March 30, 2012

Bubble-Bursting



Just because we're a Christian game company doesn't mean we'll succeed.

Sounds odd coming from a person of faith, but we in the Church have bought into the erroneous view that being Christian is a lock for God's blessing over everything we touch.

Fact is, 

1) You don't need Jesus to be financially successful.
2) Being on God's side does not exclude you from business risks.

To be real with you, I've seen many Christian endeavors go badly. In fact, part of the reason we have to fight against the negative stereotype of low-quality Christian entertainment is because of a history of low-quality Christian entertainment!

People have seen bad Christian movies that are clearly out of touch, made by people with good intentions. People have played bad Christian games that seem like rip-offs of popular games + Jesus. There is simply a lack of trust that emanated from lots of misses and very few hits. (Worst of all, the good games don't get noticed.)

Question: For the people who made the games or movies (and thanks to them for their efforts), could there have been an assumption they held that said their efforts would succeed because their games focused on God? That God would surely bless their efforts to advance His Kingdom?

What if those assumptions are wrong? What if their having a clean heart does nothing for their product? What if they're operating off an Entitlement Theology?

That's the danger we face as a Christ-following entertainment company. Feeling that we are entitled by virtue of our good intentions and Christian message (or our community contributions, or our tithes and offerings, or our good character, or our prayer life) to be prosperous in whatever we do. 

Our danger is assuming the supernatural power and favor of God is going to automatically be given to us. Our danger is not doing due diligence to become good writers, good programmers, good financial stewards, good artists, good musicians, good marketers, good producers. Our danger is being lazy on God, expecting Him to do everything for us, as though we don't have to grow and mature. Cuz God's got it all under control. Is that your mindset? When you plan for church events and programs, or when you have to perform some service for the church, like praise and worship. Do you assume people will show up? Do you assume the song will go well? Just show up?

What arrogance.

Reality check: God will let you fall on your face to teach you responsibility. Your choices matter, and you will face consequences. But that's why Jesus put out the invitation to take His yoke upon you and learn from Him. Just being with Him makes little difference. That's passive. You must learn from Him and practice to be effective. That's active.

Put in the work. The only place you'll find success before work is in the dictionary.

March 22, 2012

Some Basics



A few posts into the new blog and yet we still haven't identified the problems we're facing. Well, time to address that now.


The problems we face as a Christian game developer are manifold. And might I add, as a Christian game development company whose founders are mostly inner-city African-Americans, the issues we face mount even more. But, here's the condensed list of things we want to tackle:



  1. Knowledge of God
  2. Respect for others
  3. Access to opportunity and growth
If you think about it, most if not all of society's problems can be boiled down to those three issues. If I'm missing something, let me know. But for now, let me expand a bit on these.


Knowledge of God

We live in a time when many people in the West profess to know God. Many would call themselves Christians. To be honest, I question that. Many of the things we say we believe about God either are mere head-knowledge that doesn't translate to our daily lives ("I believe in God"), or are superstitions and colloquial phrases that sounded good at the time ("God helps those who help themselves"), or are really just our way of distinguishing ourselves from Muslims. And in either case, many of us see God as someone to run to for shelter from Hell and (maybe) life's problems.

But God has so much more to do with your life than just keep you out of eternal fire. God wants to be part of your life, not just there for your death. And He wants us to know Him! And He is best represented by His Son, Jesus. 

Our desire at Renewal Corporation is to use our games as a visual and interactive way to show how God works and how He thinks. We want to make the Bible's lessons become real for you. If you're in doubt, I'll tell you from experience how relevant and true it is, and how it transcends circumstances. You'll truly feel like you benefited from reading and understanding it.


Respect for others


Let's be real. We know how to be jerks to each other, and we can truly be very inconsiderate. There's no end to the list of little things we do to each other in addition to the big things.

Personally, I believe that the way we envision God dictates the way we treat people. What I mean is, the way we believe God acts is the best way, and if we see God as behaving in a certain manner, we emulate that. So if we see God as bossy and controlling, we emulate that and become bossy and controlling. Whatever we look at in life, whether that's God or some other figure we admire, we look at their traits and emulate those in our own lives. And they have ramifications on our treatment of people.

So, as you'll see in our games, situations will come up that demonstrate how we treat each other, both as good examples and bad examples, and you'll be able to see yourself from another angle.

Another angle where this is applicable is within the company. One reason why I want to start this company is to be fairer to our employees, and seek everyone's benefit, not just the owners' or the stockholders' or the customers'. I believe we fundamentally must look at employees as more than just cogs in a wheel. Just as we show in our games, we also practice in real life as we make the games. In doing so, it's also my hope that we reexamine our business assumptions and practices and see why we do what we do. Part of my reason for going to a Christian school was to strip off some of the world's assumptions on business and begin looking at things from an enlightened perspective. I wanted to be sure there were no godless views that slipped under my nose. And I'm hoping we can do the same for you and the game industry.


Access to opportunity and growth


Maybe it's just me, but looking back, I admittedly feel like my opportunities were isolated growing up. Not even always because there was no access to be seen or heard of back then, but also because sometimes I isolated myself. I was always hesitant to do anything in addition to schoolwork because I didn't want to get distracted and harm my already mediocre grades.

But from what I see and hear around my community, opportunity is hard to come by, as is strong education and jobs. It's one thing to tell someone to go to school and get good grades, but to what end? To work someone's job? What if I don't want to work for someone else? How can you help me prepare to be independent and do my own work? And what if my subjects don't teach me what I want to really learn? What if my subjects in school are only geared towards getting a job, but not creating one?

These are the kinds of opportunities I'm referring to. Yeah, it's a hint at a liberal arts education, which we really need to stop talking down. But it's also trying to get us out of the mindset (or rather, the box) of there only being one way to get ahead in life. I want to reshape the conversation, particularly in the Black community, and expand our minds towards the possibility of owning our own business instead of always having to work for someone else. That, I think, is much more holistic than just acquiring skills and hoping to land a job in this tough economy.

Using our games, we'll expand that conversation a bit, but also directly pour into our players with new insights and skills they can grow from. No, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be doing heart surgery in games, but it does mean that as a player, they will not only be entertained, but also personally enriched. Beyond that, our efforts in the community will also be tangible. "Renewal" will be felt not only in our players' hearts, but also in the industry, and in the communities we dwell in.

So those are the basics.

March 18, 2012

What would you do with $80 billion?



If you saw our Facebook page, you may have seen a preview of a coming blog entry, so here it is:


What would you do with $80 billion? This came up in regards to Apple having more money than the US Treasury. I'm not going to hate on Apple for having that much money. In fact, the very fact that they got it without government bailouts or assistance is one reason to look favorably upon them and aspire to do the same.


The customers gave them their money on their own volition because Apple offered a good product, as opposed to them having political connections and getting bailouts when business is rough from the taxpayers. Big difference in having wealth vs how it was acquired. (Manufacturing practices, however, may be a different story, but I don't know enough about it to render a judgment.)


Normally when we hear of corporations and money, we're led to assume that the purpose of the company is to make lots of money so everyone within the company can live well (or the stockholders at least). In reality, most companies were always founded on the idea that there was a need they could serve in society. As for the money, it is like air: We need to breathe to live, but we don't live to breathe. We don't exist to make a profit, but we do need to be profitable.


We at Renewal keep this clear fact at the forefront. We have the potential advantage of being in a high-grossing field in video games, and so we see an opportunity to do great benefit to society. As such, there's no feasible reason for us to sit on $80 billion. There are too many people hurting that we could use that money to benefit.


And it's not all handouts. I'm so sick of handouts I don't know what to do. Handouts only alleviate symptoms of greater systemic problems. They don't SOLVE issues. With the money Renewal receives, we look to use that to SOLVE problems and truly get people back on their feet. And to be honest, that entails a whole lot more than just a handout. People are too complicated for handouts, but we think we can throw money at problems and expect issues to go away. No. That's insulting my humanity. Will you dig deeper than your money pit and help me with some community and fellowship? With some mentorship and personal development? Yeah, money is a need, no doubt. But it's far from the end-all, be-all.


If we had the privilege of stewarding billions of dollars, our goal would be to develop people from the inside-out and enable them to get on their feet on their own accord, with minimal assistance needed. Of course, we're just starting out. So it's just an aspiration right now.


But that means something to me as a relatively poor young man. I grew up in a loving home and developed my sense of identity through my relationship with Christ. My self-esteem was strengthened through Him before I had anything. Heck, I still don't have anything. But I know who and what I am, and I know what God wants me to be in life. That's purpose. Money doesn't grant purpose, it acquires stuff.


Let's do more than acquire stuff. Let's build purpose and vision.

March 12, 2012

Game Design Philosophy




First off, thanks for your time and attention. I appreciate the fact that you took out time to read up on us and hopefully engage in our dialogue about society, the industries we're involved in, and theology.


I've been planning to make games since 2002, and so on my journey I've had lots of time to think about and examine my beliefs on game design and how it should work.


First of all, when I use the phrase "Christian games", several images always come to people's minds:


  1. Oh, well it's Christian, so it's not going to be violent.
  2. It's a reenactment of Bible stories.
  3. It's going to suck.
  4. If it doesn't suck it'll be extreme and make Christians look bad publicly.
  5. It'll be too preachy and turn off players.
  6. It'll be too subtle and players will miss the message.
  7. Ooh, something for my kids to play.
These perceptions are my uphill battle, but if I may, I want to turn your attention to another saint who did an exemplary job at faithfully proclaiming the Gospel while also delivering a good product: Lecrae. He's a Christian rapper I learned about when I came to Calvin College.





He's noted for being a skilled lyricist, his message is unmistakably Christian, and his beats are something you'd proudly thump in your car. As such, he's seen a lot of success and garnered lots of exposure. He's so prominent because he was one of the first Christian rappers to produce industry-standard music when the image was that Christian rap was unbearable.

In the same way, my approach to game design is that it's a game first. I can't just throw garbage on a disc and attach "Jesus" to its label and say this is why people should buy it. "God bless this mess." No. It needs to be a worthwhile product, if just for personal fulfillment, much less ministry. As such, all of my games have to pass a two-pronged test: If it's a Christian game, why should a nonbeliever buy it? What's the hook? And second, what does this game do for God's people?

Next, my approach to game design is entirely different. We serve a creative, original God. I'm sure I am overlooking fine examples of Christian games on the market today, but the image of Christian games is that we're making knock-offs of original games, that our games aren't innovative, etc. Not only am I turned off by the idea of making a knock-off of some hit game, I'm also equally turned off by making a reenactment of Bible stories.

I'll be frank: Even if I wanted to remake those stories (which has been done in the past), there isn't enough content in Scripture to make a lengthy 10-hour game, unless it's a compilation of multiple Bible stories, which unfortunately splits our attention. But even more important is that God has done more than what's in Scripture. Look at your own life for evidence of that. Why can't I then craft a story based off an original concept?

What I want to do is craft a Bible-esque story. It wouldn't necessarily be PG-13 material. God is good and so is His Word, but that doesn't mean that it's always kid-friendly. It ministers to every age group, and likewise, so do my games. And like Scripture, it won't pull any punches about the character's true nature. The very character you may play as may be just as lovable as he is sinful, like David. Characters won't necessarily be all good or all bad, just like real people. Nor will their actions only act as a positive example; this comes off as forced and disingenuous, and players will see such spiritual maturity as unattainable. Rather, the character will make decisions as though no one is watching, and the player will take note from the results and really think about what they would do in a given scenario.

At the end of the day, I want to challenge assumptions about what a Christian game is, by first making a game that's "real". It must minister to players where they are. It must be original, because we serve a creative God who can inspire THE best games imaginable. Our challenge is to counteract the narrative you hear in the larger culture with our own narrative, to reshape the way you approach the problems you encounter in life. 


Let's renew culture. Let's renew life.

Who Am I? And Who Are You?




To give you a good idea of who I am, here's the quick-and-dirty:

I'm Jamaal Fridge, a 24-year-old from Chicago's Southside. I was raised Christian, but became more dedicated in late 2004.


I am studying Business Marketing/Entrepreneurship at Calvin College, a Reformed Christian liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, MI. In Chicago, I'm a member of Zion Faith Center Bible Church (9993 S Throop), and have been there since late 2008.

I and several friends plan to start the Christian video game design studio, Renewal Corporation, not long after graduation. The book you've been hearing about, "5th Grade Challenge" is derived from one of the video games we hope to develop soon.

I see my career as ministry and our games as evangelism. I like to think of new and different approaches to reach out to people, and am less and less excited about the prospect of being a pastor; to me it feels too restrictive and narrow.

Politically speaking, I'm a Libertarian; I reject the false dichotomy of being Republican or Democrat. To me, they're both the same, just with different rhetoric. I like the idea of being able to do absolutely whatever I want as long as I don't harm someone else; I find Chicago entirely too restrictive.

On doctrine, I'm a Calvinist. I see God as absolutely in control of everything, especially overseeing our salvation given our corrupt nature. I believe God created everything good and therefore we should have a comprehensive view of life and ministry, and minister to society in (almost) every venue possible.

So that's me. Hopefully in the near future I can introduce the co-founders and give you a better sense of who they are and what motivates them.

Now, to take this one step further, I have a strong belief that we in the body of Christ don't know each other, and that hurts us because we don't know what incredible resources we are ignorant of. We are ignorant of the value of the person sitting next to us in the pews! So in the comment section below, I'd like you to identify yourself (if you're comfortable with that), and let us know who you are and what is important to your personality, faith walk, ministry, etc. In the future we may have a more private setting to share such information, but for now, this may have to do.

Welcome



Welcome.

This is the first post of the official blog for Renewal Corporation. By the time you've seen this blog, you've probably also seen information about my book "5th Grade Challenge", a Christian novel for kids.

I started this blog for the sake of the company that we will soon launch. Renewal is a game design studio that I expect to be based in Chicago. We have a vision for making games for the people of God in order to begin transforming society. More on that later. But for right now, I start this blog so long before the we begin releasing books and games because I want to have a backlog for parents, pastors, teachers and other concerned people of the community to look through as they also learn about the book, my personal ministry and beliefs, and my recommendations. I want to start a substantive conversation about the state of our community and what can and must be done to revive it and stop the needless violence that occurs.

The purpose of this blog is both to provoke thought and equip you for action, as I hope our books and games do. I want to give you insights and perspectives that can make your individual calling as a Christian less daunting and paralyzing. The problems we face are real, so what are we prepared to do about them? And if we are prepared to do work to correct our issues and renew our community (wherever that may be for you), what kind of work would be most effective?

Let's explore that together.