The secret’s out in my local congregation: I’m a nerd. So much so that now my own church members (some of whom are unaware of this blog) are sending me geeky theological stuff. Excellent!
A church member sent me a link to Althan – Prayer Timings and Tracking, which is an app for our Muslim friends where they can log their daily prayers. Here’s the description:
Get accurate prayer timings and log your prayers! Athan app will help you achieve prayer discipline in your busy life by providing a fun and easy way to track your prayers. Every time you log your prayers, you increase your score, unlocking badges and achieving elite levels along the way. The application offers timely reminders for prayers, tracks your offered and missed prayers, and includes valuable location based tools such as finding the qibla direction and directions to nearby mosques.
Fascinating! I am relieved that folks of other faiths–especially those in the tradition of Islam who take daily prayer very seriously–have troubles with regular prayer like I do.
We see game theory (the use of mechanics of motivation as found in games) in all aspects of our lives. From Weight Watchers that tracks weight loss in a communal effort to the FitBit bracelet to research that playing Tetris reduces food cravings, gamification is a prolific approach to motivating changes in behavior for a world without personal discipline (including this blogger).
However, use of game theory is not a new approach to helping with spiritual practices. In the Christian tradition:
- Sunday Schools have used gold stars for attendance or “bringing your bible” to encourage those behaviors. The person with the most gold stars wins a prize or recognition (making Discipleship into a competition)
- I worked for a Youth Group that used H.A.B.I.T.S. by Doug Fields where each letter stood for a different spiritual practice (Bible Memorization, Involvement, Tithing, etc). The goal was less competitive than holistic: one needed to work on each habit and fill them out like a Bingo card every week.
- My church has a Sunday School class that has made it into a communal effort: when the entire class has a certain number of points (attendance, participation in class, etc) then their class gets a pizza party or some other benefit. This was done with clear discernment by the teachers that discipleship is not a competition but is a collaboration (which is still game theory).
I haven’t seen studies that tracked whether people that participate in gamified spiritual practices maintain them better or worse than those without such motivation techniques. That would be interesting research
to about 10 people in the world.
From my perspective, apps like this that provide gamification for spiritual practices seem to be more helpful for certain types of people:
- Persons new to a faith tradition who are looking for more motivation
- Persons who are struggling with a particular aspect of their faith tradition and need a different approach
- People outside a faith tradition who nonetheless wish to try out the practices of a faith.
- Persons who wish to be exemplars of an aspect for “evangelism/modeling discipline” reasons
In short, the question is that until a spiritual discipline is internalized and has strong intrinsic motivation, what methods are acceptable for a follower of a faith tradition to utilize? Can they make their daily prayer into logs onto a competitive app? Can they give themselves a cookie after reading a whole book of Scripture (nuh uh–you have to read all 1-4 John)? Does the end result of a spiritual practice justify the means to get there?
What do you think?
- Should spiritual practices be subject to gamification like any other behavior?
- Or does the “leveling up” or competitive/collaborative aspect diminish the ultimate goals of a spiritual practice?