Gaming and Catechesis: GenCon Trade Day Report – Part 1

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the GenCon Trade Day in Indianapolis. For my non-geek readers, GenCon is a huge convention dedicated primarily to tabletop games — board games, role-playing games, card games, etc. Before the convention, however, there is a day-long program for teachers and librarians on how to introduce and use games in an educational context.

I went to a few sessions during the day, but by far the best workshop was the first one, “Critical Hits: From RPGs to Humanities,” which was run by faculty members from the Todd Academy.

The teachers gave three suggestions for how to incorporate games into the humanities. In the first, students are encouraged to create a narrative game based on a fairy tale, story, or myth. In the second, “Choose Your Own Apocalypse,” students design a city, a monster to attack the city, and defenses for the city. This was a really fun “hands on” part of the presentation.

The terrible EscarGore threatens the peaceful inhabitants of our botanical city!

Finally, we were shown how to incorporate simple improv games (think Whose Line Is It Anyway?) in the classroom. Students from the Todd Academy were present and they  demonstrated  some of the games for us.

The first and last suggestions seemed readily  accessible  to religious  education. In the first, students could create a game based on a story from Sacred Scripture or the lives of the saints. For instance, imagine a game in which students follow Jesuit missionaries traveling from Europe to Asia to establish new churches.  Students should be encouraged to focus on the central conflict, journey, or objective and avoid simple “roll and move” mechanics. Have students identify the most important parts of the story and how the game rules will reflect those parts.

For older students, improv could be an interesting method for exploring catechetical ideas. Students could play the Superheroes game but use virtues, sacramentals, or other religious themes as the basis for their superheroes. (If connected with a particular unit students may even pull them from a hat instead of suggesting the themes themselves.) Similarly, the Three-Headed Expert game could be used as a silly and fun way to review at the end of a lesson or unit.

The presenters were kind enough to hand out their lesson plans for non-commercial and educational use.

Have you ever used games in your classroom? How did it go?