what can the church learn from Will Wright?

You may not have heard of Will Wright but you’ll most likely have played or at least heard of one of his games. The designer of the Sim franchise (best known for SimCity) gave an interview to WIRED UK last month and it got me thinking…

Will bought a Commodore 64 in 1982, you remember the ones, you could get in from school and begin to load a game (on a cassette tape), change your clothes, have your tea and watch newsround and it would just about be loaded when you returned to it. He dedicated himself to learning everything he could about it and that was the beginning of his game design journey. I wonder how many of us really commit ourselves to learning everything there is to know on our given subject? particularly if that subject is the church or faith. How many of us can honestly say we understand the breath and diversity that Christianity offers?

Will Wright became the best at what he did by constructing games around the user. The Sim franchise pivoted on how to give players more creative leverage and then letting them show that to other people. My experience is that churches are not so open in giving participants creative freedom and even if people are given the chance to experiment it is not often in the most public arena. I believe creative leverage is key in our mission to engage the pluralist masses – when was the last time you tried something new?

One of the major components to Will’s ‘Quake’ was the ability for players to design and share their own custom levels and with Sims you could modify nearly everything! How flexible is your church space or the way you run services? Is there any way that your congregation / members can modify their experience or design their own elements during worship?

When Sims went online it became a giant shared world, a sort of darwinian utopia where players tried to create the coolest place that others want to hang out in. I’m not saying that churches should be in competition with each other but I do think we should be providing exciting and innovative spaces that encourage people to come and experience something sacred.

Lately, Will has been developing the ‘Stupid Fun Club’ that creates new ideas that span games, film, toys and beyond. The mission is to take gaming sensibilities into new areas. I wonder how many positive outside in influences we incorporate into churches? or even better, how do we take spiritual sensibilities into the wider world?

Stupid Fun Club is researching data visualisation and how it’s a literacy that people will start developing. Will states that people are going to have an interest in interpreting all the data that is collected about them online. I wonder if we really have an interest in interpreting what we hear at church and whether it would make a difference if the data was visualised instead of spoken?

Finally, Will talks about storytelling being around us all the time and how interactivity is becoming more engrained in what we do – but is it in our churches? I think it’s pretty scary how linear and unimaginative some of our services are. We need to be taking a HUGE hint from our culture and getting much more interactive in the way we do church.

In summary – I believe the gaming industry has a lot to teach the church and designers such as Will Wright should be part of the ever-growing diversity of creatives that the church can draw on for inspiration.

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