My WIRED MAGAZINE arrived in the mailbox. The cover story is “The Science of Play” interviewing the staff of Bungie who developed one of the most popular video games ever! As I read the article, I noticed a handful of similarities with student ministry and even a few inspirational ideas for the future…

KEEP TWEAKING – The designers at Bungie Studios have been tweaking HALO 3 for the past three years. They need to know “Does Halo 3 rock? Do people enjoy it, do they get a sense of speed and purpose?” When was the last time we asked students and/or leaders how we were doing as a student ministry? Sure we also want our ministry to “rock” so we must constantly “tweak”. Bungie has hired one guy to lead a team to specifically “find flaws in Halo 3”.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON – Bungie doesn’t just test its own games. It also buys copies of rival titles and studies those, too, to see how HALO matches up. When was the last time I went to visit another ministry in their element? Its been a long time. Sure, I could go to a conference and listen to THEIR report of how they do things but to actually see it all unfold in their environment would be helpful.

CREATE AN EXPERIENCE – Bungie needs to create an experience that is challenging enough to thrill the 15 million existing hardcore fans of HALO-yet appealing enough to lure in millions of new players. So do we. We have many students who show up and we still need to engage them with new, creative, innovative ideas but at the same time-their is a whole new batch of students somewhere out there who need to be invited to the party.

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MULTIPLY YOUR TEAM – Bungie started off with 2 guys in Chicago in 1991. Today, over 100 staff members. As the ministry grows, so must out volunteer team too.

THROW OUT WHAT DOESN’T WORK AND START OVER – Bungie threw out 80% of the work they had done on HALO 2 and started over. They only had a year and a half to reconstruct the entire game. For us, if it doesn’t work throw it out. Maybe try to take another look at it from a different perspective, but if its a dead dog-then go bury it.

NO REPEATS – Bungie is determined not to make the same mistakes they made with HALO 2. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

WHAT IS YOUR IDENTITY? – Designers are committed to a 2 step process: First dream up new weapons, levels, and situations. Then monitor hundreds of people as they play the heck out of the game. Bungie knows who they are and what they want to accomplish. Too many of us in ministry try to be everything to everyone. Didn’t the first church in Acts have that dilemma? The disciples just decided, “Hey, this is who we are and what we are going to do.” I also want to dream up new weapons, levels, and situations too…..

NEW IDEAS CAN BRING NEW UNEXPECTED PROBLEMS – A Halo Developer in the article talks about a new addition to the game will also inevitably cause unexpected problems. A particular gun becomes too powerful, a vehicle ends up making battled lopsided-and suddenly the game is less fun. What “particular gun” in our ministry is too powerful, what “vehicle is making ministry-battle lopsided”?

STUDENTS NEED TO LEARN TO SELF-SUSTAIN – “Gamemakers have to devise a system of rules and equipment that gives players a few basic goals and then allows them to find their own ways of achieving those goals. The flow comes from constantly discovering innovative ways to solve these open-ended problems.” I love that quote! We can’t hold our students’ hands every minute of the day. We must give them the basics to sustain on their own. No spoon-feeding.

SOMETIMES STUDENTS GET CLEVER – “Then the tester got a clever idea.” As the developers were testing the game, a tester came up with a new way to play that the developers didn’t even notice. Sometimes students can bring a whole new idea to the table. After all, they are the ones we are trying to reach, right? Give them a listen.

MORE WARTHOGS – “Designers hadn’t put enough vehicles in the scene, and the A.I marines were taking them all before players realized they were supposed to hop aboard. The solution: More Warthogs.” Student Ministry: More new ways of getting to our students so they can hop aboard. Text-messaging, emails, blogs, facebook, myspace, postcards, websites, whatever and however.

SOLVE THE MYSTERY – Bungie wants to know why some Brutes are going AWOL in a later Jungle battle. We need to find out why 11th and 12th graders are checking out of church, period.

DO BETTER – Wired Magazine ends the article with “Pagulayan, (Bungie staff member) wants do better.” We should want that too. We should want to DO BETTER. There is much more at stake with our ministry than a high score.

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