Re-Imagining Christian Education Through Neurodivergent Fellowship, Play, and Leadership in Online Videogaming
Keywords:Christian Education, Fellowship, Leadership, Minecraft, Neurodiversity, Play, gamevironments
From Fall 2020 to Spring 2022, the Center of Theological Inquiry, funded by a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation’s Diverse Intelligences Initiative and in collaboration with Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, created a Minecraft (2011) videogame prototype titled The Spiritual Loop. This videogame prototype was designed and developed for fostering spiritual growth and connection based on ethnographic research with neurodivergent persons and their Christian faith communities in the United States. Considering the lack of access disabled persons experience with respect to Christian communities in the US (Carter 2007), alongside the disproportionate emphasis on educational and therapeutic outcomes with respect to neurodivergent gamers (Spiel and Gerling 2021), our participatory fieldwork with neurodivergent players led us to emphasize the game’s opportunities for spiritual connection versus mastery of biblical content or Christian virtues.
This paper highlights two findings with respect to gaming and Christian education. First, despite the consistent emphasis on fostering Christian community and connection, neurotypical players frequently mistook the game’s goal as Christian education, whereas neurodivergent players readily appreciated the game’s fellowship potential. Second, neurodivergent players seamlessly assumed leadership roles in online game play, confirming the ability of online communities to transform theological hierarchies (Campbell 2012). Based on these findings, we suggest that a bifurcation in fellowship and education in traditional Christian formation reflects ableist biases. The flexible, playful environment presented in online gaming spaces offers critical opportunities for fostering fellowship between neurodivergent and neurotypical Christians, as well as untapped opportunities for neurodivergent leadership to flourish in reimagining more accessible environments for Christian education.