One of the things I picked up back at Gen Con was a small, free, 132+ page book “about a guy named Jesus, his Guild, and his ultimate quest to save a land known as Earth.” Jesus For the Win! is a publication from GameChurch and basically contains the Gospel of John from the Bible with commentary about gaming and life changes. Mike Bridges is the founder and president of GameChurch and we chatted after Gen Con about his mission.
CG: So, Jesus For the Win!, I have to imagine that while some gamers may not get it, maybe more Christians might be bothered by what you guys are doing? What’s the response been?
MB: The response has been pretty positive. I think that is because of our delivery. We still have a few problems with the far left and the far right. They both don’t seem to like us much.
CG: Now why the far left?
MB: We have plenty that come up to the booth and immediately want to argue about the ‘big ticket’ items. Gay marriage, abortion, etc. They get a little frazzled when we explain to them that we are just there to tell them that Jesus loves them and that’s it. Kinda funny because both far left and far right run out of steam pretty fast because of the simplicity of what we do.
CG: I don’t even recall anyone even saying that at Gen Con, but of course, I also wasn’t full of steam. Now at the Armory, where you guys play a lot of video games, do you guys do tabletop games as well?
MB: We actually had a pretty mellow time at Gen Con. We mainly get hit by atheists in more liberal areas. Seattle, Los Angeles, etc. Yes, the Armory is our gaming facility and we do have table top nights in our lounge. We are trying to do more and expand that.
CG: Ok, so Gen Con was kind of a fit for you, but do you guys mostly promote at video game events?
MB: Not necessarily. We do anime, comic, video game, table top and other ‘nerd culture’ events.
CG: Is this full time for you and do you consider it a ministry?
MB: This is just one of the things I am involved with but yes, it is a full time job. I do consider it a ministry but I have a hard time with ‘Christianese” words because of what Christianity has done to those types of words.
CG: So is GameChurch a non-profit with churches or church members contributing towards it?
MB: It’s a non profit, but we are funded by one private source. Not a church. GameChurch is also not a church in the “four walled” sense of the word.
CG: I also imagine you guys are non-denominational and even those in the LA area may go to different churches from each other, right?
CG: Going back to the Armory in Ventura, CA, who is the owner and how did things originate with Game Church and the Armory?
MB: Well, because we are a non profit, there is no ‘owner’. I am the President, and Director for that as well as GameChurch. I have been doing weird stuff like the Armory and GameChurch for a long time. The Armory was birthed in a music venue I had created. We had a small room at the venue that we put 12 PC’s in and people started to come and play video games. We expanded that and a few years later we got rid of the music venue and we are now exclusively gaming.
CG: You still game yourself though?
MB: Yeah, but I am more of a lone wolf type. I like RPG’s on the 360. Fallout, Bioshock, Skyrim, Mass Effect.
CG: What did you think of the Bright Brotherhood guys?
MB: Not familiar.
CG: The glowing ghouls in the RepConn facility in New Vegas? No?
MB: Haha! I am familiar. I loved every minute of New Vegas except for two of the DLC’s.
CG: Increasingly some of the console RPGs give us more and more moral choices. Do you find yourself being a “good” guy when you play?
MB: For the most part, I am a good guy with a dark streak. That goes for most games.
CG: What I’ve found is that when I need to be evil to unlock an achievement, oftentimes I’ll disgust myself a bit, but also that I will start to feel contempt for my victims. Any thoughts?
MB: Depends on the situation, or I get bored or I have done all I can do and want to play the game more so unlocking other questlines requires a bit of foul play.
CG: I saw Playing Columbine, a documentary on an RPG video game made about the Columbine Massacre, but what I started thinking of was how cool would it be to do a Rock Star-style/GTA more open-ended game, but that you would be a random normal person on each level helping other people out. I see some liability issues for actually making the gamer think “Maybe I could do this myself.” for real life emergencies, but what do you think?
MB: We actually discuss things like that on our forums and in our articles. It’s an interesting premise. I’d like to see it done right, without being boring.
CG: I may be unaware on this, but to me, it seems that there’s very few positive depictions of Christian heroes in movies and films, at least ones that are outspoken. I’m not aware of any in a video game, but Mos Def’s recent role on Dexter was actually a positive one: are there any in video games I’ve missed?
MB: Probably not. I have yet to see it as well. I agree with the Dexter reference. Loved that. Unfortunately when Christians have made games, they have sucked. I’d love to see that change.
CG: How do you see that happening?
MB: It will have to come in the way of a complete Church culture change. I don’t see much coming from the Church that is culturally relevant. We make movies for Christians. We make music for Christians. We make games for Christians. Until we make those things for the general public, we won’t see anything good. The Church has always had its head in the sand. Sad part is that it takes so long for us to catch up that we cannot be relevant. And unless we become relevant, there will be no Christian heroes.
CG: And are you familiar at all with the Christian tabletop RPGs, DragonRaid or Holy Lands?
MB: Yes, we have heard of them but we just started to get into tabletop gaming and we have stacks of games we are trying to get through. We do a tabletop night two times a month at our Armory facility in Ventura.
CG: Does GameChurch ever tackle gaming addiction? I saw in JFTW that there was the story of Jaz who felt she could be doing something more “constructive” with her time than playing WoW.
MB: Yes. Parents bring it up to us a lot. I think it has more to do with parenting than anything. Good parenting equals setting boundaries for gaming time for kids. The addiction part of it stems from the escape component. Kids or adults playing too long are escaping form something. Just as we escape with shopping, TV, drugs, eating, alcohol, et cetera. Everything in moderation. But because of the consumerist culture we live in in America, I think much of these things are overlooked. It is definitely something to be looked at.
CG: Getting back to the tabletop gaming night at the Armory, what games are being played? Do you play yourself?
MB: Yes, I do play. We have been playing Shadows over Camelot, Last Night on Earth, and Chaostle.
CG: What has the response been to your help @gamechurch.com email address? Do you get many people looking for help or someone to talk to?
MB: Not a lot there but we do get into some deeper discussions on our forums. We have made a lot of friends there and are continuing to build that family.