This blog is part of our series entitled “Techno-Sapiens in a Networked Era: Becoming Digital Neighbors,” following the theme of the upcoming 2019 Missiology Lectures (October 30 – November 1). The lectures and this blog series will explore connections between technology, neighboring and the global body of Christ through reflections from Missiology Lectures guest speakers and SIS faculty members. For more event details, click here.
The Church is late to the party when it comes to navigating the burgeoning waters of online gaming. While the Church has done relatively well using music and movies as vehicles of ministry, it has largely ignored the giant of gaming growing behind closed doors. In 2004 when Halo 2 optimized a console game for a flawless online gaming experience, they allowed people from all backgrounds and all interests to participate in an online ‘community without community.’ In general, the popularization of online gaming has dramatically changed what it means to be ‘with’ someone – something increasingly problematic for a Church that not only cares about its future vitality, but about incarnation.
The popularization of online gaming has dramatically changed what it means to be ‘with’ someone – something increasingly problematic for a Church that not only cares about its future vitality, but about incarnation.
Today, online gaming is transcending gaming culture again, this time with Fortnite. While the ‘Fortnite phenomenon’ is in many ways behind us, its mark on the cultural milieu of the next generation is undeniable. In my view, there is at least one subtle form of alienation at play in Fortnite: part of Fortnite’s strength is the ‘thinness’ of its narrative. Every ‘place’ on the map boasts with alliteration the fact that it is not actually a place, but only a generic ‘space’ whose details are merely accidents of where and how to fight other players or where the best weapons and equipment are. While other far less popular games can at least attempt to accomplish the kind of moral cultivation seen and praised in art, Fortnite is primarily about escape from place. This is why Fortnite can so easily absorb other narratives or universes, as for example, when they made a special game mode with Marvel’s Thanos. If postmodernism is the death of metanarratives, this ailing health of place in online gaming is the beginning of the slow whimpering death of narrative proper.
I worry that what might take the name of ‘walking alongside each other’ in LAN-based ‘fellowship’ ends up reinforcing practices of mutual escape.
As someone who works for one of the largest professional eSports organizations, I worry deeply about the future of the Church in a generation of online gaming. I worry that ‘views’ and ‘likes’ are the greatest indicator of good content. How can the Church speak on social media when it requires roughly 500 posts a month to ‘find a voice’? More importantly, should it ‘find a voice’ here? To my knowledge, the only way the Church currently engages gaming ‘incarnationally’ is by holding LAN parties. This is where people bring their computers into the same room and play together. As someone who grew up participating in some form of LAN every week, I worry that what might take the name of ‘walking alongside each other’ in LAN-based ‘fellowship’ ends up reinforcing practices of mutual escape. Perhaps this is only the pessimism that comes with old age and the optimistic touch of memory. Perhaps anyone who works in a young industry wrestles with this same concern.
Donald Boyce is Vice President of Partnerships at Cloud9 Esports, Inc., where he manages sports marketing partnerships with brands such as PUMA, US Air Force, Red Bull, HP, and Twitch (Amazon). He has worked in eSports since the beginning of its explosion in 2014, with top teams such as Team Liquid, TSM, and now, most recently, Cloud9. Donald will share more of his reflections from the field as a Missiology Lectures lunch discussion group leader.