Nintendo, Sega, and the Gospel

What do the console wars of the 80’s and 90’s have to tell us about Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend recently gave me a Kindle gift of the book Console Wars and I have started reading it. It’s all about the war between Nintendo and Sega in the 80’s and 90’s. Now I had always been a Nintendo guy. What made me get into Playstation also was just one thing. Final Fantasy. Reading through this book, I think back to my own growing up time and all the events going on behind the scenes that I had no idea of and the connections Nintendo and Sega had with other events that I was unaware of.

I also am thinking about the Gospel. Sega did take on a giant in Nintendo. Ultimately, we know that they eventually lost to the point that now they make games for Nintendo. Still, there is something we can learn here. If we’re in apologetics, how do we take on the giant of unbelief today? If your objection is that Sega lost the war still, then I remind you that there is no silver bullet in evangelism. Perhaps we can learn from where they succeeded and from where they failed both.

The usual reply I get to something like this is that using some sort of marketing technique will mean watering down the Gospel. Not at all. We do not need to change one thing about the Gospel. We need to say sin is sin and Jesus is Lord and everything else still. What we can do is change our presentation to better reach the people.

Part of this is finding out what drives the desires of the people. For instance, we can consider that we think a series that has a great actor or actress in it could sell well, but this doesn’t follow. The Crazy Ones had Robin Williams in it and yet it only lasted one season. The Big Bang Theory did not have an all-star cast at the start and yet it is just now finishing its tenth season. What did the latter have that the former didn’t?

We’re seeing a lot of superhero movies coming out nowadays. Why? What is it about superheroes that drives us so much? This also includes retro heroes. I went to see the Power Rangers movie as soon as it came out as an example. That is a series that has been going on for over twenty years despite the basic theme never changing. What is it about all of these that is the draw?

Music. This is one area I do lack a lot in. My taste in music is pretty much restricted to Weird Al Yankovic (the greatest musical genius of all time) and video game music. If I had to choose a decade, I would go back to the 50’s and 60’s. I consider too much of modern Christian music to just be light and fluffy. Still, why do people like the songs that they like?

As we come to understand people and what they like, we can come to learn how to approach them. If you go to an honor-shame culture and you give the Gospel in a Western way, you will not reach a lot of people with it. Describing God as a judge to them means He’s someone who can be bought off easily with a bribe. Talk about sin and they’re confused. Talk about broken relationship and dishonoring God and they will understand. In the same way, we have to work with our culture.

We often go on to the truth question immediately, but that might not be where they’re at. If it was truth that was the driving force, everyone would be going to the library regularly trying to study and learn. Perhaps we need to find out what drives the culture and how we can use that.

C.S. Lewis did this with the Chronicles of Narnia. Few little children would really go to a library and get a book about Jesus and study it, but in learning about Aslan, they found they learned about Jesus. Lewis managed to sneak past the watchful dragons of his day. If we present just an argument and have no reason for people to really care about the argument, then the fact is they will not care about the argument.

If you think I’m changing the Gospel, again, I am not. Christians have adapted themselves to the internet, social media, and any other new forum that has come along. My own ministry partner makes apologetics-themed cartoons on YouTube. The material he presents does come from scholarly sources. Again, few people will go out and read those scholarly sources, but having it in an entertaining format brings it to the people. The entertainment factor also makes a point of it. Several years ago Boss Tweed’s biggest problem was a cartoonist named Thomas Nast. Why? Because he knew people would not read articles against him, but they will read cartoons.

As we go into these other areas, we need to make sure we’re producing high quality material. If we make Christian movies and only Christians see them, we really haven’t done much. The Case For Christ movie recently has been a great exception to this. Even Richard Carrier said that it’s a good movie. There was no scene in it that you had the Gospel rammed down your throat. Too often in Christian films, we have thought we had to spell everything out because otherwise, the audience is just too stupid to catch on. It’s worth pointing out that Lee Strobel’s original book The Case for Christ caught on so well because he made it not just a book of facts, but a story with real discussions going on. We could argue that the Da Vinci Code did the same thing. Sure, the information was bogus, but the concept was the same. People started thinking about the claims of the book more and if we wanted academic discussions, that was a gateway to those discussions.

At this point, I’m still pondering how all of this will work out. The main point I have is to find the people where they’re at and start with what matters to them, why it does, and see how the Gospel meets that need. For instance, we can talk about the truth question all we want, but it’s not likely to faze a guy who is not becoming a Christian because he wants to keep having sex with his girlfriend. If you think that scenario doesn’t exist out there, you’re incredibly naive. What we can point out is that the Gospel has an extremely high view of sex (I find it amazing that so many non-Christians treat it as if just a biological function and physical activity alone and we’re the ones saying it’s so much more) and that if we go the path of Christianity and its rules on sex and marry with those, we can have a far better sex life than we would without. We are not opposed to his desire for sex as there’s nothing wrong with that, but we think that the Gospel has a much better way to appreciate it. Note that in all of this, I did not say that sex outside of marriage is okay. It isn’t. It’s just going to be convincing someone that they can hold off on something now so that they can appreciate it in a greater way later on if they marry.

Like I said, I’m still pondering. I’m only about a fourth of the way through the book and I’m sure there’s a lot more to learn. I’m taking Kindle notes regularly to try to see what steps were done that I think correct and what steps were incorrect. How did Nintendo successfully share their product? How did Sega not?

I appreciate any suggestions anyone else has on this. Consider this blog some thinking out loud as you will. This is not the final word on a conversation, but I hope it will not be the only one either. I prefer it to be the first of many here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

  • I think part of why the Sega brand failed was that they tended to innovate in the market too far in advance (the Dreamcast had an online mode, the Genesis had a videogame streaming rental service, etc). The other aspect is that early on, they really had a tendency to market as “the cool system with edgy games.” So as those kids got older and had kids, they might have been less likely to buy Sega products for their kids. Whereas Nintendo marketed games that required mature problem solving and reflexes but with family friendly themes and stories. There’s more to it than that, but those aspects are important.

    • I agree. Have you read how I have put up a review of Console Wars now?

      • I hadn’t. I’ll check it out.

  • Lionel Starr

    I remember back in the late 80s/early 90s the Genesis was for older kids in high school while the NES was for kids in elementary.If fellow high school classmates found out you had a NES they didn’t make fun of you but they would think why doesn’t this dude have a Genesis.Man I’m late to this article.