Video Game LAN parties can be a part of your church’s play-driven outreach initiatives.
“Can we play demons?”
“Are we only allow to play as priests?”
These are some of the humorous and semi-honest questions you might hear when a rag-tagged group of Christians gathered for an unofficial fireside–An afternoon of a loosely organized, family-friendly tournament with Blizzard’s free-to-play digital card game Hearthstone. The participants were friends and family, young and old, single and not. All of us are amateurs and newbies who play for fun more than ranks, and all of us are from a close-knitted faith community.
Christians love to play too
Gaming can often be a treacherous topic for Christians depending on which demographic you are talking to. The stereotype of gamers and addictions plus the misinformed understanding of fantasy themes in entertainments often became the bases for the rejection of gaming or even the redemption of gaming in the religious institution. Modernism has taken a bite out of the church’s theology of play and in many ways, we are all still reeling in from its effect. This is why the church needs to redeem this aspect of our humanity in play. Christians should play well and play freely. This is why games like Hearthstone is a great platform to reach out and connect with this sometimes misunderstood demographic.
Back in 2014, I was and still am a Blizzard fanboy who played pretty much ate up everything Blizzard produced. “Take my money!” was my model toward all things Blizzard. Hearthstone was no different, but this was a whole new genre of game for me and Blizzard made it easy for me to love it. Six years later, the game still attracts new users and even though there are now numerous expansions, the game is still accessible for newcomers and those of us who just want to play it casually. The latest 8-players Battleground mode was a welcome delight as it reduced the card-collecting and deck-building elements to a stage within the game mode. No longer do you need to own a vast collection of cards to fare well against veteran players, all players are now on equal ground in terms of accessibility to a variety of cards and types.
One of the celebrated elements of Hearthstone is its humour and lighthearted theme around its Warcraft lores. Along with its multiplayer functionality–which I would wish Blizzard would expand on–Hearthstone is a great opportunity for communities and churches to reach out beyond its walls. To extend beyond its physical and geographical arena as well as break down the stoic stereotypes of their institution. Faith is often built on relationships, and humour and play are part of how we relate and connect with each other. There are times to be serious, and there are times of joy and laughter. We need to embrace all aspects to be fully human, and the Christian faith acknowledges this as well. And so on new year day, we gathered a group of players from our church, set up a ladder system, wrapped the prizes, have Alexa played some tavern music and off we went!
Our 6-hours Battleground tournament was filled with laughter, the sound of chips munching, continuous nail-biting moments, and the warmness of friendship. This was no awkward silent gaming in a corner, but it was loud and boisterous communal play around a table; This was a fellowship of play and an opportunity to connect through play. More importantly, imagine the conversations the church can have if they know how to play well with those outsides and inside the church walls.
So what are some important elements for your faith community to host an outreaching and strategic Hearthstone tournament or fireside?
1. Play to make friends
Tournaments can be intimidating and events hosted by Christians and churches may be perceived as contrived. People outside the church are often wary of what we are trying to sell them and this is why our intention must be clear: We are not having LAN party to bait unsuspecting heathens into a baptism. We are here to make friends and build relationships with those that have never stepped into a church or hung out with religious people before. We are here to play and live life genuinely through games with others. If our gaming intention is disingenuine, so will our relationships with fellow gamers. Without an authentic and honest relationship, our chances of having a deeper conversation in the future are very slim.
2. Play with hospitality
“Busy night… but there’s always room for another!”
This is one of the many opening lines from Hearthstone’s friendly Innkeeper, Harth Stonebrew, and I think it conveys the kind of hospitality and welcoming atmosphere we can exemplify as we welcome our guests at an event. Gamers and non-gamers alike often have a preconceived expectation–an assumption–as to the culture and setting of a gaming event. It is up to the host to dictate the tone of the fireside, and here we can draw from community members who are gifted in hospitality and deco. Don’t just have plastic chairs and table spread out like a warehouse, give the space a tavern feel, use round tables as it sits more people, provide snacks and drinks, add some ambient theme music, and make sure there is always room for another at the table.
3. Play together with a plan
LAN parties are often imagined as a dim room of individual gamers silently concentrating on their game tucked away at the corner of a foldable table. I can attest that I’ve been to a few that was like that, but this is where the church and the community can counter the lone gamer syndrome. Hearthstone is a game played by two players, and even in their 8-players Battleground mode, you can currently only joined as a party of two. Careful planning is needed so that you can keep everyone playing together with as little disconnect time as possible. For our battleground mode tournament, we opted for a simple round-robin ladder generator at Challonge.com which gave us a skeleton framework of the evening and rotations of players.
We added a point system to the battleground mode where higher positions in each game will net you more points [#1 = 8 pts / #8 = 1pt]. At the end of the night, the top three players battled in a final playoff to determine who’s on top. Last but not least, make sure you have prizes to end off the night! It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something fun and memorable for the event! We ordered Hearthstone themed mousepad, notebook, and cups from Blizzard for our top 3 players and it was a fun way to celebrate the evening!
Whether we are gamers or not, authentic and genuine friendships are what all of us long for and this is at the heart of our Hearthstone fireside gathering. It’s a great opportunity to meet newcomers and those who don’t usually encounter Christ-followers, and even if they have no interest yet in joining a small group or Sunday services, it’s a chance to reach beyond the walls of your church and love others through play. At the heart of it, isn’t that what the world needs to see more of from the church today? Loving people well where they are at, and pointing them toward our God who made us in His image — in all his seriousness and playfulness.
“Love is the basis for God and humans playing together.”
— Courtney T. Goto, The Grace of Playing: Pedagogies for Leaning into God’s New Creation (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2016), 53.
Have your church hosted a gaming night or fireside? What insight have you gained from the experience? Does your church know how to play well?