Shall We Play a Game?


Copyright 2019 Marianne Green. All rights reserved.

Harness the creative power of invention in religion class

By Marianne Green

During a recent trip to the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation within the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, I could not help but wonder how religion can teachers harness the creative power of invention, specifically through gamifying catechesis. Think about it. How can catechists effectively incorporate gaming to improve students’ collaborative, creative, and critical thinking skills?

Would it be possible to allow students to embrace their role as missionary disciples by having them design faith-based games? Yes, I believe it is possible.

Begin with a discussion on the importance of Baptism. Focus on how each person is unique, loved, and necessary in building the Kingdom of God (c.f. 1 Corinthians 12:1-31). Celebrate students’ youth and energy by showing them Pope Francis’ message to youth: “You can be apostles today!” (Catholic News Agency). Stress that they are not just the future; but they are – according to Pope Francis – “its present, even now, they are helping enrich it” (Christus Vivit, 64). Link their call to engage in the Church to learning and exploring its teachings through gaming.

“In the past decade, researchers have shown that playing games can boost students’ ability to think in systems,” Matthew Farber noted in an Edutopia article, “The Benefits of Constructionist Gaming. To encourage your students “to think in systems” as Farber suggests, ask students about what makes games fun, engaging, and memorable.

Organize the students into small groups and have them compare and contrast classic board games such as Risk, Clue, Battleship, and Chutes & Ladders. Focus on what they notice about “the systems” of physical elements, game objectives, and genres. You may even wish to include classic arcade games during this phase. Use the Classic Game Company as a place for them to explore pinball, Pac-Man, and Tetris. Finish with gaming expert James Paul Gee’s “On Learning with Video Games.”

Make a list of topics for students to use in their game design. For example, teach Bible stories such as Daniel and the Lions’ Den, Mary and Joseph’s Flight into Egypt, or the Imprisonment of Saint Paul in Rome. These stories can then inspire students to design an escape room game. Consider using Breakout EDU as a resource for escape room challenges.

Another example would be designing a detective game similar to Clue to teach the 10 Commandments. Players would need to discover “Who sinned?” and brought about one of the 10 plagues of Egypt. Encourage them to include characters such as saints, popes, and biblical figures. Or consider linking Catholic Social Teaching pillars, such as the Care for God’s Creation and Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, with ECO — a gaming system in which players use limited resources to create civilizations.

Better yet, what if students designed a game about the 7 Gifts and 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit similar to Concentration or Go Fish? Their cards can then be designed using the colors of the liturgical year or even with images of saints whose lives exemplified specific gifts.

Need more ideas? Sister Alice Ann Pfeifer, CSA, proposes “Catholic Olympic Games: End-of-Year Review.” Sister Nanette Zeimet, SND, presents “3 Easy-to-Make Games: Put Fun into Your Lessons,” and Rebecca Elliott suggests that students “Build a Cathedral” using Minecraft.

Author and game designer Jane McGonigal, in her 2010 TED Talk “Gaming can make a better world,” sums up the importance of games in building community:

We like people better after we play a game with them, even if they’ve beaten us badly. And the reason is, it takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone. We trust that they will spend their time with us, that they will play by the same rules, value the same goal, stay with the game until it’s over.

Believe in your students’ collaborative, creative, and critical thinking abilities to design games that contribute to the greater community.

Shall We Play a Game?

Love to!

Marianne T. Green, MA, a Golden Apple recipient and independent consultant for the Catholic Apostolate Center, is an adjunct faculty member of St. Joseph’s College. Her recent collaboration with Diocese of Reykjavik is featured on Instagram @Virtual_Disciple.

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