Screenshot: Terraria

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?


Good news, friends. While the world is still dark and cruel, the universe uncaring and headed toward collapse, and the 2019 games release schedule surprisingly sparse, I’ve recently added a new ritual in my life, one that’s been borderline transformative for my general sense of mental and spiritual well-being: church.

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Wait, no! Don’t run away! I have so much literature to share!

But seriously: For the last month or so, I’ve added a new routine to my largely monotonous life of waking up, wondering why Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 hasn’t come out yet, and then slipping off back to bed. Getting up at 9 every Sunday—which, given that I normally work nights, was something of a shock in terms of learning what this “morning” bullshit y’all are always on was actually about—to log on to Discord for something called Gaming Church. This is an idea pioneered by the DM of my former tabletop gaming group, and like many of his ideas—allowing me to play a business-obsessed gnome warlock who constantly referred to his demonic familiar as “his assistant manager, Dave,” or the time he let us blow, like, four multi-hour play sessions on a fantasy celebration of seafood dubbed ShrimpFest—it was a stroke of genius.

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Gaming Church is simple: Everybody wakes up early on Sunday, hops on Discord, and then logs in to our collective Terraria world to mine the hell out of some digital ores and jewels. The somewhat repetitive nature of the game in question is key; while we sometimes find ourselves in hairy situations re: giant floating death eyeballs, the pleasures of Terraria are mostly found in contemplative mining, exploration, home decoration, and tinkering. In other words, it’s a perfect substrate in which to reconnect, chat, and just sort of bask in the warm glow of online friendship, a sort of digital knitting circle, if you will. (With, again, harpies and hordes of undead.)

Obviously, there’s nothing specifically novel about the idea that playing games with your friends is fun; that’s the premise of billion dollar industries, the vast majority of the most popular video games ever made in the last 40 years, and two beloved Jumanji films. (Soon to be three! Thanks, Dannys Glover and DeVito.) But it’s the ritualized element of the Sunday sandbox group, more than the game, that’s been so restorative for me (and everyone else involved, I think). All of us are in (or about to be in) our 30s, a point where prospective plans with friends have to start incorporating a variety of factors all lumped in under the general heading of “Jesus Christ, I’m tired.” Add in the difficulties of making friends at this age anyway, and the fact that the majority of us only met in the first place because of a shared desire to have a sort of communal experience with like-minded folks, and it turns out to be a sort of optimal solution. By having a standing date, combined with a low need for preparation or travel, it allows the group to forge and maintain a connection it couldn’t with a disorganized series of hastily assembled hang-outs.

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After all, the “Gaming Church” moniker isn’t just an ironic acknowledgment of our shared heathenism; it’s also a reminder that “church” is as much about community as homily, fellowship as much as faith. Or in the words of a million truly awful OKCupid profiles: It may not be religious, but it sure is spiritual—and it’s helped me reconnect with what I love about this hobby, and about my friends.

Also, this platinum pickax I just crafted is totally fucking sweet.

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