By Samuel Cripps
I helped lead a Bible study this week with six young men, ages 17-30. As a group, we dissected the parables of the Mustard Seed and of the Sower found in Matthew 13. Those passages prompted further discussion about the authorship of the Gospels, the reality of grace, and the substance of our faith. Together we wrestled with questions about how we are to live our faith out in our day-to-day lives. In our corporate time of prayer, we recited Cardinal Merry del Val’s Litany of Humility.
O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, Hear me, precious Lord.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Lord Jesus.
And, to conclude our fellowship, we fought the Battle of Remagen, capturing the Ludendorff Bridge together as soldiers in arms.
It was one of the best Bible studies I’ve ever attended.
I’ve always loved video games, and I’ve played them for as long as I can remember. From my early years playing Pokémon on a Game Boy Color in the backseat of my parents’ Jeep Cherokee during our long summer road trips to Michigan, to my exploration of the post-apocalyptic deserts of Fallout: New Vegas on the Xbox 360 of my high school years, video games have always been a favorite outlet.
Even through seminary I continued to make time to relax, kick back, and play — a habit I have now carried into my priestly ministry. I still enjoy solo gaming and love the stories that can be told through this unique medium. In fact, I credit the single-player game Bioshock as the piece of art that first interested me in philosophy and ethics. Looking for more of a challenge in recent years, I’ve shifted to playing cooperative games, especially those set during the World Wars.
The past few months, the object of my singular interest has been a game called Hell Let Loose.
On the surface, Hell Let Loose might seem similar to other cooperative shooters set in World War II, but where it is distinct is in the areas of communication and community. Hell Let Loose is a World War II hardcore shooter, meaning that combat realism is paramount. This realism — which looks like one-shot kills, the need for medical care, and limited ammo supply — means that as a solo player, you are fairly weak, and if you go off “Rambo style” into enemy territory, you’re likely to not have much fun. This is where squad tactics and good communication become the difference between winning and losing.
This need for communication and teamwork, as well as the challenging nature of the game, has refined its player base to be much more mature than those of other games, and out of this mature community, groups have formed, usually known as “gaming clans.” I recently joined one of these gaming clans, and I discovered a new frontier of discipleship, where the harvest is great and the laborers are few.
I stumbled upon these gamers during a match and was invited to play with them more often; a group of youngish men, some dads in their late 20s whose babies you can hear babbling through the microphones, some college students, squeezing in a few minutes of gaming between studying sessions. Soon enough, I was playing with them twice weekly, and after each match discussing tactics and areas of improvement for next week’s fracas. The real surprise was their Bible study. Every week, this group of young men get together on Xbox Live, turn off their games, open their Bibles, and read Scripture as a “unit.”
Some of these guys are from Bible churches or other nondenominational assemblies, some are Roman Catholic, others Lutheran, still others completely unchurched, and they get together every week and read and discuss Scripture over their gaming headsets. The questions and discussion are incredible, better than I’ve experienced in a parish hall: “What is grace?” “How was the world made through Jesus?” “Why are the Gospels different?” They are simple questions, but many of those who have grown up in the church wouldn’t have the courage to ask them. The feeling that the Holy Spirit is among us is often discussed, and I think they’re right. His presence is certainly between our headsets in our living rooms around the country.
Early on, I announced that I was a priest, and quickly these questions came my way. Other questions too, usually on a private chat: “I feel so distant from God; what do I do?” or “I want to believe, but how do I know this is true?” I’ve even had prayer requests in the middle of games. While we’re digitally huddled in a foxhole, taking cover from incoming artillery, they’ll ask me to pray for their wife’s pregnancy or their next college exam. In short, I’m now the unit chaplain: I’m Chaplain Sam. I’ve even heard a confession over a private voice channel.
At the end of our last Xbox Bible study, I asked this group of young men whom I’ve never met in person to create a rule of life, and afterward we prayed together the Prayer of St. Chrysostom from the prayer book.
This is the demographic that we are lacking in our churches. If you’ve been wondering where to find them, they’re on Xbox and PlayStation. They’re not apathetic toward God. They aren’t lazy. You just have to know where to find them.
There is incredible opportunity for discipleship in these gaming communities, in a way that Facebook evangelists and Twitter edgelords trying to “Christpill” their followers only dream of. This opportunity is unique because of the relationships that can be cultivated, unlike the endless comment sections of social media. There aren’t comment sections here, and there is very little tolerance of being fake. There are only the voices of your squad mates, the voices you’ve heard in hundreds of digital battles, the voices of your squad mates who have rescued you from German flanking attacks, or who have shouted “grenade!” to save your digital life.
I know not everyone will feel comfortable going into this mission field and discipling the gamers. If that is you, then take this as a word of comfort: the kids are all right. For those of you who are ready to do mission work here, then hear this: you’re not going to get these kids to tithe. This is one of those “plant a tree and the next generation will have shade” situations.
More than that, if you do enter this space, be “chill” about it. Learn their culture before you bring yours. Play the game, be open, build relationships, and I’m confident opportunities to witness and disciple will unfold. And if you decide you want to do mission work here, look me up — I’ll still be in the digital fields of Carentan, fighting with my squad mates, dodging bullets and artillery, and doing Bible studies on Discord and Xbox chat. You can find me as “Chaplain Sam.”