Coming back recently from CGDC has me thinking again about something I always think about at CGDC – whether or not we’re the “black sheep” of that group…and if we are, is that a good thing or a bad thing.
Last year at the end-of-conference Town-Hall part, where everybody can basically bring up anything they want, Mikee Bridges from GameChurch said something that brought this idea back to the front of my mind. I don’t remember exactly what he said but it was something along the lines of “Are all of our [game projects] actually serving the function of outreach?”
It’s a perfect question for Mikee. After all, GameChurch’s mission statement is one of outreach – specifically an outreach to gamers. But I was surprised at how quickly my mouth popped open and I said “that’s not what we’re doing…” And I’ve been pondering that brief exchange ever since.
I think the question is one of the ongoing and unresolved questions at CGDC. Does the first C in the title refer to Christian developers making games or developers making Christian games? It’s not like the question hasn’t been answered directly and often (officially it’s about Christian developers) but there remains a kind of (mostly) unspoken division that at its worst devolves into a subtle stratification…but I digress.
The reread question for me was the matter of faith outreach versus artistic expression, specifically inside our business and our products and my conviction that Soma Games was called to make games that reflected what was deepest in our hearts, to do that in a ay that was thoughtful, honest, deep and beautiful. That we were not called to preach, educate, or convert. As John Eldredge puts it, we’re trying to bring the full Glory if our lives to what we do…
And let the world deal with it.
In the past I’ve been tempted to respond to that pressure by saying “I just want to make good games.” with the subtext of “Get your churchianity off of me.” but these days I see that answer is both inaccurate and insufficient. For one thing, as we’ve gone down this road I increasingly see that what we really want to do is tell stories and gaming is just the way we’ve decided to do that. But my biggest problem with my previously rendered response is that it’s self-deprecating. “I just want to make games.” as if we’re doing something less than the guys with the Charlie mouse, and I simply don’t believe that.
Artistic expression has a way of saying “This is what is happening inside of me.” Or “this is what I’m feeling.” Taken to a place of faith it might go so far as to say “This is what Jesus has done in my life.” It’s personal, it’s messy and it’s goal isn’t to directly influence anybody’s thinking. Outreach, on the other hand, may take the same exact story and add a postscript that says something like “…this could be your story too.” I totally get that there’s a place for that – but it’s a different place from where Soma Games is going and I don’t think that it’s a better place.
I’ve written about this idea before and don’t want to beat a dead horse but evangelicalism has generally lost touch of the simple power of beauty and tale-telling and anything that doesn’t appear obviously teaching oriented. I believe that’s a huge part of why it is spiraling toward irrelevance.
So perhaps I just want to answer Mikee’s question more fully a year later.
I’m not feeling called to outreach. I’m feeling called to something more unpredictable, more immeasurable, and more messy. I’m called to express what lives and glides and takes fire in my heart and am motivated only to share with any who are interested.
…and I’m totally OK with that – even in the company of saints.
 If you don’t know the lingo, outreach is any of the activities that reveal, explain or advocate for the Christian faith. Other words might include evangelism, apologetics, proselytizing, Bible thumping or shoving-your-religion-down-my throat…depending on how you respond to such activity.
 To any of our readers who hear a note of feistiness in that idea I hope you understand where it’s directed – this entire post is thinking about the subtle pressure (which may be entirely self-imposed) to be somehow more churchy. Contrary to what many well-meaning advisors said early on the mainstream gaming audience has been wonderfully supportive of what we’re doing and who we are. Excepting a handful of trolls over the years we’ve received all kind of love from all over the spectrum.
 A term suggesting the social construct of “church” but devoid of the real visible influence of Jesus or the Spirit. As Paul put it, “…a form of Godliness without power…” 2Tim 3:5
Paul didn’t make Christian tents. He made quality tents and preached the gospel too. This kind of “vocation is missionary” attitude is one of the negative products of the Great Awakening. As great as it is to use your field as a mission field, it doesn’t mean everything you produce is Christian in nature. I think that’s part of why Switchfoot gets such a bad rep.
Anyway, I love you guys, been following you for a while. If you ever need a freelance 3d artist, let me know! I’ve been excited about your company’s vision for a while, plus it’s always nice to get some more clients. 😀
PS. Don’t mind my website, I’m updating it right now so it’s not as recent as it could be.
As I grow older and more mature in my spiritual journey, I realize I have two choices: Make my own plans and stumble along and hope everything works out in the end. Or to submit my life and my work to God for His direction. This is where it gets messy. He surprises me often and I find myself doing things I would not have thought to do, and it worked out beautifully. I chuckle at my own arrogance of thinking I can direct destiny, even in my own little corner of the world. Father indeed knows best…
The next observation is about church. There is such a difference between a church relationship with God and a personal relationship hammered out in sweat and tears, joys and spiritual insights. I go to church but I really am not too fond of them, for I find more man doctrine that Spirit indwelling. So many leaders want to choose their own direction and make a man-made monument to their own “goodness.” I suspect they would be frightened to meet up with the Spirit of God.
About developing games…If the content is clean, about anything can be used for the glory of God. About clean I mean humanity explored and consequences reached that mirror actual life, not for the sake of living out fantasies in a way that would normally get a person arrested. The secret is that the Holy Spirit will do the teaching, not the game.
Please forgive me if I sound too “spiritual.” I have journeyed from being agnostic to being at peace with God. I have found that God takes us right where we are and meets us in our present culture. People shame us and try to bend us to their own ideas of normal.
No need to apologize Murselle – well spoken!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. It’s something every Christian artist has to work through – perhaps every Christian worker in the sense that all our vocations are expressions of a creative impulse in some way – and seeing it thought out here in the context of game development is fascinating.
The church at large needs a more nuanced teaching/theology of art and work so that we aren’t continually putting up and breaking down walls between what we do and make and what we do and make for Jesus.
Thanks Daniel. while the church may (or may not) need to change/adopt/accept/whatever – I certainly see that the process of coming to understand my own heart was made is at least as important and maybe the only part that actually NEEDS to happen. 🙂
I’m pretty sure something “more unpredictable, more immeasurable, and more messy” is exactly what outreach is. Though, of course, evangelicaldom seems to indicate otherwise.
It’s why Peter’s whole history of failure as a disciple is laid out for us in the Text. When people first read of his folly, they esteemed him as The Apostle. Our screwball stories are often the best vehicle for Jesus’ reality.
That’s a powerful thought M.Joshua…the spirit of outreach really ought to be just as unpredictable. I think you’re right to distinguish between what it could be and what we often settle for. In the end, I think, f the fruit isn’t life, then it isn’t what it was meant to be.