Mikee Bridges is a missionary and he wants gamers to know that Jesus loves them. That's pretty much the extent of it, but he also knows that most people have already stopped listening.
"It's hard," he admits. "There's three basic reactions. Actually, there's a lot more of them than that, but the three main reactions are: the staunch atheist, kill Christians type, the staunch right-wing, American Christian, conservative guy and people who are cool, surprised that they got a message of, 'Hey, Jesus loves you,' without anything else."
Mikee isn't standing on street corners or knocking on doors. He's part of a Christian outreach program called GameChurch, which takes a notably low-pressure approach to its work. Largely, he and his colleagues spend their time at a booth on the show floor of events like PAX and EGX, handing out flyers, pamphlets and free stuff to gamers. He's not chasing them with prophecies of doom, not condemning their habits. He's not looking for people to sign up to anything, anyone to proselytise or evangelise at. He's not telling people that games are evil, corrupting or wrong - he's telling them that games are good, Jesus loves you and, actually, those things are entirely reconcilable.
"There's nothing attached to it," he says, almost with an audible shrug. "We're not forcing anything on anybody. We won't approach you, you don't have to approach us. The message is real simple, real clear, three words, Jesus loves you, and we have a bunch of free crap to give you. Take it or leave it, it's free crap."
"The atheist and the Conservative, they're the same person. They want blood. They want to argue with you"
Gamers, he says, are generally the least of his problems.
"The atheist and the Conservative, they're the same person. They want blood. They want to argue with you. They want to argue whatever, theologically on one side, and whatever atheist stuff on the other side. The atheists walk up and go, 'What do you think about homosexuality? What do you think about abortion?' All the hot button items. The Christians do the same thing, it's really great. We don't usually give them the time of day because they just want to fight in a dramatic thing. We're not into that. It's real simple. I'm a Mexican food restaurant. If you don't want Mexican food, don't eat there. This is what I've got, if you don't like it, I'm sorry, I don't have Italian food here, go somewhere else. I don't have any. I don't have the time, because there's five people behind you that I would like to give free stuff to.
"My first Christian walks by the booth really briskly. He comes back three seconds later, puts his finger in my face and he goes, 'I hate what you're doing.' Then he walks away. And then he comes back and he goes, 'I'm a Christian."
"The first couple of hits, we were like... the first time a guy walked up to me in Seattle, he was an atheist guy, and he just didn't give a damn. He came out six guns blazing. Just, 'What do you guys think about homosexuality and homosexuals and all that? What's your stance on that?' Back then I was trying to answer all that stuff personally. He's just hacking and slashing and all that stuff. I'm like, 'Look, man, you gotta go. You just want to kill someone. Okay, you killed them, you win. Now go away.' You know? Bullying.
"Christians do that, too. My first Christian guy, that I will never forget, walks by the booth really briskly. He's hauling ass somewhere. He goes walking by shaking his head. He comes back like, no joke, three seconds later, puts his finger in my face and he goes, 'I hate what you're doing.' Then he walks away. And then he comes back and he goes, 'I'm a Christian.'
"'What are you guys doing?' That's the whole of Christianity, when it comes to negative stuff with us. You don't understand what we're doing, first of all. You're just reacting to it. React, go ahead. I'm not codependent so go ahead. Have a fit if you want to."
Bridges doesn't spend all of his time on the showfloors. Alongside the 'free crap' programme, GameChurch also runs discussion groups, a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a genuinely well-written website of games coverage (mailing list motto: "It's not spam if it's from Jesus!). If I'm honest, I struggle to conceal my surprise at how good the site is: as a sceptic and an atheist I just don't expect much from religious organisations. I apologise to Bridges for my preconceptions and he shows the same benevolence he did when I made a terrible pun about stigma earlier in our conversation. He also reassures me that he's used to the cynical reaction.
"When we first started it, the website was sort of a sideline. We'd go to the shows and do that. Then, we like to be really funny, whether or not people understand us being funny. We just started dicking around with video gear and just started making stupid videos. Some people watched and all that, but long story, we met these guys that are journalists and they got really involved with Gamechurch.
"A lot of Christians will come up to me and go, 'You know, Jesus wasn't harsh.' Yes he was, yes he was. He was very harsh sometimes"
"As they were doing that we kind of just morphed into one. They started being the editor and managing editor of the website. They're fantastic writers. We're actually very well known in the journalism and independent game developer's network. Our guys that are writing about whatever's out there, whatever they're writing about this week, or blogging in the podcast, all of those things are gaining traction in a regular world because Christians just suck at doing things great.
"It's very few and far between you'll find somebody doing something great. We wanted to do something great. I don't want it to be like, 'Oh, here comes the Christians, it's going to suck again.' I agree with you, most of the time it sucks, it's terrible."
I've firsthand experience of exactly this kind of cringeworthy attempt at youthcool. I'm an atheist now, but I'm also what I guess you'd call a lapsed Christian. I grew up in a tiny English village where the Church was a massive focal point and as a child I was largely surrounded by a generation to whom the Church, both the institution and the building itself, had served as community centre, social network, council and counsel. I was raised Christian, baptised, confirmed and, for a time, a weekly churchgoing choirboy. (Pictures exist, but dignity is already such a thin and fading memory.) I've endured Christian rock, witnessed the outreach programs and the misjudged attempts to infiltrate the world of carefree quiescence with the rigours and expectations of religion. Frankly, you don't need many vicars singing reggae to make you cynical.
"I don't think we're your typical emotional Christians," Bridges laughs. "A lot of Christians will come up to me and go, 'You know, Jesus wasn't harsh.' Yes he was, yes he was. He was very harsh sometimes. They're like, 'This isn't filled with passion and grace and all that.' You know what? You're right, it's not and neither am I. Sometimes I am and sometimes I'm not."
"The bible is super violent! Holy crap. Holy crap. No video game that you and I have ever played can match how violent the bible is"
There's a pretty big issue that I've danced around so far, whether because of Mikee's laconic charm or my vestigial C of E reserve, but I bring it up now. Games, on the whole, really don't tend to be particularly Christian. Sure, you have the occasional, usually dire attempt at an overtly Christian game, like Bibleman Video Game Adventures, but Bridges is explicitly clear that these are not the sort of games he'd expect anyone to be playing, nor the sort of games that he's playing himself. Still, though, isn't there something of a disconnect between the teachings of Christ and teabagging the remains of a teenager who's just been energetically redistributed with an RPG?
Not for Bridges.
"One, is the bible is super violent," he vents, with genuine but well-practiced impatience. "Holy crap. Holy crap. No video game that you and I have ever played can match how violent the bible is. It's gnarly. There's so much going on. I mean crazy, crazy, crazy stuff. And, okay, the second one is, I really think that if Christ were here and you wanted to play a game with him, I don't care what game it is, he would play it with you. Because he would just want to be around you.
"My bigger thing for people is, what can you handle. If you have a problem looking at women and if you're objectifying them and you have a mind problem with that, then don't play games that go that route. If you really feel convicted about violence in video games, and it's just not good for you and you don't need to see that, then don't play it. Parents, don't let your kids play those games. It's good parenting. It's self-control. Then move on. Yes, I can play GTA5 and have no problem with it at all. It doesn't bother me. Whereas, the next guy, it's going to bother. Okay, cool. It bothers you? Don't play it, period.
"If you want to question why it bothers you, do. Does it bother you because you've been told that this is good and this is bad, or does it bother you because you have a conviction inside of you and you really need to not look at that? I respect the second. Honestly, I think people put too many things into God's area. Like, 'You know, he wouldn't want me playing this game.' I can see him up there going, 'I didn't say that.'"
The other side of the coin, then. If games are an effective method of reaching people, of establishing common interest and sharing views, is there a potential for the games themselves to do the Lord's work?
"Unfortunately it's kind of like the movie industry. What we need to do is have Christians stop making movies, period"
"I wish," Bridges exhales. "Unfortunately it's kind of like the movie industry. What we need to do is have Christians stop making movies, period. No Christians should be allowed to touch a movie anymore. Unfortunately I don't think it's going to happen because Christians really think that they're doing something great. They think that they're doing something great in movies and in video games because they're insulated. Because of their insulation, they can't see the outside world, so they actually don't get out into it. They trip up on a few bible verses about not being a part of this world, but being in it.
"I think they trip themselves up to think that they need to really segregate themselves from everything that is, quote unquote, worldly. By doing that you're not seeing the other side. You're not seeing a whole bunch of things that you need to see in order to make something that's awesome. I can't give you an experience unless I've experienced [it] and I can't experience [it] unless I get rid of everything and go experience something. You know what I mean?
"I don't need my American Christianity to filter out a whole bunch of what life is, unfortunately or fortunately. Movies, anything that's going on, we're seeing Christians grab a hold of something, all the Christians in the church go, 'Rah, rah, rah. Let's go back this and make this perfect, make it great.' They go back it and then you get a piece of crap movie that a whole bunch of churches are going to go see so it looks like it's doing well, when really it's not. It's just you're rallying all the Christians together.
"It's really lame. They get a kind of a shot in the arm to go do it again. That's why Kirk Cameron's still an actor. You know what I mean?
"Unfortunately that's, I think, where we're at, even with video games. However, there are little lights here and there. That Dragon, Cancer speaks of faith. It is a great story and it's a true life story and they're wonderful people. They're not that sappy, Christian-y Christian that's trying to force anything on anybody. It's a great story. It'll bring you to tears, period. I like that. That authentic, 'Here's my story, you can listen to it or not. I don't care, but it's my story. It's coming from my perspective. Here's what I know, check this out. Come live part of my life with me.' I love that."