We recently caught up with Reverend Simon Archer1 to find out how he has combined a passion for gaming with support and spiritual guidance for his online gaming community. You can find him streaming on Twitch here2.
I’ve been gaming since I was a child. I grew up in the 1980s and was playing video games pre ZX Spectrum. I’m 46 now so I’ve grown up with technology and computers.
It was quite organic. Like many people my age, I didn’t get why people would watch someone else playing a video game. It seemed like madness. Why wouldn’t you just play the game yourself? Then I watched a few streamers on Twitch, like DrLupo and summit1g, and they sometimes had tens of thousands of people watching their streams. It was like a community and I really enjoyed that.
I noticed a lot of people talking about their mental health and well-being. So I thought it might be a good way of connecting to people who are disconnected from the church. I’ve got a church that’s blessed with a very diverse congregation in ethnicity, age and gender. But it’s not necessarily the norm so I’m always looking for people who are on the fringes of the church. Not because I want them to join the church but because part of my calling is to reach out and help people, and if I can’t connect with people then how do I help them?
You make friends playing games online and sometimes people would ask, “What do you do?”. When I said, “I am a priest” they would often go quiet as they’d been swearing for the last 6 months but then they would realize I’m just another person. It meant I was able to connect and sometimes it brought up conversations about faith or issues in their lives and we were able to talk about them. I realized this was clearly a platform where that worked.
It led to me starting up the streaming thing as there were people needing help who I could chat to and be present for. It’s what I call a presence ministry. It’s not putting myself out there in an overtly Christian content. I don’t pause the game and start reading scriptures or giving a sermon, and I don’t intend to do anything like that.
The idea is that people know I’m a vicar and they can join in the games or join in the chat. The community that I’m trying to build is really positive – they can ask difficult questions, talk about personal stuff and share what’s that’s going on for them. The only things barred are anything homophobic, sexist, abusive or anyone who comes in trolling. Apart from that it’s a holistic approach but also an inclusive one.
Gaming is an area that I have a really strong interest in, and to use something I’m passionate about to serve God and help people is really important to me. The question I always myself is “Where are people I can help?”. It’s part of the promise that I made as a vicar to seek out those in need. I wouldn’t say I’m that good at games but I’m generally good at speaking to people and building a rapport. I’m also good with technology. Before I became a priest I worked for Apple, and so I’ve been involved in technology for large parts of my career.
Do I think gamers are particularly vulnerable? If you haven’t got a group of friends, it’s hard to make new ones unless you have a particular interest. Joining clubs and groups doesn’t seem to be the thing these days so people tend to isolate themselves. But one of the places where they do connect is gaming online. I think we need to stop thinking so much about whether being online is real life because it’s real life for a lot of people. I can see there are dangers with any kind of obsessive behavior, and there needs to be a bit of balance. Hopefully, the way I talk about it and the way I live my life shows that balance is possible. I’ve missed my last two streams because of work, family and other things that have come up. Taking time out for other interests is so important which is why I also talk about stuff other than gaming. People have to fill their available space with something, and unfortunately devices work really well to fill those gaps.
Yes. A lot of people want to find out they’re in a safe space before they speak. Quite often someone who will pop into the chat and say hi a few times before they open up. I’m not professionally qualified to deal with some of the questions or situations, so knowing my limitations is really important. I also can’t do a one-on-one for potentially 1000 people as well as working 6 days a week as a vicar.
One of the things I’m working on at the moment is making sure people can still find help by signposting them to other services – like Mind, a mental health charity in the UK. I also work with mental health services in Bexley where I’m based. There’s lots of facilities locally but how do I deal with someone reaching out internationally? I know most countries have mental health services so I’m finding out how I can incorporate that into the chat messages that pop up, to ensure people can find the help they need.
No – and, quite shamefully, that’s shocked me. I thought I would get so many more problems. I’ve had comments from people on message boards and a couple of news boards. You’re always going to get that, especially because the articles and the videos from the BBC and CBS went everywhere. It was people trying to be clever, especially about the violence in video games. That’s what a lot of the questions were around. But actually, 99% were positive. It’s really easy to fixate on the negative ones but I just made sure I didn’t because I knew they might be coming.
Yes. It’s a bit like the online church services. The last thing we’re going to do is to stop offering online services as we’ve connected to new people, people who aren’t local, and people who are isolated. How could you reach out with a ministry and then take it away? I will continue streaming when I can but I’ve made it really clear that there are times when my congregation or family need me and I can’t stream. At the same time, I have a responsibility to those people who are using the stream as somewhere they can connect and find a bit of help as well.
I like being a parish priest too much to give it up. I love marrying people, baptisms, funerals, and community stuff so it’d be a really hard thing to leave behind. If I suddenly had enough subscribers to give me an income then maybe I could offer my ministry to the church for nothing, but I don’t think it would ever get to that stage. I do this as a personal ministry, it’s not really linked to my church, although the Church of England is happy with what I’m doing.
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