I continued to semi-stealth-promote my game-trailer-making business by sharing other peoples work in The Top Trailers Roundup. This was volume 8! We started a video series that tells folks all they Need To Know about neat new indie games. In this case, it was Skyshine’s Bedlam. Here’s the video:
I took this picture and sent it to everybody before they arrived, “Here’s Max helping me set up for something for GameCell.” Hint: it’s for the first game we played.
We started right at 7pm on Friday as usual. Richie, Zach, Greg, Garrett, Jason, Alex, Tyler, Brandon, Yoshi, and Vince filled my house.
Richie told us a story about birds that looked like velociraptors. This scared me since I have no idea what kind of bird he’s talking about or where they came from. But he shared the story about choosing to go down the raptor-bird trail or the one without at a nearby park that I never want to go to again.
This was Richie’s answer to , “What kind of choices do you make in real life?” Garrett said that he’s got an unfortunate choice of where to live. It’s a hard decision because of the situation with his family and there’s weight to either decision and feelings get hurt either way.
We asked another question before this:
“What kind of choices do you make in games?”
Vince brought up gun selection and picking weapons in games. Brandon shared about how you have to make upgrade choices sometimes. Alex talked about diplomacy and being given the opportunity to talk your way out of problems at times.
Garrett brought up Infamous’ morality decisions and Greg brought up the same in Mass Effect. Games are full of a ton of different kinds of choices. The power is in your hands. But in real life, it doesn’t seem to present us with as many fun decisions. Often our guys get to make the “fun” choice about which set of parents to stay with.
“What choices seem to be presented in the Christian faith?”
Greg said it seems to be basically about “do you believe, or don’t you believe?” Tyler brought up selfish choices and godly choices. Zach brought up how it seems like it’s just about believing whether or not something is true. I brought up Eden and how God’s first commandment was to multiply, garden, and subdue the earth. In essence, play real-world Minecraft. So I belabored the point,
“Have you ever thought of walking with Jesus as being anything like Minecraft?”
“No.” was almost answered in unison. I drew out how “good works” are this notion of doing all sorts of creative things with the idea of building and enhancing the world around us. I gave a caveat that this isn’t how God makes us right with him, since he already did that through Jesus. But that good works are like the outpouring of our love for God:
“Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”
- James 2:20 (NLT)
“How does stuff we do in GameCell result in “good works” in your life?”
Yoshi shared that it’s made him think about the things he does in his life, how he sees the world, and how he handles the challenges in his relationship with his dad. Several of our other guys reflected on how their relationships with their parents weren’t necessarily improved, yet they were excited. They found relationships in our crew where they could get wise and dad-like advice or simply have a safe place to gather and open up. I had a proud moment.
Game time was filled with too many choices. My idea behind this was to show that sometimes less choices is a better thing and that too much power creates a paralysis. This was a dumb idea and just served to overwhelm our crew. From here on out, I’m not going to provide 21 games to pick from on a 4-game night.
Here’s the (too many) games our crew had to pick from:
Fistful of Gun
Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams (Multiplayer)
OlliOli2: Welcome to Olliwood
Super Mega Baseball
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
The Beginner’s Guide
Ninja Pizza Girl
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
MGSV: The Phantom Pain (playing with the D-Walker and the Fulton Balliista)
Shovel Knight (Plague of Shadows)
Garrett picked Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.
We disconnected my laptop from the TV and set the laptop aside. We covered Garrett in a “Bomb blanket” and distributed pieces of the bomb-disposal manual. Then Garrett tried to disarm the bomb with our help. This was the result:
Brandon picked Fistful of Gun.
This wild west game uses different controls for each of the four players. As a result, everybody has a different experience whenever they play. It’s novel in a sense. But it was also very hard to follow for those of us who were watching. We had a harder time finding a winner of the battle because the default was a required 3-wins in a row (instead of just 3 total wins). It went on for too long and we had to just declare Brandon the winner. Those playing it seemed to enjoy it. But by then we were ready to switch games.
Zach picked Indivisible.
Zach said he liked fighting games, so I directed him to this free demo from the team that brought us Skullgirls. Our crew loved the artwork and the style of this metroidvania action-RPG and became very invested in the game as Zach got into the first action/turn-based battles. I had to help him a little with some of the platforming challenges, but all in all, I think this game was a hit with most of the folks in the room.
Jason picked Ikaruga.
Most of the crew filtered out by now (10pm). But those who lingered were in for a co-op treat in the form of this crazy bullet-hell game. Nobody in the room seemed to have much experience with shooters like Ikaruga. So it was impressive when Jason and Tyler managed to beat the first boss on only their sixth try. Fortunately their tries were super quick, so a few other guys could get in there and try the game.
Everybody got hugs and we said our goodbyes. We came, we saw, we chose. And I think we chose wisely.
Giants & Pilgrims new album, Becoming, provides a soundtrack for jaded hearts who dare to pick-up the parts and rebuild again.
There’s something deeply encouraging about the confrontation in the introductory track, Boxing Shadows. It leads with:
You won the war and now you’re wondering how you’re so alone…
You’re boxing shadows
You’re not the hero — of great renown
There’s room to grow
The tone of hope transcends despair. It transforms confrontation into encouragement what could otherwise be deriding judgement. A cacophony of strings stride-out the twisting blend of somber melancholy and ear-to-ear optimism.
The next track, Elixirs, got captured by young daughters of the front-couple, Tim and Betony Coons in this music video.
This joyous expression of family adventure, struggle, and the best things in life came through over a year-full of seasons and growth. All of these themes come through this longing and reveling in living wholeheartedly:
I’m thinking of drinking from the fountain I’m coming into you
I’m coming-on down from the mountain
I’ve been waiting for the truth.
Ghosts for Tinder, exposes Giants and Pilgrims’ greatest influences such as, Hall & Oates and Brooks & Dunn. Becoming reminds us what it’s like to dig up good roods and plant deeper seeds for our children. Big Sister on the Toy Phone may be a little on-the-nose with the Coons’ oldest daughter literally playing on a toy phone and saying “Hello, is anybody there?” But it’s honest expressions of family step from the couple’s consistent emphasis of including their children in their acts of creation. It’s an interesting recovery from the artistic non-inclusive parenting of yesteryear, and it should be praised for staying honest and illustrative of how to build for the future even when our little ones are too young for finesse.
Sunrise Sunrise Sunrise and Dust to Dust invite listeners into their own mortality with themes of longevity, legacy, and cherishing that which is worth holding onto. For parents, this could be the kind of material that encourages locking-away of the simplest of memories: letting your daughter taste dinner on a wooden spoon while it’s still on the stove. Reveling in the joy of coming home at the end of a long day of work and barely being able to stand because of the small arms wrapped around your legs. Or maybe just the knowing glances between you and a loved one over the steam of a warm beverage. These moments don’t seem like life-long memories perhaps when they’re happening, but Becoming reminds us to relish in them.
You Seem Yourself thrusts you into the muted-and-distorted-horn-driven beat of repentant joy. There’s a story of brokenness and self-forgiveness in there somewhere just below the surface. The song transforms into a chunky beat that will provoke the most childlike of us to dance:
What will it take
to wash it out to turn your head
to move along?
What will it take
to let it go to leave the past
to pay the toll?
I Have Waited for You wraps the album up in the beauty of lifting up wounded loved ones and reconciling them into the fullness of life. It’s in this beauty-with-ashes reanimation that concludes the heart and tone of this multi-instrumental album. You could easily call this track a song of praise and adoration. But it’s not the last track on Becoming. That honor comes to the trumpet-and-drum-track invitation, Will You Stay.
The lyrics end in a question, “Will you stay or will you keep going?” Then it trails off. We’re left by the the joyful sounds of family-time and little girls singing.
Christians don’t talk enough about how life gets really freaking confusing especially when you’re following Jesus. Then when that thick cloud of disorientation comes, it’s easy to lose your senses. Most of our GameCell crew doesn’t follow Jesus, but I wanted to prep them when they do follow him and find themselves feeling super confused. So we dove into the story of Job a bit. And we talked about the occasional benefits of confusion – especially in video games.
Alex, Vince, Greg, Yoshi, Garrett, and I filled my living room. We had two new guys, Greg’s buddy Brandon and my buddy Scottie. So we hooked them up with gamer bibles and told them Jesus loved them. We all shared our names and favorite games (Brandon’s was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). Then Greg passed-out the first question:
1. Can you name a confusing experience you had with games?
Garrett said “the whole Metal Gear series.” Everybody laughed. We talked about a lot of other games that include strange and challenging bits. Yoshi mentioned Dark Souls.
2. When has confusion been a good thing in your life?
Vince mentioned how it’s when we’re confused that it prompts him to ask questions. He said curiosity wouldn’t exist without confusion. The rest of us shared about other ways that confusion has showed up in our lives. Greg mentioned some classes in school that really made him dive deeper.
Here was where it was important to emphasize that God doesn’t aim to confuse:
“…God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” – I Corinthians 14:33 NKJV
3. Why do you think Bible stuff seems boring?
Brandon chimed about how a lot of the words in the bible are really hard to understand. Greg mentioned that a lot of things he hears about the Bible don’t make him curious. Alex Carter gave his “I dunno, come back to me” that he sometimes does on these more-pointed topics. But since he’s been with GameCell since the beginning, I figured it was high time to press him for answers. I pressed him to really give an honest answer. He brought up Kim Davis. He talked about how others’ expressions of Biblical life really turned him off. So I asked him if my expression of Biblical life turned him off too. He said no and that he thought our approach to following Jesus was an exception. But that he was still hung up on the offence he took with divisive Christians in the national spotlight. I encouraged him to ignore those folk and really pick things up locally. But he still felt like it was a brick wall of sorts.
4. What do you do when you’re confused?
Garrett picked up his phone, triggered Google Now, and asked, “What do I do when I’m confused?” His phone responded, “Look at these images!” And his phone was suddenly littered with random memes involving pugs and other assorted animals. After busting into laughter, we realized this was his honest answer. Then we laughed some more.
I mentioned how I tend to sulk for a bit until I get into a place of prayer. Then God typically brings an abundant degree of clarity when I lean on him. But I wanted to talk about how sometimes we don’t end up with clarity, but it’s important to stay on the line and not walk away.
So we looked at the book of Job.
Brandon became Job as I launched into a lazy speed-run version of my live action Bible stories where the audience becomes Bible characters. I told Brandon (now Job) that his kids all died the same day his livestock and servants died. Then he got sick and covered in boils. I don’t think Brandon liked that part of the story. Then the better chunk of the story is Job’s “friends” arguing with him about how they believe God only lets bad things happen to bad people. It doesn’t go well:
Bildad from Shuhah was next to speak:
“How can you keep on talking like this? You’re talking nonsense, and noisy nonsense at that. Does God mess up? Does God Almighty ever get things backward? It’s plain that your children sinned against him— otherwise, why would God have punished them?
By this point, our crew was effectively confused. I did the thing I hate Christians do with the book of Job: sum up the whole thing with how it ends. I hate jumping out of the tension of the book, but it’s helpful for getting to the point of the evening. I left the crew with a kinda churchy benediction:
May you seek for the Truth in confusing times and remember that God wants to be your clarity when you’re lost in confusion.
Then Garrett led our group in prayer.
Our games for Confusion night included:
MGSV: The Phantom Pain
Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows
Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings
System Shock – Enhanced Edition
A central gamecell tenet is “Listen to the New Guy.” But I forgot that when you give new guys a choice, they tend to pick what they think the rest of the crew will like (multiplayer games). And we don’t learn anything from them or enjoy what they might enjoy. Ah, lessons for next time!
Brandon picked the first multiplayer game, ChargeShot.
It’s almost as manic as this trailer indicates:
Scottie picked the second mutliplayer game, Extreme Exorcism.
Scottie gave Vince the last pick. And since Vince hadn’t played anything like Metal Gear since Snake’s Revenge on NES, he picked MGSV: The Phantom Pain. So we played through the intro. But it was a bit too intense at times for Vince. So he passed the controller when it got too insane. Scottie took the controller and we played the whole way up to the Fire-Whale!
I got a photo message from Vince at 8:35 on Friday night:
I messaged him back, figuring out that GameCell was going pretty good without me:
Tyler told me that things went good on the topic of Consequences. They talked about the idea of reaping and sowing from the Bible:
“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” -Luke 6:38
Then Tyler, Alex, Roberto, and Vince picked from this lot of games.
Vince said a lot about the games I provided for the crew to play:
The crew had an amazing night without me. I was out camping with a bunch of our crew who was still young enough for the Youth Center Retreat that we went on in the woods. We had campfires, told stories, and got seriously rained-on. I was a little jealous of our dry friends back home, but super proud that they picked up the reigns and had an amazing night!
Kotaku’s Patrick Klepek picked up my GameChurch article about How Metal Gear Solid V let me love my enemies. I giggled a little bit when I realized that one of the biggest game publications covered something that I wrote. I laughed when I saw my motivations described as “religious tenets,” but that’s what made it stick out. Patrick was super gracious about the coverage and encouraged a culture of respect for those who on the other side of the fence. It’s super courteous and a nice shot in the arm.
Back at the Indie Haven homestead, I’ve been faithfully capturing the best trailers in handy dandy roundups. Check out Top Trailers Vol. 6 and Top Trailers Vol. 7 to see the very best new indie games and how they’re being promoted. At the end of Vol. 6, you’ll see a super strange trailer for a neat game called Capsule Force. I authored the Indie Haven review for Capsule Force, which gushed over the game a tiny bit.
I returned to my writing post at Theology Gaming. I wrote about the best/worst things about Volume, a fantastic stealth game by Mike Bithell. If you’re looking for a recommendation, I can give you that for Volume. But if you want a more nuanced exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of the game, be sure to check out the article.
Video games are known for giving players tools to kill enemies. But Jesus says to love your enemies. And if you look at human history while Christian influence has been around, it’s stupid how rarely we see people actually love their enemies. But that’s what we wanted to explore this night: how does one love their enemies and what games equip you to deal with enemies in redemptive ways?
Tyler, Carter, Hively, Greg, Yoshi, Wayne, and I spread out amids a less stuffy living room than usual. Alex Carter stepped into the Discussion Master role and launched into the first question:
Who’s your favorite video game enemy? And why?
Tyler picked Nero from Devil May Cry since he’s the hero’s brother with malevolent ambitions. I talked about Daud from Dishonored because you can step into his shoes. Wayne picked the other drivers in Rocket League. Yoshi got the next card and he asked:
Who’s your favorite real world enemy?
Greg said ISIS. Wayne half-jokingly said Obama. Tyler asked if he could be a little abstract and explained that he felt like he was his own enemy. Wayne said He was on the same page. His honest answer was himself.
Tyler got the Text Master card with John 13:34. I interrupted: “I forgot to share the theme Enemy Night.” And then I asked what they thought about when they think of Jesus and his approach to enemies. But I guess it was a bit of a rhetorical question because I launched into the scene at the Cross where Jesus is praying forgiveness over the people who are publicly murdering him. Then Tyler read John 13:34
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
I called out how it’s easy to avoid people you don’t like. But sometimes the hardest people to love are the ones who aren’t different from you. Everybody responded to this in short, but then Yoshi got our last question card and asked:
3. How do you love people that you don’t like you (enemies)?
Yoshi said that not-hating them is a good star. He said he no longer holds anything against his ex-girlfriend. Hively said that he has a hard time forgiving his ex-girlfriends. We all talked about how hard it can be to forgive, and how trust isn’t something instantaneous when you forgive somebody. I talked about this thing I learned in marriage counseling called “falling forward:” being the first person to try to make amends when you don’t want to talk to each other. It’s the opposite of what you want to do, but it heals things even if just a little bit. Wayne mentioned little offers to help with things like yard work and carrying heavy things for neighbors who he was at odds with.
Alex nominated Yoshi to pray for our group and our time. First time I’ve seen him do it and dude handled it like a pro. He even got everybody to hold hands!
The Games all dealt with enemies — or valuing enemies in some way. Each game came with a question should it be picked.
We played Capsule Force first since I thought it would be best if we started with a multiplayer game everybody could get in on. It went pretty well, but the game is so fast that it’s hard for everybody to get up to speed on how to play. The idea is fun and simple enough: teams of two try to advance in football-like progression toward the other team’s goal by jumping on a tram platform. Then each team has arm-cannons that they can blast each other with and a bubble shield for blocking/pushing people off the trams. I loved it. Our crew thought it was good, but not as good as Samurai Gunn or Lethal League.
The crew picked Yoshi to get dibs on what we played next. He picked Lemma because he wanted to play something with a lot of momentum and first-person parkour. Since the game’s story is pretty bare-bones (as it’s made by one guy) the only thing in the game to hold viewers attention was the crazy dangerous “can he make it” jumps. Yoshi loved it. Our crew seemed to dig it too.
Yoshi picked Wayne to pick the next game. Wayne picked “the game with the ugly guy,” which happened to be Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It’s a slightly strange game for a pastor to pick, but he picked Tyler to play it because of the complex controls. This went exceptionally well, though Tyler was frequently spotted and ended up shooting a lot more American soldiers than he anticipated. In the end, our crew learned the value of sticking to the shadows, being low, and using tranquilizer rounds instead of lethal force.
Our crew had a great time while reflecting on the value of others, especially enemies.
There’s always at least a couple folks in a gamecell meeting who could one day lead a gamecell of their own. To illustrate this, I made a new guy the leader (discussion master) for the evening. Andrew came with Dan and so we gave him the welcome gift: the Jesus For the Win Gamer Bible. I also gave him the discussion cards for the evening and told him to hand out the cards to whomever he so desires (just follow the order so it makes sense).
Devon also showed up for the first time. This made me super excited since I really like Devon, and he likes us, but he’s super uncomfortable with God stuff. He said he once had a really bad experience at [name redacted] church. So I told him that’s completely understandable, but now it’s time to have a really fun experience at something connected to a church.
We need to make everybody comfortable, so we asked our baseline question:
“What’s your favorite game and your name?”
Andrew and Tim matched, both saying Sonic Adventure 2 was their favorite. Dan and Alex Carter also both said their favorite was Pokemon Sapphire. Vince said Jackal on the original Nintendo System. Roberto said King of Fighters 98. Devon had a hard time picking one, but ultimately landed on Burnout Revenge. Greg said Halo. Josh said Zelda: Twilight Princess. I fell back to Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones on Game Boy Advance.
Andrew handed out the first card.
What’s your favorite game innovation?
If that’s too hard, what’s your favorite game innovation recently?
Dan talked about being hacked in Watch Dogs and how it created a really tense and unique experience with another player. This led to us discussing Dark Souls invasions. I also mentioned Binoculars in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes (as well as Far Cry) because they work as a mental abstraction of how binoculars are used in military conflicts.
Ever want to start something?
Vince mentioned how he wanted to start a hip-hop funk band with him on drums, but hasn’t found the right crew yet. Alex Hively also said he wanted to start a band since he loves music. I mentioned starting my trailer business.
Has anyone ever handed-off something to you?
“Yeah, this card,” Tim laughed. I gave the example of being given a cell group to lead ten years ago. Then we had a few guys offer examples of things they’d been handed. But it was clear that there weren’t a lot of ideas.
Can you think of famous hand-offs in the bible?
Roberto chimed in with the perfect example: Moses handed off the leading of Israel to Joshua. I brought up John the Baptist handing off the God’s Mission to Jesus. Then Jesus handed off this to his disciples. After that, those disciples handed off to their disciples. This led into the final question.
Would you ever want a gamecell to be handed off to you?
Lots of “oohs” and “aaahs.” IT was like the veil had been lifted on the conversation and suddenly we could really use it for something. Many of the guys in the crew said yes. Daniel gave the caveat, “if I had your Steam library” (speaking to me). I reminded him that he already had a Wii U and more than three games and all it takes is that to get things started. Then I singled out the guys from other churches (like Dan and Roberto) and suggested they might be the ideal for this — and that I’d love to help them do it if they’re up for it.
Vince prayed. We had snack. Then it was game Time.
Andrew picked Regular Human Basketball.
My list was a little over-extensive game-wise. I offered a handful of games that I thought would be ideal for our crew, but when Andrew picked Regular Human Basketball, I assumed that they would just love it and it would be okay. Unfortunately, the six-player setup was two players too much for anybody to really enjoy it. Also, the lack of team-choice made our crew a little salty. So Andrew asked for a mulligan.
Honestly though, guys, I really thought this game was like near perfect until we tried 6-player with two players on keys. I guess every game isn’t made better by having more players.
Andrew really love Rocket League and had been practicing at home. He showed off his skills. But that didn’t keep anybody in our crew from enjoying the game anyway. Devon especially loved it as a racer guy. And he even showed up as a pretty good kickoff scorer.
When I say our crew really loved Rocket League, I’m not exaggerating. When Devon’s turn came around he just wanted to play more Rocket League. So we played it for over an hour.
Our remaining crew picked Duck Game.
I tried to steer our crew towards something new, but there’s no denying that Duck Game and Rocket League are hands down some of the best party games of this year. We went a good handful of rounds with Duck Game before the crowd dwindled to just a few remaining.
Since Andrew was still around, our crew wanted to show him our other staple gamecell game, Samurai Gunn. So we played a good number of rounds with that with popular results.
We met on a Thursday since Jess and I went on vacation this week. The earlier night meant our crew thinned-out earlier. But it didn’t stop anybody from having an awesome time. I was most excited by Devon leaving with a big smile on his face.
Zachery, Bryan, and I make up the TheoGameBro Trio. We’re the editing staff for TheologyGaming.com. We’re also the admins for the Theology Gaming Facebook group, Theology Gaming University. And just over the past few weeks, we’ve finally gotten our acts together. We bubble our friendship over into a radio show about video games and how it they relate to following Jesus.
Grab your internet radio device (iPod/iPhone/Droid/Desktop) and pop over to these handy dandy episodes. They’re just over an hour each and make for perfect commute banter if you’ve got a long drive.