In The Beginning…
The seed of Soma Games was first put to paper in 2005 with the hairy and audacious goal of sharing the Kingdom of God through video games. “Good luck with that,” right? Full of the strength of our convictions we fancied ourselves the “C.S. Lewis of Gaming” and endeavored to tell rich and engaging tales, both allegorical and thematic, that might make “those who may never attend a church … ponder eternal things.”1 We chose to follow after the creators of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, or Lord of the Rings, where devout authors wove enchanting tales for all readers, not only the elect. But for us, it was through the new and exploding medium of digital interactivity, AKA Video Games.
As ambitious as that goal was, we always knew that the “Games” in our name was only the tip of an iceberg. Soma would start there, but inevitably expand into other mediums like books, films, and music; really anywhere that beauty and creativity took their roots.
Back then we had a 3-person web-dev shop called Code-Monkeys, but when it came to gaming we had to learn everything the hard way. In hindsight that was a blessing in disguise as it allowed us the time to discover and consolidate our unique corporate culture and best-practices. As of 2021 we’ve built the longest continuously-operational Christian game studio in history. Code-Monkeys has been renamed Soma SoftWorks, and our heart for discipleship and “corporate missionaries” has blossomed into Soma SoulWorks, a new ministry branch of our organization.
With a dozen of our own titles on as many platforms, hundreds of apps and games built for others, over 2 million downloads, scores of papers, lectures, awards and cultural artifacts, and now thousands of subscribers to our newsletters, videos, and podcasts, we’ve established an unorthodox yet sturdy beachhead in a sector many said was impossible to penetrate. The road taken was not the one we expected all those years ago but it has led us to vistas and opportunities unforeseen. Gaming has grown and changed tremendously in that decade and a half, and here we are, still standing, improving, and growing in opportunity and excellence.
- Influence: To use the platform, opportunities, and voices we’ve been granted to nudge those within our sphere of Influence upward.
- Beauty: To embrace and explore Beauty for the sake of Beauty and to express it as a fundamental reflection of the Creator of Creation.
- Discipleship: To seek out, bring in, and raise up a platoon of Warrior Poets. Whole and healthy men and women, trained and commissioned to be sent out and change the world.
- Rally: To use technology and position to find and connect individuals, companies and ministries in the sphere of celebration toward common goals and the common good.
The key to understanding Soma is to see that gaming was always a means to an end.
Video games are just products. A new medium to be sure, with a remarkable distribution channel, but not the mission itself. Our initial mission was to pioneer and settle a new frontier in the Entertainment Sector, or as Loren Cunningham at YWAM puts it, the Sphere of Celebration.
We say “pioneer” because in 2005, when Soma Games was conceived, the game industry was embroiled in a major controversy known as the “Hot Coffee Mod” in which a very popular game, Grand Theft Auto, was shown to contain a hidden pornographic scene. Shortly thereafter the Left Behind game was released and those at the nascent Christian Game Developers Conference hoped it would be a watershed for the whole genre of Christian gaming but instead it stumbled, leaving many despondent and despairing.
If we wanted a seat at the table we needed to be shrewd and patient about it.
So we chose to be pioneers instead of invaders.
~ Selah ~
We say “settle” because our mission was never about a product, it was always about culture. In order to have an impact it’s not enough to make a great Christian game – not nearly enough! It’s not enough to run a successful, ethical, Christian game studio even if that studio endures for decades and makes millions of dollars. Our mission to shape this sphere requires hundreds, if not thousands, of individual creators and operators, artists and programmers, designers and managers, all making excellent content. We need to sow the seeds of a grass-roots movement that would sprout into dozens of studios, hundreds of games, and thousands of market-place missionaries.
If we wanted to see real impact we had to think about the long-term and not become mere opportunists. We needed to understand the times and hold a perspective of centuries. If we want the work to endure beyond our own efforts we needed to think Epically.
So we chose to be settlers instead of occupiers.
It’s been said that in the Army of God there are many who volunteer, but a few are drafted. For Soma Games, it was more like the latter. The story of our founding is public knowledge but suffice to say we believe our particular mission was given, as opposed to chosen, and it includes just a few core ideas:
The word ‘Soma’ means many things in many cultures. In Swahili it indicates ‘learning’ and as the Word says, “Above all else, guard your heart for it the wellspring of life.”2
Soma’s mission is not primarily evangelistic but rather apostolic.
Nor are our methods primarily didactic, but rather inspirational.
Our best products, if you call them that, are not actually great video games, but rather whole and healthy people.
Our friends at Wild at Heart put it this way: There are four primary swim lanes in the Kingdom: Ministry, Power, Money and Influence. It would be reasonable to think Soma belonged in the Money lane since games cost a lot to produce and also stand to make enormous ROIs. Yet all of the “God stories” that get told about Soma revolve around Influence. It’s in the way God opens impossible doors for improbable conversations and unmerited favor with customers, power brokers, and financiers. It lies in King Making and Disciple Making. It lies in leading and lifting up others to lead. It’s how vision casting and strategy making is our daily bread. To be candid we didn’t see this as a central part of our mission until early in 2019 when a Vision Quest brought our eyes up above the immediate work and allowed us to see the horizon.
We were called to influence the gaming industry first, and by extension the creative community that makes all of our modern entertainment. That happens through writing, speaking, leading, advising, and supporting…sometimes it’s as simple as going first. The creation of games provides a platform that gives us credibility and permission to speak truth, to advocate for ethics, to inspire others toward what could be, both believers and non-believers who all have that ‘God-shaped hole’ in their hearts but can’t put it into words.
The word ‘Soma,’ in Finnish, denotes ‘pretty.’ A deep and profound appreciation for Beauty has been at the heart of Soma since before we had a logo, but not only as something we love and embrace, rather a central part of our ethos and mission. We believe it is our particular role to explore and express this specific aspect of bringing Heaven to Earth, offering the pictures, sounds, and stories of the Kingdom That’s To Come.
Connected to this is the unending pursuit of excellence and elegance, which are both types of Beauty. Too often we Christians can settle for mediocrity if our hearts are in the right places, but that’s not the call of Beauty. While Soma approached this craft from humble beginnings, with no training, few teachers, and no trail to follow but the one we made for ourselves, our steady commitment to growth and improvement can be seen in every cultural artifact we’ve produced or ever will produce. Of course we still have a long way to go, and we always will, but our commitment to this principle is unwavering.
Prior to 2019 our mission had appeared, to us anyway, as one with a singular product and emphasis, specifically video games that embodied Beauty, and we did well in that regard. All of our games, from G: Into the Rain, Wind up Robots, G Prime, and now our Redwall games, have been celebrated for their artistic merit. And while we always sensed we’d spread out from that single medium we imagined a tinkering here-and-there in various trans-media enterprises, but keeping gaming at the center.
But after an intense 4-month “vision quest” in early 2019 that led us all over the country seeking the counsel of many trusted sages, we begin to see our role in something larger: A long-term play for the Sphere of Celebration.
The word ‘Soma’, in Greek, means ‘body’ as in the Body of Christ that Paul describes in Ephesians 4 “From Him the whole [Soma], fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the [Soma] for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.”
We are convinced that the next step of our mission is to gather, disciple, and send out a committed community of whole and healed people intent on changing the world. People who are settled in their calling and commissioned by God. Men and women whose hearts are deeply rooted in the whole gospel, and carrying both the practiced wisdom and divine revelation3 needed to thrive in the generally hostile world of entertainment.
Internally this means a deep commitment to our people and their thriving in body, soul, and spirit. It means regular training, prayer, and discussion in addition to ongoing mentorship and chaplaincy. In this way Soma is part business and part monastery.
Outwardly this means offering all that the leadership has learned over 30 years of combined ministry to the the 20-something creatives who are all asking each other “How do we adult?” In this way Soma is part university and part boot camp.
And these both combine in the nurturing of purposeful relationships with as many others as we can find. Others who are on this path to pioneer, by exploring the frontiers of entertainment, or to be settlers, by iterating and improving on what’s been hard-won by those that came before, all of which works to bring the Kingdom of God to the Mountain of Entertainment.
When Allied forces landed in Normandy in 1944 they hit five beaches: Utah, Gold, Sword, Juno, and Omaha. But establishing a beachhead was just the beginning. If the Allies didn’t quickly link up and reinforce one another they would be pushed back into the sea. For the last 20+ years there have been several groups founded to minister to the the entertainment sector, both pastoral and evangelistic. While some have succeeded most remain isolated and vulnerable.
We believe the next evolution in our mission is to begin linking up with and reinforcing other creative beachheads, like film, music, and publishing, to build common cause, deepen common goals, and experience common grace. As a product gaming sits at an intersection where the talents and techniques used to make games overlap with nearly every other section of the entertainment industry. Additionally, gaming’s unique blend of art and technology over a global and instantaneous distribution network has led Soma into more and more connections into the spheres of Education, Government, Economics and Media4.
By acting as a common hub for Kingdom minded creatives, entertainment ministries, and innovative entrepreneurs we see Soma bringing talent, Spirit, and capital together.
Soma’s Core Values:
Our Mission, however ambitious or well-intended, must arise naturally from, and abide continually in, deeper and unshakable values. We take these core values from Christ’s distillation of the ‘greatest commandments.’5
As we Love God we do so with every aspect of ourselves. Body, soul, mind and strength to be sure, but also to include our agendas, ambitions, vocations and resources.
We start by seeking Him, really seeking Him, in all things and at all times – and we expect to find him just as Hebrews 11 promises.
Next we listen, really listen, and act according to what we hear and discern. To ask the Lord for direction and not obey what we hear would be nonsense and put the lie to our love.6
And we endeavor to close the circle by giving back to God. In worship, in sacrifice, and in demonstrable adoration.
As we Love Others we remember the Good Samaritan who knew his neighbor wasn’t just the fellow in the next pew. For Soma, loving others encloses concepts like Sharing, Gleaning, and Hospitality. It moves us to lift up those who have no ability to give back and to seek diversity without making any of these things idols. It also means being intentionally caring to all those people God puts in our path, opening our doors and hearts to the weary and heavy in heart.
And to put it plainly, to love others is to desire and invest in community. Not the modern veneer of community defined by likes and shares, but a deep community of family, friends, and coworkers that hold our shared citizenship in Heaven above politics, power, or pride.
As Jesus says, we are to love others as we Love Ourselves which makes self care a third priority enmeshed in the second. To this end we seek and expect healing, wholeness and holiness for ourselves and those we love. We know that no mission, even one from God, ought to cost us our abiding in God.
We embrace the path of ever-increasingness where the cycle of learning and practice is the means of constant growth.
We seek both purpose and power. Jesus did not simply save us from the Kingdom of Darkness but for the Kingdom of God and that Kingdom is one of power.
“Nothing worth doing can be accomplished in one’s lifetime.”
– St. Augustine
When Soma was started in 2005 it seemed as if we’d been given a big goal, but also a rather vague one. In hindsight the lack of details gave us the courage and willingness to step up and see where God would lead. Over the next decade He focused not nearly so much on building Soma Games as he did on excavating our hearts, driving down to the bedrock of our faith and our daily practices with others. As it is with a skyscraper, the Builder must dig deep if the tower is to stand tall.
Also, today is looking strangely familiar, like an echo of the world when Soma was born. Instead of the Hot Coffee mod, it’s the swirling controversy surrounding Activision/Blizzard’s corporate culture of abuse and misogyny. Instead of the unforeseen wave of mobile devices, it’s the sudden confluence of game engines and movie cameras. As I listen to the Spirit and where the wind blows, I can’t help but think this day feels oddly familiar, which is comforting in a way.
As we look into the emerging future of entertainment, we see far more of what God was thinking several years ago but we didn’t have eyes, nor perspective to see. The call to “sharing the Kingdom of God through video games” is no less audacious today, but it is far more sobering. To know, and experience, that gaming is just the doorway, and not actually the road, is both exciting and frightening. Nevertheless, our passion and drive is greater today than it ever was. What’s different is that we now see the path laid before us with more and more clarity each year.
~ Selah ~
- So said C.S. Lewis about his Space Trilogy
- Proverbs 4:23
- Ephesians 1:7
- Matthew 22: 37-40
- John 14:21