Last week I was reminded why I love using games to teach. They create an immediate experience that can be discussed in the present moment.
On Sunday I ran a prototype of a game I’m working on, codename “Temptation Nation.” Players had the option of contributing to the church offering or keeping two “dollars” for themselves. Those who kept the money got an immediate reward (an Oreo and a glass of milk), but those who contributed to the offering would get a greater reward – but only when everyone chipped in.
Knowing the group pretty well I expected four or five kids would be tempted to “cheat” and keep the rest of the group from getting their Oreos. Then we would sit down and have a good talk about temptation and how our behavior impacts other people.
Something entirely different emerged in the group. Only two of the kids gave in to the temptation for immediate Oreos, and these were kids who have some verbal processing challenges. In other words, their behavior might not be a good example of giving in to temptation. What followed was even more unexpected – some of the players started using namecalling to try and bully the holdouts into cooperation. Now we had some unexpected material to talk about.
The thing that I imagined would be tempting, Oreos, turned out to be mostly uninteresting to the kids. Too soon after breakfast one player told me. But something that I hadn’t imagined, the temptation to resort to bullying, turned out to be a pretty big problem for the group.
If I’d been giving a talk I might have been a mile off the mark and never known it. I might have talked about temptation in terms of the Big Three (sex, drugs, and gangster rap), plus the temptation to cheat on tests, shoplift, lie about things to one’s parents. I hadn’t thought at all about bullying, self-doubt, the temptation to conform. It took a game to bring these issues to the surface, issues that these kids are struggling with all the time.
What comes up in the game may not be what you started out to teach, but it may be just what the kids need to hear most.