By Nora Romness, MA CYF graduate of Luther Seminary
If I said something was “uber l33t,” would you know what I meant? What if I said I partied in a pug and we got wiped by the boss because the tank couldn’t hold aggro and the healer oom’ed during the fight? Chances are that many youth today would read the previous two sentences without missing a beat, while most people over 25 may now wear a puzzled look. L33t? Wiped? Oom’ed? Aren’t pugs dogs? Many of the “strange” words in the previous two sentences originate from the world of video games, a world very familiar to many of today’s youth.
Who are the gamers?
Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe are “gamers” and these gamers refuse to fall into a nice, neat little stereotype of pimply-faced fifteen-year-old boys who hide in their mother’s basement all day huddled around a computer monitor. No – today’s gamer might be 15 or 50. Gamers are found in every socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, age, and gender. The population of people who game is many times the size of many countries. Youth game to seek adventure and/or safely exercise id impulses, and games are an escape or a way to stay connected with friends (and meet new friends) and even serve to form a place of community and identity for many youth.
Image from the game World of Warcraft
How should the church respond?
The Church should be where youth are seeking identity/community and find definition – not only are they beloved children of God (identity), but they have a bigger family than imaginable (community). Yet the recent exodus of many youth from Church indicates this may not be what they are finding, and this statement is particularly true for gamers. Why? Part of the reason (certainly not the whole reason) may lie in the fact that video games and religion have not played well together. Churches have demonized games as worthless pastimes that make people more aggressive. Gaming designers, in turn, have often portrayed religion as something used to manipulate masses, religious fanatics are often the antagonists, and/or entirely new religions are completely fabricated.
So what? Why should youth leaders care…after all – video games have no eternal significance?
Because youth do, that’s why! What is important to our youth is important to God, and thus should be important to his youth leaders. It is no secret that throughout the centuries Church has struggled to remain relevant to youth, and the same is true – if not even more so – today! What if we as youth leaders dare to reach into the world of gaming and use its vocabulary, something with which hundreds of thousands of youth are familiar, to frame the Gospel in a way that is interesting and relevant to our youth? After all, Jesus used vocabulary specific to the crowds he was addressing when delivering his parables – farming terminology when speaking to farmers, merchant terminology when talking to city dwellers, etc. It is vital to use the vocabulary the people know and are familiar with. That is why the disciples were suddenly speaking in tongues during the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon them – if we do not use the language of the people, the message is lost…whatever that language may be!
It is my assertion that as responsible theological shepherds, youth leaders must be willing to become familiar with the gaming language of many of the youth whom they serve in order to reach those youth with the Gospel more effectively and turn the Church back into a place where those particular youth are finding identity and community. This serves as an intergenerational ministry, as a way to show the youth that their concerns and interests are important to the Lord, and as a way to keep the Church relevant to the times. Water down the Gospel? No. Present it in a new way? Yes.
Read Nora's full paper: