare on the internet.
Rich – That’s interesting.
Drew – We do a podcast as well, where we do something similar, we talk to game developers. We had Kim Levine on recently, who’s the creative director of BioShock and BioShock Infinite and talked to him about religion in BioShock. So yeah so all those things hopefully we’re modelling, hopefully we’re reaching out through that website to people who are not Christians and challenging them to think about spirituality, about belief, about eternity, about all of those things that are important or central to the gospel, but also hopefully we’re modelling for the church what it means to engage culture. We’re trying to be a meaningful part of the world of video games.
So when you come to our site hopefully you’ll see people who care about video games, who think they’re amazing, who think they have a lot to say about the world, because people are
made in the image of God, I think you see even from like video games that are made by people who are not believers, you see all kinds of things that are true and good and interesting in them.
Of course there’s things that are not so good in the video game industry and I think we should… and on the website we try to be honest about that. There’s a lot of misogyny in video games. I don’t think all violence in video games is bad but there’s an over–emphasis for sure on balance. There’s a lack of redemptive violence in video games. There’s a lot of cultural insensitivity in video games. So those are problems that we try to be honest about, but we also want to acknowledge the times when video games say things that are true and there’s a lot of… I could share with you a bunch of amazing games that are saying truthful things that if we had the eyes to see and ears to hear, we can actually engage those things in a way that shepherds our hearts towards Christ rather than away from them I think.
Rich – Yeah I think this is a great conversation to be having. One of the things I think as we… gamer influence is massive in our culture right, it is one of those… you bump into people all the time and it seems to be one of those cultural, I don’t know why this is, this could be… I value your opinion on this. Gaming seems to be one of those things that there is a strong sub-culture build around it, but there is within the church world, for whatever reason, there’s almost like a weird stigma around it. Why do you suppose that is or am I just hanging out with the wrong people who are maybe perpetuating a false…
Drew – I think it’s changing but I think you’re absolutely right. I think the church is shifting away from being kind of fearful of games, but we still default to that position, of being kind of fearful or questioning them like, “Well those things are really violent.” Or every time there’s some tragedy in the news, Fox News runs a piece about how it’s video game’s fault. I think that’s our default thing to do, it’s to go like, “Oh well let’s question it, this is probably dangerous, this is probably not good,” and we should question everything that we put into our minds, but I think that comes from just fundamentals and I think it’s something that Christianity is moving away from, particularly in the United States.
So I think there certainly is that stigma and I think what needs to happen, is Christians need to think more carefully, more thoughtfully about what does it mean to be salt and light in the world, what does it mean to be an influence for the sake of Christ in the world? I think Christ was someone who very much engaged the world, engaged people, engaged culture and was interested in the lives of other people. So I think that’s what drives me and I think that’s what drives Game Churches. We want to be interested in the lives of people. People care about video games so we should too.
Rich – Absolutely.
Drew – People are invested in them, so we should invest in them on some level as well.
Rich – What would you say would be some first steps that a church could say… let’s say
there’s a church leader listening in today and he’s like, “Yeah this is an area we need to step up our game a little bit,” pardon the pun, how could a church, a ministry, an individual church leader, take steps to try to engage gamer culture around them?
Drew – I think probably the first thing that needs to happen, in some churches anyway, is they need to stop saying stupid things about it.
Rich – Right accepted.
Drew – It starts in the pulpit like, “Be more thoughtful,” like it’s easy to just say video games are stupid and probably sinful. Usually pastors don’t come out and say they’re sinful but they say things like, “They’re not sinful but they’re a big waste of time and you should probably be outside playing with your kids instead,” or whatever. So by saying those things we’re kind of condemning, I think, a huge portion of the population that isn’t actually doing anything wrong.
Sure there are guys that are in their 30s and 40s living in their parents’ basement that play way too much video games, that’s a problem sure. But by saying those things we’re condemning people that really we should be coming alongside and taking an interest in. So I’d say that pastors and church leaders, take an interest in the things that your people care about. If I was talking to a pastor I’d say, “Pastor, your people are playing video games, they care about video games, so take an interest in them, ask questions, talk to people, try to understand why people care about video games before you say anything about them from the pulpit.”
Even from the pulpit too, I think I would challenge pastors to talk about those things, challenge people to play games with their kids, challenge people to play games with their neighbor. Maybe you have no clue how to play video games, so ask your buddy, who you know is into them, ask him to show you, that’s an amazing opportunity to connect with someone and hopefully build a relationship that’s going to be meaningful and give you an opportunity to point others to Christ.
Come on a mission trip with us.
Rich – Yeah absolutely.
Drew – We do gamer mission trips where we have people come to shows with us, we train them about how to engage with people in a normal way, apart from like on Xbox Live or getting online and making your gamer tag like, Hardcore Jesus Lover or whatever.
Rich – Right.
Drew – We try to help people understand how to engage people in a natural way, that’s not forced and I think more healthy.
So I think the big thing is to preach and teach in your church in such a way that’s not fearful of culture but rather engages it and really wants to understand. Not all of it’s great sure, not all of it’s awesome, but think about the things that are good and are not sleek and pass those things
up and build relationships with people for the sake of Christ.
Rich – Very cool, what’s your favorite game right now and something you’re looking forward to. There’s got to be something.
Drew – Oh man.
Rich – I know that’s hard, that’s hard.
Drew – Yeah I’ve been playing a lot of Destiny lately but I don’t necessarily really love it. It’s a good, but not great game in my opinion, but I have been playing a really spooky incredible game called Neverending Nightmares. It’s actually made by a guy who is a believer and it’s about his experience with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.
Rich – Interesting.
Drew – So he tried to illustrate through this horror game, what his experience was like and how people can see what that was like.
Rich – Interesting.
Drew – Yeah it’s a pretty profound game. So that’s one that I’ve enjoyed lately.
Rich – Nice.
Drew – A game that I’m really excited about would be, there is a game called This is my War. It’s coming out soon and it’s loosely based on the siege of Bosnia. So it puts players in control of civilians trying to survive the war, rather than soldiers trying to conquer. So it’s sort of a reverse war game.
Rich – That’s interesting.
Drew – Where you’re managing racehorses and you’re making difficult moral decisions about survival but yeah it looks pretty cool.
Rich – Yeah interesting. Well anything else you’d like to share with our listeners before we jump into the lightning round.
Drew – Not really just would encourage people to take up Gamechurch.com and if you want to follow, we have a community of people who are in the games who hang out on Facebook, it’s called Game Church City. So I encourage people to search Game Church City on Facebook, you’ll find us and yeah, consider coming on a mission trip with us. We want to help believers, we want to help Christians think about how to come alongside us in the mission of engaging gamers.