This is a guest post by Peter Brassington on a fascinating and innovative area of Scripture Engagement: Games. Here he explores some ideas about games, game elements, and God.
Although Redcliffe has an excellent library, I couldn’t find a copy of Moltmann’s “Theology of Play” when I visited for the first time at the start of my MA. I wasn’t in the library at the time but looking through the library catalog online from my room. Things have changed since I last studied theology.
Looking out of my window however I did spot something pertinent to my search – a collection of students, serious in their desire to serve God and to bring hope to a suffering world were on the lawn throwing a frisby around. Later at dinner some of the professors that I was keen to talk to about my various interests in missiology, socio-linguistics, and digital language vitality, were having a conversation about rugby.
Clearly ‘play’ has its place in the lives of serious theologians and missionaries, as it does in the lives of everyone else. But when was the last time you heard a lecture on the “theology of play” or a sermon about what games Jesus would play? If you are involved in children’s ministry or youth work then games and fun activities are probably a key part of your toolkit. But how much are they a standard part of the wider thinking of mission agencies and how much are they a part of the mission of God?
Complete the proverb:
“All work and no play…”
- “ …make jack a dull boy”
- “…demonstrates that Jack has a firm grasp of the protestant work ethic”
Play serves many functions in society not simply as a tool to bring about education and behavioral reinforcement, but as a natural way of exploring new ideas, developing skills and habits, and of relaxing and socializing.
Eminent theologians, sociologists, educationalists, psychologists, therapists, and marketing experts have written on various issues around what kinds of games are beneficial, how much screen time and out-door play should be allowed or encouraged.
Other missionaries and evangelists seem to have instinctively known that people of all ages like to play.
Agencies like Wycliffe have used games as part of their recruitment and training for decades. The Wycliffe Game was quietly consigned to the archives a few years before I joined, as being a little out of date. But many of the activities in their Idea Bank are still being used (with occasional updates) 30 years after they were first written.
MissioMaze (https://www.wycliffe.org.uk/beinvolved/resources/missiomaze.html) is the latest incarnation of one simulation idea now available as an iphone app, in which the expectations on a Western missionary of a sending church are compared to the demands of life ‘on the field’.
Meanwhile phone apps are increasingly being used as tools for evangelism and discipleship, not because people waste time on games and so we must hook them with game-like tracts, but because people play games and games have value.
In some contexts ‘Christian games’ are used to mean ‘safe’, ‘family friendly’ games that wouldn’t offend anyone. I believe games can have a harder edge and tackle serious social and spiritual issues.
One good example of games being put to serious use is UN backed http://afroes.com whose game Moraba has been used to address gender based violence in South Africa. Read and hear about it at http://afroes.com/project/moraba/ and then play it for yourself https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.afroes.moraba. How might you do something to address these or similar issues in your own context ?
Gamification is a relatively new term that has become a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s basically the idea of using game elements in non-game environments. For game elements think points, badges, leaderboards, onboarding, leveling up, boss-fights, or simply the theme tune of a TV quiz show.
For non-game environments think, work, exercise, dieting, housework, or Bible study. A couple of years ago the YouVersion (www.youversion.com) Bible app started awarding virtual badges to people for finishing a study series. The Go-Tandem site and app (www.gotandem.com ) is designed to help you in your spiritual development with a series of nudges and game like elements used to track your progress.
Ethnomusicology emerged as a valid field of missionary activity as missionaries began to recognize that not only did different cultures have different ideas about music but that God might also have quite a wide taste and appreciate these different expressions. As I began to learn about the emerging field of gamification and wonder to what extent it would find its place in cross cultural mission I wondered if a new field of ethnogamification might emerge, as expat and local missionaries began to explore local games and game elements as ways of connecting and engaging people.
Google for Ethnogamification and you’ll see it hasn’t caught on widely yet but you will find everything I’ve written on the subject.
I have lectured a couple of times at Redcliffe on the possibilities of games and gamification and had the opportunity recently to lead a training track on “Designing Games for Scripture Engagement” at a major conference in Asia. (it was a small track but it will get bigger)
The main presentation isn’t written as a game but it’s playful, and you can explore and search for hidden surprises as well as the big picture messages. It includes links to some of the existing Christian games, a group of Christian Game Developers, and tools that you could use to build your own games.
Peter is a student on Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology (Scripture Engagement). He blogs on Digital Engagement (and a bit on games) at digital2031
Want to take this further? Come and study more about Bible and Mission on Redcliffe’s Summer school mode Contemporary Missiology MA, including the module ‘Reading the Bible Missionally’ running this July.