For nearly two years now I’ve had the privilege and joy of serving Checkpoint Church, the church for nerds, geeks, and gamers. From the onset of this vision, one of the major goals was to make use of the medium of the video game in order to explore the Christian faith.
Since I was a child, I’ve felt that video games were a medium that told the most powerful stories. I was impacted by games at a much greater level than by any other form of story-telling. Thus Checkpoint was designed as a space where we might explore these stories in a familiar small group setting–much like what churches have utilized for book studies.
I don’t believe Checkpoint is the only place where these conversations should be happening however. Whether you are a pastor, parent, spiritual seeker, or serious gamer, I’m willing to wager that you could find a wealth of meaning from the world of video games.
But where to start?
Video games for a spiritual journey
I could recommend excellent story-rich video games for days on end, but I’ve crafted a list of five viable book-club-like video games that I think would serve the nerds in your life very well. With the exception of the first entry, these are in no particular order nor is this list a be-all, end-all. This is the tip of the iceberg, but kudos to you for being curious enough to take the plunge!
There are few games that hold as dear a place in my nerd heart as this one. Despite some toxicity in the community and being the butt of some jokes, "Undertale" is the absolute king of games with a deeper meaning. It’s also the only video game that I know of which has been given to the Pope, so there’s that.
This game guides the player through a familiar retro fantasy-land. Only this game presents you the option to choose whether or not to end the lives of the monsters you fight. Nothing has to die in this game - but you can choose to destroy, if you wish. The story will cleverly adapt itself to your choices and, with enough tact, you may land yourself in the Pacifist mode of the game… or the Genocide mode. (Yeah - this one gets pretty dark.)
With the powerful theme of life and death, this game allows for a truly novel exploration of the toughest stories we might read in our Bibles - with a retro flair!
Before Your Eyes
This game takes an unconventional gaming concept and runs with it. When you start the game, you are prompted to connect your webcam. This allows for the game to track your eyes and only progress the story forward when you blink. As if that isn’t enough to bring a tear to your eye, the game then presents you with a positively heartbreaking story of a family dealing with growth, loss, and new life.
While this one does get pretty weird and would present some interesting religious questions regarding the afterlife, the gist of the story is one that is familiar enough to all of us that it will provide a place for our more personal questions, too.
What first comes across as a cheeky gimmick pays off in dividends by the end of the story. Grab some eye drops, you’ll want to keep yourself from blinking as long as you can to get as much out of this story as possible. If you want a preview, we have a full playthrough of this game on our YouTube channel.
Life Is Strange
In a similar vein to the prior entry, “Life is Strange” tells a story that cuts straight through to some of our toughest questions - but with a twist. The player controls the main character, Max Caulfield, as she searches for the missing girl Rachel Amber in the small, barely-fictional town of Arcadia Bay. Max discovers that she has the power to turn back time and try things a second time when they don’t go her way.
Even though you play as a super-powered person, you feel very human. as you deal with the consequences of your choices. The game also reveals that controlling time isn’t as peachy as it’s cracked up to be. This game explores relationships better than most I’ve played and I end each playthrough feeling like I’ve become real friends (or enemies) with these fictional characters.
Ultimately, this game presents tough questions around death, choices, control, sexuality, and the infamous trolley problem. Just like the butterfly batting its wings, your life will be irrevocably changed after exploring this world.
If you have trouble starting up tricky conversations regarding issues like immigration or police brutality, then this is the game for you.
"Road 96" tells the story of a country run by a dictatorship. Rather than experience it from a position of authority, the player experiences this corruption through the lives of several hitchhiking children who are attempting to flee the government.
Some of your journeys to the border will result in a successful crossing, others will result in the death of yourself or others. By the end of the game, however, the accumulation of your decisions will result in the revolution of the country or continued iron fist of the dictator.
It’s an emotional and all-too-familiar journey and allows for the player to truly make their own choices to impact the future of the lives of an entire nation. Good luck playing through this one and not facing some of the toughest choices you’ll ever make.
It Takes Two
Okay, this game is a sort of bonus answer. “It Takes Two” is best played by two people at once, also known as co-op. The two players will control a soon-to-be divorced husband and wife whose souls have been sucked up into toy dolls after their daughter makes a wish that they would get along.
The players then get dragged through a charming series of adventures as a husband and wife in an effort to learn to get along and work together. While the story is a good story, the real reason this game ought to be played in a community of faith is because we really should do all that we can to learn how to work together a bit better. Surely it only takes a quick glance at the fracturing of the church to see that it is vital to the future of the Body of Christ.
The adventure is yours
There you have it - five games that you could start up a small group study of right now. What better time than now to get folks together to play a video game? If you do start up a study or play through any of these, please let me know - I love to hear about folks who are innovating the church space with nerdy media.
Remember: this is really only the start of the list. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what games would benefit the church and the stories that we tell ourselves. If you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments and let’s keep the conversation going.