Ansel Oliver/ANN | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

Top Seventh-day Adventist technology experts are promoting the concept of game creation for education and evangelism outreach.

Their call came on the final day of the denomination’s Global Adventist Internet Network conference, which also featured presentations on how to operate an information technology department on a budget and an overview of the increasing popularity and uses of virtual currency, such as Bitcoin.

This year’s GAiN conference was held online and drew participation from people in more than 100 countries. That total included more than 3,800 visitors across four languages—English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Conference organizers also gave attendees a behind-the-scenes look at GAiN’s 2015 production, a glimpse that offered tips on how regional church administrative units can produce a similar online conference.

DP Harris, vice president for information systems at Loma Linda University, started the day off by promoting game creation within the Adventist Church for purposes of education and ministry.

“Our challenge as educators is to create a learning experience that is engaging, challenging and achievable,” Harris said. “Games are now on the forefront of reaching people all over the world.”

Loma Linda University recently hosted a “game-storming” session in which officials invited high school students to create games promoting healthful living. The university, Harris said, is also developing games for continuing education of medical students and physicians at the university hospital.

Harris identified what he said was the difference between “gaming” and “gamification.”

“‘Gaming’ is when it’s designed to be fun and I try to sneak in teaching. ‘Gamfication’ is when it’s designed to teach and I try to sneak in fun,” he said.

Harris warned, however, that games for educational purposes must still have strong elements of fun or risk being ignored.

Indeed, in a panel discussion, Daryl Gungadoo, research and development engineer for Adventist World Radio, said the Church can learn from game-makers’ past mistakes. The popular geography game “Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?” was purchased by an educational company, which overhauled the game with more overt learning objectives. The re-launch was met with disastrous results.

“The kids smelled education a mile away and lost interest,” Gungadoo said.

Gungadoo, who is involved with the Adventist-sponsored game “Heroes,” said Adventist World Radio is currently making a game that teaches AWR operations and engineering. Players attempt to send programming from the network’s mega station in Guam to countries throughout Asia by bouncing radio signals off the earth’s ionosphere.

Gungadoo said three Adventist universities currently offer at least one class on game development—Andrews University and Southern Adventist University in the United States, and Montemorelos University in Mexico.

The next presenter, Kirk Nugent, IT director for the denomination’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, based in South Africa, shared his experience of building and maintaining an IT department on a budget.

“Understand the organization’s strategic plan,” Nugent told participants as his top tip in order to create solutions that help implement a Church administration’s goals. “Partner with the departments, get to know their specific struggles, their desires, their dreams, and help them realize what technology can do to accomplish them.”

Nugent said an Adventist IT director must leverage the equipment and resources he or she has. “In IT we like to paint a bleak picture that we really have nothing, but this is honestly not the case. We need to be open to zero-cost solutions just as much as everyone else,” Nugent said. He went on to tell biblical stories in which God used a little amount of food to feed 5,000 people, or a few soldiers following Gideon to defeat a large army. “Start with what you have and see how God can bless.”

Nugent also recommended identifying successful projects that can contribute to multiple needs. In a panel discussion, Luke Pannekoek, IT manager for the denomination’s South Pacific Division, based in Australia, said the division created a Web-based event registration and management solution for the Youth Ministries department event that has since been used for hundreds of other events.

The duo also highlighted the website Alance, a connection platform for Adventist IT professionals looking for employment or volunteer opportunities.

Gungadoo, the AWR engineer, also delivered a presentation on the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Many companies are accepting Bitcoin payments, which has superseded Western Union and pulled even with PayPal in total annual financial transfers.

The Adventist Church, too, should accept Bitcoin donations, Gungadoo said. Several companies offer low or no transaction fee for transfers, he said.

“I’m fascinated by this, and I’m thinking our church organization could gain immensely by adopting this capability,” Garrett Caldwell, the Adventist world church’s associate Communication director for public relations, said in a panel discussion.

Missionaries taking large amounts of money to remote areas wouldn’t have to carry bags of cash, and online transfers could take place in seconds instead of hours or days. One disadvantage, however, could be the currency’s fluctuation, Gungadoo said.

Caldwell summarized the point of Gungadoo’s virtual currency presentation with a line that might also epitomize the goal of the entire conference: “The GAiN conference is an appropriate time to throw as many ideas against the wall as possible and see which ones stick,” he said.

Videos from the five-day conference, including a behind-the-scenes look at how it was produced, will be posted soon on the website