Jane McGonigal has a very interesting book called Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
McGonigal is a video game designer. What does she know about getting people involved? Well, 174 million Americans are gamers, boys and girls, men and women, who play video games. If you are under about 45, then you almost certainly grew up playing video games.
Now they are ubiquitous. All sorts, with all kinds of goals. In fact, some of the most profitable apps on smart phones or tablets are games. Designers are in it for the creativity, sure, and with this there’s an immense amount of psychology and overall understanding of human nature.
They’re not in it just for the creativity, however, there’s an immense amount of profit. So, game designers are, we might say, on the leading edge of what draws people in and what keeps them coming back for more.
Many games aren’t isolated experiences either, with some of the most popular being online multiplayer worlds, forming whole communities in the process. And there’s an immense amount of time and energy involved, involving intricate collaboration, mastery of skills, repeated application and practice, growth, development.
Why am I mentioning this with a title focused on the church? Well, these are the sorts of expressions that fills the rhetoric of pastors in sermons across the country, and world. Learn, grow, community, practice, express.
McGonigal notes the success of a game like World of Warcraft [a game which I've actually never played]. “Every single day,” she writes, “gamers worldwide spend a collective 30 million hours working in World of Warcraft.” Why?
Here’s her explanation:
Although we think of computer games as virtual experiences, they do give us real agency: the opportunity to do something that feels concrete because it produces measurable results, and the power to act directly even if what they’re manipulation is digital data and virtual objects. Until and unless the real work world [the church, maybe?] changes for the better, games like WoW will fulfill a fundamental human need: the need to feel productive.
That’s what it takes for work to satisfy us: it must present us with clear, immediately actionable goals as well as direct, vivid feedback. World of Warcraft does all of this brilliantly, and it does so continuously.”
John Wesley, I think, had an intuitive grasp of this. Sanctification coupled with communal feedback provided a form of continuous actionable goals. The early church, and many churches around the world to this day, had the challenge of martyrdom, where faith is constantly tested and faith either broken or built.
Most churches today operate with a very passive model. There’s very little actionable quests, almost an entire lack of direct, vivid feedback.
Should there be changes that reflect what game designers understand and put into practice? Could churches be the ultimate role-playing game? That’s the sort of stuff I’m thinking about tonight.