By Nick Yeh

Jesus and Joysticks: How Playing Games Shaped My Faith

“Do you know Jesus?” I say to my headset with proximity chat on in Call of Duty, laughing as I think about what’s coming. “Because you’re about to meet him.”

I grew up playing video games. Like many kids born in the 90s, I remember my first Gameboy Color and loading up Pokémon Blue. I remember having a GameCube and playing Smash and Double Dash, and I also remember playing Halo with my youth pastor as a high schooler.

To be honest, it’s safe to say that I was a gamer before I found Jesus. However, playing video games helped me develop a relationship with him.

Gaming and Growing Up

I remember growing up in Taiwan and attending the same English church from elementary to middle school every year. By the time I reached middle school, I didn’t experience any growth or interest in my faith. I asked my parents if we could switch churches, and we found another international church. This one had a youth group.  I joined and quickly became friends with the pastor.

At the time, the church had a youth center for hangouts near my school. It was a safe place for students to relax after hours, but no one came to this wonderful haven, except me. I would play Halo: Combat Evolved on the church’s Xbox on my own, or I would sometimes play games with the pastor.

The time I spent with my pastor chatting and asking questions were the first steps in my faith journey –– questions like understanding the dichotomy of faith and works, or  baptism as a declaration of faith. It was a huge part of getting me to where I am in my walk with Jesus today. 

Gaming and Building Community

Video games allowed me to not only deepen my relationship with Jesus, but also with his people.

When I was a student at Occidental College, I played a lot of video games with my friends, oftentimes using that time to strike up spiritual conversations with them. Some of my favorite memories in college involve a group of friends bunched up in a room playing FIFA and swapping controllers around.  Those games led to hangouts, which led to invitations to small groups, which led to lifelong brothers and sisters in Christ.

There was a season where I played with my InterVarsity friend on his PS3. His non-believer friend at the time also joined us. We played often, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always having authentic fun getting to know each other.

Growing up, gaming was never mainstream, but during college, and especially during COVID, gaming was all over the place. Whether it was finding a group of friends to play Among Us or hosting a Super Smash tournament, gaming was a great opportunity to strengthen existing bonds or get to know new people. And it still is! Since then, I’ve heard that some schools have started to furnish common spaces with consoles in order to promote gaming as an extracurricular option. Colleges are beginning to recognize that for both casuals and try-hards, gaming is here to stay, and it can bring people together and open doors to building friendships.

Gaming and Being Missional

These days, I’ve found ways that gaming can be a part of joining God in mission. I queue up in public lobbies in Call of Duty and I talk to other players online. I share a bit about my story and try to find ways to share who Jesus is in my life.

I serve as a volunteer staff of Virtual IV in Discord (VIVID), InterVarsity’s national Discord server. InterVarsity staff, alumni, and students connect in it over games like Terraria, Gartic Phone, Jackbox, and Call of Duty. I love that it’s a space where ministry happens as people come together and share what and how God is working in their lives.

Some introverted students would rather meet online than in-person, so we're providing a community and a  place for them that they might not otherwise have. We’re also reaching non-Christian gamers who might not otherwise be interested in faith at all. We bring people together from different time zones, all across the country through gaming and have even had high school students join that we’ve been able to guide as they explore college options.

I believe that gaming can be a form of ministry. It can teach us to embrace places of discomfort and to love one another in that. Everyone is invited into fellowship, much like the Parable of the Great Banquet. 

So, consider inviting your peers to play games with you. Whether it’s a one-off session or a weekly commitment, create a genuine and authentic space for time spent together, and that’s how deep relationship can begin.

Nick Yeh is the volunteer staff for VIVID, InterVarsity's National Discord Server.  He previously headed up the Urbana AID Discord project for Urbana '22.  Nick graduated from Occidental College in 2017 and Tufts University in 2020 where he served as an InterVarsity volunteer staff.