Can violent video games and religion co-exist? [Fandom Files #23]

Presenters
Apr 1, 2018

Next time you're wandering around a comics convention and you see the giant poster of Jesus Christ holding an Xbox controller and wearing a headset, looking like he's deep in a game of Fortnite with his apostle bros, feel free to laugh. Really, you have permission from Mikee Bridges, the founder of Gamechurch, the group that puts up those big banners around E3 and other genre festivals. As long as you notice them, they've done their job.

"We're really not there to have long conversations trying to sway anybody or anything," Bridges says in the Easter special episode of The Fandom Files. "Honestly, our big thing is, Jesus loves you, here's some free stuff. And that's it. If that's it and you walk away with some cool stuff, great. If you walk away and you have a new Bible, great. If you don't, no problem. If you get a laugh out of it, awesome. You know, it's just a way for us to present who we are, pointing a joking finger at ourselves. People just feel judged when they hear Christian. I want them when they walk up to go, 'What are these guys doing?'"

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Bridges started the group out of a community game center he operated in Ventura, California, in the late 2000s. He had been part of the Christian rock community for a long time — he played at Christian-leaning pop-punk band MXPX's first show — but grew tired of that scene's approach, which he believed was becoming too preachy. People started gathering at the coffeehouse-style game center, which was filled with PCs and video game consoles, and it birthed a Bible study group. Ultimately that morphed into the traveling mission work that makes up the core of today's Gamechurch activity. When you stumble upon their booth, as I did at Emerald City Comic Con, they're more passive than anything else, preferring to let their mini-bible spread their gospel.

It's hard not to pick up a copy, regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), because it's also adorned with that big image of Gamer Jesus and titled "Jesus for the Win," a name that may or may not be ironic. It tells the Gospel of John, interspersed with short summaries of passages that read like they're written by someone's pretty cool dad. Gamer and geek speak is a moving target, and it can be hard to connect, but they are helpful translations nonetheless, especially for someone (myself) who has never read a Bible verse.

The group also has a website, with original articles and podcasts, though Bridges says a recent organizational shakeup has put that material on ice; its Facebook page, Gamechurch City, is now the hub of its online presence. Gamechurch is also affiliated with a bigger movement, known as Jesus Otaku (really!), which seeks to fuse Christianity with anime and cosplay culture, and it receives funding from a group called Epic Ministries. There's also an affiliation with XXXchurch.com, a faith-based anti-porn and sex addiction movement. So it occupies a strange space, to say the least, working to meet young people on their own level but also affiliating with groups that are inherently inspired by an ideology that doesn't apply to everyone.

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Bridges admits that there have been a few tense moments at conventions, which are known for attracting passionate fans from across the political and ideological spectrum.

"The two worst ones were a very hardcore Christian and a very hardcore atheist," Bridges says. "The hardcore Christian really didn't like our imagery, because we are obviously poking fun at ourselves there. He didn't like how we were presenting ourselves. We didn't give people the full Gospel message, and many, many other things. And the atheist just got in my face and was yelling that we were proselytizing and we forced him to take stuff, and actually called the show producer and we had to have talks with them. So people that don't like us, which is rare, but people that really don't like us, really don't like us."

But that doesn't bother him. He knows what they do isn't for everyone. But he's determined to keep the group as mainstream as possible. Bridges is no fan of most Christian music or schmaltzy movies, and isn't much interested in Bible-focused games. He plays RPG shooters mostly, Mass Effect and Fallout and Red Dead Redemption. The violence doesn't bother him — the Bible, he points out, is very gruesome. And religion is always slow on the cultural uptake.

"It's the same as it's always been. When I was growing up, it was music and books. We were smashing records and saying, this is bad and that's bad and this is good. And Christians have done that for all time, until they accept it," he says. "I'm tattooed, and I was not accepted for a really long time until it just became okay. And then no one cares anymore. So I think that's the same thing with video games. And the more that younger people or people that are actually Christians are video gaming, they will find that there's a lot more people that are into it."

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