Shouldn’t the Bible be obvious gaming material? After all, in Scripture we have the greatest story ever told. It tells of God’s love for humankind, demonstrated through the dynamic personality of Jesus, who (spoiler alert!) dies and then rises from the dead. If that’s not an ending with punch then I don’t know what is!
And regardless of your spiritual background, there is no denying that the Bible is great source material. It covers the full gambit of human experience, from the most grueling lows to the most ecstatic highs. Its themes are timeless and universal. Plus, the Bible has more action and adventure in a few pages than most games have in their entire storylines.
Am I crazy or are gaming studios missing out on a tremendous opportunity? The popularity of recent Bible-based movies shows that the market is viable. Gamers would flock to the store to try out a quality Bible game. I stress the word quality, though. In order for a gaming studio to design a great game, they would have to answer 5 questions in the design process:
1. How does the game handle moral choice?
A vital aspect of any successful game is player autonomy. Gamers want the freedom to make their own choices. Yet if a game were truly focused on the Gospel message, the underlying hope of the game would be to encourage players to make faithful and God-honoring choices.
Would a Bible-based game allow the player to go through the full consequences of their decisions? Or else, how does the game keep the storyline on track without taking away the player’s ability to reject certain options?
My suggestion: don’t make the player any of the named figures in Scripture. Instead, the player should be the “everyman” that is able to choose how to be involved. Leading up to the crucifixion, for example, a temple guard might choose to hang out with Christ’s disciples or else take the alternative quest line with the priestly leaders of the Pharisees.
What do you think – how would you handle moral choice if you were designing a Christian video game?
2. How much violence should a Bible-based game contain?
A Bible-based game with no violence is being disingenuous. In order to stay true to Scripture, a game should at least acknowledge the violence that takes place in biblical events. The difference, though, is that describing violence is not the same thing as prescribing violence. The Bible often depicts violence that is outside God’s desired plan.
This question encroaches upon one of the age-old debates we see in video games: does allowing a player to be violent in the game constitute encouragement of that violence? In other words, do violent games create violent kids?
My suggestion: as best as possible, try to resist pressure to make the game more or less violent than the actual biblical text. Every detail in the Bible is there for a reason; there is nothing gratuitous. So in the case of violence, context and proportion are your friends.
3. How does the Bible avoid info dump?
The Bible is a big book with lots of dates, places, and names. It is no wonder the majority of current Bible games is trivia based. If our hypothetical game attempted to teach the player all these facts exhaustively, the player would get bogged down and never get past the prologue.
A common “solution” to this problem is to compress the story of Scripture into a more universal, summarized form. This approach leads to a whole different set of problems, however, because the final product ends up vague and preachy. Have you ever watched a cheesy Christian film that attempts to summarize all of Christian belief in a couple compact speeches? Doesn’t the result feel didactic? I agree.
My solution: tell a specific story with lots of up-close details. We learn more about love when we see it demonstrated by a single person than we do hearing abstractions about love. The player can pick up additional background by exploring the environment and straying from the main quest.
4. How does the game visually represent God?
This is a toughy. God is the main character of the Bible so surely He has to be shown visually? But to be honest, this question is exactly why God sent Jesus. When we look at Jesus we see not only a perfect example of what an Israelite was supposed to be, we also see God represented physically.
Jesus came to give us a better idea of what God’s love looks like. Otherwise, when God the Father or the Holy Spirit were being revealed to a human, it was done in a shrouded or symbolized way. God was not the burning bush in front of Moses, for instance, but He was representing His power in a way that Moses would understand and appreciate.
My suggestion: don’t show God as a bearded man on a cloud. Show God as the Bible shows God.
If you have read this far, and particularly if you are a gamer, I would love to hear your thoughts! What other challenges do you see in making a Christian video game? How would you go about designing a game that answers these questions?