Gotta Catch ‘em All

A major event came and went on February 27th on which the church as a whole was, as far as I could tell, troublingly silent on. Yes, I understand the issues inherent to suggesting some form of deep homogeneity to our religion. Ours is a varied and personal faith, which makes it all the more surprising that Catholics and Protestants, Calvinists and Armenians, Progressives and Conservatives alike all ignored the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise. Church leaders across the world, you should be ashamed of yourselves. I’ve known Pokémon longer than I’ve known Jesus and my pastor opted on the following Sunday to once again talk about Oklahoma State football during the “introductory small-talk” section of his sermon.

A Pokemon cosplayer at the Phoenix Comicon in 2011 (Wikimedia Commons, Gage Skidmore).

A Pokemon cosplayer at the Phoenix Comicon in 2011 (Wikimedia Commons, Gage Skidmore).

Obvious sarcasm aside (I’m mostly kidding), the world is a far nerdier place than it used to be. What used to be the interests of a few awkward kids in your middle school are now blockbuster movie franchises. Superhero movies are the easiest example, but remember Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter? Those were pretty huge. People are down with nerdy stuff on a scale not seen before.

$135 million worth of fans saw Deadpool the first three days it was in theaters, and it’s one of the strangest cinematic experiences out there.

167,000 people went to San Diego Comic-Con 2015.

334 million people watched the finals of the League of Legends Worlds 2015 tournament. Hold that next to the 112 million who watched Super Bowl 50 and think about what the word “popular” means.

I like that people like football, but it’s not my thing. I grew up a nerd in a football town; I didn’t particularly care at the age of 12 whether LSU beat Florida. I didn’t care when I was 20 and actually attending LSU, but I really didn’t care when I was 12. I did care about beating the Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.

Now, there are plenty of readers who don’t get or understand or care about that experience. You could argue that MOST readers don’t get it, and you might be right.

But for the readers that do get it, the readers who also spent hours and hours trying to figure out exactly what order you’re supposed to adjust the water level or how you’re supposed to hit Dark Link when he keeps standing on your sword, there is shared experience. There is a common vernacular. There is a new space available for the reader and I to interact in, and in that space we can talk about God in a different way. We can talk about good and evil and about how sometimes the difference between the two is so very clear and most of the time it’s not. We can talk about the hard work and sacrifice we can and should do for others and the importance of self-care amidst that. We can talk about teamwork, community, forgiveness, violence, pain, and hope in ways that refresh the voice of the church in an increasingly nerdy world.

Ouya_Video_Game_Console_and_Controller_350To put a finer point on this: Christians play video games. Churches should talk about playing video games. The average gamer is 31 years old, right in the sweet, sweet young adult demo that churches love to say they’re courting. It’s mostly men (52%), but my responsible grown-up, therapist wife works hard rescuing her shipmates from a violent cult on an island haunted by an ancient Japanese sun-goddess in Tomb Raider (2013), and that’s significant. Most gamers are adults, have grown-up jobs, and live in houses—decidedly not their parents’ basements. And many go to church. They sing in the choir, help with the youth, serve on the finance committee, and preach in the pulpit.

What would it look like if your church hosted a game night? What if your church hosted a game tournament? What if you asked the youth wearing the Pokémon shirt about her favorite Pokémon? What if your next sermon illustration came from a video game instead of a movie? What if your church had something to say about the exploitation of women in video games? What if our churches stood up against the bullying found in so many multi-player games? What if our churches had something useful to say about kids playing games made for adults and helped educate parents on the differences? What if our chur—hold that thought…

My copy of Pokémon Yellow just finished downloading.

Peter Wischusen and his wife, Monique, live in Tucker, GA. He is half-way through the MDiv program at McAfee School of Theology and hopes to pastor a church when he graduates. He is currently playing a lot of Heroes of the Storm and World of Warcraft so he can play online with his brother.

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