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.

fallout4

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.

badblood

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.

mushroom

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.

crew2

~

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

indie-week

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.

piper

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.

mario3

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.

yoshi

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)

tetris

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. 

crew

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

justinme

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.

jesse

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.

lemma

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!

smb

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.

norm502

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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October Articles

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I wrote my first news piece at Indie Haven about the semi-stealth release of amazing party game, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

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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:

We reviewed the hardcore bullet hell co-op game, Assault Android Cactus at Theology Gaming. I called it a bossy bullet hell game for four buds. We gave it four stars!

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I also wrote about Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime for Theology Gaming. The main crux of it was about how the game requires good communication. But I’m not good at it. So I made a video:

What? Four rad podcasts too! That’s over three hours of game talk! 

Last week, Zachery and I talked about Player Agency and Metal Gear Solid V on the Theology Gaming Podcast.

That same day, I got to be on an English show with my new friend across the pond, Robert Edwards. We talked about a life-long formation around video games (and how I went from playing games as a kid to making game trailers and doing video game related ministry). Sidebar, also be sure to check out Robert’s blog where he rounds up the games-related stuff he writes!

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But wait! That’s not all! Last month, I missed a link to one of the awesomely-produced Plus 10 Damage Clubbin’ Podcast. David and I explored why Rocket League is so great!

Oh! And I rejoined the old Theology Gaming Podcast Trifecta that included Zachery Oliver, Ted Loring and myself. We talked about Dropsy and coming up from air in a busy season.

Articles listed:

What did GameCell choose for Choice Night?

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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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)
  • Ikaruka
  • .lazr.
  • OlliOli2: Welcome to Olliwood
  • Super Mega Baseball
  • Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
  • The Beginner’s Guide
  • Imaginal
  • Indivisible
  • Ninja Pizza Girl
  • SOMA
  • Undertale
  • Velocity 2X
  • Dropsy
  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
  • Her Story
  • MGSV: The Phantom Pain (playing with the D-Walker and the Fulton Balliista)
  • Shovel Knight (Plague of Shadows)
  • Skyshine’s Bedlam
  • Titan Souls

Garrett picked Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Everybody got hugs and we said our goodbyes. We came, we saw, we chose. And I think we chose wisely.

Becoming by Giants & Pilgrims — Album Review

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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.

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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.

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You can purchase Becoming by Giants & Pilgrims on Bandcamp.
You can acquire art prints and vinyls at GiantsAndPilgrims.com.