Video games are a wonderful part of living in the modern era. You probably have students in your ministry who embrace this part of our culture and are avid gamers. But you’re not. So how can you cross the divide and engage your student gamers?
Eric Miller, director of ministry operations for CE National, talks with Nick Deck, student ministries pastor at Winona Lake (Indiana) Grace Brethren Church.

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Why are you so passionate about reaching video gamers?

Every person needs to be reached with the gospel. Nick has noticed that often people who are into video games are left out or looked down on or marginalized. Often this is because the older generation can’t understand or relate because their interests are so different.

Why is there a negative connotation associated with video gamers?

Nick says that often times the media will mention video games as a lifestyle choice in conjunction with negative current events—such as school shootings. Video games are often brought up as “the bad guy.” There’s also a stereotype of guys in their thirties living in their parent’s basement playing video games all day with no job. That is usually not the case.

What do you enjoy playing?

Nick grew up playing Nintendo and one of his favorites was Mario 3. Beyond that he’s also enjoyed World of Warcraft, MMOs (Massive Multi-player Online), City of Heroes, the Dark Souls, Minecraft, and the Batman series.

How does a parent or youth worker learn about these games as a means of connecting with students?

Nick talks about investing in what someone else is interested in, in order to build a relationship with them. He talks about a friend who was really into a certain card game so Nick bought the game and asked him to teach him how to play and they went to some tournaments together. Eventually they were able to relate on a different level besides just the game, but it enabled them to build a deeper relationship around a shared experience. Through this, Nick’s friend started coming to church with him and eventually became a follower of Christ. So here are some steps:

  • Find out the name of what they are interested in
  • Look it up, do some research on it – learn about it
  • Buy the game itself – invest in it
  • Ask the person interested to teach you or give you some pointers – be a learner, let them teach you – this can be empowering for them. The goal is relationship and relating to them based on their interests, not winning.

Do you think students are open for parents to play video games with them?

Nick remembers his dad asking to play a game with him and how Nick appreciated how his dad showed interest in something he was interested in. His Dad was really bad at the game, but they had a great time together. Do students want their parents to play with them? Not necessarily. Do they want their parents to engage with them in some way? Absolutely, whether they know it or not.
Parents – your students want you to engage with them especially when they act like they don’t.

What are some other ways parents can engage with students without necessarily learning to play the game well?

Most people who play games do it in some form of community – they want others to see their progress. Everybody wants to be seen doing something they are proud of, like, or enjoy. Everyone has a longing for affirmation.
Sit with them while they are playing and ask questions. What’s the story behind it? What do you think about that?
Eric shares the idea that engaging with people side to side—working on something together—instead of face to face, can feel less intimidating. Nick agrees and shares that some of the best conversations he’s had with his foster daughter have occurred while driving to the grocery store or picking up take-out.

Do you think it’s possible to engage in a spiritual conversation with your students while they are playing a video game?

Nick says absolutely, depending on the situation or the game. Often times kids are kinesthetic learners and so doing something with their hand helps them engage in conversation.

Why do students play video games?

The video game community is only growing.
Nick references the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and the fact that last year the video gaming industry made over $53 Billion. In addition, nearly 65% of American adults play video games of some kind. Statistics also state that nearly 50% of video gamers are women—a video gamer is defined as someone who plays at least 13 hours of video games or more per week. In the world, nearly ½ billion people play video games in some form.

So why are people so attracted to it? Nick lists 5 reasons:

  • Clear goals – knowing exactly what we are supposed to do.
  • Unbreakable laws – the biblical idea of experiencing the best freedom when we live within God-given boundaries. People who live with no rules or boundaries are miserable.
  • Instant feedback – knowing right away how well we are doing.
  • The desire to rule over a kingdom – this is God-given.
  • Voluntary participation – willingly choosing to be a part of a community of people who have similar goals and interests.

These are all God-given desires that are attractive in video games. Like anything, these can’t replace God, but bring to the surface our longing for the only one who can meet our deepest needs. A critical video game will have all 5 of these attributes. An “okay” one might have one or two.

How can we leverage video games for the gospel?

As followers of Christ we are called to be disciples and to make disciples.  This goal infiltrates all areas of life including video games.
For example, Nick was a part of a group of players who had some real life conversations – they knew he was a Christian youth pastor. He would ask intentional questions about their lives and they would come to him with prayer requests. Another time, Nick also was able to talk with an engaged couple about what to look for in a church. These conversations happened online with people he never would have met otherwise.
He has also been able to connect well with students who appear shut down or shy in group settings, but when asked “What games are you playing?” automatically perk up and talk about what they are interested in. Simply by asking questions and knowing a little bit about games in general helps build relationships with students.
We can’t share truth without relationship – that’s what Jesus did on earth.

What should parents or youth workers NOT do in engaging with students?
Nick quotes something he learned in college: rules without relationship results in rebellion. Throwing out rules without having conversations is unhelpful. Yes, for sure stick with what you believe to be good, but have those conversations together so your student can hear your heart about why. (What’s a healthy amount to be playing? What games are not worth playing?)
Anything can become an idol when it consumes too much of our time.