Ari Schachter views creating educational Jewish games for children as his shlichus. He has published seven games that cover a variety of topics and skills and has several more in the works. The games are designed to work on a smartphone or tablet to make the games as accessible as possible.
By: Ari Schachter
I’ve always enjoyed playing games. Computer games, strategy games board games; I enjoy them all. I think it’s the combination of fun and brain stimulation that keeps me engaged. But as I grew older and (supposedly) wiser, I came to see the educational benefits that games can offer.
This, coupled with a lack of suitably Jewish-themed games led me to my new hobby of game design. It struck me one day as particularly strange that a popular kids’ game involves discovering the identity, weapon, and location of a murderer?!
I thought to myself: Why not switch the genre on its head? Why not make a game about discovering a mitzvah performed by someone in an undisclosed location? And with this thought our first game “Secret Mitzvah” was born.
I say “our” because while I conceived of the idea, my creative and capable wife finessed all of the artwork, modified the concept, and produced a classy card game version (which is Shabbos friendly) which we gave out at my eldest son’s Bar mitzvah.
Even before we produced Secret Mitzvah I had been working on simple Jewish games for phones. If a young child can work out how to use a phone and play games then they can and should be able to learn in the process.
I had 2 basic goals in mind. Make it simple and make it educational. In my mind, the easiest expression of these goals were games that related to Gematria. So, I purchased some templates and “Jewified” them to create Alef Beis Switch and Zevi’s Alef Beis. The latter of which has sound effects voiced by my then 5yo nephew, Zevi, hence Zevi’s Alef Beis.
These games meant that when my kids wanted to play on my phone while we were idling in line at the supermarket they were subtly learning the shapes and Gematrios of the Alef Beis, the importance of Tzedoko, or the Halochos of Purim.
I was inspired to pursue this journey when I came across a Sicho of the Rebbe 1 discussing the absence of formal learning during the summer/winter months. The Rebbe made mention that even though this is not the school year when time is filled by being in a Yeshivah or school and learning through Seforim, there are other ways for the time to be filled with true content. In many aspects, it is possible to have an even greater impact on the child.
“For example: [A child learns] when externally it seems that the child is being told a story, but the content of the story is a lesson, and even more, of Chassidishe content. Another way [to make the time meaningful] is to show a child that his playing can involve toys that emphasize the importance of tzedakah, or helping another, etc. For example, one can play a game of searching for “treasure”, which emphasizes how each Yid needs to search for the “treasure” hidden within the world and in each Yid.”
With this lesson as my mantra, I decided to release 6 games for kids (and adults alike) with which they could “fool” their Yetzer Horo into learning. I have a further 10 more in the pipeline which I hope to be releasing over the next few months. I made the games free, despite the time and costs I’ve incurred, because I view this area of my life as a Shlichus. Most recently I’m in the final stages of making a new game “Mitzvah on the Go” which is a unique blend of both game and Torah education. I designed this game with my 7-year-old son. It combines the best parts of a number of other popular board games and will IYH be a useful tool in education.
Links to the games are available on my website https://www.zelest.com.au I’m not sure where the next leg of this journey will take me but I’m BH enjoying the ride thus far! Perhaps these are the final sparks needed to bring the Geulah…
Wishing everyone an inspiring Lag Ba’omer and a meaningful Shavuos experiencing Kabbolos Hatorah Besimcho Ubepnimiyus.