Playing as Oppressed, Spiritual Formation, and “NecroDancing”

Josh talks about playing as a teenage girl in an arranged marriage, how his relationship with Jesus intersects with games, and why he’s excited to dance to a roguelike videogame.

Playing as Oppressed and Oppressor in Unrest

unrest

Unrest casts you into the plight of the poor and oppressed – from both the perspective of the poor and their oppressors. As you walk in the shoes of both, you get to witness the way your choices shape an Indian city on the cusp of a bloody revolution.

Read Playing as Oppressed and Oppressor in Unrest on Gamechurch

Spiritual Formation in Video Games Podcast

spiritual-formation

Zach, Ted, and Josh talk about how they got into video games, and how that affected their faith, or spiritual formation. Topics include Wonderful 101, OlliOlli, and Tuffy the Corgi & the Tower of Bones.

Listen to Spiritual Formation in Video Games on the Theology Gaming Podcast. Or subscribe via iTunes.

Crypt of the NecroDancer: Why I bought a DDR Dance Pad

necrodancer

I need to lose about 30 pounds. And I think I found a way to do it. Crypt of the NecroDancer is a smart, tactical roguelike that lets me control the game with dance. So I ordered a DDR Dance pad. No, I didn’t need to. And no, it’s not here yet. I just really want one. Because I’m fat, this game is fun, and I want to shed some poundage by dancing my booty off.

Read Crypt of the NecroDancer: Why I bought a DDR Dance Pad on Plus 10 Damage

Thinking About Iraqui Kurdistan

News about current events in Iraq strike me in a way I don’t know how to articulate. I know it’s there. Just don’t know what to do about it. So here I am with a ton of pictures I never shared from 2010 that tell a story of life in post-Saddam Kurdistan.

Unflattering shot of me with two of our Peshmerga escorts. Dude on the left, Mohammed, was super nice.

Two of our Peshmerga escorts.

"Typical Iraq"

“Typical Iraq”

As a bit of a pacifist, it was rather strange seeing large droves of these Kurdish soldiers who wanted to show us how rad their country is.

These Kurdish soldiers wanted to show us how rad their country is.

Me and Hamza in the pharmacy. We worked in during our mornings there.

Me and Hamza in the pharmacy we worked in during our mornings there.

Tea time is promtly at 11am. No shaking it.

Tea time is promtly at 11am. No shaking it.

Typical Kurdish-Iraqui restaurant.

Typical Kurdish-Iraqui restaurant.

Not the Iraq you see in the news.

Iraqui vacation town

That's a city in the background (for scale)

That’s a city in the background (for scale)

Inside of Duhok's Dam Park

Inside of Duhok’s Dam Park

Duhok at night.

Duhok at night.

Junior Peshmerga just before the martial arts demo they put on for us

Peshmerga soldiers just before the martial arts demo they put on for us

Chaldean church garden that overlooks the Tigris

Chaldean church garden that overlooks the Tigris

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Below the modern Chaldean church, we got to explore the original church meeting place that was founded back in the 400s.

Tigris and Syria. Coulda thrown a rock into Syria. But I got the impression that this isn't typical Middle Eastern behavior.

Tigris and Syria. Coulda thrown a rock into Syria. But I got the impression that this isn’t typical Middle Eastern behavior.

Turkish border over the Khabur river. Ezekiel had his famous wheel-within-a-wheel vision right around here.

Turkish border over the Khabur river. Ezekiel had his famous wheel-within-a-wheel vision right around here.

Ruins of one of Saddam's palaces. You can't quite see the waterfall that ran through it.

Ruins of one of Saddam’s palaces. You can’t quite see the waterfall that ran through it.

This was probably the coolest cafe I had ever been to. No joke.

This was probably the coolest cafe I had ever been to. No joke.

Best Coffee Ever.

Best Coffee Ever.

He smiled way more than this picture suggests.

He smiled way more than this picture suggests.

Loved Duhok.

Loved Duhok.

At one point, we set-up our pharmacy in a makeshift bathroom.

At one point, we set-up our pharmacy in a makeshift bathroom.

Rabban Hormizd Monastery

Rabban Hormizd Monastery

From the top of the monastery

From the top of the monastery

Overlooking Mosul.

Overlooking Mosul.

One of my few pics from when we visited the Yazidi village.

One of my few pics from when we visited the Yazidi village.

Inside Erbil's citadel. This architecture predates Jesus.

Inside Erbil’s citadel. This architecture predates Jesus.

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Gamecell Recap – Aug 15

Last week, we rallied the GameCell. We talked for a while about life and spiritual formation. Then we attacked each other with swords.

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“What are you most excited about?”

First-timer, Joey, brought his buddy Anthony. Anthony was excited to get out of McDonalds and get a more grown-up gig. Joey said he was excited to get out of old habits. Jeff was excited for a pro-league Counterstrike competition that he might get accepted to in Denmark. I told everybody I was excited about the arrival of my new DDR Dance Mat that I got for Crypt of the Necrodancer.

“What is your first memory of the church or Jesus?”

“Having to go to the confession booth,” Brian said. He elaborated and drew a picture of awkwardness and having no idea what to do. Jeff shared similar stories about semi-recent Catholic church experiences related to the loss of family members. Anthony shared a lot of his own confusing experiences related to Catholocism. And Vince did too. I shared a story of being at a Beth Yeshua Synagogue at the age of three, seeing everybody doing Davidic dance and saying, “Mommy, I wanna dance!”

hohokum

“What is the next step in your spiritual formation?”

This question had profound under-pinnings as everybody seemed to lay their cards on the table. Many of our guys shared their unfiltered agnosticism and wondered what that meant in the overall flow of conversation about “Life, God, and Games.” Some of our guys shared that they’re really not sure what’s next or what to anticipate. Vince shared about his growing understanding of being a dad and how to love his wife and kids. And one of our guys just expressed how much his family was hurting due to illness and mental health concerns. So I asked if we could pray for him. Jeff suggested we all hold hands. The rest of the guys seemed into it.

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“What would you like to play?”

I laid-out games in three categories: 8-bit Nintendo, Artsy Flying PS3 Games, and Smash-Bros-Like Multiplayer. Being our newest-most participant, Anthony got to choose. With a small amount of guiding, he landed on Abyss Odyssey. And the smashing ensued. Joey expressed that he only wanted to watch instead of picking a game and playing. Then Dakota Williams showed up for the first time since he was home from Basic Training. Since Joey passed for his turn, Dakota chose “whatever would be the most fun for everybody to play.” We translated that to “lets play some Samurai Gunn.” Garrett seemed to have a lot of fun with this even though he got the short end of the katana. Many laughs were had. After about forty minutes of play, the crowd thinned and we had just ten more minutes to pick something else to play. So I handed the controller to Vince and loaded-up Hohokum. Of course, the young men looked at the kitesnake protagonist and said, “Whoa, is it a multi-colored sperm?” I said, “No, I don’t think so, but you can make the world more colorful by smashing into things with it’s face.”

Knight-Digging, Enemy-Loving, and Abyss-Diving

Hey Kids, wanna dig for treasure with a Knight? Love Enemies as a French Grandpa? Jump into pits filled with Chilean Sea Monsters? You’re in the right place.

Dig With Me – Shovel Knight Review

shovel

Pop opinion dictates that Shovel Knight is rad. And as much as I’d love to speak to the contrary, I can’t disagree. Though, I’d like to think I had at least a few original thoughts on the matter:

To put yourself in the minds of Shovel Knight’s creators, imagine you found a Craigslist ad that said, “DeLorean Time Machine: Free.” You showed up at a designated parking lot to make the “trade.” The Craigslister hands you the keys, says “good riddance.” Before you can think about it, you’re up to 88 mph and suddenly back in 1985. You ask yourself one simple question: how do I use my future-knowledge to improve the trajectory of videogames? Eventually you realize that none of your money works in 1985, videogames are actually much harder to make with an internet that doesn’t run any faster than 9.6kbps, and everything smells like Tom Selleck. Quickly realizing that 1985 sucks, you decide to take your Nintendo game idea back to our present day and get your funds from Kickstarter. And it works.

Read the Shovel Knight Review on Plus 10 Damage

Valiant Hearts: You Will Love Your Enemy (No Matter What)

valiant

Valiant Hearts captures the tragedies and horrors of the Great War. But it also captures some of the silver linings. One of those is a small exchange between a French trench-digger and a German demolitionist.

I lived up to Jesus’ teaching about loving my enemies. Yes, it was in a World War I themed videogame called Valiant Hearts. Yes, my actions were scripted for me. But at least I did it, right?

I’m a French grandpa struggling through the chaos of the labyrinth underneath the trenches of World War I. Somebody’s crying for help.

Read ‘Valiant Hearts: You Will Love Your Enemy (No Matter What)’ on Gamechurch.

Smash Bros’ Tentacle Baby – Abyss Odyssey Review

abyss

I really really like Abyss Odyssey. Describing it may require a descent into my squirmy-squishy weirdo-speak. You’ll be able to keep up if you like Smashing your Bros.

If you had a baby born with tentacles — and you were a good parent — you’d love her and make her feel at home. You would learn the best practices in tentacle care, and taunt gaping onlookers when they stare. Abyss Odyssey is that tentacle baby, and I hope you love her at least half as much as I do.

Read the Abyss Odyssey Review on Plus 10 Damage

Destiny Acts Like a Sponge, Bioshock Dies, and We Theologically Justify Videogame Time

In which, we look at articles published elsewhere about Bioshock’s conclusion and Destiny’s beginning. Oh, and that time we tried to justify videogames from a theological position (full of biases, of course).

Destiny Beta: The Bulletsponge Dilemma

destiny-beta

I played all that I felt I needed to play of Destiny. It was fun and had some great hooks. But the bullet sponges expose the time-suck ambition of the game’s design:

So there I am, in Destiny’s final Beta mission with some other players. We’re head-shotting and outflanking blokes. Then, all of the sudden, we slam up against this Tank-boss. We shot at this thing for twenty minutes. Twenty. Minutes. We shot, took cover, shot more, revived each other, dealt with minions, and continuing to shoot. Meanwhile, our bulletsponge boss proverbially stuck out its tongue, saying something along the lines of “Naynaya na Nyan Nya!”

Read ‘Destiny Beta: The Bulletsponge Dilemma’ at Plus 10 Damage

Burial At Sea: The Bioshock Obituary

bioshock

Did you hear that Bioshock died? I wrote the obituary. Here’s a sample:

Bioshock was a connoisseur of hot dogs and potato chips that came from the garbage. He also loved eating pineapples out of cash registers. His favorite hobby was meticulously scanning every drawer, broken gun turret, and public fountain for coins. The only things he loved more than money was using said money to finance his first loves: immolating drug addicts and decapitating law enforcement.

Read the Bioshock Obituary at Theology Gaming.

We Theologically Justify Videogame Time (in this podcast)

hosho

Ever need to have a good Godly reason why you play videogames? Well, here you go. Just ignore the scary picture of Rutger Hauer.

Topics include natural theology, Mario Kart 8, Valiant Hearts (POSSIBLE SPOILERS ABOUT DOGS), Abyss Odyssey, Metal Gear Solid, Pikmin 3, Dark Souls, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Shovel Knight, Nintendo Land, Unrest, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Destiny of Spirits, and Ted discovering that you can play PS1 games on a PS3!

Listen to the Podcast on Theology Gaming. Or subscribe via iTunes.

A GameCell Birthday With No Birthday Boy (Mostly)

cake

It seemed appropriate to celebrate Alex Carter’s birthday since our GameCell got together on the exact day he turned 22.

Wayne got there first, deciding to be a trusty stand-in for Vince while he’s on vacation. And the Knapp brothers, Richie and Michael showed up right on time. We caught up for a little bit, discovering how Richie’s relationship with his girlfriend, Liz, was going and how happy Michael was to be going to Bronycon in Baltimore next (this) week. It was nice to catch up. But I soon realized that the discussion I had planned didn’t suit this small group. So we played games instead.

pinkninja

Richie picked Super House of Dead Ninjas – which proved perfect for our limited crew size. Midway through Richie’s first run, Alex Hively showed up. Richie liked using the whip, while Alex really liked the nun-chucks. Not sure what Wayne thought of the game, but I’m sure he wasn’t fully able to connect with it in a way that felt mature and thoughtful. The game was about a ninja girl who just chops dudes to pieces after all.

We played Super House of Dead Ninjas on Steam, but it’s free online as well.

gentlemen

Then it was time for a gentleman’s game: Gentlemen Dispute. This free game came as a recommendation from Alex and involved two players with old-timey gentlemen who brawl by floating/flying across screen and trying to knock off each other’s giant top-hat. Everybody played. Then Owen Hershner showed up (who won his first gentlemanly dispute). Then he faced the reigning champ, Richie. Richie ultimately got crowned the “Gentleanliest of Men” for the evening.

karl

Needing something a little more sober, Alex Hively took the helm of Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Our guys watched the heartbreak of World War 1 tearing a French/German family apart as a German husband was deported away from his wife and child while we step into the shoes of his French father-in-law as he was drafted. Owen thought it was fascinating when we up artifacts that unfolded true-life facts about the war. Our guys sat on the edge of their seats as we met the German Shepherd first-aid dog that would be the game’s constant companion.

anna

Then the somber tone shifted sideways when taking control of the American action-centric character, Freddie and seeing how he chased the moustache-twirling villain. The dog got caught in a bunch of barbed wire and started crying horribly. Owen took the controls as we raced through the level to save the puppy. Then Alex Carter (the birthday boy) arrived just as we saved the puppy!

Oh happy day!

It seemed like the perfect time to eat cake and celebrate Alex’s birthday. But Alex just came from Shady Maple Smorgasbord. So he wasn’t ready to have any more food forced inside his mouth. Instead, he wanted to play One Finger Death Punch.

onefinger

For the greater chunk of gaming humanity that’s unfamiliar with One Finger Death Punch, an explanation is in order. Imagine if a videogame threw up all over your screen with countless hordes of stickmen and explosions all over the screen. Then a semi-racist narrator provides culturally stereotyped Asian commentary on your martial artistry; AKA, your skills at pressing X or B at the correct time. The game’s title comes from only needing one thumb to do all your “precision fighting.” Alex took this opportunity to show off his thumb’s destructive prowess while making more “HYAAA”, “HOOOOOO”, and “KEEYAAAAWW” noises than Bruce Lee.

It was at about this time that Wayne decided it was time for him to go to bed. And I don’t blame him. This was a lot of crazy manic over-the-top games than I’m gunning for. We needed a cool-down. So I asked Wayne to stick around just for what was next.

cell

We sang happy birthday to Alex. Wayne headed home. Then we had some brief discussion as we ate cake.

“What was your first significant game experience?”

Each of the guys shared without worry about us seeing each other grind the chocolate cake in our mouths. Owen talked about an arcade racing game that he and his dad bonded over. Alex Hively talked about playing Spyro with his dad and always loving spending time with his dad and games. Richie shared about endlessly beating an adult playing Soul Calibur at the age of five. Michael talked about finding his first glitch in a Mario game. And Alex Carter reflected on his grandmother buying him his first Pokemon game.

Since significant formation experiences were on mind, I linked it to the first “significant spiritual experience” that Jesus had with all of his disciples. But since I was a little rushed for time and didn’t mind an awkward transition I just threw this out there:

“Why do you think Jesus turned water into wine?”

“Because he wanted to celebrate?” Owen asked. “Because he wanted to party!” Alex Carter joked, seeming to think this was just a funny answer. “Actually kinda,” I started. Then I read the story in John 2.

We landed at a question:

“If Jesus is the Son of God, what do you think this miracle says God is like?”

Kardashian’s Hollywood, Peter Pan Syndrome, and The End of Times

In which, we look at a few of Josh’s exploits elsewhere:

Why is Kim Kardashian’s Videogame Blowing Up Right Now?

kardash

I know this sounds crazy, but I found some redemptive qualities in Kim Kardashian’s new videogame. Madness!

For now, as I look back at Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood, I can see a game that excels for one core reason: it’s explicitly for girls. There’s not been enough of that. So maybe we can celebrate the gender-appeal-diversity, even if the name of the game makes most of us game-snobs cringe?

Read about it on Plus 10 Damage.

A Story About My Uncle’s Peter Pan Syndrome

A-story-about-my-uncle-2

A Story About My Uncle is a super fun game with a bedtime story premise. Problem is, it’s not actually made for kids. It’s made for me.

“We treat the games we play as conceptually being for other people – in this case, children. But what if we (the gaming elite) are really the only ones playing them?”

Read about it at GameChurch.com.

Eschatology (End Times) and Videogames Podcast

leftbehidn

We talked all about what will “definitely really happen” at the end of the world and what the Bible says about the matter. More importantly, we talk about the videogames that try to grapple about this subject (and as little as possible about the Left Behind series).

You can go to the website and listen here. Or you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.

Mammoth GameCell (16!)

mammoth

Somehow we crammed fourteen full-size males into my tiny living room. Then we asked this question:

Who’s your biggest living hero? Or just somebody you really look up to?

Dakota Kline brought up PewDiePie – not because of his quality of communication, but because of his success as a guy who plays games on Youtube for a living. Garret mentioned his uncle. Alex Carter mentioned his favorite manga artist, Mark Crilly. New guy, Aaron Bayne said comedian Kevin Hart. And other new guy, Tyler wants to be just like his dad.

I threw the crew for a bit of a loop with the next questions: Why do people follow his Disciples? And why do you think his first disciples followed him? The guys provided some smart and compelling answers. Then I read the end of the first chapter of John, where Jesus gets some of his first disciples. Feeling like this might be loosing some folks, I brought it back around:

What if your hero came up to you and said, “Come, follow me!”?

tim_tyler

Alex said, “If Mark Crilly said that to me, I’d drop everything and follow him.” Most of our guys seemed pretty on-board if PewDiePie said “Come, follow me.” Then we came back to Jesus and I asked, “What if Jesus is saying that to you right now? Come, follow Me? If he’s asking you that, what do you think the implication is?” I got a few blank stares so I just explained, “To an ancient Israeli teenager, rabbis were Jedi Masters. And everybody wanted to be Jedi.”

This took us a little bit off course, with a lot of Qui Gon Jin references and dudes pretending they had light sabers.

“What I’m saying is that Jesus is like a Jedi Master. But more importantly, he’s all about navigating the complexities of life and showing us how to do that. But, how do you think we do that?”

Jeff Adams took the question and ran with it. “Maybe we need to really investigate him more?” He said. Somebody specified the importance of getting super familiar with Jesus in the Bible. And Vince drew-out the importance of community and following Jesus as a group of disciples (kinda like the group of twelve young guys that were with Vince and I). I tried to wrap things up with that theme of “We figure this out together.” We closed our discussion with a question that I wanted to hang in the air:

“In what ways don’t you want to follow Jesus?”

Then we transitioned to game-playin’.

goatsim_2sc

Somewhere in the midst of that transition, the chaos factor turned up a few notches. Some of the guys ordered Pizza. Then the one with the cash got towed. We got Tyler and Tim (both new guys) set-up playing split-screen Goat Simulator. And two more dudes showed up – boosting our numbers to 16.

In the midst of all of this, I learned that it’s increasingly difficult to get sixteen dudes to take interest in two players simultaneously doing the most nonsensical things they can think of.

Sidenote: Tyler, Tim, Dakota, and Aaron had a ton of fun playing Goat Simulator. It just wasn't as much fun to watch (especially when you have two dudes doing completely separate things).

Sidenote: Tyler, Tim, Dakota, and Aaron had a ton of fun playing Goat Simulator. It just wasn’t as much fun to watch (especially when you have two dudes doing completely separate things).

Aaron Bayne’s chose The Floor Is Jelly. As he played, nearly five conversations went around the room at once. Aaron did great as he figured out how to bounce like a little Mexican Jumping Bean in a world made of jello. But when he got stuck, it became a perfect opportunity to reign everybody back in: “Hey guys, Aaron’s trying to figure this platforming puzzle out. Maybe we can give him our attention and try to help him out?” It worked a little.

floorjelly

Dakota took the helm of Shovel Knight as the conversations died down a little. Conversation turned to the value and challenge of old-school Nintendo games like Megaman, Zelda 2, and how fun Shovel Knight was to watch. Dakota enjoyed the game and the tension of the first boss battle.

shovel

Shawn Berkebile showed up late, but I wouldn’t let him miss-out on his ceremonial new-guys-always-play game-christening. His choice? Race The Sun: a game that starts at about 700 mph and only gets faster. Somebody pointed out how it was the perfect place for Shawn to show off his skating skills.

race

And that was it. What a great night!

What’s the Theology of E3? Is it Growing up? How Close Is That Transistor Sword?

In which, we finally look at some posts from early June despite it already being the middle of July.

(We is slow, we is fine, we is ‘portant.)

Transistor: Intimacy with a Sword?

intimacy

Transistor was a great game. But it’s approach to intimacy was even better.

And yet here we are, left slightly out of the loop on the details of the intimate relationship between our protagonists, seeing only the effects of that intimacy. They do everything together. He protects her at every chance he gets, fighting for and with her. He makes decisions with her, providing his input and gently supporting her choices. And as a result, she won’t let go of him.

Read about Transistor on GameChurch

Is E3 Growing Up?

joele3  

So how’s E3 doing when it comes to preoccupation with male adolescent power fantasies drenched in corpses?

Ever have that moment of sudden clarity where you’re staring down the barrel of a gun, looking at a man begging for his life, and you’re suddenly like, “What have I become?”

Metaphorically.

The last time this happened was just a week ago when Watch Dogs came out, but the first time this existential horror occurred to me was E3 2012.

Read ‘Is E3 Growing Up’ on Plus 10 Damage

What’s the Theology of E3?

e3

Zach, Ted, and I refected on the choice findings of E3 and what Jesus might have to say about this year’s event (sorta).

E3: The Home of Trailers! E3: Everything Comes Out Next Year! So let’s talk about hype for things that don’t exist yet and other such stuff.

Listen to Theology Gaming’s ‘Theology of E3 Podcast’

GameCell Date Night (And Questions!)

In which, we reflect on the topic of dating and what our GameCell talked about/played on Friday night.

police_sketch

Official police sketch

New guys Dan and Keric played Transistor and Bastion. Honorary new guy, Pierce, played Ether One.

Before all of this, we looked at romantic relationships and asked the question for single guys, “Why do you want to date?” So now, if you haven’t answered the question it comes to you:

Why do you want to date?

Max talked about dating as a pursuit of finding a partner for life that has common vision and purpose. Keric expressed the value of the fun of discovery. And some of our younger guys just listened. Meanwhile, Vince sketched all of the guys sitting on the couch. Then I shared some of my thoughts on this blog post. Eventually, we got around to the bigger question, “How do you develop a healthy romantic relationship?” But since that’s a really broad question, maybe a more interesting question to leave you with is this one:

What’s the funniest mistake you made in your pursuit of a mate?