Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Grand Theft Bayard

Written by: on October 10, 2018

Growing up we didn’t play video games. My parents didn’t let us get anything more hi tech than an old school Nintendo, so while peers of mine in middle and high school were playing Super Nintendo, Sega, and even PlayStation, I was playing Tecmo Bowl and Paper Boy.

My brother and I didn’t really think anything of it. We weren’t too into video games anyways, preferring to play outside and hang out with friends. And then the unthinkable happened. My little brother, while pouring out his bowl of morning Frosted Flakes, found a brightly colored certificate in his bowl proclaiming him the winner of a brand new PlayStation. The course of our lives was changed forever. Within a few weeks (and luckily it was winter in Michigan . . . a good time to be indoors) we had a handful of games and were learning the new vernacular of the gaming culture.

I then played video games through the last year of high school, college and even seminary. I would help the middle and high school members of the church’s I served organize video game parties, always with non-violent games, of course, even though the rated M games would be discussed. FIFA, Madden, Mario Kart and Pokemon were favorites for church gatherings, while Metal Gear and Grand Theft Auto were more what I would spend time with. We had church wide FIFA tournaments that would last all weekend. Mario Kart rallies that were “intergenerational” before “intergenerational” was a ministry buzzword. It was a medium through which members of the church and I could truly connect.

I played video games on my own time too, it wasn’t just a social thing. I was living in New York City at the time and even though there are so many things to do in the city, some of those cold, wet, 36 degree February days beckon for staying in and revving up the PS3. A gaming highlight was the time I spent an entire night in Herald Square with a few thousand other people waiting for the Midnight drop of Grant Theft Auto IV. In the game I could actually visit the apartment building I was living in. It was, and still is, pretty amazing!

That game was released in 2008. Ten years later, I now have two children, and my video game playing days are over. I do my best to spend my time with my children and not my video game console. Do I miss the games? Sort of, but I would much rather be a Dad than a gamer. The one thing that I do miss is that I used to be able to discuss video games with members of my church. I haven’t been able to do that as much since I became a Dad, however, Pierre Bayard may have changed the way I “pastorally care” for my congregation moving forward.

When I shift the focus from books in his classic, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, to video games, I can use the same strategies just with a different field. Sure my “inner library” of video games may not be that modern, but I can still connect with someone over game play, thematic elements, the company that created the game, or I could even “praise it without going into detail.” [1]  If we are supposed to liberate ourselves from the shame or guilt of not being as aware as someone else about books, this certainly would work with video games. “To speak without shame about books we haven’t read, we would thus do well to free ourselves of the oppressive image of cultural literacy without gaps, as transmitted and imposed by family and school, for we can strive toward this image for a lifetime without ever managing to coincide with it.” [2]

I am a pastor, blessed with the call to serve God’s beautiful, yet broken people. Freeing God’s people from oppressive images seems to align well with my work. Bayard wants to do this through breaking an unrealistic cultural norm. I’ll follow his lead, using the medium of video games.


[1] Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010). Kindle loc 1350

[2]  Bayard, Kindle loc 1435.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

11 responses to “Grand Theft Bayard”

  1. Karen Rouggly says:

    YES! I love that you waited all night for GTA. And how freaking awesome that you could find the apartment you were living in. I also loved your thoughts on how video gaming can create intergenerational ministry, because Mario Kart is incredibly rewarding and frustrating no matter what your age.

    I like how you translated Bayard into your own context – good thoughts!

  2. Ha! I still play video games. I never got addicted to it but I do appreciate a good one from time to time. I actually only play one genre: Tom Clancy games.

    You do have a point in comparing knowing about games we haven’t played and books we’ve never read. It only takes me a few seconds from watching the preview to know that I either will be excited about a new game or not. I’ve developed the same kind of discipline to know whether a book is worth reading or not just by looking at the publisher name, table of contents, author bio, endorsements, etc.

  3. Jenn Burnett says:

    I really enjoyed your post Jacob! I had to laugh as I thought in Bayard fashion—Grand Theft Auto—Game I haven’t played, poor opinion of it. I know in the text version of Bayard’s book this was indicated by symbols but in my audio version it was spoken every time a new book was introduced. And it was in that moment that I realised I must have an inner library of video games I haven’t played but have an opinion about. Being a non-gamer, I am currently navigating how to guide my kids in their video game choices, and in particular my teenage son. I hadn’t thought about it before, but Bayard is particularly useful in equipping me for this task. I even have a site that I look to for other people’s comments about games in order to place them alongside other games I have become more familiar with. It is this work that helps us navigate much created work that we will simply not have the time to explore in depth on our own. Thank you for this useful connection! And let me encourage you, as your kids get older, I’m sure gaming will re-emerge as a useful hobby. This time as place of connection with your kids.

  4. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Jacob – thank you for this. My respect for you has only increased although I am not a big fan of video games. Don’t get me wrong, I nursed a bit of a Tetris habit in middle school. But I’ve never touched them again.

    My husband and I see play a bit differently and I am grateful for the difference. I tend to be more serious and productive (enneagram 3 :)) and he is less high-strung. Like you, he doesn’t play video games often but he isn’t opposed to them. My kids benefit from our differences as well. I am learning that play is essential to health and I am grateful God gave me a teacher right next to me in marriage.

    I think your use of games to connect with your congregation is wise and I appreciate the window into your world. Your people will be better because of it as well.

  5. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Nice job, Jacob, relating the scenario of video games and the reading of books. It is all relative. I loved your explanation of utilizing the same strategies into a different field. Nice transition, my friend. I agree that Bayard introduced a new way of ‘breaking an unrealistic cultural norm’ by introducing a new perspective that can work in other areas of life as well.

  6. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Great post, Jacob, by taking the concepts and contextualizing them wonderfully. The best pastors know how to do this with precision. I think the importance of the intergenerational aspect is true for books and gaming as well as other mediums that could connect us in more meaningful ways. As I think about it, Bayard really is teaching a form of contextualization that is important for the church to understand at many levels.

  7. Mary Mims says:

    Jacob, it is great you can use Bayard’s methods in your ministry context. I agree that there are times we do need to know about books, especially what’s popular and influencing your congregation.

  8. Rhonda Davis says:

    Thank you for sharing the story of your congregation. I am sure you were, and still are, connecting to the gamers in your church in unique ways. Thank you for your willingness to look for ways to integrate everyday life with spiritual community.

    Even though you don’t play as much as you used to, the lessons you learned through that time are still positive influences on your ministry. Even now, you are able to take something we all have in common (Bayard), and discuss it in a way that brings new truth to us. What a beautiful gift.

    P.S. I was a pretty avid Paper Boy player back in the day…game on!

  9. Thank Jacob for this insight, applying Bayard’s view on talking about books you have not read, I certainly see how I can help choose the right games for my teenage son for his X-box needs. As Jenn Burnnet has also observed, there sites where you can get reviews of different games that are helpful in choosing the right games. I also rely on other peoples review of books on Amazon in deciding what book to purchase and I realize that I can rely those reviews to talk about books that I have not read.

  10. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who had been conducting a little research on this.
    And he in fact ordered me lunch because I discovered it for him…
    lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah,
    thanks for spending the time to talk about this subject
    here on your blog.

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