‘That Dragon, Cancer’ Pancake Party — A GameCell Recap

chef_ready

That Dragon Cancer just released today on Steam and Ouya. It’s the most profound game about faith, suffering, love, and hope. And so I wanted to make sure the group of guys that meet in my house (called gamecell) would have a chance to play it.

Now the developers of the game, Amy and Ryan Green, requested that folks celebrate pancake parties at the game’s launch. Cancer and pancakes might not seem like they go together, but that’s because pancakes were their son Joel’s favorite thing. And the game is really about their son and the things he loved. The titular cancer, is more like the setting than the focus. So since Joel loved pancakes, and since the game is about things our loved ones love, that was our theme for our Pancake Party!

pancakes

We gathered together around pancakes and answered this core question:

What is the one thing or activity that the person you love loves? 

We would get to that answer in a bit. Before we do that, here’s a silly short video I made about the evening on my phone:

When you say, “we’re eating pancakes,” everybody comes out. Including myself and Vince, there were fifteen of us. Somehow we fit Alex Hively, Jason, Alex Carter, Tim Russell, Tyler, Tim Hilbert, Scottie, Greg, Seth, Garrett, Vince, Dan, Josh, and Mark (the new guy!) into my living room, and then my basement for when we played the game.

Jason and Alex Hively showed up early to be the chef and sous chef for the evening, crafting pancakes with precision.

cooks

With this large of a crew, my plan for loosely focusing on a storytelling theme went right out the window because there wouldn’t be enough of a focus on the one guy talking. So I went back to my default questions to bring everybody onto the same page. “What’s your name and your favorite game? Don’t overthink it?” I said. Our new guy, Mark said Mario 3! I also welcomed Mark as it’s rare that guys bring their dads, but I love it when they do (he’s Daniel and Josh’s dad). Everybody else shared their favorite game.

living1

I asked, “Anybody get to spend a good time with loved ones over Christmas and New Years?” I wanted to set the tone of the evening on stories about loved ones, and I think this worked. Alex Carter shared about how he had a great New Years with his two closest friends, playing videogames and enjoying beer (sidenote: he may be 23, but I’m still not used to the idea of him being old enough to drink). Scottie talked about hanging with us on New Years. And Tim also talked about hanging out with us at our Christmas party. It was kinda funny how much our “loved ones” were our friends. So I turned the conversation to a little more focus:

“Who do you love? The one person you love the most?”

This is a fun question for a group of guys as young as fourteen. Not everybody had an answer, but for those of us who were married, the answer was too easy. The follow-up question got a tiny bit more challenging:

“What do they love?”

living2

Vince talked about how his wife, Heather, loves volleyball. Mark said his wife loves baking. Many of the guys shared things their moms loved. Some shared things their dads loved. Garrett and Seth shared what their grandfathers loved.

Before we got to our final question, I check the kitchen to see how Jason and Alex were doing with the pancakes. They seemed ready.

chef_pancakes

We served up the pancakes. Then while we were eating, I had a final question:

What stories do you have about the things your loved ones love?

grab-pancakes

Garrett shared about how his grandpa loves sleep and how one time they were walking somewhere and sat down for a moment to catch their breath, but his grandpa fell asleep on the curb. Vince shared the story about his wife coaching volleyball and how hard it was when she couldn’t coach anymore. Jason shared about his mom’s love for HGTV and how they have a random window in the dining room that doesn’t go anywhere. Alex Hively shared about his little sister who he loves to watch cartoons and Let’s Plays with.

tylertim

I pulled back the curtains and explained that we were having pancakes because of Joel and because the game we’re playing is about celebrating the loves of those we love. Somebody in the room said, “that’s depressing. I feel terrible.” And I tried to counter by saying, “No, don’t feel terrible, this is a good thing. This is a celebration of life and love.” I spoke over our crew my hope that they would grow in noticing and studying the things that others love, and become good at loving others by celebrating them. Then Vince prayed over our time together before we headed downstairs.

That Dragon Cancer is only two hours long. So it was just the perfect length for our crew to play.

basement1

Unfortunately, when I got to the basement we couldn’t play the game. An update queued. It needed to update in order for us to play and it would take half an hour. I panicked for a moment. Fifteen guys piled into my basement and I couldn’t play anything on Steam because that would keep the update from downloading. I opened up my itchio library (games loosely downloaded and organized by me from itch.io) and found a game that we hadn’t actually played as a group on an official gamecell night, Super Rock Blasters.

Super Rock Blasters saved the night, as it was the perfect local multiplayer game to get everybody a chance to play. It was also a fantastic way to kill half an hour while That Dragon finished updating. Massive thanks to my buddy Christian Plummer for letting me know about SRB and for hooking up our crew with the game many months ago while it was in an earlier form. I highly recommend the game as it’s a fantastic arena deathmatch version of Asteroids. It’s on itchio for $3.

showtime

Then we got to our main event.

That Dragon, Cancer

I really didn’t know how our crew would handle a game that explored the joys of a young boy’s life as he and his family battled cancer. And since we had fifteen guys gathered around the game, we had about fifteen different responses. Universally, everybody loved the colorful surprises that the game offers. And the more harrowing parts of the game caused some guys to step out of the room. They came back, but it was clear that some of the action game junkies of the crew were uncomfortable.

moon

Our younger guys didn’t understand the audio-driven scenes that didn’t show as many characters as we heard. But over the course of the game, they got a more robust and complete vision of the experience. At one point, Tim Hilbert saw that the “pickups” in a scene were chemotherapy treatments, to which he could only say, “Man, that’s wrong…” Meanwhile, a similar scene had the whole crew laughing.

that-dragon

We passed the controller from one player to the next between the fourteen “levels.” This turned out to be the perfect number since everybody got a chance to play that wanted to.

The best moment in the game came when we saw a whole stack of pancakes in the game. Suddenly our whole crew let out a collective, “Ohhhhhhhh!” It fully connected why we ate pancakes earlier that evening. Vince had the controls for the end of the game, and he wasn’t clear on how to end the scene. Once he figured it out, he had a giant “ah-ha” moment that spoke to the unity of the game’s themes and how he was playing.

hospital-time

We all sat intensely taking-in the credits. We knew it was over, but I don’t think anybody wanted to leave. Unfortunately, we had to clean up and I needed to go to bed. Thankfully the crew helped me deal with the pancakes and batter everywhere. Note to self: next time plan better for cleanup.

~

Considering a Pancake Party of Your Own? 

All you really need is a copy of That Dragon, Cancer, pancakes and something like these questions:

  1. “Who do you love? The one person you love the most?”
  2. “What do they love?”
  3. “What stories do you have about the things your loved ones love?”

If you give this kind of thing a try, I’d love to hear about it. Email or tweet me. And if you’d like to talk, reach me by phone at (717) 201-5278.

December Articles

It’s GOTY SEASON! That means nothing for most normal human beings, but if you write about video games it’s the “most important time of the year.” You’re forced to rank all of your favorite games of the year on a list from one to ten. If you all cared, I could tell you that my personal favorites bounced between Life is Strange and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. But I don’t think that’s a terribly interesting conversation. Instead, I had more fun contributing on conversation that deconstruct the GOTY game conventions and came up with something a little more “spiritual.”

gotyjesus

First off, we put a lot of discussion and deliberation into picking the 2015 Games Jesus Loves for GameChurch. Just look at this list! Richard Clark, Drew Dixon, CT Casberg, and I hashed out this list for over two hours. You can listen to how we came up with these picks in the first or second two-hour podcast on the matter. It’s actually pretty listenable despite its length.

besttheology

At Theology Gaming, we put together our own list that focused on simply awarding games that took care to handle the subjects of faith and belief with exceptional grace and nuance. Most of the games weren’t made by folks who probably identify as Christian. And the list is not complete, despite being super-long. Take a look at the Best Theology Video Games of 2015. Bryan Hall and Zachery Oliver helped with this one a ton.

Indie Haven didn’t get a lot of articles or videos from me this month. But I did manage to wrangle up the contributors for an Our Indie Week article about our favorite things in the first week of December. Oh, and I joined Josh Hinke on the podcast to talk about Hard West. That was fun. More importantly, we did a couple of super awesome lists. My favorite was the Ultimate Couch Mulitiplayer Guide of 2015, but the list for Best Roguelikes of 2015 got the most hits. Folks love their permadeath! We also recently did another Indie Haven podcast dedicated to the best games of the year that nobody else is talking about, but that hasn’t published yet, so stay tuned to the Indie Haven podcast!

Gamasutra got a nice long list of my fav indie game trailers of the year, so if you love a good story in record time, be sure to check that out!

I wasn’t super productive in game writing land in December because I was focused on trailer production for a particularly special game. You can watch that trailer right here:

Articles Listed

Podcasts Listed

Trailers Listed

Thank You, 2015

Thank you all so much. There’s so many things that I’m thankful for this year. So many fantastic people have assisted in fulfilling my dreams, blessing others, and just been awesome to us. I just wanted to take the time to thank everybody who made 2015 ultra memorable.

Vocation Discovery

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Aspire Ventures

First and foremost, I’d like to thank Joe Krzemienski for sitting me down and asking me to seriously think about what I want to do. He had to make the hard decision of letting me go from Aspire Ventures in March. It made a lot of sense because I couldn’t hide how unhappy I was in a corporate environment, and it was clear that I had a growing passion for production elsewhere. I haven’t really talked to Joe since I’ve been processing what this new trailer-production business venture of mjoshua.com, but I’ve never been happier and more excited to work than since Aspire Ventures gave me the tools I need and was able to let me loose into the wild.

Seriously, thank you, Joe. And Mike Montiero and Sam Abadir for believing in me and giving me the two-year opportunity to contribute as a team and learn how to rapidly prototype ideas and communicate them as a minimum viable product.

Massive thanks to Riley Hearn, Courtland Ellis, Joe Pietrzak, and Austin Billings for being awesome people to collaborate with.

18 South Youth Center

Thanks to all the other volunteers and all of the awesome teens that make Thursday nights (and the occasional Fridays) super interesting. I’ve absolutely loved getting to know folks like Garrett and Seth, and way too many other dudes to count.

Thanks to the new volunteers that make it so much easier to focus on hanging out with the kids and getting into stories and relationships and affording me the opportunity to not have to police the kids simply because we’ve got great mamas and grandpas who actually take an interest in the kids. It reminds me that we need less police and more moms and dads. Thanks to folks like Chris and Becky. And all the other new volunteers that I haven’t even seen yet!

Oh, and absolute thanks to my wife, Jessica for being an awesome director at the center and using amazing management skills to bring everybody together and trust things in capable hands.

Theology Gaming

besttheology

Thanks to the Theology Gaming community (Theology Gaming University) for being such a brilliant soundboard for anything and everything that I’m thinking about. Massive Ultra Mega thanks to Bryan and Zach for being available and supportive of making new leaps in my career as a games-trailer producer and for always being there when I need to toss an idea out. Also, super duper thanks to Zach for creating a website (theologygaming.com) that’s allowed me to just try new kinds of articles, posts, videos, and whatever whim I need to explore — be it theologically or gaming-related. Thanks so much, guys!

Gamechurch

It’s hard to believe that this is the fourth year that I’ve been along for Gamechurch’s Games Jesus Loves list. It’s been an absolute privilege to write, contribute, and build the name of Gamechurch among the writing community and see some of our articles get some bigger attention and press. But my great love and thanks goes out to Drew Dixon and Richard Clark for forging and crafting my “Show Don’t Tell” focus as a writer and helping me to unearth goodness in everything I engage with. Thanks so much, guys.

Plus 10 Damage

I cut my teeth on the sticky edge of Plus 10 Damage’s seat. It got gross. And lovely. Giant thanks to David Gutsche for inviting me into a world of punchy sass — and games writing that I’m truly proud of. It’s hard to find a venue where you can talk about dislocating your jaw to swallow video games whole. So thank you for that. And Matt, I loved that you created a place for where I could thrive. Some of my absolute favorite write ups still linger in the Plus 10 marshes and I loved writing alongside you guys. Thanks for being awesome.

Smaller Contributions

I got to dip my toes into a few lovely pools this year.

Casey Covel gave me VIP access to the Geeks Under Grace kingdom where I could freely write about rejecting an Elohim that don’t look like Jesus in The Talos Principle. We even made a video to showcase the way the game does this. Thanks Casey, and the Geeks Under Grace team (especially Michael Morejon).

Robert Edwards had me on his Played Out Podcast where we he (as a nonreligious sort) was super curious about how faith relates to gaming. It’s one of my absolute favorite podcasts of the year so give it a listen.

A close second favorite podcast was the first Indie Haven Podcast Josh Hinke invited me onto where we talked about Life is Strange (my second favorite game of the year). It felt like a true welcoming to the team and a warm invitation. So I was massively grateful for that one. Thanks, Josh!

Indie Haven

Jose San Mateo welcomed me to the Indie Haven team with open-arms. It was a bit disarming. I thought I showed up for an interview, but the guy handed me a pair of keys and showed me around the proverbial office. I learned a lot about working with a larger team of folks and how their systemic approach to things keeps the engine running. As Jose stepped down as EIC, Josh Hinke and Erin Hyles took the reigns like a team of seasoned stallions to lead us into a glorious Indie Haven future (which I felt like a part of). Ultra thanks to Jose San Mateo, Josh Hinke, and Erin Hyles for taking me along for the ride.

GAMECELL

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Guys, this year has been amazing. You’re the ones who really made it: Garrett, Greg, Alex, Alex, Tyler, Dan, Josh, Andrew, Seth, Seth, Yoshi, Tim, Tim, Liz, Vince, Wayne, John, Brandon, Brylan, Zac, Zach, Jeff, Devon, Richie, Michael, Roberto, Scottie, Austin, Wes, Logan, David, Maneffaat(sp?), Matty, the whole group of ladies from No Boys Allowed, Matt and Anthony.

Wow. That’s a lot of people. We got together over 22 times throughout the year. Played about three times that many games (63+). Talked about life, belief, and fun hot-button issues like LGBTQ folk and the Chruch, and what to do with war & violence in videogames. We saw various kinds of growth in almost everybody who participated. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!

We even saw the birth of another gamecell-like group in Australia:

Intertain

I’d also like to thank Ayk Iano for being a fantastic soundboard friend and for being willing to step out and try the whole gamecell thing in his neck of the woods (Sydney, Australia) and putting his own spin on it. I’m super proud of him for trying it out and having a few super impressive evenings with great themes. Intertain’s experiences made our own gamecell so much stronger and capable because of the smart ways Ayk asks questions and builds around the theme. Also, this dude’s kindness and generosity is unparalleled. Ultra-thanks to Ayk Iano for being awesome.

Game Trailer Clients of AMAZINGNESS

Making video game trailers is my dream job. And I still can’t believe that I get to play video games for a living, get to their core, and show-off what makes them great. But this would all be a vague pipe dream if it weren’t for some super-key people.

ReElise, NoRoom Games

Justin Fox at NoRoom Games took the risky plunge of having me produce my first game trailer for his game, ReElise. Working with Justin on this process taught us both a million things about what we don’t know, and how to learn fast. Justin also did this super-insane thing of inviting me along to his first game expo as he showed his game for the first time on a floor of unsuspecting victi— er, players. This showcase experience turned into a split-opportunity to share my trailer work from his booth with a swell of co-operation and supernatural goodness. This crazy fro-cat also invited me to sleep on his couch, play his PS4, and dude even cooked for me! His wife Lauren also floored me with her generosity, hospitality, and kindness. Top notch people with a wild game that let to this insane trailer:

Threshold, QuadraTron Games

Thank you, Zenas Bellace and Christian Plummer from QuadraTron for letting me experiment and take risks with the trailer for Threshold. It was a joy to discover how player voices and the player experience can inform puzzle game trailers and give light to the “ah-ha” moments. Thank you so much for welcoming me and giving me a shot despite my then-unproven capabilities. Thanks to Mila, Rob, and Renee for the rad collaboration and for giving me a ton of freedom that made this trailer possible:

Super Flippin’ Phones, BlauwPrint

Thomas Jager, Nelson, Freek, and Harm-Jan, thank you guys so much for working with me on making a hilarious trailer for your super-funny game. This was something that was so different from what I think anybody expected. We all loved discovering how to capture the spirit and heart of the game using some experimental means (like the infomercial and happy customers segment). I thank you guys the most for how you worked patiently with me as we steadily improved the project and were able to end up with something we were all proud of! Thanks to Nelson for making the connection that made this project possible and for giving me a grand opportunity to work with such a rad team!

As for everybody who hasn’t already? Please vote for this game on Steam Greenlight!

That Dragon Cancer, Numinous Games

Ryan, Amy, Josh, Brock, and Jon, thank you all so so much for giving me this amazing opportunity to work on your trailer. It was a dream-come-true in every way. It was weird finishing this project and realizing that it’s done and I have to move onto other things. I’m so excited for the level of response the game is getting, and I hope everybody and their mom gets the game in two weeks. Much grace to you all as you’re crunching hard. And I pray that you’re all able to relearn what it’s like to breathe, rest, and take some time off in the near future. Thank you so much for making me feel like I’m a part of your family.

Friends & Fam

Thomas Henshell

Thomas, I decided to thank you directly instead of focusing just on the trailer we made together for your game. There’s so much that you’ve done to encourage me, equip me for starting a business, and be a valuable soundboard. I’ve loved getting to know you, the level of attention and thoughtfulness you offered, and the way that I’ve been invited into your life. This year would have been a completely different experience with much more self-doubt and second-guessing than it’s turned into. And I truly have you to thank for that. Thanks so much for working with me on the trailer for Archmage Rises and how you shared your process with me on many of the projects you worked on. Plus, thank you for valuing me with transparent and timely payments for projects, never taking advantage of each other, and for being consistent overall even when you’re in the hospital dealing with scary family stuff. It’s been huge. Thank you so much!

And I loved making this with you:

Super Close Internet Friends (Bryan Hall, Zachery Oliver, and Michael Uzdavines)

Bryan, Zach, and Michael, thank you guys so much. You’ve been there for me, you’ve helped me process the extensive changes in my life. You’re the guys I wanted to talk to when I found out we were pregnant and when I was let go from my corporate gig. Thank you for being a constant source of encouragement, advice, and for being dudes that value the process.

Zach, thank you for being so flexible and responsive in our relationship. You’re constantly encouraging me to think more both in my comfort zone and outside of it. And I love that because of how it’s allowed me to grow and discern where I’m going.

Bryan, thanks for asking hard questions, always being honest, and being the kind of person who I can walk through life with. Thanks for letting there be room for brotherly dialogue and for inviting me into the tensions and joys of parenthood and marriage. Thanks for being so ready to be the person I can geek out to about random weird adventure games when Zach can’t get on-board. Haha.

Michael U., thanks for being there when I need to talk or need encouragement. And thanks for being willing to have me work on your trailer even when I was completely unproven in the realm of game trailers. Thanks for encouraging me to step-out and for helping me with legal questions. You’ve been a great friend and I really value our friendship.

My Church Family (Dove Community / The Brook)

Wayne, thank you for caring and wanting to be involved in our lives even when it’s awkward. Walking through everything together is the absolute key to family and movement-forward in the Kingdom. Thanks for inviting me into the things you’re processing and treating Jess, Zeek, and I like cherished family. Tina, thank you for your consistency and for reminding me on what it means to be a friend. Vince, thanks for being an amazing and always-growing brother. I’ve loved being able to connect around comic books with you and you’ve really helped me to open-up my perception of the world, media, and how the Kingdom can grow. Keep drawing and making things. You’re way better at it than you realize. And I hope we can continue to dream together. Heather, thanks for being a true sister and sharing your family with us. Verna, thanks for being a big sister and a consistently gracious friend. Sondra, thanks for sharing your struggles and your joys with us, it’s been awesome to see you with Julian and how he’s made you come alive.

Thank you all for being an amazing church family that’s powerfully supportive with everything we do and go-through.

Mom and Dad

Wow. Thank you so much for spending your time, attention, and money with us this year. And I mean like wow. We made more memories together this year than any year that I can think of in recent memory. St Augustine was amazing with the alligators, beach, and abundance of great food. Jess and I really needed that and we loved that entire week and all that it was. We loved spending time with you guys as you came up with Faith, Riley, and Ethan. That was a special treat. We loved Thanksgiving with you. Thanks so much for the microphone and harddrive for work! And we loved being able to have you up again for Christmas! Plus, watching Star Wars together was a nice bookend! It was super amazing. Thanks again, mom and dad!

My wife

Jessica, I love you. I’ve loved how we’ve grown so much over the past year and feel like we’ve come to really connect in a lot more ways than I could have anticipated. We’ve truly grown together. Thank you for carrying Zeek and maintaining a sense of humor throughout. Thank you for helping me with the abundance of things I don’t understand or have sorted-out. And thank you for loving me. It’s been a great year, but this new one is going to be even greater. Thank you for everything. You’re amazing. I’m excited!

REPENT NIGHT — A GAMECELL RECAP

Getting teenage boys to discuss repentance might be a terrible idea, but I figured “why not give it a go?”

repent

We got mixed results, but the best takeaway was that getting out of your comfort zone is awesome — and how you get opened-up to greater things than yourself. If you’re thinking about tackling the idea of the Kingdom of God and how to open people up to it, this is the topic worth broaching. All of the games we played were about getting people as far outside of their comfort zones as possible. Our guys aren’t much into sports stuff at all, so we ended up playing some of the best and most obscure arcade sports games out there.

Wayne filled in for Vince as my assistant since Vince had family stuff to attend to. He picked up Tyler because Tyler was so committed to coming, but lacked the automobile to make that possible without walking the five miles to my house. Wayne was able to pick up Tyler while he was less than halfway to my place at least. Alex Carter, Alex Hively, Jason, Seth, Greg, and Tim all made it over to my place without attempting to walk five miles.

We asked questions that explored the idea behind that unattractive word, “repent.” First we asked,

1. Can you name a game or experience you thought would be lame that turned out awesome?

Greg said GAMECELL. He really didn’t think it would be fun. But he’s been here he could since he first came. Wayne said our church, of which he’s now the pastor. Seth said the 18 South Youth Center, which he absolutely loves and comes to every chance he can. Jason also said GameCell.

2. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “Repent?”

You could tell by their faces that it wasn’t everybody’s favorite word. I shared how it made me think of people waving signs and yelling at passers by. Tyler provided a textbook answer of turning from sin and turning to God. Wayne tried to use a videogame metaphor of coming to a dead end and going to look for another path. I mentioned how we do that all the time in Fallout 4 to find our ways through dungeons. Tim took this and told several Fallout 4 stories. Then he asked if we were playing Fallout 4 tonight. Jason eagerly asked to do so, too. I told them we did that last time and that this was about something different.

TEXT MASTER: Mark 1:15. 

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1: 15

We made Seth the TEXT MASTER who read the verse in question before we asked our crew what they thought this meant. Jason and Greg literally melted into their seats and hid their faces because they were so not into this part. Reading this line from the Bible didn’t seem to really spark any imagination in the rest of the crew, either. If I could have gone back, I would have just taken the text and told the story using all my joy, passion, and gusto around the text, trying to frame it for the guys. But like I said, I forgot to do that. Since I couldn’t seem to get them to engage with the Text, we just moved on to the next question.

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3. Can you tell a story about a time you got outside your comfort zone?

Greg shared the time he went camping with our youth center crew. He was really not sure about the whole camping experience, but he loved it. Tyler talked about going out to Iowa for trucking classes and getting his CDL. Alex and Tim also had great stories to share.

4. How might getting outside your comfort zone open you up to an alternate world – a greater reality?

Tyler mentioned how trucker school was far and wide outside of his comfort zone, but he was able to make strides in developing the career path he wanted. It opened him up to a world of career paths outside of making pizza. Greg mentioned how GAMECELL was like a thing that really opened him up to new games and new topics he wouldn’t ever think about or discuss otherwise.

REPENTANCE GAMES

Our games stuck to this theme of repentance, or “getting away from your comfort zone.” For that, we picked games that seemed the least likely to be things that they’d love. This was our list:

  • Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings
  • Dropsy
  • Undertale
  • tennes (itchio) 
  • The Beginner’s Guide
  • Minecraft Story Mode – A Telltale Games Series
  • Ninja Pizza Girl
  • Invisible, Inc.
  • OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood

baseball

We played Super Mega Baseball first to get as many people playing as possible. The crew opened up to the idea of a baseball game once they figured out who was actually batting and hitting. It was a little hard for everybody to pick up what what going on, and how the fielding worked. But when they got it, everybody really really got into it. The whole room held their breath when Alex Carter hit the ball really hard. Then when it went over the fence, the room erupted in cheering, even those of us who got scored on. It was intense. And a good time.

story_Shot

Most of our crew isn’t super into Minecraft, but those that are didn’t know how a “Story Mode” would translate into a gamecell experience. I assured them that this was nothing like playing regular Minecraft. At first, seeing the boxy characters talking felt weird, but the voices drew us in and got us into the story. Tim took the controls and did a great job fielding the input from the crew on which dialogue choices to make. We played to the intro credits scene, and by then, they all wanted to play more and see where it went. But I assured them it was the best place to stop in a pretty long game. A few days later, Tim asked me, “can we play more Minecraft: Story Mode?” This, from a guy who “doesn’t like Minecraft.

tennes

When most of the crew thinned out, we played the plainest looking game about one of the most boring-looking sports, tennes (“tennis”). The simple graphics and old sport framework conceal this incredible smashy-fun game of one-on-one that won-over a few key players. It was a fun and fast way to end the evening on a great note.

Debrief & Reflections

I’m not sure if the “repent” thing worked or not. But that’s kind of the thing with Jesus’ delivery of the concept too. I doubt the idea gets through to anybody when they first hear it. I think it’s one of those things that just grows after being around Jesus for a while. You only come to understand the full gravity of turning away from comfort when you’re on the other side. I think that idea is one of GAMECELL at large. It’s why a lot of our guys thought the idea was lame until they came and tried it. And I think that’s part of formation at large. So even though there were lulls in the evening, I think the idea of “REPENT NIGHT” is worthy. And it grows within folks after experiencing it.

~

Considering a REPENT NIGHT of your own? 

Here’s a revised outline that considers what we learned from the evening and tries to improve:

  1. Can you name a game or experience you thought would be lame that turned out awesome?
  2. Jesus started his ministry saying “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:15) What do you think he meant by “repent?”
  3. Share a time you got outside your comfort zone.
  4. How might getting outside your comfort zone open you up to an alternate world – a greater reality?

Games for REPENT NIGHT should be very different from what your crew is used to, but still focus on the two things that make for great GAMECELL games: (1) Great group games to play together (2) Great solo games for groups to watch and experience together. We played arcade sports games like Super Mega Baseball and tennes since our crew isn’t really into sports. And Minecraft: Story Mode worked great because point-and-click adventure games are super captivating for a group who can made choices together. Other adventure games can be a great pick for this one too such as Broken Age, Her Story, and The Shivah. These games and this topic is appropriate for folks of all ages.

If you give this kind of thing a try, I’d love to hear about it. Email or tweet me. And if you’d like to talk, Skype me at m..joshua.cauller or reach me by phone at (717) 201-5278.

WAR NIGHT — A GAMECELL RECAP

GAMECELL explores games, life, and God. We meet every two weeks in my living room and basement. These recaps hope to spark your imagination.

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We love violence in video games, even if we hate it in real life. So I figured, why not use that as fuel for discussion with the GAMECELL crew?

Let’s talk about Christ’s attitude towards war and how to engage with it. Also, let’s play some Fallout 4!

Vince, Carter, Hively, Yoshi, Greg, and Garrett piled into my living room. It was a lighter crew than usual, but that only meant we got more serious about the conversation than usual:

1. What’s your favorite violent war game?

Alex Carter brought up Halo Reach because of the doomed nature of it. Greg said Assassin’s Creed because of the historical component. Garrett talked about Metal Gear Solid V because of how it subverts so many things about wartime.

2. Why are war games attractive to you?

Alex Hively said it simply, “It’s fun to kill things.” Alex Carter talked about how there’s something deeply appealing about victory.

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3. How do you think war affects you when you experience it in video games?

We had a lot of conflict over these answers. Some said they’re not sure. Others were pretty sure it doesn’t. But as our crew thought long and hard, more came around: Maybe it does? We clarified the question, “Do you think it’s easy to see war as fun and painless because you can’t get hurt?” Our crew had our first point of pure agreement: “Most definitely.”

4. True or False: War never changes?

Yoshi asked if this was a Fallout reference. I assured him that it was. Garrett and Greg seemed super mixed on the idea of whether or not could ever change. Garrett thought, and then grew more confident that war is pretty locked-in as a terrible thing. Then he saw my face and noticed that I was less convinced, so he started to show leeway. We followed-up the question with more clarity: “Do you think it’s ever possible to be free from humanity’s war cycle?” Again, our crew seemed really unclear on whether or not this was possible. So I caved and provided a bit of clarification on where I was going.

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We turned to Jesus’ words in the Bible. First, we looked at what Jesus says about turning the other cheek.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also” -Matthew 5:38-39

Then we talked about how unreasonable this seems. And we looked at a few verses later, where Jesus talks about loving your enemy and praying for them when they persecute you.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” -Matthew 5:43-44

We discussed the madness in this; how unreasonable this actually is. And how very few people in history have ever done this. But then I turned our attention to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how he showed this better than anybody when he did peaceful sit-ins, and endured many beatings that brought about significant cultural change in our violent nation: through love, not war. Then I asked, “What if Jesus’ form of war looks more like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?”

We had one last Bible verse because I wanted to really make a point that we are most definitely in war, but that it’s a different kind than we might think:

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” -Ephesians 6:12

This led to our final question:

5. How do you fight a love war?

Yoshi got it. He said we’ve got to serve, and forgive, and be patient with those who come after us. Instead of fighting back with violence, respond with generosity. I’m totally putting precise words in his mouth, but the spirit was clear. Alex Hively was totally on-board and offered the same idea: repaying violence with kindness. I emphasized that we can’t do this so easily in our own strength, without Jesus. But the notion and belief was clear: we fight a different kind of war.

Garrett led us in prayer. The crew wanted to hold hands tonight. So we did that. And then we snacked our way to the basement.

We picked from these games (bold ones were chosen):

  • Fallout 4
  • Dropsy
  • Galak-Z
  • BADBLOOD
  • Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings
  • Mushroom 11
  • Undertale

Of the games chosen, I tried to surround it with a theme that we both enjoy violence in games because it’s a part of our desire to overcome conflict, and that some of these games were subversions of violence (like Dropsy, Undertale, Super Mega Baseball, and Mushroom 11). And even though games like Fallout 4 and BADBLOOD revel in their violent overtones, there’s something to be said about how they handle their bits of game that aren’t violent (and how we think about games when they drip in violence).

If you try to do a WAR NIGHT of your own, start with any violent multiplayer game so everybody has a chance to get out some aggression/energy.

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We played BADBLOOD first, which is a new 2-player hide-and-seek game (more like hide-and-kill) where the screen is split and you’re just trying to figure out where the other player is. It’s meant to be reminiscent of the story of Cain and Abel in the bible, and capture the horrible awkward nature of trying to kill somebody with primitive means. It’s subtly subversive in how it handles the topic, but in-reality, this motif works with Towerfall just as much as Call of Duty (as long as it has four-player split-screen deathmatch). The key is to enjoy something fast and punchy together.

Our second game experience was up to Yoshi. We typically let a new guy pick what we play next, but since nobody was new, our crew voted for Yoshi. He picked Mushroom 11, a particularly odd puzzle game where the only way to move forward is to erase yourself. This game was a little awkward to play since it requires mouse support, but we have a Steam Controller, which let us simulate mouse control on the track-like pad. It was still pretty hard for Yoshi and took him a good bit of struggle to complete the first mission, but our whole crew was into the struggle with him and made for a fun game to watch. The war tie-in on the theme of this game was about the way that life continues to exist when the desolation of war has removed everything else: the Mushroom 11 itself continues to self-reproduce even when it’s deleted and harmed.

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The final game of the evening was up to Vince, since Yoshi picked him to pick next. The rest of the group really wanted to see the intro to Fallout 4, so he went with that. Vince had a hard time getting used to the first-person controls of the game, which annoyed some of the more experienced players. But he found the domestic beginnings of the game interesting enough for him to push through the awkward bits. After escaping the fires of Nuclear Detonation and witnessing the horrors that followed, Vince was very curious about what happened next and it was a great display of how war affects normal people. Vince said it was the first time he really wanted to play more of the game to find out what happens and see where it goes (a rarity for him as he’s not serious about gaming).

We wrapped up, hugged, and parted ways, but something stuck with us: we all came out thinking about war differently, and how God wants us to view war very uniquely.

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~

Considering a WAR NIGHT of your own?

Check out this revised outline from our experience. The original questions were far too long and abundant, so I stripped it down to a more manageable outline.

1. What’s your favorite violent war game?

2. Why are violent war games is attractive to you?

3. Fallout says “war never changes”, but do you think it’s ever possible to be free from humanity’s war cycle?

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also” -Matthew 5:38-39

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” -Matthew 5:43-44

4. What if Jesus’ form of war looks more like Martin Luther King? How do you fight a love war?

Games for WAR NIGHT can be just about anything with violence in them, but you may want to investigate games that subvert the wartime expectation like Spec Ops: The Line, Hotline Miami, This War of Mine, Metal Gear Solid V, and Undertale. This topic is advised for those with a mature grasp on the subject and probably wouldn’t be advised for those under thirteen.

If you give this kind of thing a try, I’d love to hear about it. Email or tweet me. And if you’d like to talk, Skype me at m..joshua.cauller or reach me by phone at (717) 201-5278. Giddyup!

 

November Articles

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I tried a few new things this month. Most importantly, I tried to give a greater platform for others. We started a series at Indie Haven called OUR INDIE WEEK. The first one captured the last week in October and featured a surprising volume of Bob Ross. And I didn’t get to the second one until November 22nd, but I think we’ve got a great way to show-off the indie game stuff we love, and share our write-ups together.

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Fallout 4 took over a lot of people’s lives this month. And just before it did, Bryan and I shared the ways Fallout 3 affected us spiritually. I wrote about Fallout 3’s Biblical themes while Bryan wrote about how blowing-up Megaton made him feel. Then Fallout 4 came out on November 10th. So after I got my head around Fallout 4’s new morality system, I wrote about it for Gamechurch.

Indie Haven published a new game trailer roundup, plus a few of my video pieces such as this one about Galak Z:

And Indie Haven published this video review for Animal Gods:

My personal achievement for the month was getting featured on Gamasutra’s front-page for writing about making trailers that capture the player’s emotional journey. I got responses from a lot of game developers saying that it made them think about game trailers differently. So that was pretty encouraging. It also let me tell my game trailer journey so far. So it was a win-win.

I also finished the trailer for Archmage Rises that I was working on with the developer, Thomas Henshell. Take a look!

Articles (and trailer work) listed:

Retro Night — A GAMECELL RECAP

GAMECELL explores games, life, and God. We meet every two weeks in my living room and basement. These recaps exist to spark your imagination for doing something like this in your context.

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This week was a little different. Our crew typically plays games off of my laptop, but I had a work conference. So that meant two things: this night wouldn’t have the typical indie game selection, and my awesome assistant Vince would be leading our crew without me. More importantly, this afforded an idea that we had been trying to do for a while:

RETRO NIGHT (an evening around old school Nintendo games and our earliest memories).

Daniel, Seth 1, Brylan, Seth 2, John, Alex Carter, Brandon, Greg, and Yoshi flooded my living room with Vince and Wayne while I was out in Ohio. Vince asked them modified questions from previous GAMECELL meet-ups where we talked about formation and spiritual backgrounds.

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Since I wasn’t there, I don’t know what our crew’s responses were. But I figure these questions might be useful for you if you try something similar. For our crew, everything turned towards how God might heal bad memories. And it included a few true stories of redemption (as shared by Wayne and Vince).

These questions are what worked for us:

1. What’s your first memory of video games?

2. What’s your first memory of church?

3. How might God heal your bad memories?

We shared this verse about how God brings to our mind all the things He’s taught us. But you might find a verse more fitting to how God can heal past hurts.

“…the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” - John 14:26

After praying together and having snack, our crew changed rooms and powered-up the NES. If you try a RETRO NIGHT, any old console will do. But your goal should be to play things that get multiple people playing at the same time.

Our crew played:

  • Super Mario Bros 3 (2-player)
  • Tetris (turns)
  • Darkwing Duck (turns)

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Other games on the list (that would have been great):

  • Super Mario Bros. (original, sans Duck Hunt)
  • Blades of Steel
  • Yoshi’s Cookie

Like I said, the exact games don’t matter with a retro night as much as the spirit of connection through play. Multiplayer games are generally better. But it can be fun to bust-out some single player ones for a short bit. Though, as awesome as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III might be, they’re way too long for GAMECELL. Stick to games you can experience in thirty minute windows. 

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Our crew had an awesome time together, hearts were addressed, and horizons were expanded — all without me! You can read about why I wasn’t there.

If you’re thinking about starting up a GAMECELL, go for it! All you really need is people, time, and games. And I’m sure you already have at least two of those three things. You don’t need the latest and greatest, just a willingness to get together. Game’s are a deeply relational thing, and talking about God and belief (and even the absence of belief) can build powerful relationships.

If you give this kind of thing a try, I’d love to hear about it. Email or tweet me. And if you’d like to talk, Skype me at m..joshua.cauller or reach me by phone at (717) 201-5278. Giddyup!

Sabbath Tuesday

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God seems to line things up sometimes. This past weekend was like that. And today is like that. I’m taking today to rest, play Fallout 4, and reflect on what God’s done lately. Plus my Steam Hardware arrives. It’s a win-win-win-win. But before I rush headlong into Post-Boston, I feel compelled to share things that God (and awesome people) did over the weekend.

I got to Columbus Ohio at about 4pm on Friday. I was a lot earlier than Justin and Lauren Fox, who I was exhibiting with at the Ohio Game Dev Expo, but fortunately I could set up our booth before they arrived. Meanwhile, I met Evan Todd who made Lemma. We seemed to connect right away. He talked about hanging out for dinner before the Kickoff party and hanging out with a bunch of other game dev friends. While I was a little awkward about it, grace was all over it and he connected us with Jesse Kooner and the team working on his game, Luckless Seven. Around that time, Justin and Lauren showed up and it turned into a real and proper party. Plus, they got to make a dramatic entrance on the freight elevator.

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Justin had a prophetic word for Jonathan, one of the guys on Jesse’s team. And then we all unanimously agreed to just go to the Kickoff party and get the food that’s there. The food wasn’t being served there because somebody dropped the ball. So we all talked and had brilliant, enriched conversation before Justin said, “Let’s go be black!” He got us all to go get in the catered food line and just start serving ourselves. We looked around conspicuously like, “we know we shouldn’t be doing this, but we paid for this food so you better let us eat it!” The caterer lady eventually got flagged down and gave us the Okay. We started the food train! Everybody felt like we saved the day. And most of it was Justin’s boldness and his being “black.” We continued to have amazing conversation with our new friends and our table multiplied in size a few times. Unfortunately we had to leave because we needed to get some sleep for the next day and Justin and Lauren live three hours away in Lexington.

You would have thought that three hour drives to-and-fro between Lexington and Columbus would have sucked. But it turned into key and momentous times of spiritually enriched conversation, mutual spiritual healing, and the ability to catch up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time. But since Justin and I never saw one another and have just been online friends for years, it turned into a rich and ongoing conversation. Lauren was quiet a lot. But her input was always full of clarifying insight and connection.

crew

Meanwhile, back at home in Red Lion, GameCell was happening without me. Vince led the crew on Old School NES Night. He added to the material I gave him for what I called “Memory Night.” There was a full house of guys who had an amazing night. They even had a new guy. I showed a picture to Justin and said, “I don’t even know who that guys is, but I’m so happy he’s there!” The crew took the material I gave them and added so much more of their own. Then they played Tetris and a variety of other NES classics. And even the most modern players absolutely loved the throwback.

showoff

The next day was the main show floor event of the Ohio Game Dev Expo. I showed my work alongside Justin’s game for ReElise. Since I made the trailer, it was a perfect opportunity to cross-inform each other’s work. But I can’t thank Justin enough for buying the booth space and making it into this insane win-win scenario that it was. In addition to this, we shared the abundance of food that my wonderful wife provided and we had no lack between us. Everywhere I went, I was able to point people back to his game and direct other folks back to ReElise. Meanwhile, Justin was doing the same with pimping-out my trailer work to anybody who seemed remotely interested in that kind of work.

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Evan let me be the first to play Lemma on his Oculus Rift. It was my first time in VR and I gotta say, jumping through the air and landing thirty feet below in VR made my legs weak in the knees. And tilting my head down to look at my body and seeing a female body was super strange. But I loved it and so many of the other games there.

I soon realized that being behind the booth wasn’t going to capture my main audience, which wasn’t the community and guests on the show floor. So I spent most of the expo checking out the other exhibitors. So many wonderful people with amazing stories and unique games. The convention seemed to be the perfect size for this foray as I felt like I got to meet everybody I needed to meet over the two days of the event. And that included the leaders of a few game dev communities who might easily have need for a trailer producer like myself.

showfloor

I made the seven hour trek home on Sunday night, cutting my time at the expo short. All in all, food and community and joy and shared experiences all came together in a wonderful pot. I loved so much about this experience. And then I discovered that I got to park in a major American city for free for the whole weekend thanks to the host location, CoSi, providing a validated parking pass. All in all, I think I spent $22 on the event thanks to extreme generosity on the Foxes’ part, my wife’s amazing planning, and the conveniences of the event’s host. For my first major convention and stepping out into a state I never visit, this was an amazing weekend. God’s grace was all over this one.

Now I’m settling down and enjoying my day off with Fallout 4 and new Steam Hardware, extremely thankful for developments.

October Articles Vol. 2

Holy crap! I posted a ton of articles this past month!

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In GameChurch land, I wrote about two hot-ticket games this past month: Soma and The Beginner’s Guide. And at Theology Gaming, I reviewed the fantastic baseball party Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings. My buddy Scottie let me borrow Syndicate (2012) and I wrote about the best and worst things about that game. Oh, and I really had to question tmy 98 hours with Metal Gear Solid V. Then Zachery and I discussed MGSV at great length in the Phantom Pain Spoilercast.

At Indie Haven, I reviewed Extreme Exorcism. I also did my trailer roundup (volume 9) and a news story about how Hard West got pushed back to November 18th. And I got to go on the Indie Haven podcast for the first time. I also made a ton of NEED TO KNOW videos:

Articles listed:

Podcasts listed:

GameCell: Exploring LGBTQ Issues and the Bible

A bunch of dudes come over to my house every two weeks to talk about God, games, and belief. We call it GameCell. We play games related to a topic after we answer questions and listen to each other around that topic. Lately our regular conversations have veered towards pop-cultural feuds between Bible Thumpers and the LGBTQ community (which, to be honest, fits the subjects of Loving Your Enemies, The Role of Choice in Faith, and Navigating Spiritual Confusion). So I decided to make a night where we talked frankly about about LGBTQ issues and the Bible. 

The most important thing about GameCell is creating a safe place for listening. And that mostly means my role is providing good questions.

Before we got to the real questions, I asked everybody to share their name and why they love their favorite game. New guy, Zachary, said Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood because he liked building a team. His brother Greg, the birthday boy, said Halo Reach because of how it reveals the founding backstory behind the Halo universe. Devon picked World of Tanks because he loves history and the way the game lets you feel like you’re in realistic tanks. Josh, Dan, Jeff, Seth, Alex Hively, Vince, and I also shared our our favorite games and why we like them.

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Anybody know what tonight’s about?” I asked. Dan said, “Yeah, LGBT stuff.” I confirmed, but I added that it was actually LGBTQ Night. “Who here knows what that stands for?” Dan replied again, “I know it’s Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Trans. But I don’t know what Q is.” I explained that it was a way of including folks who identify as a part of that group while maybe not having a clear path on which letter they’re most connected to. So it’s a catch-all that’s trying to redeem a word that used to be much more hateful. I also said that even though our group might not identify as a part of this group, I wanted to create a safe place to discuss these things, how they relate to the Bible, and to really listen to one another since most conversations in our culture on the topic aren’t about listening.

We jumped into the first real question, “How do you define empathy?

Jeff and Seth teamed-up to come up with an amazing answer: “To kinda feel what it’s like to be in somebody else’s shoes. And to try to understand what they’re going through.” This was such a good answer that we didn’t need to add anything to it.

The second question was a follow-up, “How do you grow in empathy?”

Zachary talked about how he tried to understand his gay friend and he landed at a great point when he said, “I just listened.” Some of the others shared similar stories and then Vince made a point of how important it is just to listen to people’s stories.” Devon added a point about walking alongside people and just being around them.

I changed gears, “What do you think the Bible is all about?

Seth said, “To get people to follow a particular religion.” Alex Hively added, “To get people to do what they want and tell others that they’re wrong.” These were good honest answers, but I wanted to steer back to the authorial intent. “Let’s rephrase the question. How about, ‘What do you think the writers of the Bible intended for the Bible to convey?” I think it was Josh who said, “To get people to be decent human beings?” And his brother Dan added “To get people to focus on God, or something?”

Vince said that “It’s about the good news.” So I asked him to elaborate on what that good news was. “That Jesus died for your sins so we can have a relationship with God. That he loves us and wants to be with us.” This seemed like a good time to ask, “Do you think that’s true? That God loves everybody?” We got a lot of half-confident yeses, a handful of confident yeses, and just a couple hard “No”s.

Then I warned the next question was kinda heavy: “Why do you think the Bible calls out homosexual sex?

A lot of our dudes said they just felt like people weren’t as accepting in Bible times. Culture was the most common answer to this one. I pointed out that most in the ancient world and Biblical cultures didn’t have a clear classification for same-sex attraction. And most of what people knew about included pagan temple prostitution of both same-sexes and opposing sexes. Plus there was weird Athenian pedophilia (pederasty). But those were very different from our day and when we talk about sexual orientation and same-sex attraction. That’s why when we came to the following verse, I asked everybody to hold this with an open hand that stays in that active tension of “maybe this is exactly what it says, or maybe it’s not?”

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality,” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭(NLT‬‬)

I explained, this verse is just one of many used to beat-down those who identify as LGBTQ. And maybe it does say that gay sex is something that keeps people out of the Kingdom of God. But I wanted people to pick up the fact that this scripture also picks-apart any kind of sex that’s heterosexual too. More importantly, those of us who are straight and struggle with any kind of lust are also sinners too.

“Raise your hand if you’ve never lusted over somebody.” I said. Nobody raised their hand. “We’re all in the same court as far as sin goes.”
Seth asked, “So are you saying that those who call LGBT people sinners are hypocrites?” I said, “Maybe, yeah.” Then I explained that the issue of sin and sexual brokenness is something we’re all confronted with. We all struggle in this area, but God wants us to be healthy and whole.

I tried to explain that Jesus-followers who experience same-sex attraction try to reconcile this in different ways. Some feel their only way is to be celibate. Others feel like that’s too hard, so they go for a life-long commitment. And there’s a solid amount of disagreement on this issue, but that’s why the next question was so important.

If God loves everybody, how do you think the Bible says followers of Jesus should approach LGBTQ folk?

Everybody offered answers that pointed back to empathy and listening. “We need to become friends with people who are gay and stuff. That’s why I have lots of friends who are gay,” Alex Hively said. We all seemed to be on a similar page. So I asked, “Can you think of good stories about Christians and Queer folk?” The younger Zac talked about how he’s seen his classmates have respecting friendships despite disagreeing on the subjects of faith and orientation. I mentioned our GameCell veteran Pat Gann who wasn’t present with us because he was too busy serving and loving those in the LGBTQ youth community in Lancaster. I also gave the example of a friend Brandon Ambrosino and his pastor dad of a conservative Pentecostal church — and how his dad is very protective and supportive of him even when others in the congregation are very critical.

Then we asked the final question of the night, “How might videogames help with empathy for those different from us?

Greg said that we can play games with people who are different from us. Seth pointed out that we can play games that let us experience other people’s struggles. “Exactly,” I said. “That’s why tonight we have a much smaller playlist to focus on the experiences of others. One of those games even lets us experience what it’s like for a transgender woman to go through hormone replacement therapy.” Our crew was pretty excited. Then we prayed together, had snack, and retreated to the basement.

Birthday boy Greg picked what we played first. His two options were Gone Home and Dys4ia. I explained that Gone Home was closer to Bioshock and Dys4ia was much shorter. His pick?

Gone Home

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From the moment that Greg started the game, he seemed to have an idea of what to do. He went straight for the floor cabinet and then the Christmas Duck which hid the key to the house. But he didn’t know it was there. And like the rest of our crew, he didn’t know what was in the house. Everybody kept asking when the jump scares were gonna happen. Instead of a scary story, they found the pieces of the lives of believable people stuck in the challenges of 1994.

Greg drove the game with everybody in the room as his co-pilot. We explored the shelves of the VHS cassette shelf and our crew cheered when they saw The Goonies or another stack of X-files episodes. We all shut up when a special item pickup triggered one of Sam’s diary entries. We patiently read the notes that we found around the house, though I sometimes had to tell everybody what the idea was (especially when we found a three-paged story about Captain Allegra). Some things are best abbreviated when there’s an audience. I stayed out of the way as our crew came to the slow revelations about Terry or when Sam’s relationship details became extremely clear.

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Everybody wanted to play the game for themselves when we stopped short only an hour into the game. Two guys later told me they downloaded the game as soon as they got home. Others informed me of their plans to YouTube it when they got back. But next, we shifted gears to the next game.

Dys4ia

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Jeff took controls of the Keyboard and mouse as he drove the short personal game by Anna Anthropy, Dys4ia. The game uses these simple Atari-style graphics to convey the challenges of being transgender. There’s several parts where the game interactively represents the notion of not fitting and having unpleasant experiences related to feeling like she’s in the wrong place.

We sat and took in some pretty heavy thematic material of hormone replacement therapy and how unpleasant that experience was, and how much better Anna felt after her experience. It was over in just a dozen minutes or so. But it stuck with us.

Soma

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Our new guy, Zachary Burns, went straight for Soma. I was slightly concerned that we may have burnt-out on the domestic-style first person experience when we played Gone Home. But the crew seemed really into it. They even held their tongues whenever we heard somebody’s voice in the game. Everybody was into it the moment we showed up in Simon’s shoes.

We had a little trouble finding the tracer fluid in the apartment. But we teamed up and got a good bit into the underwater stations, Pathos-II before we ran out of time and had to close up GameCell shop. We never got to how Soma tied into the theme of the evening. But I really didn’t expect us to have time to get to that anyway. Nevertheless, we had a great night and we got to a lot of depth on a much-deeper subject than we would ever have time to explore in a single night.

It was a super rad night.

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We had new guys, old guys, and a generally wonderful crew suited for deep and thoughtful conversation despite being from many different ages and perspectives. I love these guys and look forward to the next time we can get together! I absolutely loved tackling this tough stuff, but I was absolutely exhausted by the end. All I wanted to do Saturday was sleep (as evidenced by the photo my wife took). 

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