I pressed the record button and let out a sigh. It was a Friday night, only the fourth day into filming and my eyelids were already drooping from hours of travel, research and interview transcriptions. The last place I wanted to be was at a gaming convention in a room packed with energetic and intelligent video game developers from around Denmark.
I was adamant we wouldn't need too much footage from the event as all our subject had to do was introduce the convention. The plan was to film her 15 minute speech and then pack up the gear and leave quickly before the next speaker. Instead we found ourselves cornered into the back of the room, unable to exit without disturbing the action. Defeated, we unwillingly stayed to watch the next guest speaker.
I let out another uninterested sigh as a jovial and bearded gamer emerged from the crowd and onto the stage. With a thick American accent he introduced himself as Ryan, an indie game developer, and by the subsequent applause he seemed highly respected by this gaming community. A short film later and we found ourselves hurled into Ryan's life story through a scene of a young boy in hospital. Ryan's poetic voiceover described the animated scene of a "snake, a serpent, a dragon with snuffed out coal on his breath" looming within the hospital room and threatening the child.
The short film was the trailer to Ryan's new game called 'That Dragon, Cancer'. The adventure game follows Ryan's own son's battle with cancer by the interactive retelling of the experiences Ryan and his wife faced. The game was designed to have the player experience the high and low moments of this period of Ryan's life, by using the game to provide an interactive platform for Ryan to retell his story. Ryan described the game as allowing players to "relive memories, share heartache, and discover the overwhelming hope that can be found in the face of death".
Grace and Grand Theft Auto
For the next hour Ryan told the audience of his child's cancer-ridden years and how they were depicted in the game. We heard of his joys in hearing his son laugh for the first time and then the disappointments, sleepless nights and haunting sounds his son crying in pain.
He then played another hospital scene from the game. "That night represented in that scene was one of the worst I experienced," he explained softy. "I was at the end of myself. I could not comfort my son. I could not fix him… in those moments of hopeless and prayer, my son did find peace".
I held back my breath at the realisation that this man's son had died — a mere month ago — slowly sunk in.
The crowd looked back at him, their eyes wide with interest. Why did this man want to relive this horrible experience? And why use a video game of all things to depict it? As if reading their thoughts Ryan went on to explain his motives.
To a packed room of young game developers he began unravelling his testimony of how he did not understand the full extent of God's grace until he faced having a child with cancer. He talked of how God showed up so many times during the journey and how it was his grace that allowed him to find hope in his child's death.
It was this personal revelation that Ryan wanted to portray in the game and showed this by the way in which God turned up in the final stages of the game. "What I wanted the player to understand is the grace of God," he told his captive audience. "It's not earned, Grace is a gift".
I was transfixed. Here I was, at a Danish gaming convention of all places, listening to a man talk of how he allowed his testimony impacted his art form. Ryan's game was unconventional and challenged the realms of ordinary gaming. Yet it illustrates a powerful yet simple point. Ryan knew as an artist that he had the opportunity of influencing his players. But unlike the creators of Halo or Grand Theft Auto, he didn't want to portray distorted views of things such as the state of the world, women or fun and instead decided to be intentional and portray what he believed.
Ryan is a game-developer, not a fully-trained evangelist. He didn't preach with persuasive words, but with tears streaming down his cheeks and sensitivity oozing from his lips. Yet by merely being intentional in his talk that night has triggered the same waves of impact as a trained evangelist. Ryan's testimony really illuminates the powerful impact Christians can initiate by merely sharing the change that occurs within their lives. When God revealed himself to the world he didn't send us theological books or lectures, he instead began with a story. People really identity with stories which I guess is why Jesus so often spoke in parables.
We've heard it a million times but it doesn't hurt to hear it again: whether it is in our art, our jobs or in our conversations, we have the opportunity to spark change in the mind-sets of those around us. What are the stories, those answers to prayer or God-inspired encounters we are holding onto that need to be shared with those around us?
As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, "when I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God… I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power" (chapter 2, Verse 1–4).
Ryan illustrates the fact that we need to stop limiting ourselves and our stories to certain times or places and allow God to demonstrate his power through our work, our art and conversations. A Danish gaming convention and spirit-led testimony seem like polar opposites, yet God managed to use them both to inspire an audience of gamers… or just a journalist all the way from New Zealand.
First published July 9, 2014
Elesha Edmonds is sad to announce the death of her thirteen-year-old pet fish who passed away whilst she was in Europe training to be a foreign correspondent journalist. In lieu of flowers, please feel free to follow @eleshaedmonds on Twitter.
Elesha Edmonds' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/elesha-edmonds.html