[Originally posted on July 21, 2015]
By Jacob Toman
This is part 5 in a 7 month study on Gamer culture.
We here at Gospel & Gaming are convinced throughout time spent with gamers that gaming isn’t just a fad, a phenomena, or a fascination, it’s actually an emerging global people group. This people group, “gamers”, has unique particularities that reveal foundational aspects of culture. These foundational pieces of culture are being examined and discussed through this series on gamer culture. You can read more from previous posts below, and follow along in July & August for the conclusion to our study.
In our anthropological study & mission for gamers we’ve had 452 (as of 7/1/2015) gospel conversations discussing who Jesus is and why he matters. In these conversations we’ve heard much from gamers (both believers & unbelievers) about their relationship to the creator, and their opinions on many religious topics.
There is one catch all description of unbelievers in religious studies. The Pew Research Center has well documented the growing group holding to no religious affiliation within the United States. “Nones” is the shorthand terminology for those who identified themselves as atheists or agnostics, or “those who say their religion is ‘nothing in particular’”.
In 2007 there were 36.6 million "none" adults. In 2007 this number was roughly 16% of the entire population of the US. 7 Years later in 2014 the number jumped almost 20 million to 55.8 million adults self identifying as nones. This number represents now almost 23% of the U.S. population. (You can read more about the Nones from the pew Research Center here)
While we could dissect religious symbology or mechanics surrounding faith inside particular games, this piece will be considering the gamers with whom we’ve interacted and the beliefs and attitudes held by said gamers.
There are 2 preliminary questions as qualifiers for this discussion:
“How can you just lump beliefs into a category?”
It’s a difficult challenge to categorize very personal and intimate conversations from such a wide spectrum of experiences. As a qualifying statement, not every conversation fits into a neat category. While there are some fringe beliefs among gamers, the vast majority of beliefs of gamers we’ve interacted with fit into one of three categories. These categories are descriptive of a particular individual's attitude & relationship to God. This isn’t a description of general attitude or disposition of a person, but specifically the attitude and disposition of an individual gamer towards God.
“Are these descriptions of Christians, or unbelievers?”
Unbelievers. Of course, there are also many gamers we interact with who are believers! We depend on believers for prayer support, encouragement, volunteering, financial support, and feedback. But while we do interact with many Christians, the vast majority of gamers we interact with are not Christians, and thus this piece is focused on the religious beliefs and attitudes of those unbelievers.
With those 2 questions answered,
There are three primary beliefs that gamers we’ve encountered represent. These beliefs are detailed as follows:
“God is out there”
These individuals believe in a creator or higher power, but are often post-Christian in their belief. There is a healthy influence of morals having (usually) grown up in a religious context. These morals often lead the individual to have no doubt in the existence of a god, but the person of this god is usually a distorted, tortured expression of the person’s previous experience within a religious community. The god of the Deistic none is a distant god, who either isn’t desiring relationship with creation, or just doesn’t care enough to be involved in creation.
“God could be out there”
These individuals have a very vague concept of God. Most agnostic nones we’ve interacted with have a rather laissez faire attitude towards the divine. The God of the Bible may or may not exist, and that existence may or may not have relevance. As such, their convictions and beliefs stem from personal experience. Agnostic Nones are the truest form of postmodern pluralism. They have almost zero historical connection to any belief other than the particular unique fashions or whims they are currently swept up by.
“God isn’t anywhere”
Atheistic gamers are defined not only by the absence in a belief of any supernatural being, but in the thoroughly entrenched position that no god exists and there is sufficient evidence to declare the enter idea of the supernatural as silly, dated, and superstitious.
Douglas Adams (Being a self described Atheist) has a quote in his fictional masterpiece The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind bogglingly useful [the Babel fish] could have evolved by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED"
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (book one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series), p 50
All three of these beliefs, Deism, Agnosticism, and Atheism assume these three things:
1. God is not Involved with creation.
2. God is not relational towards creation.
3. God is not invested in creation.
With over 180 million gamers in the United States, and 200 million gamers in China in 2011 the question must be asked, what are the religious beliefs of gamers?
No one has yet done statistically relevant research on the religious beliefs of gamers, although my suspicion based on Gospel & Gaming’s anthropological living amongst gamers is that the numbers (especially among millennial gamers) will be greatly over 50% identifying as nones.
Along with the three basic beliefs that we’ve encountered come three attitudes, or as the puritans would say, “affections”. These affections drive, motivate, and provide a guideline for relational interaction between the particular gamer and the divine. These attitudes are DESCRIPTIVE, not PRESCRIPTIVE of individuals and groups of gamers we’ve interacted with. This is not an attempt to say these are generalized attitudes concerning life or a particular disposition towards others. Rather this is a precise description of a particular attitude projected towards God from gamers whom we at Gospel & Gaming have interacted with.
“God is Hurtful”
The angry none is defined by their own religious story. Many come from religious upbringings and are poignantly hate filled towards God for the experiences they’ve been through. In conversations I’ve personally had with gamers, anger always is accompanied by pain and loss. This could be the loss of a loved one, a particularly tragic situation, or an abusive situation. Anger defines this person's concept and interactions with God. Speaking and discussing the things of God with an angry none acts as a triggering mechanism to stir up the hurt, pain, and loss of previous life experiences.
While this attitude may seem like a rough one to deal with, it’s actually my personal favorite to interact with. Some of the best conversations about Jesus, grace, forgiveness, and God’s affection for humanity have come out of the stories of hate, loss, and anger. The angry person is emotive, impassioned, and vocal.
“God is boring”
The apathetic attitude is almost the complete opposite from anger. Apathy saps the desire to interact, engage, or encounter anything that isn’t either distracting or amusing. The relationship between this person and God could not appear more dead. This person isn’t angry with God, doesn’t have any particular reason to hate God, and isn’t particularly offended or offensive concerning the things of God. This attitude embodies the statement “true for you, but not for me”. Their personal experience has led them to exclude from thought or conversation potential interactions with God. God is uninteresting, boring, and more often than not, a chore to interact with for the apathetic person.
While this attitude may seem harmless compared to the attitude of anger, I’ve found the poison of apathy to be one of the deadliest weapons against growing faith. To never care about life, eternity, or the potential for a better, more fulfilling life, means a very low interest point in learning, discussing, debating or interacting with the things of faith. Apathy has become my own personal great enemy as several of the gamers I work with on a daily basis have an apathetic attitude. It’s downright depressing and the only weapon I’ve found against it is prayer.
“God is curious”
The attentive attitude is the one who most often is skeptical about Jesus, but displays curiosity and a willingness to continue conversation in an exploratory fashion. The attentive attitude engages topics of faith, morality, the supernatural, and the potential for life beyond this earth. The attentive attitude is naturally curious and inquisitive, hoping to learn and find something new. The attitude of the attentive individual is often willing and open towards a relationship with God.
This attitude is one in which the Holy Spirit is clearly at work. Meeting someone with an attentive attitude towards God is a breath of fresh air. Questions come on a regular basis, conversations are smooth and easily entered into, and new learning is welcomed rather than prosecuted. It’s amazing to see God change the attitudes of gamers through the time when someone first interacts with us at Gospel & Gaming, till our first gospel conversation. More often than not we interact with individuals coming from an angry or apathetic attitude, which then is transformed through the work of God into an attentive attitude.
The three attitudes are distinct from each other and can manifest themselves quite differently. Some have quite extreme and overflowing attitudes which are quickly observable through behaviors and interactions. Others are a bit more subtle, taking years to really get to know where an individual's attitude is concerning God.
These 3 beliefs and 3 attitudes play off of one another. Here we have a bit of a matrix of beliefs that we have interacted with at Gospel & Gaming.
Deistic Agnostic Atheistic
Angry AGD AGAG AGAT
Apathetic APD APAG APAT
Attentive ATD ATAG ATAT
Below we have several different combinations with short quotes to highlight the distinctives of each category:
“God is out there, and I hate him for what’s he’s allowed to happen”
“God could be out there, and I hate him if he’s out there”
“God isn’t out there, and I hate all things relating to God”
“God is out there, and neither of us cares about each other.”
“God could be out there, and I don’t care if he is, or isn’t.”
“God isn’t out there, and this really isn’t worth any more of my time.”
“God is out there, and I want to know more about who he is.”
“God could be out there, let’s explore the various possibilities.”
“God isn’t out there, but I’m open to new evidence and views.”
Gamers comes from all walks of life. They share these common attitudes and beliefs. As a people group gamers are hurting, lost, and seeking hope and motivation for life. This drives us at Gospel & Gaming to keep playing, keep learning, and keep building Gospel-oriented relationships that lead to Gospel driven conversations.
Chances are you know people who believe and have attitudes similar to what we’ve described. It’s not an accident that you know that person, or are reading this piece. God is at work. We respect gamers as a people group and culture. As with any culture, there are unique positives, and unique challenges. Please take a few moments today, if you’re a believer, to pray for the work God has us doing at Gospel & Gaming. After you’ve prayed for us, would you pray that God would direct you in how you can be involved with our work?
Let us know how the Lord is leading you towards serving him through reaching gamers. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org