The Gospel According to Gaming

Since I’m not a gamer, much of the background info in this post comes from Tom Chatifield’s book, Fun Inc.: Why Games Are the 21st Century's Most Serious Business.

Gaming is as old as humanity. Evidence of the first competitive games can be found as early as 2600 BC.

Consider this: we’ve had publishing for almost 600 years, film and recorded music for roughly 100 years, radiobroadcasts for about 75 years, television for some 50 years, and video games for fewer than 40 years.

In an age of technology, however, gaming is a god. For some, it’s a religion adhered to with religious devotion appealing to some of the deepest human longings. But, just what is the gospel according to gaming?

Here are five key tenets to this gospel:

1. Young Leaders Are Most Welcome

Anyone and everyone is welcome to embrace the gospel of gaming. As to game theorist and author Tom Chatfield has found:

According to the Entertainment Software Association of America, the world’s largest gaming association, the average American video game player is now 45 years old and has been playing games for 12 years, while the average frequent buyer of games is 39. Moreover, 40 percent of all players are women, with women over 18 representing a far greater portion of the game-playing population (34 percent) than boys aged seventeen or younger (18 percent).

Curiously, these are some of the most missing demographics in the church: younger people, particularly singles.

2. You Have to Tithe Generously

Unlike a church where you don’t have to pay, in the gospel of gaming generous giving is mandatory for every member. As early as the ’90s, sale of gaming software (not even counting the machines they are played on) had eclipsed $10-billion mark. By the turn of the millennium, this had jumped to $20 billion. If you add in the explosion of online gaming subscriptions, by the end of 2008 that figure had jumped to $40 billion, and is on pace to soon pass $60 billion. As Chatfield writes:

Where it will end is hard to predict, but it’s already fair to call video games the world’s most valuable purchased entertainment medium, ahead of Blu-ray and DVD sales, recorded music and cinema box office receipts. In 2008, Nintendo even overtook Google to become the world’s most profitable company per employee.

Consider this fact: costing $60, the game Grand Theft Auto IV generated $500 million in revenue during its first week of sales in April 2008—and fully $310 million of this came on the first day! This is, says Chatfield [in February 2011], “substantially more than the previous holders for the most successful book (Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows at $220 million in 24 hours) and the most successful film (Spider-Man 3 at $60 million).”

Online gaming is now enormously profitable with players required to spend a monthly subscription fee to continue playing. World of Warcraft alone generates over $1 billion a year from its more than 12 million subscribers, a number that is fast approaching the same number of people claimed by the Southern Baptist Convention in all its churches.

What is even more curious is the growing trend of real gamers paying real money to other real gamers for fake money to be used in the fake gaming world. Just imagine for a moment the outrage if churches started fundraising for imaginary buildings.

3. You Have to Incarnate

Curiously, the common term used to describe the gamers presence in a game is an “avatar.” Writes Chatfield, “The word is taken directly from Sanskrit, and features prominently in Hindu mythology. Its translation in English is usually ‘incarnation’ but, more literally, it means ‘descent,’ and implies the process by which a higher spiritual being takes on mortal flesh.”

To accomplish that task, the hero must learn, overcome temptation, be tested, battle a nemesis, emerge victorious, and then return to their old world once their quest is complete.

Sound familiar? Much like Jesus entered into human history by entering our world, in gaming the player does something similar entering another world to be a warrior, hero, and deliverer. Sometimes, they even battle dragons like Jesus, who came to defeat the great serpent.

4. Your Guild Is Your Church

Banding together for their mission or quest, gamers join together as a community not unlike a church. These guilds can have anywhere from five to 500 gamers. They are led by a leader, functioning somewhat like a senior pastor as the guild leader, “running their affairs according to fanatically strict operational timetables, membership rules, and even private monetary subscriptions from individual members,” says Chatfield.

The requirements of guild membership are far steeper than those of any church. Members, explains Chatfield, “must meet at a pre-arranged time and place, under an agreed leader. All players must remain in vocal communication, via microphones and headsets, at all times. The raid itself might take up to ten hours, and is to be conducted according to a painfully researched strategy.”

Ten hours? Any church that had meetings that long would immediately be branded as a cult.

5. You Experience Eternality

In a game, time is different from our fallen world. As Chatfield writes, “To enter into the world of a game is to visit somewhere unfallen and ageless, where what you do and experience seems to occupy a special, separate kind of temporality; and where the passage of time in your own life leaves no mark.” For this reason, he writes, “Games are not just other worlds. They can also be, in their way, little Edens.”

And there it is: the desire for heavenly kingdom—a place where evil is vanquished, people live free, and a hero is to thank.

Are video games a sin? No. But, they can become an idol that takes the place of God in one’s life, establishing our identity and consuming everything from our time to our money.

While not a sin, perhaps video games are a shadow, offering something less than Jesus—a real hero who had a real incarnation to defeat a real enemy to liberate a real people and invite them on a real mission with him to set real captives free as the church for a real eternity.