The Nintendo Switch Just Reinvented Gaming

Today’s reveal of the new Nintendo Switch gaming system brings into focus five lessons every church leader needs to know to connect with millennial and iKids generations.  The new system, which will be available in March 2017, features a video of people in their twenties using the new gaming system to interact in multiple ways with their friends.  Here are five things we can learn about the thinking behind the system:

  1. Gaming is not just for children and teenagers.
    The gamers in the video reveal of the new system are people in their twenties who show how the versatility the Nintendo Switch fits into their on-the-go, in-the-moment lifestyle. While Nintendo’s previous systems were marketed to children and families, the Switch is clearly targeted to youth and young adults.
  2. Flexibility is a core value.
    The Switch is a hybrid of the traditional gaming systems like PlayStation or Xbox and a portable module, like the widely successful Nintendo DS system. First, it can be played like a traditional gaming system as it is hooked up to a TV. Second, its controllers can seamlessly be connected to a tablet with what looks like an 8-inch screen, which turns it into a portable gaming system that can be played anywhere.  Third, the two controllers can be removed to allow two players to play the same game as they look at the tablet. Fourth, it can be linked to other switches to allow multiple player gaming.
  3. The Switch fosters relationships.
    The Switch explodes the myth that gamers are lonely misfits who waste their time playing video games in the confines of their parents’ basements. Instead, its portability and the configuration of the controllers fits into a different narrative – gaming is about connecting with friends.
  4. The game doesn’t stop.
    In one section of the video, a gamer continues to play the same game as he moves through a variety of locations. With the Switch, you don’t have to pause.  The game continues from a ride in an airplane, a ride in a car, to your TV at your home.
  5. Its about the experience.
    While people may fixate on the release of a revolutionary gaming system, the goal of the gaming system is to create immersive experiences through which stories of valor, of overcoming, and finding hope give people meaning and purpose.

Questions for church leaders:

  1. What does Nintendo’s focus on creating a system for youth and young adults tell you of the importance of connecting with this generation?
  2. How flexible is your programing for youth and youth adults? Do you offer multiple options and places where people can connect with your ministry?
  3. How are you fostering the creation of meaningful and healthy relationships?
  4. How do you help people discover that their relationship with Jesus is an ongoing process that is active no matter where they are? How do you teach people to have daily and ongoing prayer, to read the Scripture in a way that informs everything they do, and to see each encounter with another person as an opportunity to share God’s love and grace?
  5. How are you turning your worship services into transformational experiences and creating multiple small groups and outreach group experiences where people can integrate their spirituality with their daily living?



Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age and Director of Congregational Development at Discipleship Ministries with the United Methodist Church

Our Experiences Make Us Who We Are

Sebastian Seung, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT, coined a term and wrote a book on the connectome. He is in the process of using the technology of the MRI to map the brain, which has millions of more connections than a person’s genome has letters.

His research has led to a novel idea, your personal identity is encoded in the pattern of connections between your neurons – in short, the sum of all the experiences you have had up to this very millisecond makes you who you are. He calls this the connectome.

Even more profoundly, the relationships we have with others – our families, colleagues, teachers, fellow believers, and even the barista at Starbucks, creates the experiences that form our identity.

Taken this a step further, in our digital world, these relationships even extend to our relationships to cultural leaders like sports stars, TV personalities, politicians, and musicians.  Witness the out pouring of grief over the death of Prince, who at 57 died well before his time.  People flocked to his home and left flowers.  Cities lit up buildings and bridges in the color purple.  Saturday Night Live dedicated its whole show to showing highlights of Prince’s performances as Jimmy Fallon hosted the tribute.

Why are we so deeply moved by the loss of people to who we have never met?  Because through the experiences of listening to their music, or rooting for them to win a game, or voting for them, or following their tweets, our brains have incorporated these experiences into our very being.

Morgan Freeman’s new series on National Geographic on The Story of God explored the topic of “Who is God?” in the third episode of the series.  In one scene he takes an MRI to see if there is an evidence of God’s influence in his brain. Dr. Andy Newberg uses MRIs to see if the brain changes as a result of prayer.  After asking Freeman to meditate on God, Newberg took a scan of his brain and showed the printout to Freeman.  He pointed to before and after pictures, which showed parts of his brain lighting up after Freeman had focused on the divine.  Newberg has done this test with many people of different faiths and found similar results.  The only group that does not have this kind of result are people who have no faith – after they focus their brains, no change happens.

Newberg is convinced that his results show how the brain is affected by faith, in effect, the neurons in our brains are shaped by our faith in God.

Of course to people of faith, this should come as no surprise.  Psalm 1 says happiness is tied to what we focus on.  Those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night” are like “trees planted by stream of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”

The connectome, the sum of all you are up to this moment, is deeply influenced by how you focus your time and the nature of your relationships.  These relationships, even if they are virtual, form your identity. The lesson is clear – how you spend your time and the ways you connect with others forms your very being – it makes you who you are.

The Black-ish Episode on Hope Challenges us to Care

Black-ish, the ABC sitcom in its second year of delivering powerful messages amid laughs, brought home the controversial issues revolving around police shootings and young African-American males in its most recent episode on “Hope.”

As the multi-generational family gathered around the TV waiting to hear the verdict in the most recent incident, each family member – from the grandfather who thought the police were thugs to the mom who wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt – voiced their opinions as news reports unfolded across the screen.

One of the threads that tied the story together was that the parents wanted to shield their two youngest children from the story. But as the episode unfolds, they come to realize in our ever-connected world of digital media, they needed to tell them themselves.

While we as adults have our own filters when it comes to issues of race, politics, and justice, this episode is a powerful reminder that each generation has to come to terms with the reality of the world, and it’s the older generation’s responsibility to show the youngest that they will do everything in their power to overcome so their children can live in a better world.

Questions for discussion:

  1. How do you protect children from the harsh realities of injustice and violence? When is the right time to talk about these issues?
  2. How do you offer them hope in the midst of what seems to be overwhelming odds?
  3. What experiences of overcoming do you have to share from your own life-story?
  4. How are you showing them through your own actions that you care about making the world a more just place for everyone?

More stories on this episode:

Black-ish and How to Talk to Kids About Police Brutality, The Atlantic
With Police Brutality Episode, ‘black-ish’ Shows How Sitcoms Can Still Matter, New York Times



5 Takeaways From CNN’s Study on 13-Year-Olds


CNN just aired a documentary on #Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens. The show revealed findings of a study of more than 200 eighth graders and their use of social media. After reviewing more than 150,000 social media posts collected from the students’ social media sites, the study revealed these findings:

1. Teens are on smartphones and tablets constantly.

It’s not unusual for teens to check their devices more than 100 times a day. Whether at school, home, or at an afterschool activity, social media is a constant companion and source of instant access to the online lives of their friends and peers.

2. Social media is a source of anxiety for many teens.

Rather than being on social media to share good things that were going on in their lives, the majority of those in the study said they were checking their social media sites to make sure no one was saying bad things about them and to check their status. Were their posts getting “likes”? Are their friends doing things without them? Are people saying bad things about them?

3. Rather than posting, many teens are lurking.

About 1/3 of those in the study said they spend a large portion of their time studying their friends’ and peers’ social media sites to figure out where they stand in the social pecking order. They look to see who is in and who is out, whose popularity in growing and whose is waning. On the CNN show, many of the teens said one bad post or picture could ruin a person’s reputation.

4. Social media use can be addicting.

The parents and the 13-year-olds on the show all agreed the use of social media is addicting. Before taping the show, the parents were asked to take their children’s phones away. One girl was shown sobbing. A couple of them said they would rather go without food for a week or be grounded than to have their phones taken away.

5. Parents who pay attention to their teens’ online lives erase the negative effects of social media.

Ninety-four percent of parents in the study underestimated the impact that social media was having on their children’s well being. Those parents who were actively engaged in their teens’ online lives were able to help their teens navigate the pluses and minuses of their social media use. When teens knew their parents were monitoring what they were doing, they were far less likely to engage in bullying or sexting or other inappropriate behaviors that are all too common in the social media lives of 13-year-olds.

One other comment from the show stood out. For this generation, their face-to-face lives are the same as their social media lives. There is no distinction.

Beyond the negatives, the study found that teens use social media to show support for one another, to encourage peers when they were going through personal struggles, and to defend one another from people who were saying negative things about their friends.

Questions for Parents and Churches:

1. How are you helping the children and youth in your church engage in face-to-face conversations away from social media?

2. How are you paying attention to the impact of social media on your children or youth?

3. What alternatives to social media do you offer? When do you have children and youth take a break? When do children and youth do an activity without social media?

4.  As an adult, how many of these things are true for you as well? Do you lurk?  Are you constantly comparing your friend’s posting with your real life?  Are you checking your phone over 100 time a day?  Does too much consumption of social media make your anxious?

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age. Go to for study guides for youth groups and parents.

The Release of Disney Infinity 3.0 Begins the Season of Star Wars Mania


When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise for $4 billion dollars in 2012, many assumed Disney would focus on reviving the Star Wars franchise by producing another round of movies. But this was only part of the plan. What Disney really wanted was the characters and the stories. For characters and stories have always put the magic in Disney.

Disney’s first cultural icon, Mickey Mouse, became the template upon which all future characters would be built. In 1928 he starred in Steamboat Willie, the first animated film to use synchronized music and sound effects. As the movie captured the imagination of popular culture, Walt Disney did what he did best — he teamed up with merchandisers to put Mickey Mouse in every house in America. Along with stuffed animals, Mickey appeared on pencils, in books, on children’s clothes, pillows, and sheets. Soon he had his own syndicated cartoon in the newspaper. But nothing said he had arrived better than the release of the iconic Mickey Mouse Watch, which sold over 11,000 units on its first day, a record for its time. But that was just the start. By the 1950s Mickey had his own television show, the Mickey Mouse Club, and a starting role in his own theme park, Disneyland, in California.

So when Disney purchased Star Wars, the production of movies was only one piece of the franchise pie. From now till the release of Star Wars VII The Force Awakens on December 18, 2015, a whole series of video games, animated TV shows, and books will be released to build momentum toward the opening of the movie.

Disney has even created a slogan and website called “Star Wars A Force For Change,” which promises to harness “the strength of Star Wars and its global fandom to empower people to come together to make a positive impact on the world around them.”

With the release of the video game Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars, Disney takes its popular toy-to-life video game to another level.  Included in the starter pack is the first of three Star Wars play sets that capture the breadth of the Star Wars story.  The starter pack comes with Twilight of the Republic, in which Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano battle during the latter years of the Clone Wars (episodes 1 – 3). The intergalactic adventure takes the characters to four planets, during which they battle droids as they try to save the republic from the separatists.

At the end of September the next play set, The Rise Against the Empire, will be released. Here gamers will be immersed in the original Star Wars movie universe (episodes  4-6) as they get to be Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia fighting against the Galactic Empire.  Then in December, in conjunction with the release of the newest movie, The Force Awakens play set will feature two new characters, Finn and Rey, that will allow gamers to play the in world of episode 7.

But this is only part of the story.  More than 100 playable characters will be included in the series, which at $14.99 a pop is quite an investment, along with the $64.99 starter pack and the $35.99 you pay for each additional play set.  Disney knows it will hard to resist the desire to play as Darth Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, and Han Solo in a Star Wars experience that puts the gamer in the midst of the action.

Beyond the play sets, Disney Infinity also includes the groundbreaking Toy Box that allows gamers to create their own worlds using Star Wars images.  But more than that, in the Toy Box, Yoda can also hang out with Elsa from Frozen or Woody from Toy Story or Hulkbuster from Marvel’s universe of characters.

While it’s easy to see this as an attempt to separate parents from their hard-earned money, not to be lost is Disney’s profound understanding of the appeal of Star Wars to grandparents, parents, and children alike.  For Stars Wars is not only an intergalactic adventure, it also is an intergenerational cultural experience that started in 1977.

People in their fifties and sixties can easily remember their first experience of the release of episodes 4 – 6, when “let the force be with you” became part of the cultural lexicon of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Those in their thirties and forties became immersed in the story in the 1980s and 1990s with the advent of Video Tapes and DVDs that allowed them as kids to watch the movies over and over again in their home theaters.  In 1999, the series got new life with the release of episodes 1 – 3, which introduced the series to a whole new generation.  Now with Disney Infinity 3.0, the grandchildren and children of Star Wars fans have the opportunity to be caught up in the story in a totally new way.  Not only will they be able to watch the movies, toy-to-life video gaming allows them to become the characters as they interact in the Star Wars universe.

With the release of Disney Infinity 3.0, Disney has redefined the Star Wars experience.  Rather than buying a particular game, it becomes its own game system, which can be played on any gaming platform from the Wii U to the PS4, from the Xbox One to the PC.  If you have a grandchild or child, don’t be surprised if you find yourself investing in Disney Infinity 3.0, because deep down, you know if you have it, you’ll get to play it too.

Questions for church leaders:

  • How do Bible stories and characters become an intergenerational experience?
  • How will you handle the cultural phenomenon of all things Star Wars that will reach its zenith right before Christmas?
  • Will you ignore it?  Reference it in your preaching? Create a study?


Digital Life – A Youth Group Study Now Available

This week over 4,000 youth from United Methodist Churches around the country will be gathering for Youth 2015 in Orlando. As part of the follow-up to presentations I will be making at the event, today I am releasing a free PDF that examines four critical issues facing today’s youth.  Digital Life – a Youth Group Study is designed for use by youth groups and it also can be used as a resource for small groups, for parent groups, and as an outline for a sermon series.

Here are the four key issues covered in this material:

Lesson One: Screen In
Today’s world is filled with screens. Whether at the store, school, home, in a restaurant, car, or even church, the screens on smartphones, tablets, computers, and TV monitors provide a constant stream of images and sounds designed to capture our attention. This lesson is designed to help youth explore how they use digital media and to discover how this affects the way they live on a daily basis.

Lesson Two: Face-to-Face
As youth spend more time on their techgear (smartphones, computers, and tablets), they spend less time in face-to-face conversations. While texting, emails, and messaging may be convenient, when it comes to serious matters, nothing is better than face-to-face interactions where we learn how to read and interpret non-verbal cues, a skill that is essential for developing ongoing, healthy relationships. This lesson explores the importance of face-to-face conversations.

Lesson Three: Branded
Through the use of digital technology, companies make a profound impact on the lives of teenagers. They now have the ability to track individuals through sophisticated online monitoring. Companies can now send ads and messages tailored to specific individuals. This lesson explores how youth experience and understand brands.

Lesson Four: Distracted
One of the most dangerous intersections in the world of digital technology is the car. This lesson explores the dangers of texting and driving as a way to explore the larger issue of how youth and adults live in a distracted state of being. The one myth to explode is the idea that multitasking is a good way to get things done. In the digital age, learning how to focus on one thing at a time is an important skill for mental, physical, and spiritual development.

Additional materials, including a presentation and handouts are also available for your use.

Use the link above (iKids Group Studies/Downloads) or click here to go to these materials.

Jurassic World Is Not About the Dinosaurs

With the release of the new movie, Jurassic World this week, I decided to read the original book by Michael Crichton which he wrote in 1990. As I got into the story I realized the book’s real focus was not dinosaurs. Instead, it is a riveting critique of the idea that science has the final authority on truth.

Crichton, who died in 2008, was a prolific writer who wrote a series of books that expressed an ongoing theme, he believed scientists had become more concerned about profits than discoveries that furthered the health and welfare of humanity.

In Jurassic Park, Crichton’s voice is heard in the words of Ian Malcom, a maverick mathematical genius. He was hired as a consultant to advise John Hammond, the rich entrepreneur who wanted to advance the field of genetic engineering, no matter the cost. Rather than be burdened by government red tape, he bought an island where he was free to do what ever he wanted in the name of science. His goal was to create a controlled environment where he could show the world the amazing things that could be done, even bringing dinosaurs back to life.

Throughout the book Malcom utters a series of remarks that skews the notion that scientists can control their creations. Malcom (i.e. Crichton) makes the case that the idea the physical universe follows a predictable, observable pattern has been overturned by mathematical discoveries like chaos theory and fractals. He also believed you can’t control nature. Living things will do anything to survive. Here are two quotes that sums up the theme that runs through the book:

“You decide you’ll control nature, and from that moment on you’re in deep trouble, because you can’t do it…Don’t confuse things. You can make a boat, but you can’t make an ocean. You can make an airplane, but you can’t make the air. Your powers are much less than your dreams of reason would have you believe.”                                                                                           (p. 351, Jurassic Park, paperback, 1990).

“My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn’t have cars and airplanes and computers and vaccines…it was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing…Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet – or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”
(p. 369 Jurassic Park, paperback, 1990)

So if you happen to go to the theater this week to watch dinosaurs break free of their constraints and eat some humans, be well advised that Crichton’s ideas have far larger implications. For him the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are a metaphor for how science without ethics and boundaries has the potential to unleash environmental catastrophes that in the long run won’t bother the planet one iota. The real problem is not what we are doing to the planet. Its what we are doing to ourselves.

If you take your iKid (the generation born since 2000) to the movie, here are a couple of questions for reflection:

  1. Why did the scientists create the dinosaurs?
  2. What scientific advances do you think are creating a better future?
  3. Which ones do you think are dangerous?
  4. Do you think we should use genetics to create new creatures? (Like combining the DNA of a monkey and a jelly fish so the monkey glows in the dark)
  5. How do we decide which discoveries are good and which ones are bad?

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age