Online Ministry in a Massively Multi-Player World of Warcraft

Wildstreak/Sweetwater—once a mighty “World of Warcraft” death knight—is not your typical Christian minister. Sometimes it takes a little role-playing to reach real-life individuals who are lost and wounded by a hostile world. Credit: Laura Beckman (laurabeckman.com).

I am a ghost in the machine. I am, really, and I am not.

Call me Wildstreak/Sweetwater. I was asked to share the story of how online gaming addiction has affected my son, but I realized I can’t share that honestly without causing harm. I can’t offer a happy ending, a nice wrap-up with everyone leading nice, well-adjusted lives. I don’t have a solution to the crisis or a way to repair the damage that online gaming addiction has wreaked in my own family.

What I can offer is a better understanding of online gaming addiction and its spiritual effects on the players. The best way to understand something, I’ve found, is to become it. I have become a gamer, a role-player. I have been working “undercover” for four reasons: First, I want to reach out to the players and minister to them, offering compassion where others only condemn. I can only hope that there is someone out there who will do the same for those I love who are caught in the mire of the games and whom I cannot reach myself. Second, I seek to understand what it is that draws millions of young people to turn their backs on “real life” and submerge themselves in a world of pixels and fantasy. I seek to share this knowledge with the hope that it will support efforts to help all those who are suffering from the negative effects of online gaming addiction. Why do some people sit at a computer for hours and hours every day, building their homes in a fantasy world, rejecting reality even to the detriment of their health and relationships? Perhaps they reject the real world for good cause and the solution is for us to work to make our flesh-and-blood world better. Third, I’m a writer in search of an audience. Writing stories based on role-play is a good way to build an audience for my original work. People are guaranteed to read a story when their character is in it. If it’s a compelling portrayal, they’ll pass it around.

And finally, my fourth reason for doing this is that I have come to love role-playing and role-players. I have come to see it as an interactive novel, the future of literary entertainment. I’m not alone.

More than Just a Game?

It’s impossible to calculate exactly how many gamers are out there, but according to an article published by James Batchelor in MCV: The Market for Computer and Video Games in January 2011, “The total userbase for Sony’s PlayStation Network has surpassed 60 million consumers.” Sony’s PlayStation Network is just one multiplayer gaming service, so that statistic doesn’t even begin to count all of the people who play non-Sony online role-playing games using computers, Sega consoles, Xbox consoles, etc.

Sony is the creator of “EverQuest II,” but many other game worlds also exist. Activision’s “World of Warcraft” had 10.2 million subscribers at the end of 2011, according to the New York Times, and Trion World Inc.’s “Rift” had already attracted 1 million users within five months after its release in March 2011, according to an August 2011 Bloomberg article. So that adds up to 72 million players at the very minimum. My experience has been with “World of Warcraft,” “EverQuest II,” “EverQuest II Extended,” “Second Life,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Rift.”

Seventy-two million, minimum. Sitting at computers for hours, achieving nothing but pixel progress in real world terms. (Except on Second Life, where virtual products and services are sold for Linden dollars, which have actual monetary value. I have a friend there who makes $500 extra income per month doing this.)

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Wildstreak/Sweetwater (a pseudonym) is a unicorn in the games. In the real world, jhe (gender-free pronoun) is an online minister, freelance writer, editor, and ghostwriter who gallops about the pastures of South Carolina and Georgia. Jhe has one beloved son, who loves reptiles.
 

Source Citation

Wildstreak/Sweetwater. 2012. Online Ministry in a Massively Multi-Player World of Warcraft. Tikkun 27(3): 24.

tags: Christianity, Culture   
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2 Responses to Online Ministry in a Massively Multi-Player World of Warcraft

  1. reader48 September 11, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Love this article, as I have a son who is a WoW addict, although generally in role-play, which has inspired him to expand his vocabulary and develop his creative writing skills. He does have social connections through his online gaming. He does not, however, have much of a “life” outside of gaming, but I’m not sure what it would look like if he did. To go anywhere or do anything in this culture and in our city requires money, and there are few public places where one can feel safe or just hang out. There are few opportunities to meet people in “real” life and build a community. I myself enjoy writing and painting, and tend to view gaming as a new creative medium – although gaming doesn’t produce an object in the physical world, but rather an internal story experienced in the moment. I would rather create a game than play a game, but doubt I have the patience to learn the technology.

    Some games are specifically designed to function like an interactive novel – you enter a setting, make a choice about where to go within that setting, and each choice reveals another piece of the story. Imagine a paper book in which a question is presented, and if ones answers one way, one is directed to page 36, where there is more information and more options are presented, or one is directed to page 87, and may continue from there according a different set of choices. Yet they are able to do this with total immersion – images, action, music. The possibilities fascinate me.

    I am sad that we don’t live in communities where it is safe or pleasant or easy to go outside or to meet other people.
    Should we be more concerned about the medium or the content? I admit to being disturbed by ubiquitous electronic devices (everyone is plugged into something wherever they go), but is being plugged in itself a problem, or is it more a matter of the kinds of ideas and actions one is exposed to?

    (And by the way, why do we need a new gender-neutral pronoun? Didn’t people used to say “one” and why doesn’t that work any more?)

  2. BannedFromDemUnderground October 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Dunno about all this. I’ve seen quite a number of people complaining in various websites that all these computer games are WEAKENING boys since they spend so much time playing these games. Girls spend far less time doing them. They are too busy growing up, developing themselves, and getting ready for adulthood. Boys are freaking out on it and are getting less prepared for adulthood. I’m no expert on the subject but if you do a Google on “boys getting weaker” you will see what I mean.

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