The Mission Field of Games
This blog was originally published on August 18, 2022 on faithforms.games.
What comes to mind when you hear the term “mission field”? Do you imagine some far-away place where the people speak a foreign language and have unfamiliar customs? Those are the images I had for most of my life. I suspect most of those associations were birthed as a young boy listening to presentations from missionary families back on furlough. I would sit terrified in the pew, hoping that God wouldn’t call me to be a missionary in a remote land where I would have to say goodbye to video games and other pieces of culture I loved.
As I’ve grown, so has my understanding of missions. As a boy, I was scared to be called to the mission field, but at some point, I discovered that all of us are called to be missionaries to this world. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I also came to understand that a mission field isn’t confined to a remote location removed from popular culture. There are countless mission fields, each with its blend of cultures and subcultures. Jesus said this in the gospel of John (4:35), “Do you not say, There are yet four months, then comes the harvest? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” To paraphrase Jesus’ words, I would say mission fields are all around you; look around.
Games are an incredible mission field.
When I tell people that games are an incredible mission field, they seem surprised. It’s an understandable reaction. I was in my thirties before I realized that my love for video games had uniquely prepared me to reach people with the same passions. This revelation came to me on a mission trip to C2E2 with GameChurch. Standing on the show floor amidst a sea of people, God opened my eyes to see the ripe fields Jesus saw.
If games are a mission field, what does that look like? To answer the question visually, I picture a series of concentric circles that looks something like this:
Starting in the outermost ring, we have gamers. According to various sources, this group contains over 3 billion people and growing. In other words, half of the people in the world are gamers! With this fact in mind, it seems like games are a prime medium for connecting with people.
As game makers, our first opportunity to connect with gamers is through the experiences we create. I don’t know if you believe a game could make a meaningful impact on someone’s life. Yet, I’m continually amazed to hear testimonies of how God used a song on the radio to break through and change a person’s eternal trajectory. If God can use a piece of music on the radio to change a person’s heart, I’m confident he can use a game.
Games may be the first point of contact with gamers, but our ministry opportunities don’t have to end there. For example, we can write blog articles, exhibit at shows, interact over social media, participate in Reddit AMAs, create podcasts, and host community servers, to name a few. As humans, God created us to desire connection, so take time to consider how you can create opportunities to connect.
Game Development Industry
Let’s take a step inward and enter the second circle, which I labeled the game development industry. This group represents everyone who makes games. It’s a considerably smaller group, a fraction in size compared to gamers. I could not find a worldwide statistic, but in the US, the number seems to be around 300,000. So let’s triple it and say 900k for the sake of this article. Still a lot of people, but the great part is that everyone seems to know each other. If you are familiar with The Six Degrees of Separation, in the game industry, the rule reduces to two or three degrees at most.
Like the first group, this community offers numerous unique avenues of connection. One of my favorites is the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. When I attend, I like to stay at a hostel dubbed the “Indie Hostel” because it is overrun with indie developers for that week. Staying at the hostel has provided several opportunities for me to share the gospel with fellow indies late into the night. The conference is a prime venue for sharing your faith because you are surrounded by passionate artists interested in people’s stories and open to varying points of view. In 2013, Ryan Green and Josh Larson took the opportunity to share their point of view during the LostLevels event.
If we take another step in, we come to a subset of the game industry, which I’m calling regional groups. These could be local IGDA chapters, meetup groups, festivals, coworking spaces, and game jam sites. PIGsquad in Portland and IndieCityGames in Chicago are great examples of this type of group. The closer you live to a major metropolitan area, the more vibrant these groups become. When I lived in the Denver area, I could attend an event almost every week between the various local groups.
As we approach the final rings, I want to point out something that could easily be overlooked. As we move inward, the groups continue to get smaller. However, an inverse relationship is present— as the groups get smaller, the frequency and depth of interactions in your relationships increase. Not only that, but the influence you wield in those relationships also increases. With this in mind, let’s consider the last two circles.
Company & Team
For the sake of time, I will lump company and team together. Depending on the size of your enterprise, your team and your company may be the same anyway. Unless you are at an explicitly Christian organization, chances are there are people close to you who don’t share your faith. In the day-in and day-out task-focused world, it is easy to stop seeing this group as your mission field. However, I would assert that this group is our primary mission field for the majority of us. When Jesus instructed us to love our neighbors are ourselves, in the context of work, our teammates are our neighbors.
My hope for you is that you will have your eyes opened to the people and opportunities around you. I have come to believe that games are an incredible mission field and if you are reading this post, you are most likely standing in the middle of it. As Jesus told his followers, “the harvest is plentiful.”
“And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”– Luke 10:2
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Fantastic article, thanks for sharing, bro! 😀