Simply dumping religious quotes on the player won't communicate much either. A prime example is the match-three puzzle game Walls of Jericho. By mixing in Bible trivia that pops up while playing, the religious quotes become a gameplay burden. Other than the name and graphics, there isn't much that even relates to the Bible. Nor would simply setting a game in the Bible starring David or Gideon in a God of War style be much of an improvement. David Fifield, game developer, points out, "Taking those stories and putting ... your skill, reflex and wit as the determining factors would remove God's intervention ... and potentially place the glory on the Bible hero (or the player) and not on the God who ordained the course of events."

When he mixes religious games into his usual lectures, Mac approaches these games differently, to make it more engaging for his students. In one of his games, he "divided the group into two teams. Each player on the team took a turn; they could either choose circle or square. If one team chose the circle, while the other chose the square, then the circle team got 20 points and the square team lost 20 points. If they both choose circle, they both lost 20 points and if they both choose square they both received 10 points." Mac doesn't explain the rules of the game to anyone, simply letting them play with the system while rewarding points. The point of the game is that if both groups try to always claim the circle in order to get 20 points, neither team will ever earn any. Only by working together can either group achieve any kind of score - to win the game, groups must cease viewing the other team as an opponent and instead treat them as a potential ally.


Part of the reason video games struggle to teach the kind of morality Mac imparts through his games comes from the lack of coherent consequences for the player. Any time you punish a player for something that they do, you impose your values onto them: GTA IV wants you to think that killing people is inappropriate, so the cops will start arriving when you commit a crime. Henry Jenkins defines this concept as environmental storytelling, which is a broad term encompassing a variety of techniques that games use such as rule interaction, placing details around a level, and using environmental spaces to evoke a desired response. The player learns that there is a consequence for certain kinds of moral behavior in the game space. For Mac's games, the key is not to teach with punishment alone, because that only encourages people to avoid things. He seeks to influence students into certain kinds of behavior, and to encourage them to think about why that behavior may or may not be appropriate.

Another example of a game Mac uses to communicate a moral lesson, instead of mere religious practice, is based directly on the Parable of the Talents. The lesson follows the parable of the manager who gives his servants money, one works to double it, one works to triple it, and one hides it because he is afraid of failure. To recreate the parable, Mac decided to have each group represent one of the servants: "I divided them into groups and gave everyone different types of candy and different amounts of money. I asked each group to try and trade, buy, sell, in order to get the best business deal. When time was up each group would show me how much money and candy they had, and I'd tell them if they got the right combination. All day I had been dropping hints about my favorite candy. In the game, any deal is better than no deal."

Comments on