Murselle’s talk/paper, “Understanding Theological Content in Games”, generated much debate and discussion at the 2015 Christian Game Developer Conference (CGDC) and her hope was to continue that dialogue beyond the Conference. To that end, I agreed to periodically post on this blog and be active in the discussions surrounding it, as it is a subject I am very much interested in.
Since a central portion of her talk revolved around the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed, it’s sensible to use that as a starting point; my original intent was to use both creeds to outline what elements are central to the Christian faith and therefore should be incorporated, once understood correctly, into the games that we make. On further reflection, I decided not to do that, at least not as previously stated, because it would make for dry reading, create unnecessary conflict, and possibly further divide people. Instead, I’m still going to go through the creeds, but with a different twist inspired by two things:
First, after Murselle’s talk, there was a panel discussion; one of the panelists was Chris Skaggs of Soma Games / Code Monkeys and he made a very important point; specifically, that we should not view our faith / creeds as a series of statements that constrain us (“Thou shalt not’s”), but rather as a starting point for the abundant life which God wants for each of us. Rather than being limited to strict standards of which every game must adhere, the creeds, he implied, should be a wellspring of inspiration from which we draw positive strength (definitely paraphrasing here).
Second, during the research I did for my own presentation, I spent some time on the ChristianDevs.com website and was impressed by their annual Speed Games (I encourage each of you to check them out). For those who don’t know, the way it works, three scriptural references are chosen by the community, and the developers use one or more of those verses as the inspiration for a game that they design and create during a four week period. The results are impressive.
Hmmm. What if I use part of the Speed Game methodology, but instead of using verses from Scripture, I use lines / words from the creeds, and instead of developing full games, I just jot down game concepts – all while explaining the meaning of those lines, how they apply to us as Christian game developers, and keep to the positive approach that Chris Skaggs mentioned. And that is exactly what I am going to do.
A few notes before I begin. For brevity, I’ve combined elements from both creeds; phrases derived from the Nicene Creed are enclosed in braces, those that are not are from the Apostle’s Creed. Second, while all of the game concepts I put down here are my own ideas, feel free to use part, or all of these ideas, either as a part of your game or as a new game that you create yourself – with one exception: the game I am currently developing, Character Quest, which I specifically retain copyright privileges for exclusively (sorry, required legal talk). With that, let us dive in…
Acknowledge the Centrality of Faith
Life contains mysteries that, despite all of our technologies, we may not be able to uncover or understand. Rather than shirk from this or embrace ignorance, we hold fast to certain principles received by God, regardless of whether or not they can (or should) be proved – that is the essence of faith. In this day and age of science and secularism, being a person of faith can be unpopular, subject persons to criticism (or worse), and be difficult due to the many temptations and distractions the world has to offer.
So why not create a video game that teaches exactly that: faith? We can call it FaithSim. Players are tasked with adhering their avatar to One Central Truth (doesn’t even have to be religious); during gameplay they are subjected to other characters that question that truth, point out conflicting evidence, distract them with other necessary and optional tasks, offer them substitutes like wealth, fame, and power, or introduce them to escapism through fantasy, titillation, or sensory numbing. Play can be timed, with leaderboards for those that last a long time, and the “Game Over” screen can help the Player understand where they veered of the path. Start Screen can even have links to websites that teach more about faith.
“..in [one] God..”
Acknowledge God’s Existence
We are not atheists. We believe in something bigger than ourselves. We are able to do this, in part, because of others around us and the circumstances into which we are born. But to a large degree, God has a hand in this by revealing himself to us through inspiration, grace, revelation, dreams, other works of creation (e.g. music, art, nature), and even the occasional miracle. Not everyone is keyed into this however, many people believe they create their own opportunities or “luck”.
So why not create a RPG where leveling up requires you to rely on God? Call it Pride Overcome. Players start as a down on their luck hobo (male or female) whose goal is to “make it in life”. During their journey they are given many opportunities to rely on others, themselves, or God. Player attributes can include Integrity, Wisdom, and Humility which can increase or decrease depending on their choices. In-game prayer is a part of gameplay, as is opportunities to donate to real life charities (in limited amounts, for parents only). Players get to see the consequences of their choices and there exists the possibility of death. Also there is an AI that can bestow miracles, revelations, and other graces depending on a complex algorithm / set of variables. This can even be developed into a multiplayer game, if desired.
We are not polytheists, believing in several false gods. And in this day and age there are many false gods; not only the obvious ones like Baal, Shiva, and Hare Krishna, but also the more insidious ones like money, lust, gluttony, fame, and power. It’s easy for our hearts to become divided, so it’s important not only to recognize these false gods, but also to know how to focus on the One, True God, as well as how to deal with these false gods in a loving, Christian manner.
I feel another game coming on; call it Inherent Truth. Similar to the iOS game app, Fruit Ninja, Players are required to slash symbols of various False Gods, and additionally to periodically tap on the symbol(s) representing True Love, but avoid slashing symbols that represent various virtues. Players can drag the correct virtue symbols onto a corresponding False God symbol for extra bonus points. Players also have access to a Compendium that explains each symbol and, optionally, Parents are able to mod the game by adding their own symbols and Compendium entries.
Acknowledge the Parental and Loving Nature of God
A game that models positive fatherly interactions with children is sorely needed in this world where too many children are raised without a male role model. These interactions include: the importance of involvement, modeling maturity and responsibility, providing a male perspective, demonstrating various ways of providing and protecting, teaching values, and exhibit the nature of love in male / female relationships.
So we could create, Pater Complexus, an abstract top down hybrid arcade tower defense game where the main character, “Pops”, spends his time protecting, providing, and being present for his son, “Bud”, and his wife, “Mammy”, the latter two of which are represented by circular symbols of different colors/sizes. Both Bud and Mammy have an “affinity” meter which slowly decreases when Pops is not close by. Play starts with all three in the center of a two directional scrollable environment. Pops has to spend his time between being present, gathering “provisions” (usually located near the edge of the visible environment), and protecting his family from the “Menacing Ones” (square shaped characters that try to kidnap or get between Pops and his family). Over time, both Bud and Mammy began to wander and the Menacing Ones become faster and/or bolder. Play ends when the affinity meter for both Bud and Mammy reach zero or there aren’t enough provisions to keep all three alive.
Further, there is a dearth of games that address the various aspects of parenthood, let alone God’s patient parental hands; when the reality is that abundant themes could flow from this: grace, compassion, fortitude, blessings, everyday miracles, inherent dignity, the beauty of nature and creation, surrender / acceptance, and boundless mercy, to name a few.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a game already made that I believe falls within this category: That Dragon, Cancer speaks about grace under extreme heartache and how God heals us.
Acknowledge the Supremacy/Omnipotence of God
This topic reminds me of a line of lyrics from You are I Am by MercyMe: “I’ve been the one to believe, That where I am You cannot reach”. Many doubt, whether consciously or unconsciously, that God’s power is truly unlimited, that he is capable of understanding / forgiving our sins, or that his Light can overcome all darkness. The existence of Hell, of evil, and suffering has led many to believe that even God has limits. They would be wrong about that (How very human of us).
So I propose we create a game where God (and in the end, the Player) wins every time. Call it: The [Un]Defeated. It’s a MMORPG where every Player starts by creating the most damaged, miserable, and/or evil character they can conceive and is then placed in a broken world; the object is for the Player to overcome whatever challenges their characters face with the help of NPCs and intervention from the “Divine One”. However, unbeknownst to the Players, there really are no NPCs, instead the “NPCs” are controlled by apologists, suicide / drug / alcohol counselors, life coaches, financial specialists, motivational speakers, and others who give real world counseling to the Player-created avatars. The Player levels up by helping others (especially helping others level up). Occasionally miracles and divine interventions occur, but mostly the Divine One uses other characters / “NPCs” and the environment to “heal” the Player. Of all of my game suggestions this would be the most ambitious and resource intensive one, but if done properly, could “save” lives (in more ways than one).
“…creator of Heaven and Earth…”
Acknowledge God as our Creator
Much has been written over the millennia about Creationism, about HOW God created the reality in which we inhabit. Many non-Christians and even some Christians find it a stumbling block when they compare Genesis to the ideas of modern day evolution. For myself, I confess to having a finite body and brain; I do not dain to even presume that I understand the complexities of Genesis, much less have interpreted it correctly. I believe that God is capable of doing what he wants, the way he wants, and in whatever manner Creation took place; I will accept that rather than debating a matter over which I have no authority or certainty. What I believe (not know) and acknowledge is simply this: God is my Creator, He created all out of nothing, He gave it an order and beauty, and as such all things depend on Him. I would be remiss to claim anything more lest God rebuke me as an arrogant fool as he did Job (Job 38 – 42). Regardless, there are more than a few Christian game developers who will create games on this topic; I respect them and have no need to doubt their sincerity, nor the Source of their inspiration.
Despite any controversy, there is plenty material from here upon which to draw: the sacredness / specialness of all creation especially life, the profound privilege it is for us to be able to witness and walk among the results of His creation, the immeasurable love that God demonstrates to us through
Creation, and the immensity and complexity of Creation that is both humbling and inspiring. Additionally, God gave us this Creation as a gift; one meant for us to wisely steward and not take for granted.
Capturing the immensity and beauty of what God has created would be the goal of Glancing Greatness, a 3d Hidden Object game (series?) that spans multiple scales (Cosmic to Subatomic) and features a time bar that can be scrubbed forward and backward. Players take on the role of Archangel Ariel who has been tasked with finding certain items that Archangel Raphael has hidden for Ariel’s amusement. Player’s are given Raphael’s list and win by finding all of the items therein. Items could include a wide range of things: relics, rare or now extinct species, natural processes, specific moments in time (e.g. Building of the Temple), or many other possibilities. Gameplay includes the ability of Ariel to give praise and thanksgiving to God for all of his works.
“[of all that is seen and unseen.]”
Acknowledge the Existence of a Spiritual World
Spiritual Warfare deserves a video game that goes beyond merely identifying / finding the Armour of God (Ephesians 6:13); what is needed is a game that demonstrates real world and spiritual usage of these concepts / truths. And done in a way that isn’t preachy or overtly religious, it would be a powerful teaching tool for many.
Such is the goal of my own offering, Character Quest, a 3D turn-based RPG being developed for the PC whose Players learn to utilize such skills as Resolve, Integrity, and Love. It is intended to be a safe place for young Players to learn to recognize evil and learn to respond in a Christian manner by confronting NPCs that are the embodiment of vices with various virtues. Play is family friendly, emphasizes exploration and puzzle solving, and includes maintaining a Reputation metric.
So that brings us to the end of paragraph one of the Creeds and also to the end of Part One of this series. For the next post, I will be tackling the next section of the Creeds which deals with Jesus.
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