And I believe it’s a good thing.
The Importance of Immersion
Do you know that people are confronted with hundreds or even thousands of marketing messages daily? As adults, we don’t realize this because we’ve either tuned out the messages or become desensitized over time. Young people don’t do this nearly as well. This is why my 4-year-old son asks, “Daddy, can I have that for my birthday?” with every single advertisement he sees on TV. It’s exhausting—for both of us.
Games are immersive and therefore provide an escape and a safe harbor from the constant barrage of messages. Much like a good book, they take you somewhere else— somewhere safe and engaging where you can experience something new. Sure, it’s escapism, but it’s also preparation.
See, for kids, the world in games is often better than the world out here. As visionary alternate-reality game designer, Jane McGonigal often says, “Reality is broken.” Jane is also an author and speaks around the globe about the ability of games and gamers to change the world. In games, McGonigal says, players are immediately trusted with a world-saving mission, perfectly matched to their ability. They’re surrounded by willing collaborators. And they’re constantly receiving positive feedback through leveling up or earning achievements that highlight what they’ve learned or where they’ve improved. Gamers are experiencing a better world, and it’s part of
the reason they escape.
“Gamers want to know: Where in the real world is the gamer’s sense of being fully alive, focused, andengaged in every moment?” asks McGonigal. “Where is the gamer feeling of power, heroic purpose, and community? Where are the bursts of exhilarating and creative game accomplishment and where is the heart-expanding thrill of success and team victory? While gamers may experience these pleasures occasionally in their real lives, they experience them almost constantly when they’re playing their favorite games.”
The Preparation of Gaming
I call the gaming experience “preparation.” That’s because, in the game space, kids are experiencing how a better life can be lived. They can learn the value of collaboration, how it feels to achieve goals, how they can overcome obstacles and more. Games are preparation because they also provide insight into failures that happen in a safe space. This is similar to reading books, but rather than passively reading, players find themselves as the case study.
“The real-time feedback loop of electronic gameplay allows a child to immediately identify and correct mistakes or know instantly that she’s on the right track and feel confident to forge ahead,” note Dr. Jeremy Richman and Jessica Berlinski, the authors of the article “On Newtown Anniversary, a Call to Use Video Games to Encourage Empathy” (gamesandlearning.org).
They conclude, “One of the key components of persevering is how our children think: children need to believe that ‘failure is OK’ and with enough effort, ‘they can do it’ in order to pick up and try again. Yet children rarely receive these messages. Games are one of the only environments that message to children that ‘failure is OK’ and ‘they can do it.’ ”
The Positives of Gaming
Here are just some of the positives that gaming provides, according to edtrainingcenter.com.
- Games allow young people to explore together and on their own.
- Gaming challenges players to compete with themselves and others.
- Games offer a mastery learning model, where kids must learn the material before they can move on to the next challenge.
- Games allow players to fail “softly” in a safe environment.
- Gaming offers constant feedback loops.
- Games match a struggle with the player’s ability and often offer exceptional collaborators to play with.
- Games are fun.
Life Lessons in Gaming
In many ways, games offer us insight into what life could look like. Those of us who grew up playing games see collaborators as an advantage, while many without a gaming approach see them as a threat. We value and enjoy problem-solving, and we’re generally hopeful people. More often than not, we take it upon ourselves to embody the missing and broken parts of the world—the missing pieces and places that are a given in games. “To-do lists” are more fun as quests. Encouragement is something I actively work to give others because I know how much it affects my performance. It’s the sort of encouragement (leveling up and earning achievements) that happens within game mechanics. Because games are social, there’s an expectation of connectivity and teamwork. For gamers, this is natural in the real world. This connection is vital to digital kids.
I attribute these positive traits to time spent with games; and while games aren’t a silver bullet for a disconnected audience, they quite simply engage kids like few other things in this world.
3. All kids have play styles; your mission is to seek them.
Just as different styles of music appeal to different people, so do different styles of games. You
and I already know that no two children are the same. We must appeal to different kids in different ways. As we were developing a game for kids, we had to keep this in mind. We had to remember kids’ various play styles to make sure as many of them would be engaged as possible in the game we created.
The Difference in Play Styles
Kids’ play styles can vary widely. Consider these examples:
- “Conquerors” who like to win
- “Managers” who like to plan and strategize
- “Hoarders” who want to collect (You should see my office!)
- “Hotshots” who like to race and love the adrenaline
By understanding the different wiring of our young people, we can target part of our time together to their style and discover new ways to talk and connect with them. For instance, you may send kids on a quest to find the real reason Jonah ran from God. The following week, you may have kids decide whether to bury or increase their talents.
Identifying Play Styles
You don’t have to play a computer game with kids to find out their play style. You don’t have to ask them what their favorite game is. Simply observe them as they play and connect with the activities currently in your ministry, but do so through the lens of play styles. When you see what gets individual kids most engaged and then tie in experiences to match that, kids’ overall engagement in your ministry will increase. That’s because while you’ve probably always spoken kids’ language, now you’re communicating in the nuance of their native dialect.
4. To spread the Word, we must speak their language.
What has all of this got to do with kids’ faith growth? Deuteronomy 6 encourages us to write God’s law on our hearts, to immerse ourselves in the character and call of the Creator. There’s that word again: immersion. The writer of this chapter tells us to keep these things in front of us, going over them “again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).
We can safely add “when you are gaming” to that list.
Picking the Right Games
Find games that help kids explore the world in a way that reflects the principles of a life lived before God. Use the victories and failures they experience to examine who they are in Jesus. Let the communities, conflicts, and cooperation speak of the people of faith who continue to wrestle with God and one another. When you think about what Jesus called us to—the Great Commission— you see a grand adventure that requires all the skills, courage, ingenuity, and enthusiasm gamers thrive on. When Jesus talks about the opposition to the gospel faces and the struggles of a broken world, we can see the hurdles and puzzles of those imaginary worlds made real. And when we help kids realize they have the resources to conquer mountains and they have the strength to go the distance, then they will take on those challenges with passion.
This is what games are good at. This is what this generation is good at. If we can embark on the journey to meet them there, we can help them harness this amazing phenomenon and see them make the kind of difference we could only imagine in this world.
Tim Clearly is a worldbuilder for Scarlet City Studios (scarletcity.com). He and his team created The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance (theaetherlight.com), the online action-adventure re-imagining of the Bible.
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