I know almost nothing about Alternate Reality Games. Sometimes a Facebook friend asks me for cows or pigs on Farmville, but I generally ignore their requests. So this reflection is my chance to look at some of the ideas that interest Reverend Jacks. And to borrow gamer’s lingo, I feel on the verge of an epic win.
Now that I know what they are, I will be referring to alternate reality games as ARGs rather than aaarrg which is what pirates say as in Aaaargh, matey. And I hope in response to my quick assimilation of jargon, you will level me up or plusoneme on my use of terminology or UOT, as I am now calling it.
It turns out that both Reverend Jacks and I plan to explore our church experience from the playful perspective of creating our own UU Universe at 1187 Franklin. We each have in mind an alternate religious reality so exciting and engaging, so full of rewards, we willingly pay to be part of it. And if this church is that for you already, think about your personal payoff and how you can make that possible for everyone.
So what can we learn from ARGs? Why do people want to immerse themselves in these unrealities? Those who know say it’s the following: a feeling of urgent optimism due to a reasonable hope of success, the ability to weave a social fabric that makes you like people better, and offers a payoff of epic meaning. According to Jane McGonigal, author of the book Reality is Broken, How Games Change the World and How They Make Us Better, the most popular ARGs guarantee us the four rewards she says we crave most: more satisfying work, better hope of success, stronger social connectivity and more meaning.
It will help to know we UUs already have a lot in common with ARGs. The narrative behind an ARG must be inferred from rules that are not specified at the outset but must be uncovered in the process of the game. Likewise, we UUs pride ourselves on needing no defining creed to arrive at our common values. In an ARG we choose our particular alternate reality, similarly we choose when and how we will be part of the UU Universe.
In my UU Universe, step one will be to design a stunning avatar. I want her to be cuter than I am. I want her hair always the same color with no scheduled salon appointments. I invite you all to imagine your cute self.
The next step is to evaluate our current UU reality. For example: on a scale of one to ten how satisfied are you? Joyful? Empowered? Connected? Inspired? Scoring at the upper end, you know your needs are being met in your church experience. If you are at the low end and you’re still here, you must have something else interesting going on and we could benefit from knowing about it. If all of this seems ridiculous, so much the better if it leads to laughter rather than to cynicism and complaining, of which we already have our share.
So how do I score myself? What brings me back? For me no other religion is as rewarding as Unitarian Universalism because it welcomes wisdom from many sources including the Judeo-Christian. I feel deeply and joyfully connected to many in this community whom I have met through Small Group Ministry, on committees, and doing other work of the church. I show up because these people’s wellbeing matters to me.
How do you score yourself? Some people feel satisfied in their current UU Universe; they have found the right place for their talents and desired level of involvement. Some sing in the choir, gather in small group ministry to explore ideas, some teach in religious education, some feed homeless men in the winter shelter, some trash talk to keep us green, some serve youth in the community in Up on Top, some make fruit salad for the Forum, or eat lunch and listen to speakers at SCW and so on or working for social justice.
But I can’t score my experience on the high end for everything. Despite what I love, I feel less engaged here than in other endeavors. I find myself wanting more meaning, more to remind me of the larger humanity of which we are a part. Some of my malaise may be because I miss hearing the truths that shape the lives of others in our community. Hearing their wisdom during Sunday services moves my heart.
Part of the allure of an ARG is that it makes space for a range of talent while managing to fulfill everyone’s needs. And in our UU Universe, everyone is not going to want the same experience. But each of us can feel we are doing what we are good at to make this community cohesive as we circle outward from those places of individual meaning to create a more generous reality of sharing.
When finally, I design an avatar for my UU Religious Reality, I will give her long embracing arms, a speaking presence, a beaming face with a ready smile, two or more really big ears and year-round hair. What will you look like in your religious reality?