In the weeks leading up to the launch of the Love Thy Nerd website, I sat down with the Chief Nerds of LTN. The organization was beginning to take shape, and I wanted to hear what the leaders of Love Thy Nerd had in mind for their future. They shared not only their passion for nerddom, but also their plans to change the way the church responds to nerd culture.
[Editor’s note: this is an abridged version of the interview. If you can’t get enough, you can read the full transcript of the interview here.]
Madeline Turnipseed: What is LTN? How do you present LTN to people when you tell them about it?
Chris Gwaltney (Chief Executive Nerd): We are nerds, and we love nerds. That includes everything: gamers, comics nerds, bronies, furries, otaku, all the things. We want nerds to know that they’re valued. This desire comes from our belief in Jesus and what He asked us to do, which is to love our neighbors. To us, nerds are our neighbors. So our mission is to be the love of Jesus to nerds and nerd culture.
One thing that’s a driving force for us is that unfortunately, Christians haven’t done a great job of this loving-their-nerdy-neighbor thing. At best, the church has ignored nerd culture, and at worst, the church has demonized it: protesting conventions or any number of other things. We wanted to get in there and speak a different story about love and acceptance and what Jesus believes about this group of people.
We see it as telling two gospels. Of course, there is only one gospel, but that word “gospel” literally means “good news,” and we have two pieces of good news we want to share. The good news we want to tell nerds is that they are loved and valued no matter what. In the other direction, we want to tell Christians the good news about nerd culture: that it’s valuable and there are things that we can learn from it.
There are three essential ways we intend to do this.
The first of these is by producing thoughtful content. To really dig deep and say, “What are the meaningful moments in these games? How do they speak to us as humans? What does it tell us about our own lives? Our family? Our relationships? Our faith? Our belief or lack thereof?” And this will extend beyond games. We are Love Thy Nerd, not just Love Thy Gamer.
The second way is relational outreach. This is the going-out-to-people part of what we do. Us going to conventions and building relationships with people. Being a positive influencer in that space. Serving people, volunteering. To participate in the already good things that are happening and to challenge the bad. We also want to do local events for people to come and learn games in a comfortable, non-intimidating environment. The biggest aspect of this, for us, is building relationships with people.
The last part is intentional community. In-person meetups at conventions with people who are a part of our community already. Probably the bigger part of this is our online community.
Bubba Stallcup (Chief Community Nerd): To answer the second part of your question: LTN is my passion. I know that God has called me to do this, specifically, so I have to be doing it. I tell people that we get to do something really cool, which is to speak and be the love of Jesus to an entire people and culture.
We want to flip the script for the nerd community on how they see the Christian community and Christianity in general. This is definitely not our first rodeo. Some of us have up to six years experience in this very line of work. Not just in Christianity or in nerd stuff, but we really do get to see how the Venn diagram overlaps. We are nerds, and we are Christians.
Chris: I was in a group of people the other day, and they were asking me “What’s this nonprofit you’re starting? What’s it called?” And I just said, “Love Thy Nerd.” All the lightbulbs went on. People kinda chuckled and giggled to themselves, but it wasn’t an, “Oh, that’s stupid.” It was, “Oh that’s clever, and I get it.” People started filling in the blank for me. “Oh, so you guys reach out to the nerd community and love on them and stuff?” And I’m like, “Done. I don’t even need to explain further.”
Madeline: You’re all going to Gen Con in a few weeks. Why Gen Con?
Matt Warmbier (Chief Outreach Nerd): Gen Con is one of those shows where people seem extra friendly, like they want conversation. We thought, “What better show to go to than a show where that’s what you do?” Also, we figured that was the first show we could probably attend and be prepared for.
Drew Dixon (Chief Content Nerd): It almost felt like a no-brainer to go to Gen Con. I think we all felt like, “Yeah! Why wouldn’t we? Why wouldn’t we go to Gen Con and tell gamers and nerds that Jesus loves them and build a relationship with them?”
Madeline: What strategies are you using to recon?
Matt: We’re doing tournaments. We’re going to be hosting demos of games. Chris is hoping to run at least one, maybe two rounds of Twilight Imperium.
We’re going to have a meetup like we mentioned earlier with really anyone and everyone, people from the community and otherwise. We’ve built relationships with a lot of game developers over the years, so reconnecting with them and loving on them.
April-Lyn Caouette (Chief Local Outreach Nerd): My hope for our our team is that we all do a lot of listening and observing, and walking around the convention with an intentional mindset to see the areas where there are needs. Not rushing into doing things so much as watching to see where there are places that we can be and should be doing things, and taking notes. Then at the end of each day, we’ll have a debrief and talk about what we saw that day.
Chris: We are going in with a more open-handed approach. “What’s already happening here and how can we participate in it? What isn’t happening here that should be? How can we create that?” We’re not on the no-plan plan entirely, but we do want to be open.
April-Lyn: As Christians, that’s something we need to be doing a lot more of, focusing on being present and being ready to have God bring us people to talk to. As a recon mission, I think it’s especially important that we’re going in to gather information rather than running at it full-force.
Drew: When we have these debriefs at the end of the day, we’ve got people [whose opinion we value]. We chose our team of people for this trip intentionally, and we’re going to have a lot of conversations at the end of the day. That’s what recon is, to get information. We’re still studying nerd culture. “How can we be the love of Jesus in this space in a way that’s responsible and doesn’t give them something that they already have or doesn’t respect them on their terms?”
Madeline: What kind of connections are you looking to make?
Bubba: “Connections” is really the wrong word to use with what we’re trying to do. Connections is more of a business term, right? “Connections” are like a pitch about who you are and what you do, and you hope to be able to talk to them about your thing later. While we still would like to do that about Love Thy Nerd, we’re building relationships. It’s more than a one-time “I’m going to talk to you here at this convention.” We want to be involved in your life. We want to be a resource for you. Whether that be games, running a game night… we also want to be a resource for Christ when you’re going through hard times and facing sorrow.
Like Matt said, we have a ton of devs that we know who we’ve already started to build up relationships with and who we’ve already contacted. “Hey, are you going to be at Gen Con? We would love to hang out with you, get a drink with you, whatever.” We want to be there for those devs. Maybe they need water or a lunch during the long con days. Gen Con is going to have four of them bad boys.
We also want to learn about nerds. We want to know where they’re from, what they like, what they don’t like. We really want to spend time and sit down and play games with them. We’re going to practice a little bit of meekness and humility and let them teach us some games.
Chris: There’s a pretty big [unofficial] Facebook group for Gen Con. There’s 13,000 people in it, and that’s where I’ve been able to find some people to play Twilight Imperium. There’s a lot of people who I think would love to play it but feel like they’ll never have the time for it or are intimidated by the rules. I’m going to try to make it a comfortable, safe place for anybody to come and learn.
Drew: Bubba’s answer was perfect. I think that illustrates what’s different about how we intend to cover nerd culture. There is a lot of talk in the gaming world about how people who write about and cover games shouldn’t collude with the people who make them. We want to collude. People think that’s a bad thing, but we want to know the people who make games. I want to remember their names and go talk to them at the next convention I see them at and have them on our podcasts. We think, “What you do is amazing, and we want to know you as a person. We want to give you an outlet to have a relationship with us.” No one is going to come to Love Thy Nerd for the most objective game review ever. Relationships are more important to us than even that. I think that’s needed in this culture.
Madeline: Tell us about the LTN website. What can we expect?
Drew: If we really believe that all human beings are made in the image of God, we’re going to find glimpses of His beauty, of His truth, of His goodness in nerd culture. We want to celebrate that. We want people to see the value that’s there. We also want to educate Christians about these things and why they’re valuable and why they’re worth engaging.
We’ll have reviews, but they won’t just be about whether a game is good or not. They’ll be about “What does this game mean in the lives of the people that play it?” We’ll have news posts, but they won’t just be about the new cool thing that’s out. They’ll be about “What does this say about our culture? What does this say about us? What does this say about me as a human being?” We’ll have lots of educational posts. We hope to educate the church about the value of game culture. There’s misinformation out there about video games, things like addiction. Let’s have balanced articles that tackle all sides of that; that help people get their bearings around what they should be concerned about and what’s propaganda.
Most nerd culture sites are kind of consumer-driven, whereas we want to be community-driven. We want the kinds of content we produce to give us opportunities to connect around the nerdy stuff that we love and build relationships around it.
Madeline: You were all involved to some degree with an organization called Gamechurch before this. How do you answer people when they ask why you left?
Drew: I worked with Gamechurch for six years, and I’m so thankful to the Lord for that opportunity. I had a passion, and I think all of us before we met Gamechurch, had a passion to share the love of Jesus in gaming and nerd culture. Gamechurch gave us an outlet to do that, and to learn more about what it looks like to do that well. There came a point where we realized we could no longer do that with Gamechurch. In part, this happened because Gamechurch changed its approach, but also because the leadership of Gamechurch was going in a direction that we were not comfortable with. We felt we could not continue working with Gamechurch in good conscience. I want to be clear, that doesn’t mean that Gamechurch, as an organization, is doing anything wrong, morally or otherwise. We all felt the conviction that we couldn’t continue with the group.
But we can’t stop doing what we’ve been doing, which is being the love of Jesus in gaming and nerd culture. That’s why we started Love Thy Nerd. I think we felt bound. Like Bubba said earlier, I think it was a no-brainer. We’re going to do this; this is what God has called us to do, so we have to continue doing it.
That said, we wish Gamechurch all the best. Gamechurch’s mission is to “bridge the gap between the gospel and the gamer.” That’s a mission that we all still think is awesome and amazing, and we hope and pray that they succeed in fulfilling that mission. We consider them allies in the work of ministry and in the work of being the love of Jesus in gaming and nerd culture. We wish them all the best.
Madeline: Even though this is a recon, it’s still Gen Con. What is the nerd in you most excited to check out?
Chris: One of my favorite things about Gen Con is walking the exhibit floor. Sitting down with a person who poured their heart and soul into making a game and you sit down across from them, and you play that game with them. Also, I’m excited to play Twilight Imperium. And Scythe: The Rise of Fenris. I’m really excited to get to spend that time together [with the rest of our team] and get to serve together, but also get to play together and share life together. When we get in physical proximity, we pick up where we left off. I’m excited for that.Our mission is to be the love of Jesus to nerds and nerd culture.
Bubba: I’m picking up my copy of My Little Scythe, and I’m pretty jazzed. Also, Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger. I’ve never been to Gen Con, so I don’t know what to expect. I’m really excited to see our friends that we’ve made. I want to see Tim Fowers again. I want to sit down and talk with Nate and Manny from Dice Throne. Also, James Hudson (of Druid City Games) recently got hired on to Skybound and is now the head of all their tabletop stuff. Even if he doesn’t have something [there], he can show us what the new thing is. Going and buying a game that I didn’t know existed before that weekend, that really speaks more to me. That’s more what I’m excited about. Finding new stuff.
Matt: There’s so many new games out there. Every year the caliber of games goes up. Things you wouldn’t ever think of—at least, I would never think of—they’re going to be there. It’s wonderful. Wonderful new games.
April-Lyn: I’m excited to check out Before There Were Stars, Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr, and Nyctophobia. Also I want to try to track down Vlaada Chvátil again. Challenge him to a game of Codenames.
Madeline: Aside from coming on a trip like GenCon, what are some other ways people can serve with LTN? Do you have any resources for helping people do ministry locally to gamers and nerds?
April-Lyn: From the local perspective, I’ve got a Facebook group that I’m calling LTN Local—a network of nerds around the country and hopefully eventually the world who are organizers of local nerd events/gaming nights, or want to be. We can encourage one another, give each other advice, feedback, share funny memes and informative links. Being part of that group is a good first step.
One of the areas of the website that I would like to see is an area that is information on how to be a local nerd. How people in the church can start a game night without being weird about it. How to minister to nerds in a way that’s winsome and loving, that isn’t bait and switch.
And then going out and being nerds in the community. Part of the Love Thy Nerd mission is being in the community, loving people, going to where the nerds are.
Drew: If you have any ideas of ways you want to serve with us to love nerds and point nerds to the love of Jesus, tell us. We want to know your ideas and incorporate them. We’re giving a ton of time to build our website, to do all these things that we want to do, to plan more trips, and we need financial support to do that. That’s one of the simplest ways you can help us.
Matt: Be on the lookout because we will be opening up who we go with eventually. We want people to come with us on future trips.
Bubba: There are things that we don’t even know we need to be doing. This is a call to anybody who is smarter than us: please come and help us do this thing. Come and help us figure this thing out. We may have years of experience in this area, but that by no means is a license for us to know how to do everything right out of the gate. We’re going to need help with the community. We’re going to need help with April-Lyn doing local gaming stuff. Matt’s going to need leaders to go on trips. Chris is going to need help keeping his head straight on with all the things that he’s doing. Drew constantly needs writers and editors. If you have an idea, let us know.
Madeline: If your budget were larger than it is now, what are some additional things you could do at Gen Con?
Bubba: We’d have a 15-passenger van.
Matt: We’d have a booth.
Chris: I have two answers. One is specifically the question about Gen Con, but then I want to answer it in general.
For Gen Con, the sky’s the limit. We’re going to be pretty nomadic the whole time, so it’s going to be hard for us to meet up, to coordinate things, or whatever. Like, we just don’t have a home base. The main thing would be to have a pretty visible marketing opportunity for more people to find out about us. Inviting people to that fold. Being able to sell T-shirts or give away custom dice or whatever. A booth would be awesome. I’ve wanted for years to do an afterparty. To have something outside an evening of the convention to get people together and build deeper relationships instead of just the quick interactions that you have during the day. If we had more money, we could give stuff away. People love getting stuff. I love giving stuff away. And it’s loving. That may sound stupid, but giving away free stuff? That 100% describes Jesus.
All of us have jobs that we’re doing besides this. All of us are working part-time or full-time jobs or both, in addition to families and kids and other activities, church stuff, serving in church; all of us are doing a lot. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we would do LTN full time, no question. We would put aside the other jobs because this is our heart. And yet, that can’t happen because we have family, because we have bills, because we have rent, we have all the normal human stuff. It’s only because of super generous people that we’re able to do even what we’re doing now. If we were able to dedicate more time to it, then inevitably we [would] be able to do more as an organization and ministry. More of everything really is the simple answer.
Madeline: Someone mentioned LTN doing a conference towards the end of the year. Is that something that’s still on the table if you had enough money?
Chris: I haven’t forgotten.
Bubba: I wonder who that “someone” could have been that mentioned that.
Bubba: We weren’t even three days old, and he’s like “We should put on a conference.”
Chris: One-hundred percent. I don’t know about this year. Right now we’re trying to get to and through Gen Con. Once we’ve done that we’re going to learn a lot.
Bubba: For us to immediately have a conference right out of the gate… we didn’t even know our left from our right as far as LTN went. I think that we’re shoring that up a lot more now to where in 2019 we would be ready to impart some of that mission and knowledge on to people. What are we trying to accomplish when we host a game night? How do we want to teach people? What models do we want for that? It’s coming. It’s definitely on the horizon.
Chris: I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We’re doing some things, and we’re a four-month-old baby nonprofit ministry organization. I feel like we’re doing a ton. All that stuff will come. We’re trying to do these few things really really well and then figure out what we can do next.