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Everything Bad, Isn't

by Rick Presley


For all you slackers out there who have put down the PS2 long enough to see what’s happening in ginkworld, I have good news for you: you haven’t been wasting your time. Steven Johnson (author of Emergence and Mind Wide Open,) has released his latest pop-commentary on pop-culture, Everything Bad is Good For You. The premise of the book is that culture, including games, television and movies, is far more complex than it used to be and that one has to be far more sophisticated to “get it” now than in the past. Johnson begins by showing how games and gaming are far more complex and interactive than the pundits have been complaining. His book has generated a lot of buzz in both the blogosphere and dead tree media.


Even more important, but less well known, is the parallel book Got Game by John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade. I recently attended an education summit where Dr. Beck was the first guest speaker. He set the tone for the whole conference with a cultural overview comparing Boomer culture to the Gamer culture. He presented an hour-long overview of their research, which indicated not so much a generation gap but a cultural shift. While his research focused on the needs of the business world and helping organizations relate to the cultural shift, there are a number of lessons that apply to the church.


One of the things Beck said in his presentation was that the generation gap between Boomers (1949-1965) and their parents is qualitatively different than the gap between Gamers and their parents. The first thing you will notice here is that I didn’t say between Gen-Xers and their parents. He pointed out that the shift was not related to age, but to whether people were nongamers, moderate gamers or frequent gamers. He found more similarities between Boomers who were frequent gamers and youngsters who were frequent gamers than between Gamers and their non-gaming contemporaries. There are a number of Boomers who cut their teeth on Pong and have played most of “The Essential 50” games who know what gaming is all about. Meanwhile, there are plenty of Amish kids out there who have never played video games; so it isn’t about when you were born but about your experiences growing up (for those of you who have done so).


As an example he said that both the Boomer and Gamer generations were shaped by technology – the Boomers by television and the Gamers by video games. The big difference is that for Boomers, their parents sat next to them while the culture was shifting. Television was a shared experience with parents and their children. Sure Dad was always complaining about the garbage that was on TV but at least he knew what the garbage was because he was sitting there right next to you complaining about it. The parents of Gamers, on the other hand, have no idea what their kids are doing for all those hours glued to the Game Cube. Boomer parents may not have approved of Starsky and Hutch but at least they knew who they were. Gamer parents wouldn’t recognize Lara Croft or Tony Hawke if they showed up on a billboard (which they have). Play the first three bars of the theme from Hill Street Blues and Boomers will say, “Be careful out there,” but play the entire range of selections from DDR Max and they won’t have a clue where the music is from, let alone recognize any of the manga-like characters associated with the tunes. 


The point is that Gamers think differently, learn differently and believe differently than their non-gaming Boomer counterparts. Gamers tend to be more sociable, are more likely to take risks for potential rewards, prefer to be rewarded on their abilities but also trust that there is a certain amount of luck to the world. One of the most important differences between Gamers and Boomers is that Gamers tend to take the “meta-view” of things. Because gamers can shift views in the virtual world with a flick of the controller, they translate this into an ability to see themselves from an observer/outsider point of view in their own lives. This leads them to be less attached to their viewpoints and more subject to revision with additional information. They are more flexible and less opinionated.


This also leads to Gamers having a more global view of life and their country’s place in the world. When teens are getting up before the crack of dawn to play a MOG (multiplayer online game) because that is when the team from Germany is online, we have truly opened the lines of cross-cultural communication in an unprecedented way. The closest Boomers came to routine cross-cultural contact was watching a few Japanese-made cartoons like Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy or the occasional Godzilla movie. Gamers can say “All your base are belong to us” and explain why it’s funny. Real gamers can tell you why it’s not funny any more.


What this says for the church today is that there is an opportunity in the cultural shift we would be wise to notice. Most youth workers are unaware of the Boomer-Gamer gap because they’re gamers themselves. They find a number of mystifying things in their relationships with non-gamers in the church but chalk it up to them being old farts who don’t handle change well, not realizing that these same old farts participated in the last great cultural shift. Non-gaming Boomers are likewise mystified by the Gamers in their midst. It isn’t just the slang (since they were the ones who coined more slang in their day than any previous generation) but the attitude in the conversation. Nor is it a generation gap because there are plenty of Boomers who are or were once Gamers themselves. It is a nearly invisible shift in worldview, outlook, attitude and approach to life that sets Gamers apart from non-gamers.


Churches would be wise to tap into the collaborative spirit of Gamers and enlist their aid in church ministry. They should appreciate their ability to multi-task and concentrate on five things at once. They should tap into their use of technology and put their networking skills to work as internet evangelists. They should let the Gamers design the church web sites, making them more interactive, creative and imaginative. Let them present the Bible in new and engaging ways. Give them the freedom to express themselves in a Flash presentation with animated graphics on the church projection screens. Give them every opportunity to harness their unique talents to blog, to IM, to e-mail, to animate, to game in a context where they can reach an audience that some of us don’t even know exists.



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