Christian! Gamer! Christian Gamer! Gamer Christian! Stigma time!
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10 ESV
Growing up in the 70s and early 80s (HS grad of 1982), I found the gamer kids to be weird, without personal grooming habits and the ones to avoid less I get tagged with the stigma of being one of them. But I was one of them. I am a gamer. I played a little DnD, read lots of science fiction books and sunk a fair bit of quarters into machines at the local arcade. And my parents bought us a Mattel Intellivision.
As I reflected on this topic, I can see that my time came about when the DnD stigma started getting a fair bit of traction in the world as it was already one in the Christian community (devil worship, you know). I tried to avoid the label of being a gamer to everyone. Media, politicians, pastors, experts, and parents were all pointing to gaming as the reason for societal ills. It didn’t help that ‘Christians’ were railing against and banning gamers making non-Christians distrust a Christian gamer.
Remember that movie from 1982 called Mazes and Monsters starring a very young Tom Hanks whose character played a DnD type game character and loses the difference between fantasy and reality? “Like the book on which it is based (Hobgoblin by John Coyne), the film touches on the controversial idea that the playing of role-playing games could be indicative of deep psychological problems. The plot concerns a group of college students who become so involved in their fantasy game that they risk losing touch with reality.” The Tom Hanks character starts imagining they are the character from the game in the hunt for the great hall of the two towers. This mental break is related to his brother leaving him and not due to the game. In the end, this character is totally lost to the fantasy.
So, I hid who I was. I didn’t really make it known to Christians I was a gamer and I didn’t make it known to gamers that I was a Christian. I lived in the shadows so I would not have to deal with the stigma. We know they were all wrong but the stigma and stereotype sticks with us even today.
What is a stigma anyways?
A stigma according to Webster’s New World Dictionary is “a mark of disgrace or reproach.'' Adding to this, Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D. offers this definition of stigma. “Stigma is a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person.”
Being a Christian gamer doubles the negatives to a large swath of people. It would be easy to toss out the stigmas associated with Christian gamers and to each we would nod our head along with grimacing to the ones that hit too close to home. These stereotypes and stigmas are an attempt to silence us and make us retreat and feel bad about ourselves.
Isn't it 2019 now?
What is sad is that there is more of a stigma being a Christian Gamer today than there was 30 years ago. The stigma has largely fallen away from Christians but not with gamers. Gamers are more hostile today as they see Christians encroaching into their area even though we have been there for decades.
We have seen the positive embrace of the church toward Christians who are gamers. While not universal, many Christians are open about their love for games and being a gamer and our local churches have embraced gamers and support by hosting gaming events, donating and working with gaming ministries, committing pastoral staff to gamers, and actual ordained pastors showing their gaming prowess by streaming.
This embrace by the church opens up the willingness to share the faith with others. Society as a whole has seen a hostility to Christians that spills over into the gaming community. As Christians are more bold to share the gospel, the world around us has become a bit more hostile to the sharing of the gospel. With the ability to interact with folks via streaming platforms such as Twitch, Mixer, or Dlive and even through communication areas like Discord, the trolls have a way to attack. Consider that two Twitch Streamers, PastorSouzy and Gamin4God, felt the need to change their streaming names as both heard that their names kept viewers from raiding or recommending their streams to watch or follow. So now its SouzyLive and Gamin4Hope that don't point to their Christian faith through their names. The content of their channels is still very much Christ focused and sharing the gospel.
What can we do?
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
We are in the unique position to respond to the harm stigmas cause to the communities we are in as Christians, gamers and Christian gamers.
We can continue to break down the stigmas Christians have by our unashamed sharing of the gospel and working for the kingdom.
We can break down the stigmas gamers have by showing them we are very much like them in the love of games and the nerd culture.
And we can help Christian gamers through our experience, support, and resources such as God’s Gamers.
We are missionaries to the gaming world and can empathize with them since we have experienced the same stigmas. We have Jesus to point to as the salvation of our souls. None of us want to experience the negative effects of stigmas, but it does allow us to empathize with others and build relationships.
Embrace the nerd description for the beauty of it and not the stigma. Laugh at it. Turn it into a praise of God and His glory. Let Jesus’ love flow from your words.