The church that plays together stays together. Games accomplish several important tasks that people in communities need in order to stay connected and to grow, according to new research on cooperative play.
Author Jane McGonigal’s (see video) recent book, “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,” says studies show that regular cooperative game play increases the chances that we will reach out to others and offer help.
A key part of being a community is that individuals learn to work together and understand they are on the same team.
Crises in church can often generate competitive attitudes instead of cooperation, marked by behaviors like gossip and escalation (going over someone’s head). This can cause staff and members to be hurt or church morale to bottom out.
When tensions are high in church, coming together as a congregation and playing a cooperative game – such as low ropes course events or problem-solving activities – may relieve tension or lessen defensive attitudes.
Through this process, we will hopefully be able to generate empathy toward others in the community.
Gaming research also shows that cooperative game play benefits human beings by producing powerful, positive emotions.
Scientists are discovering that playing a game that you’re good at for five minutes prior to a serious activity (e.g., taking a test or negotiating a business deal) can improve your real-life performance. McGonigal claims people are moving away from competition-based gaming and toward games that elicit feelings like hope or happiness.
In addition to a sense of belonging and acceptance, one of the main things people are looking for in a church community is a place where they can tap into positive emotions.
Proponents of “serious” Bible studies may want to consider the value of balancing some of that hard work with playing games and having fun, perhaps opening church events with a game or fun activity.
They may also want to consider taking the youth or children’s ministry out of their crosshairs just because the kids seem to be having too much fun.
Church-goers and leaders may also want to think about the value of gaming for social relationships. McGonigal encourages video gamers to play with family and friends instead of strangers.
She discourages solitary gaming for long periods of time and instead suggests playing solo games in the same room with other family members.
She claims that the positive emotions and empathy generated by playing games with friends and family strengthen social bonds and increase interpersonal skills, such as the ability to cooperate with others, make compromises, lead others effectively and collaborate efficiently toward accomplishing a common goal.
These skills could prove especially helpful in church settings where committee members must work together quickly and efficiently to maintain a functioning church body.
They could also improve relationships between people with opposing viewpoints and aid in situations where a consensus or majority vote must be reached.
In group settings where individuals must exercise social skills and work together, gaming appears to aid in the process of problem-solving.
McGonigal cites the rise of online forums and wikis for video gamers that reveal information on how to beat the game or “level up” as demonstrating “thinking together.” She also mentions games like “Eterna” and “Fold It,” which deal with real-life problems.
Individuals who have participated in these games have helped provide solutions to problems in the area of protein folding and utilizing RNA. It may be possible that games not only improve critical-thinking skills and the ability for church-goers to work as collaborative teams, but that church leaders can create games that will themselves provide actual solutions to dilemmas or even crises.
In addition to solving church problems, games could even be created that would encourage a healthier spiritual life.
McGonigal discusses a game she created for herself after she suffered a traumatic brain injury. The game helped her recover from memory loss and depression.
Games have also been used as therapy to encourage healthy behaviors like exercise. In church settings, creative individuals could begin to invent games that would encourage healthy spiritual behaviors like prayer, devotional reading, church attendance or meditation.
Many feel church is boring; others are concerned that the church has failed to provide a meaningful spiritual and moral education for congregants.
It may be possible for spiritual leaders to address both problems by playing games that would make church a more exciting place to be and also hook the learner into transformational Christian education.