PS3′s Journey Blurs Attendance at Cathedral Service

Geek Culture

I’ve been banging the drum about video games offering more than entertainment for a little while. It was the core of my TEDx talk, and I enjoyed the response on GeekDad.

One response I wasn’t expecting was from the Exeter Cathedral clergy who attended the talk. They wanted to put some of what I said to the test by using a video game in a more meaningful context. For them this was the Sunday evening worship at the Cathedral: Holy Ground.

After talking this through for some time, I agreed that the Playstation 3 game Flower would be a good fit for their upcoming theme of creation and nature. As you may have seen in a previous post, we used Flower in the Cathedral as an integral part of the service that continued throughout and was played (in turn) by the various members of the congregation.

Last Sunday we tried this again, but with a more technically challenging game, Journey. The first technical challenge was for me and the Cathedral network staff, to get the PS3 online and connected to PSN through their firewall. After various IP and DNS settings we managed to get things setup.

The reasons this was important was so that we could play Journey online. If you’ve not played the game this is one of the most magical elements, where other players join and travel with you through the various environments. Although there is no verbal communication there is a surprising amount of companionship communicated by the non-verbal movement, behavior and sounds you can make.

Journey PS3 in Exeter CathedralJourney PS3 in Exeter Cathedral

Journey PS3 in Exeter Cathedral

As you can see in the video, we took turns to play Journey throughout the service as we had with Flower, but here we were also visited by other players online. It was a fascinating melting pot of technology, religion and people as the congregation locally responded to our visitors as well as the visitors responded to our haphazard progress.

It was all a little chaotic, and at times a little more distracting than Flower was. But also there were times of real synergy where progress on screen, and presence of other players, matched perfectly what was happening in the other elements of the Holy Ground Cathedral service.

One moment, during Eucharist, the visiting player (unknowingly) stopped with us and waited as the bread and the wine were blessed. It was eerily as if it had been orchestrated, but of course this was just the game unfolding as it always does — with genuine moments of connection.

Talking after the service, new players of all ages (20 to 70 years old) were fascinated to hear more about the game and who were our mystery visitors. While Journey had made its presence felt more than Flower, most were happy with the result and I personally found the whole experience really uplifting.

While organizing these services I have often been asked who we are trying to attract to church by using this technology — like in this interview on BBC Radio 4. However, I think it is actually video games that benefit as much from this relationship as aging religious institutions. They get the opportunity to connect with an audience who hardly even know they exist.

This sort of combination of technology and meaning can be a little awkward, but it is a nettle worth grasping. As I outlined in my TEDx talk, video games offer an entirely new way to encounter stories and a pool of meaning we invest millions into. We need to find ways of connecting the resource to a wider audience so that more people can benefit and enjoy it. In turn this also helps us make sense of video games as we start to see what they might mean or offer those who are not-yet gamers themselves.

This is something I have reflected further on for both the Journey and the Flower Cathedral services.

Journey, Flower and Flow are available from Aug 28th from Amazon for $29.99.

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