Friday, January 13, 2006

Gaming for God - Christian online gaming communities

+CGO+ or Christian Gamers Online is a three hundred member online gaming community. The members are all actively religious Christians who love playing video games. For them online gaming is a great way to connect and communicate with fellow Christians, and also to spread the word of God.

Other Christian online gaming communities, such as Men of God International use online gaming primarily as a tool to evangelize. In fact, Owen Parker, of MGO, says "We're more than just a gaming clan-we're a full-blown ministry". They've essentially formed a virtual church with Sunday services, outreach programs and counseling services.

The emergence of these communities is explained by the increasing popularity of game playing and online game playing among Americans and especially young people. If there are missionaries in war torn places like Darfur and Afghanistan, why would online games be any different? Just like Parker of MGO explains,
taking the ministry to the network-connected masses is just culture catching up with technology.

An online adult gaming community I belong to has a number of devoted Christian members. They hold regular Play and Pray nights on XBox Live.

The person who started the Play and Pray nights works as a Pastor of Media at a large church in North Carolina, where he oversees all broadcast and worship media, and graphic design and publication teams. He writes about the Play and Pray nights:

I got the idea for ‘Play and Pray’ after I saw that several people in the online community I’m a part of were Christians, or at least interested in Christian things. I asked a few people if they would be interested in getting together before some games, sharing, and praying. We set a time and it happened. The Halo 2 Live interface really worked well, and when we got finished we launch into some custom games. We started meeting about once a week.

Later we started doing a Bible study as part of it. We even went through Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life”

The number of people who attending has ranged anywhere from 2 to 11. Not everyone who comes is a Christian, sometimes people just need some prayer and encouragement, or just to talk.

We are all just normal people with everyday problems, with one common factor: we love to play video games. The people who take part in Play and Pray get to know more about each other than their favorite gametype. They share real concerns and real joys. I have made some very close friends through this, even though I have never seen their face. The praying together brings us closer than simply playing together could.

It has never been my intention that this be anyone’s church. While this is a great thing, it can never take the place of attending church in person. That kind of corporate worship and interaction is just beyond the limits of the Live interface. But it is a very easy way for people who are interested in knowing more about Christ, but don’t want to go to a church, to be introduced to Christian ideas.

A regular participant in the Play and Pray nights writes:

The main reason why I decided to give Xbox Live a try was because I wanted to get away from the rest of the world for a while and just relax, let me mind go, and just enjoy doing something that I always have fun doing: playing video games. To me, it was just a great stress reliever. Well, that seemed to turn around very quickly when I realized that my competitive juices were probably going to get the better of me, and not only that, everyone else that I played with just seemed to take the game WAY too serious. I can't stand listening to people curse, take the Lord's name in vain, and just have a flat out disrespect for everyone around them. Not to mention the cheating, cheating, and more cheating.

I had searched for "Christian Gaming" sites before, but I never found one that suited me at all. It seemed to be all about PC gaming, which I have never been a fan of. Sooner or later, I came to find the "Play and Pray" meet-up that took place at different times of the week. I was tripping out. I had been looking everywhere for some fellow believers who I could just have a great time with, play games, and just fellowship in the Lord.

I have never been able to make the majority of the meet ups, but when I have, it's been a real blessing and a real fellowship. It was never fake. Whenever someone can get on a service like Xbox Live, and have prayer requests, prayer time and Bible study, you know that it's real. Not being able to see these people, you really have to listen to what they are saying, and you feel for them and hurt for them when they go through struggles. "Play and Pray" blended worship and gaming, and that's not a bad thing.

I am thankful for the Lord allowing me to find the "Play and Pray." I have met some amazing people who love the Lord and just want to serve Him. But, like anybody, these people go through struggles and pains, and to have a place like Xbox Live where we can connect and speak to one another about our problems, it's truly an amazing thing. I know for a fact that if I have something going on and I need prayer, I can send a voice message to one of these people and I know they will lift up prayers for me.

That's great, and it's something that I'll always cherish.

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