- September 13, 2017
- Christian Entertainment
When we think back on the history of television, it’s hard to believe that the medium is only about as old as WWII. As such an integral part of our daily lives today, we can easily forget that there was a time when the television seemed like new technology. One form of entertainment that is even younger is the world of video games. While Atari and Nintendo helped spur the movement on in years past, video games have become a $100 billion industry worldwide. For perspective, the global box office for movie ticket sales in 2016 took in $38 billion. Video games are only going to get bigger as we start venturing into more mobile games and virtual and/or augmented reality projects. Since we have Christian movies and music, can there also be Christian video games? There have actually been a few popular Christian video games over the years. Let’s walk through the history of the Christian gaming industry and see some of the highlights.
Early Christian Video Games
The 1970’s gave birth to the video game movement, but the classics from this decade were much simpler than today’s world of first-person shooters and complex world building. Atari came onto the scene and delivered a massive success with "Pong," a game that is essentially two lines hitting a ball back and forth. There were other game developers of the time but it was the Pong creators who reigned supreme until Nintendo came along in the 80’s.
Like with many forms of entertainment, the religious equivalent took a few years longer to take root. Christian video games started to pop up around the same time that Nintendo was developing its system. Many of these games focused on Bible trivia and emphasized the importance of knowing scripture. As technology advanced in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the games became a little more complex. One of the first big Christian video games was “Bible Adventures” (gameplay shown below). This game was actually a collection of three different mini-games, each coming from an Old Testament account. The gameplay for all three was comparable to the Mario games made popular by Nintendo. In the Noah’s Ark chapter, you would try to gather the many animals onto the ark, while similar adventures take place in the David & Goliath and Baby Moses games.
Many of these early Christian video games involve stories from the Old Testament. The stories of Moses and Noah were especially popular. “Exodus” was another game that was popular on multiple gaming platforms. While there was little, if any, violence to be found in early Christian video games, games like “Exodus” at least presented villains that you could dispatch while you collected the items necessary to win. Other known games at the time were “King of Kings” and “Sunday Funday.” The latter is different from most other Christian games in that it isn’t set in Biblical times. Instead it’s a skateboarding game (borrowed from another game, “Menace Beach”) about a kid that is trying to make it to church. While there is a certain amount of silliness when you think about the plot, it is still an interesting idea. Here’s what that one looked like.
Christian Video Games in the 2000’s
The late 90’s and early 00’s saw an increase in both sports and shooting games. Game graphics were starting to become more lifelike, meaning that game developers could start to think bigger. During this time, most of the biggest franchises in gaming were formed. “Halo,” “Resident Evil,” “Grand Theft Auto,” and “Call of Duty” are just a few of the names that come from this era in gaming. Beyond the updating of graphics, this time period was also revolutionary for gaming because it began the introduction of console gaming going online. We often forget that playing a video game used to mean you were in isolation or competing against one friend.
Christian video games in the 00’s also broadened their horizons and went bigger. Instead of most video games being Bible trivia or simple mini-games, the Christian market tried to compete on the same level as the secular offerings. One of the biggest Christian games of this time was “Left Behind: Eternal Forces.” The first in a series of video games connected with the popular book series, “Eternal Forces” was a PC game that combined elements from games like “Grand Theft Auto,” “The Sims,” and “Resident Evil” to create a spooky post-Rapture environment where the player tries to convert believers and enlist allies in a coming war. It isn’t a fighting game, though that may happen at one point. The fun of the game is more in world building and creating alliances and converts.
Another popular theme during this time was games that involve music and dance. “Guitar Hero” and “Dance Dance Revolution” are two secular games that eventually received Christian counterparts. “Dance Praise” is a PC game that involves a directional gamepad where the player dances along with the instructions on the screen. A commercial for one of the franchises entries can be found below. “Guitar Praise” is another computer game very closely modeled after a successful game from secular culture. The game allows you to play along with top Christian hits from bands like Skillet and Switchfoot.
The 00’s had plenty of classic adventure games as well, with one big title being “Catechumen.” This first person shooter takes place in the Roman era and casts the player as a Christian who is looking for his mentor in the Catacombs. The game has a bit of a “Tomb Raider” and gives you weapons to fight off enemies, but there’s no actual bloodshed.
Christian Video Games in the Future
When we look at gaming in the future, we see a world that is moving beyond consoles. Of course we’ll always have at least some form of console gaming, but the new frontier is mobile games, augmented or virtual reality, and beyond. Just look at the “Pokemon Go” craze that developed in the summer of 2016. By incorporating smartphones and real-world maps, the game was something new and fresh that the world just had to discover.
Christian video games of late have focused more on the mobile side of gaming. Many of these game apps have been simple puzzles and trivia contests that mirror the setup of such games in the 80’s, but it shows that Christian innovators have at least adapted to the poor sales of their console games from the past. One popular Christian mobile game is “A Journey Towards Jesus.” In this story you play a young man who is looking to find Jesus and along the way you have to answer questions from the Bible and solve puzzles. It has nice, clean design and is a great way for kids (or considerably older gamers) to spend their time.
One interesting thing to come out of gaming recently is that not everyone is looking to create the next “Halo” phenomenon. Instead there are many developers who are simply trying to tell a story or invoke an emotion. A game that has been a passion project for its developers is “That Dragon, Cancer.” Created by a father who lost his son to cancer, the game is an autobiographical work that allows the player to experience everything that goes into the journey of having a child with cancer. While that may not sound like a crowd pleaser, the result is a work of art that is strong in both imagination and heart. The trailer below gives you an idea what to expect from the game.
That’s it for our brief look at Christian video games through the years. Like we said, this is still a young medium of entertainment so there’s still a lot of innovation to come. If we compare timelines to the world of film, then video games haven’t even made it out of the black and white era. There’s so much that can be done with Christian video games. Only time will tell what comes from them.
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