About Canon: The Card Game

About Canon: The Card Game August 15, 2017

I hope that readers of this blog have all seen Joseph Hartropp’s article about Canon: The Card Game. If not, please do read it. I thought that it might be worth sharing here my longer text that I provided to him about the game, in case you find it interesting.

The game originated with one of the challenges I face as a professor who teaches a one-semester course on the Bible. Students regularly come to class with misconceptions about the biblical canon. Some think the whole thing dropped from the sky as a complete package, while others have heard the Da Vinci Code version that has Constantine telling the church that it has too many Gospels and they need to cut the list down to four. As those who have studied it know, the actual history of the canon is a complex one, which started with works that a network of communities happened to have and share, and then met with debates among themselves, as well as between themselves and others, about works they did not all share. Discussions, additions, removals, and much else continued to happen down the centuries, and it can be incredibly boring to try to cover it in one of the first classes of the semester – but if it is left until the end, then important information that might impact how students approach the works within the Bible is missing. And so this presents a conundrum for the professor.

Thinking about this process, one that was competitive and collaborative at the same time, it struck me that it might be possible to replicate these dynamics in a set of game rules, and have students learn about it not through reading or lecture but play – and the discussion generated by the game. What started to get me really excited about the possibilities of the game was when I realized that the same concept and set of rules could work for canon in the sense in which it is used in fandom franchises as well as in biblical studies. And so I made two decks, initially, using the university print shop, and gave the game its first major unveiling in my class on Religion and Science Fiction. I was very happy with the discussions that were generated. There are lots of parallels between the debates about what is or is not “canon” in both these contexts. When someone says that Star Wars Episode I is not as authoritative as the original trilogy, that parallels debates about the relative importance of Romans and James between Protestants and Catholics. And when all fans agree that the first Star Wars movie ever made is at the heart of the canon, and yet disagree about whether Han shot first, that is essentially a matter of textual criticism, akin to accepting the Gospel of John and yet debating the status of the story of the woman caught in adultery.

After that, I wanted to make a more professional-looking version of the game, and discovered The Game Crafter, which has allowed me not only to make decks for my own use, but also to make it available for others to buy. I know that copies have been sold, and professors have used it in classes, in various parts of the world: the United States, the UK, Australia, Norway, and Singapore. Anyone interested can get themselves a copy from The Game Crafter website. I have actually made multiple decks, so allow players to focus on the New Testament, the early church, the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, or Jewish pseudepigrapha. You can find them all here:

One other place I playtested the game was in a Sunday school class that I teach at my church, Crooked Creek Baptist Church. I’m a Christian, as well as teaching the Bible at Butler University from a religious studies perspective. And so I was interested to find out how a faith community might react to and engage with the game. I think the most interesting group that I have witnessed playing it is a group of students from Christian Theological Seminary. They paid much more attention to what was written on the cards than my undergraduate students at Butler did. They cared whether the Gospel of Mark, for instance, was or was not in the canon, and so that shaped their game play in interesting ways.

The game isn’t like Pokemon (although if I created an augmented reality version of the game, I’d be tempted to call it “PoCANON Go”! It isn’t a trading card game (although one can mix and match cards from different decks to make the works that are part of game play customized to your own interests. The latest deck I just released focuses on Jewish pseudepigrapha, and I hope to make ones that include more of the Bible as well as the Nag Hammadi texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I will be presenting about the game at a couple of different sorts of places in the very near and slightly more distant future – tomorrow at Gen Con, a big gaming convention here in Indianapolis, and then in November at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting. Needless to say, those will be very different presentations!

The above is what I provided him with, except for my update to reflect that my presentation at Gen Con is tomorrow. Will any blog readers be there – whether specifically at the session on “Gamification in Higher Education” or simply at Gen Con?

Did any of you spot some parts of the above that are quoted in the article? For your reading enjoyment, here’s still more related to education and gaming:

A game focused on spotting fake news.

The University of Michigan has a new gameful learning platform called GradeCraft available. The choice of name is interesting, given that others are seeking to move away from grades as the way learning is documented.

What the study of games in support of education shows.

Digital games’ impact on the mental health of Syrian refugee children.

What might we use 3D printing to create replicas in the teaching of religion/history?

Eliane Alhadeff on the use of games to teach American history.

Northern Michigan University shared a video about gamification in history class.

See also Tom Driscoll’s “Level Up With Gamification.”

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