Move over, Sunday service collection plate. You're being replaced this coming Sunday by ThatGameCompany's Flower, as the brightly colored PlayStation 3 title becomes possibly the first video game to be incorporated in a religious service.
The idea for bringing Flower to church started with Andy Robertson, a writer who runs the GamePeople website and writes about video games for Wired.com. Roberston gave a TEDx talk focused on expanding the way people think about and engage with video games, at one point calling for a "priesthood of game critics" spread gaming's gospel. When I interviewed Robertson this morning, he elaborated on that turn-of-phrase by explaining that "a good priest wants to create a space where people can discover something meaningful."
It turns out someone connected to actual clergy saw Robertson's talk and latched onto the ideas there. Anna Norman-Walker, Cannon Minister for the Exeter Cathedral, struck up a conversation with Robertson about figuring out how to use video games in one of the cathedral's monthly Holy Ground services. Those special events use music and other creative disciplines to explore various themes, like the pagan roots of Christianity.
At first, games like Jason Rohrer's Passage were tossed out as Robertson and Norman-Walker discussed the kind of poignant, accessible experiences that spoke to deeper ideas. But, when sustainability and man's relationship to the planet came up as the organizing principle of an upcoming Holy Ground, Roberston remembered seeing a live play demonstration of Flower at the U.K.'s GameCity festival.
Norman-Walker says that she's had very little exposure to video games other than her teenagers playing FIFA and Call Of Duty. "When you say the words ‘video game', people immediately think of shooting," Robertson offered. "But the minute I showed [cathedral officials] Flower, their perceptions—and the possibilities of what they could do with it—opened up." Norman-Walker adds that "No convincing was necessary. Creativity is something that we welcome and Holy Ground is the ideal platform for this sort of thing. People were rather shocked several hundred years ago when churches introduced the organ, so who knows if gaming could become part of everyday worship one day!"
Worshippers will see Flower played during the service, controlled by Robertson, who will then pass a controller around so each churchgoer gets a turn to swoop through the leaves and branches of the game's first level. Norman-Walker also said that Robertson will be back in August to talk further about integrating games into future services.
Asked if she could see playing games in church services expanding beyond this one night, Norman-Walker says she could definitely see that evolution. "Worship is not a ‘spectator sport' and anything that helps people to make connections with God and express something of a response to God is worth exploring. Gaming could be a really creative way of engaging with people in a fresh way and could potentially transcend age and culture gaps." Imagine if the next big Xbox 360, mobile or PC game could get people praise God on Sunday morning instead of taking His name in vain on Saturday night. That'd be a miraculous achievement.