Friday, December 16, 2011

Christianity as a Game and My Ordination

What if we thought of Christianity as a game?  

There are households where young men compete with each other to clean the bathroom because of a role playing game called Chore Wars.  There are city centers where teams people commit random acts of kindness towards strangers with the focus, precision, and subtlety of an assassin because because of the game, Cruel 2 B Kind.  
In the book, "Reality Is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World," Jane McGonigal talks about Alternate Reality Games (ARGs).  McGonigal calls ARGs "antiescapist" games.  Like all games, ARGs have four basic elements,  1) clear goal, 2) feedback on your progress towards that goal, 3) unnecessary obstacles to reach that goal, and 4) the freedom to choose whether or not to play.   Unlike many other games, ARGs allow us to get more out of real life by making it easier to generate "more satisfying work, better hope of success, stronger social connection, and more meaning."  Chore Wars and Cruel 2 B Kind are just two examples of ARGs. By giving clear goals, discrete actions with weird obstacles to achieve those goals, feedback, and of course the option of not playing, these games create an alternate reality in which tasks that are normally overwhelming, uncomfortable, and/or tedious become incredibly joy-filled (check out the testimonials on Chore Wars).

Two weeks ago I entered into an alternate reality.  I was ordained as a Lutheran minister. 
 Though I don't believe there was any metaphysical change, there was a change in the rules by which I relate to society.  I vowed to proclaim God's love in the world through word and sacrament.  And in response, the people assembled around me vowed to receive and regard me as a messenger and servant of Christ.  Together we entered into an alternate reality, one in which I had a clear goal of communicating God's love to all people.
This is not a reality or a goal that is unique to me as a minister.   It is the reality and goal which every Christian is invited to share. It is a game which every Christian is invited to play.  Some might think that calling it a game trivializes it, but I disagree.  Calling it a game drives home the basic Lutheran belief that we are free to play it without jeopardizing our relationship to God who loves us whether we win (we won't), lose (we can't), or don't play.  And as any gamer who has gone ten straight hours without eating, drinking, or peeing can testify, games have incredible power to motivate and inspire. 

The problem is, Christianity is currently not a very good game.  It only has two of the four basic elements of a game.  It has 1) a goal (foster unconditional love amongst all the world) and 4) freedom in deciding to play, but it lacks 2) feedback on how we are doing towards fostering love and 3) those random unnecessary obstacles which make games fun.  I think part of the problem is that the main goal is too massive.  There is no way for an individual to get feedback on how their actions are influencing the level of love in the world, much less to have any hope of actually achieving world-wide love (Jesus' job).

I think Christianity needs to be broken down into mini-games with small discrete objects about creating the opportunity for loving relationships.  In this way we don't have to measure whether or not we have created love (which may not be possible), instead we can get feedback whether we have created connections in a positive way and affirmed others as having inherent worth.  In this framework it is also much easier to come up with silly obstacles that make us think in new and creative ways and give us excited puzzles to solve.

I want to turn Christianity into a game.  A game in which everyone wins and the prize is love. Want to help me?


Caralyn said...

THANK YOU BEN - for giving this congregation's confirmation curriculum the framework it desperately needed. Christianity as a game, and it's ON!!!


Ben McKelahan said...

Yes! Send me what you come up with!

AdelpheBre said...

Ben! Ryan and I so wanted to come up to NY for your ordination, but our prayers were there with you. SO glad I can stay up to date on what you and the Spirit are up to in Brooklyn.

Lawton said...

Hi Ben, it was fun playing Random Acts of Kindness with you folks today. Love the fact that religious leaders are getting involved in the movement and how it broadens the reach of our message.

Please do drop me a line if you get a chance, my email is linked from my homepage.