Belonging: Finding others in the Virtual
Children spend half the time their parents did playing outside. This finding led the National Trust to produce a list of 50 things you should do before you reach you 11th birthday. Less often is the saying “I am going to play with my friends” followed by leaving the house, rather it ends up with a young person heading up to their room to switch on a games console. For young people, real friendships are formed in virtual spaces. Although they might never meet in reality, in the virtual there is a sense of loyalty, trust, shared purpose and celebration of team victories.
Huge networks also exist, Twitch, Steam as well as gaming YouTube channels have more daily traffic than the BBC news website. This is where young people are shaping their sense of belonging.
When it comes to shaping communities, it is helpful to turn to a key word used in the New Testament – Koinonia.
This word refers to fellowship or sharing, it is to share in one another. However,
there are two sides to this koin-onia,
its a word that also reflects business relationships because of its connotations with participation and contribution. If you think about the kind of family Jesus forms, that makes sense – we belong to one another and its by the way we love and share ourselves with each other that the world will know we are His disciples but its also a community with a mission who share in this task together, each participating, each bringing their unique contribution to reach the world with the love of Jesus.
I want to suggest that in video games young people are experiencing a deep sense of Koinonia. They team up with one another to conquer the virtual world. Each belongs to a community and feels able to participate within it, knowing their unique contribution.
This is a challenge for the church.
The Church of England’s ‘Rooted in the Church’ (summary video here) report suggested that more than leadership and polished services, what young people are really looking for is a warm intergenerational family feel that welcomes without condition and opportunities to participate. They are looking for Koinonia, a purposeful family, a family that actively involves them within the family business. The church has an opportunity here to connect young people to Koinonia.
A lot of our energy get poured out into attracting numbers and shaping strategies to keep bums on seats. I can’t help but wonder whether instead of this we ought to be reforming the church, shaping it more and more into a Koinonia.
Young people are finding a sense of this in the virtual, but its not without its problems there. Its important we recognise this and gently within our ministries help them reflect on the limitations of virtual reality.
The big limitation is, we were made to enjoy one another face-to-face…
The kinds of relationships young people tend to enjoy online are Hyper-connected –
“Quick, convenient and superficial”
In reality, relationships are much more messy. We are invited to join others in the complexities and mess of human relationships. John wrote it this way, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” – 2 John 1:12
There is something about being face to face that is so important for us as human beings. This is the model set before us in Jesus – who though being equal with God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, being born in human likeness, and being found in the form of man he emptied himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!
In Jesus, God meets us in our embodied reality. Words on a page, or on a screen wouldn’t do – the word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.
So we need to encourage young people, and we ourselves need to not settle for virtual relationships but to pursue the much harder yet much more human and fulfilling real thing.
- Spirituality (finding God in the virtual)
- Doing discipleship more gamefully
- Do games lead to violence?