Many of you know that I work as a youth pastor at a small church, and as part of my job, I am always interested in games. Not just MMOs and video games, but games involving people running around and doing things. I’ve probably learned a lot about game design and theory from leading countless games over the past decade-plus (in addition to making up several games from scratch as well). This past Sunday, in fact, I hosted a community-wide Nerf Gun War in our church that had to be structured with some semblance of rules (three hits and you had to go score a point for the other team on the markerboard, couldn’t shoot someone from closer than three feet away, etc.). I’m always thinking about how to set up games to work well so that they’re not just fun, but inviting and involving for everyone.
One of my “go to” resources is a book called “Best-Ever Games for Youth Ministry” by Les Christie. I’ve met Christie a couple times, and he is a hyperactive older gentleman who has a wonderful passion for working with teenagers. This book is mostly a series of quick, easy and (importantly) safe games, but he has an interesting preface section in which he defended why we should play games (some youth groups believe games to be counter-productive or a waste of time). In two pages, he lists his main argument as to why games are important, and I thought it might be interesting to pull this list out and see how it may — or may not — apply to the MMO space, especially since there are those who do attack us for playing games when we should be doing more “mature” things like… I don’t know… buying stocks and going to Tupperware parties.
So I’m going to do a short four-part series, with each part tackling two of his arguments. Starting… now!
1. Games are universal
People are different with radically varying interests, personalities, and comfort levels, but most everyone in the world loves playing games of some kind. Kids begin their life by playing games, and we’ve continued that well into adulthood with our fancy-schmancy video games.
One of the things I love about MMOs is that this “universal language” of gameplay has brought me in contact with people of all ages from every walk of life. It’s simply not weird any more for a 60-year-old grandmother to be doing a raid with a 12-year-old teen, because they’ve accepted that notion of universality.
2. Games are ideal come-and-see, entry-level activities
One of the later points that Christie makes is that he sees it as a negative thing for teens to be so involved in single-player games and that it’s far better for us to play together than apart. I remember a talk by some of the Warhammer Online devs prior to the game’s launch where they were talking about how multiplayer gameplay is “natural” to us because we grew up playing with others, and it’s only now that video games have the capacity to bring what was a previous solo-dominated field back to where it should be.
Whether you like or dislike the path MMOs have taken as of late, it’s hard to argue that they’ve gotten more difficult to get into. On the contrary, what was once an extremely niche, hardcore activity now is available to the most casual player (depending on the game), as the games have increased in accessibility and user friendliness. You can just “come and see” MMOs without feeling obliged to spend money these days, or invest more than an hour or two of time, or what have you.
I’ll end today’s post with a quick personal story. In high school I was extremely introverted and had few real friends (or means of making new ones), so I’d spend hours alone either gaming, reading, or writing. Looking back, I wonder if these MMOs had existed back then, would they have provided me with an easy way to plug into a wider community of like-minded people and make friends? Who knows, but it’s a thought.