For the past decade, two cultural phenomena have played major parts in American society, yet with curiously little reciprocation: video games and Christianity. Elderly people play Wii Sports, Rock Band is a house party staple – and remember DDR?
And every other week, the cover of TIME or Newsweek says something about the state of America’s faith – or an American Idol contestant sings a song by Switchfoot or Third Day. Nearly half of the country still votes based on whether or not a candidate subscribes to “Christian values.” (If you haven’t realized how massive a force Christianity is in the U.S., you’ve probably been playing too many video games.)
What I can’t figure out is why the two worlds haven’t collided yet. Left Behind: Eternal Forces, the video game about surviving the Tribulation, garnered some attention at its release, but was ultimately a flop. Where’s the Moses video game? Where’s Spiritual Warfare? Where’s David and Goliath?
About twenty years ago, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) did have “Christian video games.” They were only sold at the Family Christian Stores. For this, they were not legitimate NES games at all – completely unlicensed, actually. The cartridges weren’t even the standard shape or color. They were subversive in their religious infiltration, marketing solely to the Christian audience. If you didn’t grow up in an overly-churched family, you didn’t know about these games.
Thematically, Spiritual Warfare was like a more offensive version of Left Behind. It played like The Legend of Zelda, with overhead perspective and a square-shaped character. But instead of wandering around forests and collecting pieces of the Tri-Force, a “Christian” character must wander around forests and find various Fruits of the Spirit. Once a new piece of fruit has been attained, it can be used as a weapon. (Were the fruits of peace and kindness left out of the game?)
The “full armor of God” was also scattered about forests and city worlds – shields, and breastplates, and whatnot. And boots, which enabled the character to walk safely over hot tar. The boots were a nod to “feet shod with the gospel of peace,” obviously.
Collecting all of the objects was ultimately a means towards defeating/converting enemies. The enemies in the game were two-fold, physical and spiritual. Simple human beings (graffiti artists, drunkards, Hare Krishnas, and so on) would walk around, apparently trying to hurt you because of your blatant Christianity, so you were forced to throw fruit at them. If enough fruit made direct contact, it would eventually kill these people. But that was never the end of the situation. Once the nasty heathens were dead, the spiritual reality made itself known. A red demon would fly out of their corpse, attacking the righteous Christian fruit-flinger. Luckily the fruit was dualistic, as effective on flesh and blood as it was on metaphysical phenomena.
Exodus was similar to Spiritual Warfare in its gameplay, but much more maddening. The levels were a mind-numbing mix of puzzle and RPG that required players to exhibit the patience of Job. As far as Bible video games go, Exodus was probably the most appropriate adaptation. It likely took about forty years to complete this game, level after level of wandering agony. I really felt empathy for the ancient Hebrews after playing this drag.
Bible Adventures was a real treat, though. It played like Super Mario 2, and there were three different games in one cartridge: Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, and some sort of baby Moses debacle that required Miriam to carry the future Exodus superstar to the river. The only fun part of this latter game was the ability to toss baby Moses around. He was a tough cookie – inhumanly tough. But apparently this is what happens when you’re predestined by God to lead people to the Promised Land. If anything, it’s nice to see Miriam get a little more credit, even if the game is boring.
Noah’s Ark was good clean fun. An old, bald, bearded Noah had to run and jump around mountains and forests, picking up wild animals and dropping them off in the door of the ark. This really brought the story of Noah to life. If anyone ever wondered how every animal in the entire world, male and female, found its way into one boat in a specific geographic location, this game explains everything.
Animals are wild. They didn’t line up single file as they waltzed into the ark, which would be ridiculous. Noah had to go out and collect these animals himself. Snakes, lions, cows, monkeys and every species that can fit into a little cartridge – they’re all here. All you have to do is pick them up above your head and run them into the ark. But if you don’t move all of the species into the ark, Noah fails. So to avoid partaking in heresy, you have to win this game.
The game didn’t include any dinosaurs either. So maybe the creators of Bible Adventures were theistic evolutionists or progressive creationists, but all that fundamentalist talk about the dinosaurs being wiped out by the great flood seem glossed over in this video game. Maybe it was just a can of worms that Wisdom Tree wasn’t prepared to open.
The best Christian video game was easily David and Goliath. With a trusty sling, your playing character is young David. In the initial stages, the only danger is wild animals. But with dead aim, David can kill lions by flinging rocks. A great prelude to the final battle with Goliath is the fight with Goliath’s shield-bearer, an oft-forgotten Bible character. As far as Bible stories go, he’s very underrated. Verily I say, the shield-bearer was a tougher battle than the 10-foot giant himself.
After beating Goliath, players really come to understand the Biblical concept of violence. All of a sudden it wasn’t just something your parents did on Sundays: Christianity suddenly made sense to the first-grade mind after experiencing it on Nintendo. Christianity was about being better than the sinful world that’s against you.
It should be no different today. Christians still find victory and success very appealing, and what better way to garner accomplishments than by beating video games? Now would be a perfect time to resurrect the Christian video games. There are so many stories that would make for a great RPG. Jonah and the whale (or “big fish”), Joshua’s battle of Jericho, escape from Sodom and Gommorrah, Gideon. How amazing would a Samson video game be!
And if any of these games are successful, maybe they could even do Lego versions.