Faith Community Debates Halo 3 Youth Ministry

Although there has been some recent talk around the Net about the use of the Halo series to attract kids to church activities, Saturday’s New York Times coverage (see GamePolitics write-up here) seems to have crystalized the debate over the practice.

A lively discussion at the blog site of bible scholar Ben Witherington nicely captures the opposing views. Witherington – who pretty clearly is not conversant with video games – doesn’t like the idea of using Halo to attract youthful congregants:

This whole sorry approach to youth ministry smacks of absolute desperation and fear – fear that if we are not relevant, we cannot attract a crowd. Is this really what Jesus would do? I don’t think so…

If you have so little creativity or imagination that you imagine that the only way to appeal to youth is by appealing to their most base and basic fallen instincts, then get out of youth ministry – you haven’t got the tools for the task…

Lisa, a reader of the site who describes herself as “a reasonably avid gamer,” weighs in to disagree:

Playing, say, Grand Theft Auto in a church would be a vastly different story… If a church has specifically made it its mission to be culturally relevant to today’s youth, if you’re eliminating video games as an option, you’re highly limiting the tools you can use to reach out.

Another reader, Jake, adds:

[Perhaps] you’re judging video games as a medium more harshly than films… A second possibility is that you are equating the violence in Halo with vengeance or senseless violence – which is debatable given the narrative the game follows…

Witherington replies, but his lack of familiarity with games is evident:

When you play a ‘Versus’ sort of game, or in that sort of mode, you are in the first place setting up a scenario for individual winners and losers. There is nothing about this that builds community…

Secondly… I do have a major problem with a game that takes endless hours to play, or win, and is so absorbing that it encourages the worst sort of narcissism…

Thirdly, there are numerous studies out there to be had about how these games affect and indeed encode violent images on young brains in various ways that going to a movie that lasts an hour or so would not do.

Jake replies:

I disagree completely that community cannot be built around a game like Halo… I’ve… formed friendships with people online as I’ve played, as well as enjoyed the community when I get together with friends in person and play…

Marc Axelrod weighs in:

My Super Nintendo helped me through a lot of seminary nights when I just didn’t feel like studying… As a pastor, I’ve had great times playing NFL Blitz and other games with the young people…  But I wouldn’t feel right playing a game with gratuitous violence. I don’t know if Halo 3 is a case example or not. I did play Virtua Fighter 4 at church with a couple of my confirmands last Sunday night. Maybe that was a borderline call…

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