Games Feed

Congregation-wide "Bounce" game

Last year while reading Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken, she described a game she designed entitled Bounce.  The purpose of this game was to connect young people with senior adults.  I was enthusiastic about the game and its community-building potential.  I was also intrigued by the larger idea of incorporating ideas from game design into congregational life, not only because games are popular and would connect congregational life with something people enjoy but also because, as McGonigal had persuaded me, games have great potential for helping solve real-world problems (including making people happy).  I first blogged about Bounce and my intention to design a congregational game of it here.

Last autumn I played a prototype round with our confirmation class and a predetermined list of senior adults.  I worked with the Congregational Care Ministry in putting the list together.  Only two of the confirmands played the game, one very enthusiastically.  The senior adults gave positive feedback to receiving the calls from young people, particularly the one enthusiastic young man.

So, based on that prototype, I designed a congregation-wide version of the game.  It seemed to fit the playful ethose of First Central and would fit well during the season of the year when we are very focused on family and community -- the mid-spring when we have the all-church retreat, pie day, the church's anniversary, the super sale, graduation, confirmation, mother's day, etc.

I bounced :) the idea off of the church staff and others and got good responses.  I took it to the Congregational Care Ministry who backed the idea and gave good feedback.  I began advertising the game on Easter Sunday (when we had 311 in attendance) and advertised throughout April.  The game was to be played the final week of April, first week of May, culminating on anniversary Sunday with the awarding of a trophy.  My hope was it would become an annual tradition with a traveling trophy.  The Sunday the game was to commence, there was a bulletin insert with the questions, rules, and call log.

By Wednesday I was concerned that I hadn't received any calls myself.  I had decided not to do the calling myself, as I designed the game, and I also call church members all the time anyway.  I continue to promote it daily on Twitter and post comments on our Facebook group.  I asked people about it and encouraged at least one family to have their kids play.

Sunday morning people were to turn their call logs in before service so that the award could be given at the conclusion of the service.  No one turned anything in.  More than one person told me that they had intended to call around, but just hadn't gotten it done.  They were disappointed that no one did.

So, mark that experiment failed.  Thoughts and feedback?

McGonigal a Buddhist

Earlier this year I read Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change teh World and blogged my way through it.  You can catch those posts under the Games category link below.

Today I was working on a plan to play her game Bounce with my confirmands later this month and was looking back over her website, when I came across this paragraph which I had not noticed before, but which speaks to why there I find her work very conducive to spirituality and ministry:


Since you’ve come so far, let me share a secret with you. I don’t talk about it as much as the positive psychology influences, but my work also draws deeply on Buddhist philosophy. I am inspired by the Buddhist goal of ending suffering on Earth — and I know that when we are immersed in a good game, we do not suffer. My research shows that games are an extraordinary and universal way to alleviate all kinds of suffering — including boredom, anxiety, depression, loneliness, despair and even physical pain. For this reason, I believe most game developers are on a humanitarian mission (whether they know it or not!). I am also curious about the ways in which good games seem to help us develop the seven positive traits that Buddhists believe can help end suffering: mindfulness, investigation, energy, joy, relaxation, concentration, and equanimity. Is it possible that games and Buddhism share the same epic win?


Church Newsletter Article on Reality is Broken

Opportunities To Do Extraordinary Things


While on retreat this last weekend with our conference's lay ministry students (I'm mentoring one of them), I was finally able to finish Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal. I read the book not only to better understand the gaming culture that includes over 160 million Americans, but because she contends that some of the things game designers have learned should be used to organize and inspire people for global problem-solving. Was there something we could learn about organizing for ministry in the 21st century from these insights?


In 1975, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposed a "science of happiness, " a key component of which is the concept of flow, defined as "the satisfying, exhilarating feeling of creative accomplishment and heightened functioning." Csikszentmihalyi had concluded that the failure of most real-life institutions to provide flow was an urgent moral issue.


People desire opportunities for being deeply immersed in hard work that produces results, particularly if those results contribute to "epic wins." She writes, "What the world needs now are more epic wins: opportunities for ordinary people to do extraordinary things." Some characteristics of epic wins are that we discover we have abilities that we didn't know we had, we get better and do more, and "our possibility space expands."


Because of the complex global problems humanity currently faces, McGonigal believes that what is required is collaboration on a global scale, with a long-term vision, aimed at innovative approaches never tried before. Collaboration, she writes, "requires three distinct kinds of concerted effort: cooperating (acting purposefully toward a common goal), coordinating (synchronizing efforts and sharing resources), and cocreating (producing a novel outcome together)." The most skilled collaborators "practice possibility scanning: always remaining open and alert to unplanned opportunities and surprising insights."


Reading the book, I kept thinking that the church is an ideal institution for these new models of organization and problem-solving. The local church is a collaborative organization in that it brings together people from various backgrounds, with various skills and interests, and they work together on common problems. The church is also a global collaborative in that local churches exist within covenant relations with denominational structures on regional, national, and international levels. Plus, we participate in ecumencial and interfaith partnerships that connect us across cultural and national boundaries. As an already collaborative organization, then, how can we best utilize the skills we learn in church to begin problem-solving in our neighborhood and globally?


As we attempt to "match members to ministry," surely these are the sorts of ideas that can help to guide us. Not just placing people on committees and boards, but finding ways that they can maximize their skills, engage their creativity, network with others, and expand their possibilities within the service and ministry of the reign of God, the most "epic win" I know of.






Reality is Broken: Collaboration

I finished Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken over the weekend and plan to spend some time reviewing it and my thoughts about it today.  I do think that there is helpful material for ministry in it.

Especially in the final chapters, which really invigorated me.  They are about how gaming is developing skills for collaboration which are much needed in our current world, as we must learn to solve global problems through global collaboration and new technologies are facilitating that.

She writes:

Collaboration is a special way of working together.  It requires three distinct kinds of concerted effort: cooperating (acting purposefully toward a common goal), coordinating (synchronizing efforts and sharing resources), a nd cocreating (producing a novel outcome together). 

The local church is an collaborative organization.  It brings together people from various backgrounds, with various skills and interests, and they work together on common problems.  Some, of course, are better at this than others. 

The church is also a globally collaborative organization in that local churches exist within covenant relations with denominational structures on regional, national, and sometimes international levels.  We have ecumencial partnerships that are often international.  And we, at least in the mainline, have a long history now of interfaith relations and partnerships. 

As a collaborative organization, then, how can we best utilize the skills we learn in church to collaborative problem-solving in our neighborhood and globally?

Here's an interesting insight, particularly for those who resist development in the church:

Finally, hte most extraordinary collaborators in the world exercise a superpower I call emergensight.  It's the ability to thrive in a choatic collaborative environment.  The bigger and more distributed a collaborative effort gets, the more likely it is to become both chaotic and hard to predict.  We know this from physics and systems theory: bigger isn't more; it's different.  That's the principle of emergence.  It's impossible to predict what will happen at scale until you get there, and it's likely to be vastly more complex than you expected.  Of course, with increased complexity comes increased potential for chaos.

Extraordinary collaborators are adept and comfortable working within complex, chaotic systems.  They don't mind messiness or uncertainty.  They immerse themselves in the flow of the work and keep a high-level perspective rather than getting lost in the weeds.  They have the information stamina to filter large amounts of noise and remain focused on signals that are meaningful to their work.  And they practice possibility scanning: always remaining open and alert to unplanned opportunities and surprising insights -- especially at bigger scales.  They are willing to bypass or throw out old goals if a more achievable or a more epic goal presents itself.  And they are constantly zooming out to construct a much bigger picture: finding ways to extend collaborative efforts to new communities, over longer time cycles and toward more epic goals.

BTW: I really like that phrase "possibility scanning."

Another note to keep in mind when recruiting people for collaborative efforts, she describes a game system she designed and "made sure that not one single potential contributor would find hiimself or herself without a satisfying task . . . we seem to be happiest when we are putting our signature strengths to good use in a group setting."  That is what our team model at First Central is attempting to accomplish.

At the start of chapter fourteen, she lists three skills that some "god games" (like The Sims, Civilization, Spore, etc.) help to develop -- taking a long view, ecosystems thinking, and pilot experimentation.  The last is "the process of designing and running many small tests of different strategies and solutions in order to discover the best course of action to take."

Finally, she emphasizes the need to innovate.  If we are to solve the major global problems of our time, then it will require trying things that have never been tried before.

Reality is Broken: Epic Wins

Finally, after Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Honeymoon, and Recovery, getting back to reading.  In particular, Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal.  I wish I had finished this quickly back in the winter when I was really animated about it, but other things occupied my time.  I shouldn't have tried to take it one chapter a day and then blog about it, but simply read it through.

Chapter twelve: Missions Impossible excited me again.  This one was about epic wins and how we need to create opportunities for people to have them in real life -- "What the world needs now are more epic wins: opportunities for ordinary people to do extraordinary things."  So, as we engage the Easter season in worship and our theme of "You Will Receive Power," this resonates.

Oooohhhhh!  I really liked this phrase she uses on page 248 and will likely steal it, maybe for a sermon title sometime -- "wracked with awe."  It sounds like something out of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem.

Some characteristics of epic wins:

  • We discover we have abilities that we didn't know we had
  • We set a new precedent for the best case scenario
  • We get better and do more.
  • "Our possibility space expands."
  • We create "sustainable economies of engagement."

As we attempt to "match members to ministry," surely these are the sorts of ideas that can help to guide us.  Not just placing people on committees and boards, but finding ways that they can maximize their skills and expand their possibilities within the service and ministry of the reign of God.

Reality is Broken: Crowdsourcing

Jane McGonigal holds out great hope for gamers (and gamer skills and gaming techniques) being used to solve real-world problems, and now, in part three of the book she begins to discuss some real world changing games.  The examples are quite interesting, including Investigate Your MP's Expenses which played a role in the 2009 British expense reimbursement scandal, wherein over 20,000 people participate in an on-line research game that The Guardian set up to go through all the expense reports and receipts and find the criminal activity.

The helpful ideas for church ministry come near the end of the chapter when she discusses what keeps people participating. 

Participation is its own reward, when the player is properly invested in his or her progress, in exploring the world fully, and in the community's success.

Now, just make sure that your ministry and program offerings, your governance structure, opportunities for fellowship and service all allow for that sort of investment.

She goes on:

In other words, participants should be able to explore and impact a "world," or shared social space that features both content and interactive opportunities.  They should be able to create and develop a unique identity within that world.  They should see the bigger picture when it comes to doing work in the world--both an opportunity to escalate challenge and to continue working over time toward bigger results.  The game must be carefully designed so that the only way to be rewarded is to participate in good faith, because in any game players will do anything they get the most rewarded for doing.  And the emphasis must be on making the content and experience intrinsically rewarding, rather than on providing compensation for doing something that would otherwise feel boring, trivial, or pointless.

Reality is Broken: Happiness Hacking

I have been too busy the last two weeks to do much reading and blogging.  Hopefully I can get back into the routine and get Reality is Broken wrapped up in the next week or so.

Chapter Ten is entitled "Happiness Hacking: How alternate realities can help us adopt the daily habits of the world's happiest people."  I must say that that final bit didn't set well with me.  I'm not a huge fan of "happiness," largely because it is dependent upon circumstance (its connection with "happenstance.").  I'm more interested in joy as a state-of-mind.  And in other reading (and teaching for tonight's adult-ed) I am reminded of felicity, which includes a component of skill.  That, of course, could connect to what McGonigal is writing about -- developing the skills.

On a positive note, I was pleased that she criticizes self-help stuff.  It rarely works.  We need collective activity to improve our happiness levels.  "Positive psychology has shown that for any activity to feel truly meaningful, it needs to be attached to a much bigger project or community." 

She also points out that for many people happiness is viewed as inauthentic or corny

So, she has developed games as a way to develop happiness skills and levels.  She calls this Happiness Hacking and defines it as "the experimental design practice of translating positive-psychology research findings into game mechanics."  The bulk of the chapter discusses various real-world happiness hacks she has designed.  The first one is Cruel 2 B Kind and is supposed to improve our treatment of random strangers. 

The second is Tombstone Hold 'Em, a poker game to be played in cemetaries with one goal to get us to think more about death.  Thinking about death actually makes us happier, according to positive pscyhology research.  There are some interesting points about how game mechanics might connect with mindfulness, grief, and facing death. 

The third is Top Secret Dance-Off, which tries to get us to dance more, which is another activity that positive psychology finds laden with benefits.  I always enjoy watching Ellen dance on her show and usually take the moment to join in.

I wondered about increasing dance opportunities at church (we already have some).  I for one have generally found attempts to lead a worshipping congregation in dance moves to be a little ridiculous (talk about corny).  I have never been on the leading end of that stick, but on the congregant end during General Synods and such.

Dancing with others, in particular, requires trust, which is one reason it has such positive benefits.  She also writes, "dancing with others is a chance both to receive and to express our compassion, generosity, and humanity."  So, we could approach dance as a spiritual practice of care!


Reality is Broken: Community

Games are credited with building social networks and community.  She discusses a handful of games that do this in the real world.  Nothing to disagree with in this chapter.  Community is hugely important and is, probably, the most important thing we do in the church.

What intrigued me in this chapter was a game called Bounce, and I now want to design an opportunity for our youth to play it with our senior adults, particularly those who are homebound.  This is game that McGonigal developed in order to get younger people interacting with senior adults.  It is played on the phone and only one person (probably the younger one) is on-line.  The game prompts a series of questions that lead to conversation.  The more questions you find an answer to, the more points you score.  The game ends in ten minutes.  Which encourages you to play again by calling again.  One of the rewards at the end is a poem which can be shared and is constructed from the answers to the questions.  Sounds really fun and fascinating.

On a side note, while discussing senior living facilities, she pointed out that they are "typically single-use spaces, without significant cross-traffic."  That made me wonder why we aren't placing senior living facilities in multi-use developments?  Why do we bury them in the midst of suburbs where they are isolated from everything else?  Even young people now want to live in multi-use developments where they can interact with lots of different types of people and take advantage of various options.  We need to do that with seniors.  So, for Omaha, that would mean, for example, that a portion of Midtown Crossing could be a senior care facility.  It would help if it were in the same building with easy elevator access to the movie theatre, restaurants, stores, and the gym.

Reality is Broken: Leveling Up in Life

This was the least engaging chapter so far.  It addressed using leveling up in real life to make things more engaging -- either to make boring things more fun or to keep us doing things we already enjoy doing.  One program she discusses is Foursquare, which by checking in at different locations is supposed to improve our social life (I just think it eliminates a private life and lets people know when you aren't at home so they can rob you.  Am I mistaken?).

I guess this was less engaging to me because I get things out of life already.  Even when I'm bored, I find something to occupy myself -- I bring something along to read, I contemplate, pray, or meditate in silence.  Or I just behold what is around me -- people, nature, buildings, etc.

One motivation for this leveling up is that we feel out-of-control, and being out-of-control can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.  Now, I wonder, do we need to then create things that make us feel more in-control, or do we need to give up our illusions of control and learn patience, simplicity, and contentment?  I vote for the latter.  And I think getting us to un-plug is one of the most important things the church can do.

McGonigal does discuss some of the potential negatives:

Clearly, we have to be thoughtful about where and when we apply game-like feedback systems.  If everything in life becomes about tackling harder challenges, scoring more points, and reaching higher levels, we run the risk of becoming too focused on the gratifications of positive feedback.  Adn the last thing we want is to lose our ability to enjoy an activity for its own sake.

But soon after this she quotes Lord Kelvin, "If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it."  False.  Mystical experiences, the experience of the sublime, mindfulness, a relationship with another person -- none of these can be measured and all of them can be improved.

Not that there is nothing to learn from what she discusses here, but generally I found this chapter un-engaging and running counter to my preferred modes of living.

Reality is Broken: Alternate Realities

Chapter seven has been my favourite so far.  Games are often more engaging than reality, but she writes, "the less we fully participate in our everyday lives, the fewer opportunities we have to be happy."  Good to hear.  "The emotional and social rewards we really crave require active, enthusiastic, self-motivated participation."

In this chapter, the first in Part Two: Reinventing Reality, the "antiescpatist" games, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs).  These games you play to get more out of your real life. 

One type are life-management games, like Chore Wars, that help you to manage your real life.  Chore Wars is a game you play with your family or roommates.  The actual tasks are real household chores, with the points awarded as part of the on-line game.

In the category of organizational ARGs, she discusses a new charter school, Quest to Learn, which has set up the school itself to be a game.  Rather than schools using games as pedagogical devices, the school itself is a game.  I found this section very interesting, with powerful implications for education.  I made a copy of this section and gave to our Christian Ed director to share with the Education Ministry.

The rationale for Quest to Learn is that "born-digital kids" are doing worse in school because traditional pedagogy doesn't work anymore because "they take high-intensity engagement and active participation for granted.  They know what extreme, positive activation feels like, and when they're not feeling it, they're bored and frustrated."

She quotes Marc Pensky, author of Teaching Digital Natives, "All the students we teach have something in their lives that's really engaging -- something that they do and that they are good at, something that has an engaging, creative component to it. . . .  By comparison, school is so boring that kids, used to this other life, can't stand it. . . . they know what real engagement feels like.  They know exactly what they're missing."

I simply can't in this blogpost describe Quest to Learn as fully as she does in this chapter.  But their website is a great place to learn more.  McGonigal describes the day of a typical student, and part of what was so interesting to me, was how learning was very much about gaining skills and developing teams in order to succeed at quests.  I highly encourage you to read, at least, this portion of the book.

I also really liked the final section, which described a concept ARG designed by McGonigal herself called SuperBetter.  It has implications for our pastoral and congregational care. In fact, we are already playing an ARG!

McGonigal designed the game when she was trying to recover from a concussion.  She designed a set of missions with the purpose of giving herself a series of small projects to fulfill so that she had measurable progress (and leveling up).  By doing this, even the small steps of success, made her feel more powerful against her illness.  It also included recruiting a team of allies with specific roles to play.  Here are the five missions the game starts with:

1)  Create your identity
2)  Recruit your allies.  She writes that when she recruited these allies, she felt they finally got what she had been trying to tell them about her illness before the game.
3)  Find the bad guys -- identify all the things that make you feel worse
4)  Identify your power-ups -- all the things that make you feel better.  Now you'll try to collect as many of these as you can every day.
5)  Make a list of goals, including daily goals.  Involve your allies in creating these and fulfilling them.

I can imagine using this as a method is pastoral care, designing steps like this for various people.

Now, lest you think that this could add further levels of guilt and shame to someone trying to recover or someone who will not recover from their illness, she writes, "You play in order to discover how well you can do--not because you're guaranteed to win.  SuperBetter has to acknowledge the possibility of failure to achieve complete recovery.  But it can also make it less scary to fail--because there is an abundance of other goals to pursue and othe rewarding activities to undertake along the way."  So, there is a potential problem here, but I also think potential for great good if developed properly. 

Maybe the best result of SuperBetter is that invited the sufferer to think outside the box in a new and alternative way.

The chapter concludes with idea that "Game design is a structure."  We can use it, then, to answer questions like "What habits should we be encouraging? What actions should we be multiplying?"