A Halo for Youth Ministry

So, over the past week or so there have been several posts in the youth ministry blogosphere that deal with using Halo in youth ministry settings. I decided that I would go ahead and chime in. Before I do however, a few disclaimers – I have yet to play the Halo 3. To be completely honest, I don’t have time. I have played through the campaign for the original Halo, and I’ve spend plenty of hours playing multiplayer. I’ve also played, on occasion, Halo 2 multiplayer. I’m also an avid video game fan.

So, to start, we need to acknowledge that someone’s theology is ultimately going to be a huge deciding factor in playing Halo, or other FPS video games at a church youth event. If one is a committed pacifist than I imagine Halo will be less likely to show up at a youth ministry event. On the other hand if one is not quite that committed to pacifism Halo may be more likely to show up. Theology impacting youth ministry is a good thing. We do need to be consistent, overall, between our theology and our practice.

Moving on from theology specifically, I think Tim (linked above) hits the nail on the head when he says that we need to be consistent across our practices. Playing paintball, laser tag, or T rated FPS games and then bemoaning Halo as “violent” (or worse, something crazy like saying it “teaches people to kill”) and saying that it is not a good game to play at youth seems to me a bit inconsistent – but each person will have to sort that out on their own. Tim goes 2 for 2 when he says that Christian video games are really no alternative.

However, I think Brian, over at Rethinking Youth Ministry, brings up an excellent point. If we are using Halo, or other video games, to attract students we need to be careful. If our youth ministries are going to be cut in half if we stop playing Halo, we have done something wrong. I’ve used video games in the past, and I have used them attractionally. In my present ministry we play Guitar Hero and DDR regularly, and may very well begin playing the first Halo, or one of the worms’ games, at some point in the future. These games aren’t used to attract students so much as they are things we do together, as a community. Some students play, others watch, we talk and have fun together. Some might become nervous with the idea that a game console is helping us form community – but I would make that argument. It’s obviously not the only thing that helps us form a community, and it certainly doesn’t define our community.

So, I would agree with Tim that it’s a gray area. I’d agree with Brian that there’s a problem if students are going to drop out of our ministries if we don’t play Halo. In my own ministry I deal with games like this: if they help bring us together, laughing, having fun, talking, being together that’s great, we’ll use them. If instead they destroy conversation, shut people down, and lead to arguing and bickering, then we won’t use them. Case-in-point: Guitar Hero can sometimes, in our ministry, lead to two people playing who aren’t talking to each other and aren’t interacting with those watching. That needs to change or GH may be coming off our repertoire of normal video games. This is also one of the reasons I’d love to get a Wii for the youth ministry. Mario Strikers Charged, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Wii Sports, these are the kind of games I can see us playing together, laughing with, and talking about afterwards.

Video games used to get students to come = bad idea (IMO)
Video games used to build community = good idea (IMO)

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11 thoughts on “A Halo for Youth Ministry

  1. Nothing builds community more than shooting each other in the back with a sniper rifle from 500 yards. Digitally, of course.

    Diana and I have been talking about Halo a lot lately, specifically whether or not to use it in the youth ministry at North Country. I think most of the kids would love it, and actually think we could use it to build community since they like to play team slayer. 🙂

    However, Diana and the parents of one or two of the kids in the group would vehemently disagree with the use of Halo in our ministry. So, we’re having an ongoing discussion…

  2. Hey Calvin,
    I think the big issue here is the violent nature of the game. I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with fun, positive video games, particularly if following your criteria that the youth need to be interacting and enjoying each other’s company while using them.

  3. @Brian – You are right about the violence issue. Virtually no one (okay, maybe that’s an overstatement) would have a problem with a tennis game or Tetris XXIV or something like that. It’s the fact that we’re dealing with digital firearms and simulated violence.

    However, would a game like Cabela’s Big Game Hunter or on the other end of the spectrum, Sonic Heroes, be any better at fostering interaction and community than the Halo series? IMHO, only a select few games would really do that, and (as Calvin also mentioned) perhaps certain systems would be better than others, like a Wii? But I digress…

  4. @Brian – Yes, the violence issue, I think, is really the crux here, as Len already pointed out. However, I do think consistency is needed across video games, sports (ie, paintball), and other activities (laser tag). Given, one could make an argument that those activities aren’t “real” firearms, such as the virtually real firearms in games, but that’s a whole other topic.

    @Len – I’m currently rethinking the possibility of using Halo in our youth ministry. I need to put some heavy thought into it. Certainly other games could be of use. Worms 4 Mayhem, if cartoon violence is an “okay” thing for your youth ministry. Obviously, a Wii would be killer – and SSBB, again, if cartoon violence is not a taboo.

    @bgraef – I would agree with you that using video games to attract young people is not a good idea. However, I don’t see a problem with using video games to build community within a group.

  5. The emperor is naked. Not wearing clothes. And we’re all commenting on how great his new clothes look. There is nothing wrong with having multi-player Halo 3 tournaments. No one knows why it’s rated M. If there are actual reasons for it’s M rating, it must be in the campaign. And even there, Focus on the Family had only this to say about the bad points of the game: “On the other—if I can read the words between all the bullet holes—there are hints of foul language and sexual imagery.” Hints. That’s all Plugged-In can say, the site (which I find very helpful) that counts the uses of different words, and tells you which movies have cleavage or nudity.

    Most people suppose that Halo 3 is rated M for it’s gratuitous violence. But there’s nothing gratuitious about it. Little blood. No guts. Can we as a church not tell the difference between clean, sanitized violence (in the defense of the human race) and what can only be described as the murder-porn Hollywood sends our youth? There is gratuitous violence we need to protect our youth from, but it is not in Halo. Instead of concerning ourselves with what the world thinks, or what parents think, we need to help parents to actually think through this and realize that it is a non-issue. Halo didn’t receive it’s “M” from a Christian group – the world rated it M. Should we just accept what the world tells us is okay or is not okay, or should we use Christian discernment? Compare Halo to the graphic depictions of violence and gore in CSI, which many of our kids watch on network TV, and there is no comparison. Halo is FAR less gory. We should be helping parents set reasonable standards, not encouraging them to have blanket rules against violence or what the world *guesses* should be rated M.

    The Times has a big article because the world is SHOCKED when we don’t criticize and outlaw something they find fun and innocent. A good analogy for what we’re doing is pointing at Sprite and calling it a “gateway drug” to alcohol because it has bubbles. If we’re afraid of any violence, not just the dehumanizing excessive stuff, then we need to be sure not to teach kids history or let them read the Old Testament, which I don’t think anyone wants to suggest.

    We haven’t had a Halo 3 event in my youth group yet, because my church doesn’t own Xbox 360’s, but sometime soon we’re going to let the youth bring their own, on a regular basis – on an off night or Saturday’s, bring their non-Christian friends, and just frag each other for hours. Maybe the non-Christians will come back for the friendship and hear the gospel, or maybe just later in life, when they help, they’ll just have learned that the church is not a cruel, boring and judgmental place, but they won’t be wondering why a bunch of people are complimenting a naked man for his clothes, or saying a game with virtually no blood is too violent for our fragile kids to be exposed to. Sorry for the long response, I’m just amazed by what I’ve been reading on everyone’s blogs.

  6. Aaron, as much as I agree that the church is often seen as being incredibly judgmental and irrelevant, I think the issue here is one worth discussing. Some would argue that Christians shouldn’t watch CSI. Again, my call is for consistency across the board, as I think you partially mentioned.

    I will say, however, that I’m not sure the idea that a Halo 3 tourney will help kids later in life is an accurate one. As I said in my initial post, I’ve used Halo in youth ministry before. I used it to attract students to the ministry, using exactly that reasoning. The teens certainly saw that the church wasn’t irrelevant. But I’m not sure they saw how Christians were different. I don’t think the teens who played Halo several years ago at the ministry I was serving look back today, when they’re having a problem, and say…”the guys who I played Halo with could probably help me with this!” I’m not saying it’s sinful to play Halo, I’m just saying that we’ve been playing Halo in youth ministry for twenty years or more (metaphorically speaking). It hasn’t worked. Teens still leave church when they leave highschool (see the recent lifeway research). Playing Halo isn’t going to get them “saved” and it’s not going to keep them connected to the Body of Christ. Now, it could help them to build community with some other students – and that community might help them later in life. But Halo is, in that regard, only a means to an ends – and there are plenty of other means that could easily take its place (and I realize that you most likely know that).

  7. We keep coming back to the idea of whether this is an attractant or a community builder. Frankly, my kids are playing this game, often ALONE, in their homes. I’m still wrestling with this too but I don’t see it as “negative bait,” as much as reaching out to some of my kids that are more socially isolated. Their exposure to the game is already assumed and I’ve played my share of much more violent games than this. Other Youth Ministry types I’ve talked to have actually heard their kids witness to other young people whilst playing guild-based games like Warcraft.

    I’m not even convinced myself but I don’t accept the “means to an end” argument, depending on how the event is used to build relationships. I don’t think some people don’t understand that this IS social life for some kids today, good or bad. This is NOT always bad.

  8. my dear friends it is as simple as this. If in fact you were to allow your youth group to play this game (Halo3) among other violent games, would it in fact hinder the growth of your students. This is the question all of you need to be able to answer, not dispute if we CAN, but rather if we could how would it affect the spiritual growth of your students?

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