In a time when many of our young people are connecting solely through their online personas, sitting in their rooms and talking to a screen; there is a need for opportunities for face to face social interaction. Some find that through sports clubs, uniformed organisations and/or youth clubs. But many feel socially isolated, suffering whilst labelled as ‘geeks’ or ‘nerds’ – game nights provide them with somewhere they feel comfortable to come and be themselves. Tabletop and board gaming requires face to face interaction and conversation and can bring people together as a group.
Gamin events actively help to combat loneliness especially amongst children, teenagers and young adults. They have the bonus of being particularly appealing to boys without being excluding of girls, so appeals to both genders. Also, they are truly intergenerational, I cannot think of any other activity where an unrelated 80-year-old and an 11-year-old would not only willingly sit together for 3 hours, but genuinely enjoy themselves whilst doing so and build a lasting relationship through it. It’s incredibly good for people with additional needs, particularly those relating to social skills and learning difficulties. They connect with games incredibly well because of the structured social interaction that gaming provides. It’s also a ‘geeks thing’, and geeks aren’t known in general for their social skills (massive generalisation there but you get my point) so it reaches people who don’t feel comfortable in other outreach events we provide – Christians in sports and sports ministry, and celebrations/church events.
Gaming allows people to naturally open up about themselves, to engage in conversation together, to build real and lasting friendships. Through these relationships those attending will become comfortable in a church building and comfortable talking about God. These conversations can plant the seeds and then lead into further discussions and activities where the games used for Your Turn can be further used to explore the Gospel – I am in the process of testing a holiday/after school club where discussion questions are used to link the experience in the board game to core Christian values.
Facts and Figures
Gaming, particularly board and tabletop gaming is going through a ‘Golden Age’ of sorts at the moment. The interest has been steadily rising over the past 5 years as evidenced by Google Trends:
There are many ‘board game cafes’ opening across the country (Edinburgh’s Game Hub, Oxford’s Thirsty Meeples, London’s Draughts, Preston’s Dice and Donuts to name a few of the better-known ones) where people come together to meet new people and play tabletop games again Google trend data demonstrates the increasing interest:
The UK Games Expo was large enough this year to hire out 2 halls of the NEC in Birmingham, attracting over 39000 attendees.
At a conservative estimate there are 2000 people attending board game outreaches run by churches/Christians around the country at least monthly. Of that number around 90% are unchurched and roughly 30% have some level of ASD. This data come from a group of over 100 other ministers/leaders who are in the process of, or already have set up Gaming Mission Groups. If you add me on Facebook @SteTaylorGamer I can invite you to the group as it is closed to public access.
On the back of all this there are quite a few different Facebook groups and online forums looking at using games as part of ministry, I first stumbled across a large outreach based in America called Innroads Ministries which are a charity of board game missionaries and are amazing people, and 2 of the largest game reviewers in the world – Tom Vasel and Sam Healey from The Dice Tower – are American pastors and run services at conventions and the Dice Steeple podcast.