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1. No More Pay to Play

What it is: The gaming streamer gravy train appears to be reaching its final destination, as Twitch and YouTube pull back on offering hefty contracts to livestreamers.
Why it’s happening: For the past decade, Amazon-owned Twitch and Alphabet-owned YouTube have made it their business model to hand out big contracts to streamers that bring in viewers. By nailing down the biggest names in streaming with contracts worth millions, platforms hoped to create an ecosystem of loyal audience members who would keep tuning in to watch their longtime favorites. But over the past year, many streamers have broadened their streaming offerings to simulcast on several platforms at once, which dilutes the value of such agreements. A pivot away from pursuing big money contracts with streamers was one of the many changes announced this week at TwitchCon. In addition to more hands-on moderation of what happens on Twitch, they also announced new standards of behavior for what users do “off-service,” the stuff they do when they aren’t using Twitch. Users who take part in swatting and doxxing offenses can now be punished with demonetization, banned from the platform, or in extreme cases, reported to police.
Start the conversation: How do big-name livestreamers shape the gaming space?

2. Gradeflation

What it is: A teacher in Greenwich, Connecticut offered comments on how the grade of “A” became, and continues to be, the most common grade given in America.
What teachers are saying: Post-pandemic attendance continues to be lackluster, and the college admissions process is as competitive as ever. These factors, in combination with several others, have meant some teachers feel pressured to give out A’s to any student who simply shows up and completes their assignments. This isn’t necessarily a reflection of academic achievement, but more a reaction to students’ (and parents’) penchant for feeling entitled to certain grades. As this teacher points out, a class where every student gets the highest grade possible makes it difficult to distinguish between who is doing their best and who is not.
Start the conversation: Are academics in any way related to spirituality? Why or why not?

3. This Means War

What it is: Dr. Russell Moore cautions Americans to remember that culture war is not the same as spiritual warfare.
Why it’s timely: As “spooky season” envelops America, families are confronted with all manner of the creepy and macabre. Cartoonish depictions of vampires and witches can dilute our sensitivity to the realities of evil: malevolent spiritual beings do walk among us, and there is a dark force that wishes the worst of misfortunes upon our eternal souls. Spiritual warfare is real, with a history that stretches back to the very first believers. At the same time, it can be tempting to conflate our earthly flesh-and-blood ideological opponents with our spiritual enemies. When we do so, we overlook the fact that humans, even the ones we disagree with, are our fellow image bearers and capable of becoming our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can name ideologies as evil without painting individual people as beyond redemption. After all, the Bible says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” As we stare down the very real threat of evil, Moore encourages Christians to act as spiritual warriors by cultivating their souls, and to remember that the biggest battle has already been won.
Start the conversation: When you think of “spiritual warfare,” what do you think of?

Slang of the Week

“Girl math”: refers to the sometimes strange, sometimes silly ways that women see their finances. Examples include “cash doesn’t count as money so anything bought with cash is free” or “if I stop myself from buying one $35 skirt then that means I’m being very frugal if I buy seven other things that are only $5 apiece.” The trend is fun and a lot of young women find themselves relating to it, but it also has the potential to imply that women can’t be smart with finances, or are all irresponsible with their money. Several girls on TikTok have pointed out that women are still working hard to be taken seriously in STEM fields, and terms like “girl math” could contribute to those difficulties.

Translation: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (Mild Spoilers Ahead)

“We all have to experience loss.”

It’s a theme that’s been ever-present through decades of Spider-Man storytelling. It’s in the recent film “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” it’s in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (you know, the one where Gwen Stacy dies, traumatizing everyone), and it’s even a direct quote from a character at the end of “Marvel’s Spider-Man 2,” released last week for PlayStation 5.

This theme of loss is a decided (and intentional) contrast to the character of Spider-Man, whose wise-cracking, youthful energy and undying optimism have made him one of the most beloved superheroes of all time. Miles Morales and Peter Parker, who are both playable characters in the new game, embody these traits—and have them severely tested. For Miles, the question is if he’ll take revenge against or forgive his father’s killer. Peter Parker meanwhile wrestles with unresolved grief and repressed anger even as he tries to sustain being the “friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.” Even one of the game’s big villains, Kraven the Hunter, is searching for meaning in loss as terminal cancer is ending his life.

The best fiction invites us to consider our own lives and our own situations. Just like Miles, Peter, and Kraven, we are unable to avoid change and loss in our lives. And in our modern world, where global war is shown live on TikTok and our phones keep us connected to a 24-hour news cycle, our “normal” can feel fleeting and fragile. It makes sense that the teens in our lives may be all too familiar with feelings of pain, loss, and powerlessness.

Luckily, we serve a God who is aware of the inevitability of loss. In a beautiful, intimate chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus sits down with his disciples and explains that He is going to die and that their future is full of pain and suffering. But He concludes with words of hope, words that we should teach, not only to the teens in our lives, but also to ourselves: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Much like the characters in Spider-Man, we live in a world full of grief and loss. But in the world outside of video games, our hope isn’t limited to beating the Big Bad—we can rejoice in our redemption even as we wrestle with our pain.

For more about “Marvel’s Spider-Man 2,” listen to our full review on the Wednesday episode of our Culture Translator podcast. In the meantime, here are some questions to open up conversations with your teens:

  • What do you think about the themes of loss in Spider-Man?
  • Why do you think some people avoid others when they’re hurting?
  • What do you think it means that in Jesus we have peace?