Community Through Nerf Wars

photo of man wearing green combat uniform holding rifle
Photo by Lukas on

I recently watched the documentary Thunderdome (which is accessible right now through Amazon Prime). This documentary was produced by Rob Lehr and Dan Parris, who are two guys that my husband and I enjoyed knowing from our time in St. Louis. This made the documentary especially enjoyable to watch. Thunderdome is a documentation of Rob’s journey of trying to overcome the post traumatic stress of surviving a plane crash in Africa, while filming another documentary called Give A Damn. After returning home from the crash, Rob shuts down and goes into survival mode through playing video games. After some time passes, his friends encourage him to try to come out of himself.

He becomes inspired to do something more with his life and begins creating a nerf war stage in his own home. He paints and he creates. It brought him back to life. He takes a risk to come out of his own depression by inviting others into his home to play nerf guns. The community that was built was inspiring. The testimonies of those being interviewed in the film show that the nerf community that Rob helped build was a place for outcasts to feel welcome, a place where those who had no purpose gained purpose and a place for those that were alone and isolated found a family and a place of belonging. This kind of community is what we were made for. It is what the church is supposed to be. It makes people come alive to more of who they are meant to be. It is where true friendship is made. It is where people can know and feel that they are loved. While watching the film, I found myself wishing I was a part of this group and that I was participating in the kind of fun they were having. It was delightful to watch.

I also loved Rob’s authenticity as he shares with the viewers some of his deep struggles. He shares that he is an atheist. He believes that there is no life after this one, which in turn produces a deep fear in him of dying. His fear was so deep that he feared going to sleep sometimes. I love that Rob had the courage to share these fears. I also love seeing how he faced his fears in many powerful ways. After his plane crash, which nearly killed him, he went into the flames of the plane to save his friend Dan. After Dan was out he tried to go in again to save the pilot, but was pulled back by two men for his protection. For someone who is afraid to die I was amazed by Rob’s reflexive courage in these moments. He didn’t run away to protect himself, but he faced dying to save others. This kind of courage and strength inspired me deeply. The other moment where Rob faces his own mortality was in a human versus zombie nerf war. He was outnumbered by the zombies and as a “human”, he was sure to die. Rather than running away and hiding, he faced his death bravely in the field, attacking as many zombies as he could in the process. This was a symbolic picture of how the game that he created became much more than a game. It became a place where he could face down his own demons. He faced his fears and realized that there was life and living on the other side. And he helps others join in on the same process.

Another thing that hit a deep cord with me was the way this documentary addresses the dangers of video games. Several guys give testimonies of how playing video games became hard core addictions, to the point where they became totally isolated and that is all they thought about. As a mom of three boys and two of them being teengaers, I daily see how video games (currently Fortnight) are so well done and fun, that it is all they want to do. And as mentioned in the film, even the guys being interviewed grew up in a time where they played video games with their friends in the same room. In today’s world my sons play with their friends online. Relationships are becoming more and more detached. Thunderdome was another reminder for the need for community and friendships where you can hang out face-to-face. We are all becoming way too comfortable relating to each other from a distance, which means we miss out on true community. Thunderdome seems like such a relevant film for today’s world and the messages are ones that hit home with me and I think will inspire others.

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