Can the motivating powers of video games be applied to the work of Discipleship?

Example of an experience level bar from an educational gameBased on Tom Chatfield’s TEDtalk, 7 ways games reward the brain.

  1. Experience Bars measuring progress
    1. Gospel learning/ application/ progression can fluctuate over time. This rollercoaster-like effect on our progression can leave disciples feeling discouraged. This fluctuation could be accounted for on a progress bar by coding a constant, negative pull.  Only through dedicated application of Gospel living can the learner earn enough experience to counteract this negative effect.  Therefore, our meters will wax and wane depending our effort that week.  But, as the learner sticks to the cause of discipleship, the trend will trend positively.
    2. Another challenge with illustrating spiritual progression is that no one but God can indicate our true status as we progress toward ultimate spiritual goal.  For the LDS faith, that goal is exaltation, or life with/like God.  Indicators do exist, which can offer an idea of our spiritual health and strength of our discipleship along our journey.  (The more I consider the complex relationships involved here, the more I feel like I shouldn’t take the time right now to think about it…)
  2. Multiple long and short-term aims
    1. The Gospel is a perfect application for this type of reward because the “Gospel achievement map” is so multi-faceted.  You could develop faith through 10 acts of service over here, while, in order to earn a certain long-term achievement you’ll need to combine that smaller achievement of faith with 2 awards in the hope category in order to be awareded a “charity” badge.
    2. One problem I see with doing this is that spiritual development is potentially THE MOST complex of all cooperative mechanisms.  In other words, it is next to impossible to track all the factors that contribute to one’s spiritual growth.  I’d like to hear what others think about this specifically.
  3. Reward effort
    1. The idea of never being punished for trying is a very motivating one.  In the LDS Church, members are asked to perform hard things.  Somethings are seemingly impossible to achieve while in this life.  This fact can be discouraging for some.  I wish we could somehow emphasize this reward for individuals who struggle to put forth their effort for fear of not only failure, but for fear of “never” achieving.  They need to be able to see evidence that even their attempts are rewarded.  How can we do this for them?
  4. Rapid, frequent clear feedback
    1. The concept of immediate feedback can be achieved by virtue of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  Any time a worthy, baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ does anything at all, they can check their actions and decisions against the confirming promptings of The Comforter.  (Moroni 7:16-17; John 14:26; John 15:36; John 16:13)
  5. An element of uncertainty
    1. Uncertainty is a very powerful, evolutionary mechanism.  It can be even more motivating (and addicting) than a known motivation.  Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain and is associate with reward-seeking behavior.
    2. If this is true, why isn’t the practice of faith more motivating?  Your thoughts?
  6. Windows of enhanced retention
    1. People don’t generally have the motivation to make “life changes” without a significant impetus.  The “windows,” Chatfield referred to, could be compared to life events that cause us to be sensitive to the Spirit, which in turn promote change in our lives.
      1. Examples of these events might include, the death of a loved-one, a marriage, a move, a serious illness, etc.
    2. We can choose to deal with “life changes” from the moment they come into existence until they have been resolved–much like missions or challenges within RPG video games.  However, in real life, we all too often postpone accepting these challenges until one these events occurs.  I think one leading cause for this paralysis is our fear of not being able to “win.”  In games, there is no consequence for trying (see motivation #3).  They have the “faith,” as it were, that once they begin the mission, they will eventually pass it.  The same cannot be said for the game of Life.
    3. Baptism is the first “window,” action, or gate by which disciples indicates their commitment to the path that leads to exaltation. (2 Nephi 31;17-18).  Once we set our intentions for life through baptism, we make small decisions each day that influence our “alignment” toward good and evil. As we play, new missions present themselves.  If we choose to put off doing a window, it will stay in our “available missions log” until it is complete.  We readily accept it when we have the faith that we will win.  Some people jump in blind with the hope that they are prepared.  Some wait until they are full-strength and have all the equipment before embarking.
    4. Memory – Maybe these windows are moments when we are feeling the Spirit strongly in our lives.  It is at these times when our memories are enhanced and we enabled to comprehend and retain more.
    5. Confidence – When we feel the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we are empowered to overcome any challenge. Matt. 19:26 (Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; Luke 18:27).
  7. Other people
    1. Spiritual development is innately social.  Although you cannot “live on borrowed light.”  Neither can you achieve exaltation through a life of isolation.
    2. We gain satisfaction through helping others. If we have experienced something, we find satisfaction and continued strength through assisting others through a similar trial. Even if we haven’t yet experienced something someone else is going through, we benefit from helping where we can.  We gain from their experience, and we are blessed by God for making an effort to help another of his Children. (Mosiah 3:17; Matt. 25:40)
    3. Life’s challenges are easier to bare when the burden is shared.  No one enjoys enduring hardship alone.  Many people believe in karma, the idea that if we help someone now, the same will return to us when we are in need.

Conclusion: Should there be a game made to help people learn to apply the Gospel?   The answer is an emphatic YES!  Role playing through some of life’s most challenging trials will give us the necessary awareness and practice to face real life with a degree of faith and confidence.  If we win “the game of life” virtually, we will reap the following benefits:

  • Learn the requirements of salvation by experience.
  • We can internalize the relationships between law and blessings.
  • We can familiarize ourselves deeply with the progress map of Christlike attributes necessary for exaltation. (We will all end at different places depending on how much we work on them in this life.)
  • We can make mistakes (or see other avatars/characters make mistakes) and learn from them without the fear of personal consequence.
  • We see that Salvation can indeed be obtained, giving us hope in real life.
  • We can call up the lessons we learn in the game to real life. When we find ourselves in one of life’s difficult scenarios, we can immediately draw upon our own gaming experience.

I’ve always been taught that the best way to preach the Gospel is the simplest way.  We are to teach for understanding.  I would argue that, for today’s generation–both young and old, understanding is most readily obtained through the medium of gaming.


About bryantanner

I'm obsessed with learning via the appropriate technology. My professional mission is to effectively deliver instruction to learners in a way that yields the greatest results for all stakeholders involved.
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3 Responses to Can the motivating powers of video games be applied to the work of Discipleship?

  1. *Noah says:

    Great analysis Bryan! Just a quick comment on karma.

    Alma 41:15 says:

    For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored

    Recent addresses indicate that character is the measure of what we are becoming. I think we have an exceptional progress or experience bar by which we can gauge performance.

    I have spoken with many who play MMOs like World of Warcraft. The pull for them is improving their character (avatar). This life is all about uncertainty. The consequences of our actions are not immediate. We live by faith. I feel that the gospel is more like a game than we would like to admit. Repentance allows us infinite lives to try and master our own progression. I love the choice of words shared by Alvin in the Joseph film: Maybe God intends for us to outgrow ourselves too (3:40).

  2. David King says:

    Good analysis Bryan! Nice gospel prospective.

    From my view, I see activity of any sort as providing individuals with a payoff (good and bad). Video games are but one those activities. Anything we do can brings a payoff, and that will be either immediately or down the road. Video games are more of the prior. They do give engage the mind, give immedate feedback, reward effort, challege you, and provide opportunities to work with others. But video games are limited in their depth of worth. Video games are neither good nor bad as with anything in this life. Its just like TV, they have power to entertain and inform. It remains to us to control them. The danger is that we can get captivated by instant gratification and pass by the more valuable long term payoffs that require more faith & work.

    Reading and acting on scripture is an example of something that has a greater payoff without providing that instant payoff & feedback (generally). Sometimes it takes a little more mental effort to pickup the scriptures than put down the joystick. It takes faith to act on that payoff, and it takes day by day mental exertion to choose our minutes.

    To be honest, I love video games, but they hold their place of importance. Until they make the 2000 stripling warrios action adventure for x-box……..

  3. bryantanner says:

    Thanks for your comments Noah and David. (Together, your names make “King Noah!”)

    It’s fun to think about “jazzing up” the Gospel, but sometimes we get carried away with the question of whether or not we can do it, we forget to ask whether we should do it.

    I feel like I am considered “ultra-progressive” where I work. Implementing new technology is exciting to me. However, I regularly have to check to make sure my innovative ideas are taking a backseat to the role of Spirit. Doing this actually improves whatever-it is-I’m-working-on in the end because I know my purpose is not to showcase the new widget, but to support the work of God in the best, most-engaging way I know how.

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