Missional Gaming in Matchmaking Games

Missional gaming is not simply playing games and believing in Jesus. It’s seeing gaming as an opportunity to reach out to others in love, to fulfill the Great Commission even in our recreational gaming time. Every time we see or interact with others, we have an opportunity to share the Gospel. We don’t need to be quoting scripture 24/7 to be good servants of God - in fact, we often need to be patient with someone who’s not ready to listen - but we should always pay attention to how our hobbies and activities open doors for us.

When it comes to doing outreach while gaming, it’s important to take setting into consideration. The expectations, rules, etiquette, and structure of games can be very different from other spaces. First and foremost, whether you are playing with or against the other players, there is an immediate and significant structural difference: you are there to play the game. There will be ways to communicate with the other players, and it’s possible to branch out beyond the core gameplay, but the unspoken rule is that the purpose of such communication is to help win the game and enjoy playing it.

This does not mean that you cannot build relationships while gaming. In fact, it happens all the time. But the rules are different. People are unlikely to be playing the game with relationship building in mind, and just as unlikely to expect it from you. Unlike a social event for college freshmen or a church fellowship night, it will probably seem very strange to greet fellow gamers  with a, “Hey, you seem like a cool person, let’s hang out and get to know each other.”

This is especially true in multiplayer games with automatic matchmaking, like Overwatch, Rocket League, CS:GO, League of Legends, and so on. You don’t “meet” your team until you’re already matched up to play together, and often there’s very little time between seeing who you’re paired up with and the start of the match. That doesn’t provide a great opportunity to socialize and get to know one another.

Breakthrough Moments

So when does that opportunity arise? Let’s talk about breakthrough moments. Breakthrough moments are the events and situations that happen spontaneously through the course of gameplay that break the immersion of the gameplay and prompt players to interact with each other as people, rather than as assets in their own gameplay experience. Breakthrough moments open a window into personalities and attitudes that help you know others and be known by them.

Good examples of breakthrough moments:

  • Breaking the Game: When a game has a bug, glitch, or error that causes a funny or shocking result, players will stop and say “Did you see that?!” -- for a few moments it’s not about winning or losing.
  • Antics: Doing silly things is often not the best strategy for winning the game, but funny moments can really catch people off guard. Be careful, though - competitive players may resent antics if it comes at the cost of success.
  • Impressive/Compelling events: Missional gaming is certainly not about winning the games, but it’s certainly true that if you’re doing well, people will notice. Pulling off a sick combo, earning a high score, or saving your teammate from certain doom will get their attention.

The main thing these examples have in common is this: players stop seeing you as just another name on their roster and start seeing you as you. 

A key for breakthrough moments is this: they shouldn’t be engineered. We aren’t talking about going into games looking for ways to get people to like you; we’re talking about looking for those moments that signal an opportunity to go deeper.

Engaging in the Moment

Social connection is hard to manufacture, and it’s infinitely more powerful when it happens naturally. That means you need to stay alert so you can recognize the moment, and then engage when it happens.

Recognizing

To accomplish this, you don’t have to behave very much differently, you just need to pay attention. Continue being a friendly, engaging teammate as best you can. But keep an eye out; when you see someone doing well, congratulate them. If they save you, thank them. If they do something funny or impressive or surprising, react accordingly. And if they react to you, respond. Just as breakthrough moments are based on players seeing you as a person, and not just a component in the game they’re playing, enter your games mindful of the human beings on your team and the opposing team.

Engaging

Look for opportunities to turn the corner from “hey that was cool” to “do you guys want to group up and keep playing together?” This is the real key to the whole process. If you congratulate someone and they don’t respond, they may not be keen on socializing, and that’s okay. But if you cheer someone on and they reply back, that’s a great chance to go one step further. Great ways to move on are to start talking tactics (“Hey, I’m going to flank around back, want to come with me?”), to invite them to a group, or to ask to add them to your friends list. 

Continuing the Connection

When you make a connection with another player, it’s important to pay attention to them, too. You can go far with someone by remembering a few things about them for later, so you can connect with them again.

Pay attention to things such as:

  • Life details (job, school, location)
  • Names
  • Favorite characters/classes
  • Specific shared moments

Think about this: What would make you feel remembered? If you ran into someone you hadn’t seen in a long time and didn’t know very well, what kind of recollections would impress you and make you feel like you were important to them? What do you think stands out about you? Try to look for similar things in others.

Not every encounter is going to result in a brand new friendship. In fact, most probably won’t. But you’ll never be able to connect with people if you never try. And you’ll still be making your game’s community better by being a friendly, helpful person.

Want to connect with people while you’re gaming?

Don’t force it

Let the game help!

Attitude

  • Be friendly
  • Help your team
  • Be a good sport, win or lose

Breakthroughs

  • Congratulate players on skillful plays
  • Thank your team when they save your skin
  • Laugh along when something funny happens

Connect

  • Take a breakthrough one step further, and team up or add friends
  • Learn something about your new friends
  • In game: favorite class/role, play style
  • Out of game: name, location, job/school, hobbie
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