Finding Ourself in the Virtual
Who am I? This is one of the fundamental developmental questions asked during the teen years, this blog looks to briefly explore how video games may be answering it.
This is where the work of Jane McGonigal is really insightful (her books are definitely worth a read- see below), she suggests that reality is broken and that the virtual is better serving our young people. When I run this session with parents and/or youth workers we list the ways reality is letting young people down: the increase in mental illness, break down in families/communities, increase in loneliness, fear of terrorism, concern for the environment, the current school system and the pressures of living with your attention always given to your mobile device.
So how might the virtual be offering a welcome break to reality? McGonigal suggests that, ’in today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy’. She continues- we are seeing a mass-exodus from reality to virtual reality because games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not.
Gamers want to know, where in the real world is that gamers:
– sense of being fully alive,
– engagement in every moment,
– feeling of power,
– heroic purpose,
– success of a team victory
These things are felt almost constantly when playing games.
‘Video games are far more exciting than anything we encounter on a daily basis in our real lives’.
‘we are starving and our games our feeding us’.
It really is no wonder then that the game industry is bigger than both music and movie sales put together, games are not simply entertainment but an escape to a better place where we feel more alive. The list above is very human, it is good to feel accomplishment, victory, engaged, heroic and alive. The problem of course of experiencing these in a virtual environment is that they are limited to that environment – that is, you fail to achieve these in the real world, the world where what you achieve and who you are contributes to reality.
So how do we pastor young people who have their roots in the virtual?
Jane McGonigal suggests that we harness the power of video games to make reality a better place The potential of this idea on a macro level is significant. If we were to apply it to the school system for example, what might schools look like? This is a question that has been picked up by educationist David Price, Ken Robinson, Marc Prensky and others who are worth exploring. But at the micro level, how does learning from video games help the individuals who we might be working with? Someone who is a gaming native? Someone who might even be experiencing video game addiction?
– Note about recovery from gaming addiction –
If you are a parent who is living with a child experiencing video game addiction a very natural thing to do might be to turn off the Wifi or remove the device completely, and in some situations this might be right for your family. Remember though, this is where they live, find their purpose and hold their identity, it might be dangerous to remove this suddenly from them- rather we may need to help them reconnect these needs to reality first. Check out the links at the bottom of my previous post for help in this area.
Jane McGonigal suggests that we help people to live real life more gamefully. In her book Super Better, McGonigal shares that whilst recovering from severe concussion and a life-changing illness she said to herself “the only way I am going to survive this recovery is if I turn it into a game”. So she did! Here are the principles she used…
Epic Win – What they ultimately want to achieve in the real world.
Bad guys – What might get in their way, and how can this be defeated?
Quests – How can we break our epic win into small quests. What incentive is there for achieving these quests?
Power ups- What skills and knowledge do I need to gain in order to work at my full potential?
Allies – Who is going to come alongside me, celebrate with me, hold me accountable – who is going to be my cheer leader?
The SupperBetter app can be downloaded from the app store, or HERE is a worksheet we created.
As Christian youth workers our message is one of grace. One way this works out in practice is that we don’t see a young persons potential in WHAT they achieve but rather by WHO God has made them to be. Our language has to embody this gospel of grace so we can’t be the people who only ask ‘how are exams going?’. Rather we are the people who take an interest in the kind of person they are becoming. I would want to add to the Epic Win section above that this is about who they are becoming and what God wants for their life? The bad guys are the things that the thief seeks to bring destruction into their life. Quests might include spiritual practices for encountering God’s presence in our ordinary everyday. For power ups – we have God’s empowering presence in us by his Spirit and a church full of allies.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” – John 10:10 (NIV).
Although we can learn valuable principles from self-help methods (such as from Jane McGonigal), it is this gospel of grace as an invitation into the abundant life of Christ which makes our work truly unique. As Christian youth workers we are looking to journey alongside young person in their world. Christ encountered us in our world, so we might encounter young people in the concrete experience of theirs- ministering to them and sharing in their being. Even if that being is in the stomach of Fortnite. Who knows, we might even encounter Christ their in the virtual (spirituality & video games post coming soon).
- Belonging (finding others in the virtual)
- Spirituality (finding God in the virtual)
- Doing discipleship more gamefully
- Do games lead to violence?
Reality is Broken – Jane McGonigal
Super Better – Jane McGonigal
Mind Change – Susan Greenfield