Camp for a Week, Friends for Life!

Board Games & Baby Jesus

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend a Board Game Conference designed to bring gamers together to play games, meet board game vendors, and learn about the hottest new games on the market or soon to be on the market.  I have appreciated the gaming community in their humility and acceptance of diversity and differences.  While the stereotypes persist of gamers being overweight, pale, non-athletic, lovers of Cheetos and Mountain Dew soda, anti-social or socially awkward, many of the people I met came from all walks of life and held a tremendous variety of interests and passions.  Even the event organizers envisioned a unified community and have drafted a policy for the expectations of the community.  I have included the first part of the policy in this article because this board game convention is highly successful at bringing people together and creating a positive, fun-filled, and life-giving atmosphere.  Numerous times I thought that the church could take some pointers when creating their intentional Christian community and engaging our neighbors.

BGG Events Harassment Policy 

BGG.CON Events is dedicated to providing harassment-free convention experiences for everyone regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of convention attendees, exhibitors, volunteers or staff in any form. Sexual language and imagery are not appropriate for any conference venue, including special events or other sponsored activities. Attendees, exhibitors, volunteers or staff violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the convention without a refund at the discretion of the BGG Events Staff (Gold Jerseys).

This policy goes into some more detail as to defining what harassment could look like, how the policy is enforced, and reporting procedures.  Not only was this a key policy in creating a board game community, but it also permeates conversations, shapes mentalities, and serves as a framework for transforming the board game industry as a whole.  The board game industry is huge and expanding as people realize that board games go way beyond Monopoly, Risk, Checkers, and Chess.  In 2017 alone, over 3,000 new board games were developed, and this does not include expansions for existing games (expansions are add-ons to games to change up the play and make it more interesting).  Because this industry is growing rapidly, game designers must compete so their game stands out.  They want their game to be a staple in homes around the world.  As a result, they want input from consumers to know how to make their game appealing.  This is where some of the transformations are taking place.

Since the majority of game companies are small, they do not have the capital or resources to produce and distribute their games.  They need help from the community, so crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter help them promote their product and raise money from individuals.  Sure, many of the supporters end up with a physical game with cool add on features so by giving, the backers get something in return.  Since small game companies need backers, they are receptive to all sorts of feedback on their game.  I enjoy this type of dialogue because it allows a vehicle to improve the game experience as well as challenge embedded beliefs or practices.  For example, many of the older games put strong, white males in the leadership roles and scantily clad, highly feminine women in support roles like communication officer, nurse, or teacher.  Minority categories are seldom seen in older games.  As a result, the gaming mentality over the years subconsciously recreates this paradigm in newer games.  By providing feedback, many of the newer games show a diversity of heroes performing all sorts of roles.  Many games even give options.  Games are a way to connect to a character, envision yourself in that role, and try out decisions and strategies in a “safe” game world.  Sure your character might get stomped to death or fly out of an escape hatch into outer space, but the experience is definitely memorable and the gamers learn better strategies for the next time.  At Geek Week, a summer camp option for junior high age youth, I introduce them to many of these new games.  I value the gaming community and new developers for taking into account feedback from gamers.  This allows me to introduce games that represent a diversity of people and allow for more opportunities for campers to find characters that resonate with them.  The life lessons learned through the various mechanics seem to be more effective when campers connect to the game.

So what do board games have to do with baby Jesus and Christmas?  Sure there are games called Santa Versus Jesus, WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? The Game, Baby Jesus: The Card Game, and Walk to Jesus to name a few, but for me, being a part of the gaming community is very similar to being part of a healthy church.  At a time where people are seeking connection and acceptance, the church, like the convention, would benefit from being more vocal and present as to the values of their community and who is truly welcome.  Conversations in church on what would our church community look like if someone came dressed up as a giant warrior cat to worship or had vehicles for members to take new people under their wing and teach them about the church, ministries, an openness to all labels that our culture puts on people to create division, and why they/the church is excited that the new person is here.  The gaming community is radically welcoming and life-affirming.

Another key element to the gaming community and the teachings of Jesus is the humility to enter into dialogue and deeply listen to other points of view.  It is through these conversations where board games and the church can grow, change, and be receptive to God’s calling and the needs of the people. This type of dialogue should not be threatening or taken as a personal attack, but the goal should be to hear what the other person is saying and try to find common ground where both are respected and valued.

While there are many other elements of board games and gamers that can inform Christianity, the last I want to highlight during this Christmas season is the transformation that occurs when playing a game or a character.  As we connect to a character or game, we become invested.  This investment pulls our energies, thought processes, and creativity together in a way that helps us gather information, adapt, and ultimately grow. 

During Advent, we remember a time before the Christ event, a time where the world had a very different understanding and relationship to God. The coming of Jesus, the teachings, and the challenge for people to follow the way gave humans a character that they could connect to, learn from, and embody as they learned who they were as God’s children.  Being able to connect to the Christ child during this season offers us a means to look at our lives to see how this life has changed and continues to change, our relationships, and the world around us. While following Jesus is not always as safe or with controlled risks as in a board game, it does add to the excitement and vibrancy of living. 

I hope this Christmas and New Year that you are able to enjoy family and/or friends.  Pull out a board game or buy a newer game to play while you connect to your loved ones. Drink some hot chocolate, eat Cheetos, or have a Mountain Dew while you remember the joys and blessings in your life and look to the upcoming year on the goals that you are going to achieve.  If you know of youths that love board games, escape houses, and mystery dinners, encourage them to sign up for Geek Week at Slumber Falls Camp. 

Blessings and Peace,