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How can the Church create a compelling offer to the world’s millions of gamers? How can we demonstrate that significance – and a relationship with a living God – can be found in the real world? A first step might be to take a closer look at the Minecraft appeal…
1. The graphics are terrible
Minecraft looks like a game from 1992. The deliberately blocky graphics give it a cool retro appeal, but that’s mainly a matter of convenience. The reason they look that way is that Markus Persson built the game himself, without access to an expensive graphics development team. He focused his energies on perfecting his central idea and creating simple but addictive gameplay. No one cares about the surface appearance of the game; perhaps that’s an important lesson for a Church that’s become increasingly concerned with cultural relevance in recent years.
2. You have to build everything ‘by hand’
Perhaps the most shocking element of the game is that, despite the extraordinarily beautiful and complex pieces of architecture that players create, every single block is individually placed. You can’t simply tell the game to ‘build a house’; you have to find the raw materials, then work hard to design and create. This process gives a sense of purpose and results in a feeling of genuine achievement.
An oft-heard critique of the modern Church is that we’re losing people not because we’ve made Christianity too difficult, but because we’ve made it too easy. Minecraft keeps players hooked precisely because it’s not a cushy number. It requires discipline and hard work, and that again fosters a sense of significance.
3. You’re free to build what you want
Here’s the most interesting aspect of Minecraft, and arguably the most important for the Church to understand. Unlike most traditional video games, it doesn’t tell you what to do. It asks – in some game modes at least – nothing of you at all. It simply gives you a framework for creativity, and the tools with which to create. It’s a new media version of the blank sheet of paper.
Markus Persson never expected huge ornate cathedrals and Escher-style impossible cities to spring up around the Minecraft world, but they did, as a new wave of artists and geniuses found an outlet for their immense creativity. Could the Church begin to look like that? Could we offer our people – not just our young people – a true blank sheet of paper for what our gatherings and our work as communities of faith could look like? Jost puts it like this: ‘Give them a cause; not the cause of self-fulfilment, but the cause to fill the earth with life. This is the mandate that Adam and Eve were given.’
Computer gaming can be fun, and in the case of Minecraft, can become a true art form. But when immersion in the game world becomes a more attractive option than real life, the Church needs to take note. Jane McGonigal famously said that in the gaming world, players can become ‘super-empowered, hopeful individuals.’ That should be our vision for church.