Why Are Bible Games Never Very Good?

Have faith, The Call of Abraham developer says.

by

"It's no surprise that a great many gamers are averse to anything associated with God or the Bible," Martin Bertram tells me about his latest project, Bible Chronicles: The Call of Abraham, when I ask about the colorful response to our news story regarding his game's recently launched Kickstarter campaign.

Our story generated 500+ comments, many of which belittled the Kickstarter campaign and challenged its ambition, that is, to "stir hunger for God's word."

Bertram, cofounder of developer Phoenix Interactive Studios in Bakersfield, California, explained to me recently that he knows what he's up against with The Call of Abraham, but he's not afraid. If the game can rise above the challenges it faces, he believes it could be a breakthrough moment for Christian-themed video games.

But to do that, The Call of Abraham will need to break free of the history of mediocrity that Christian games have suffered through. He's hoping the game's "top notch" visuals, its Biblical accuracy (thanks to an advisory board of local pastors), and its effort to make sure it doesn't feel like a virtual church service will help the game succeed.

In the interview below, Bertram and other Phoenix Interactive founder Richard Gaeta explain why Christians and non-Christians alike will enjoy The Call of Abraham, where Bible-based games have stumbled in the past, and whether or not we'll see the likes of Activision or Electronic Arts getting into Christian games in the future.

The Kickstarter campaign for Bible Chronicles: The Call of Abraham has currently raised just over $16,000 of its $100,000 goal. The game has also been submitted to Steam Greenlight.

GameSpot: The news story we wrote on Call of Abraham drew an overwhelmingly negative response from our readers. Does this bother you?

Martin Bertram: It's no surprise that a great many gamers are averse to anything associated with God or the Bible, nor that those would be the most vocal. Where once it was the rebellious and counter-cultural thing in America to eschew God publicly, now it is more of the opposite. On the contrary, it is exciting to see the number of people on GameSpot and on Steam who have publicly expressed support or interest, some of whom even profess to be atheists. It shows a real measure of courage and independent thinking to do so when the herd mentality is to simply mock and jeer.

GS: Why are there so few examples of well-received and commercially successful Christian-themed video games, especially when the "install base" of Christians is so large?

Richard Gaeta: There are multiple hurdles that a Christian-themed video game needs to clear in order to make all of its marks. First, it needs to reflect the Bible accurately. Second, the messaging and gameplay needs to appeal to the largest market segment: Christian parents. Finally, it has to be engaging and fun for the players. The pursuit of creating a game that gets these three points right has led to all kinds of misfires. Aiming to please everyone, they pleased no one.

"The Bible is replete with rich and meaningful stories of old, which have never been well captured in a video game. The potential to be able to not only learn about the people and events of the Bible but to experience and interact with them is huge."

GS: Numerous Biblical figures and events would seem to make for a great video game. Things like St. Paul's life, Noah, or even the Passion I could be compelling for the masses. Why hasn't it happened yet?

MB: For the same reasons that there have been so few successful Christian-themed video games, the industry has been left in a state of limbo, so much so that many are declaring that the Bible and video games can't work together. That, of course, is ridiculous. The problem there is a lack of vision which is common in many spheres even beyond games; an inability to see beyond the status quo.

GS: Why would a Christian-themed game be more rewarding, as you claim, than some game like Uncharted or Halo that makes no evangelical statement?

RG: The Bible is replete with rich and meaningful stories of old, which have never been well captured in a video game. The potential to be able to not only learn about the people and events of the Bible but to experience and interact with them is huge. With the understanding that we can only re-create the cultures and environments as best as possible with the information available, the player can relate to the stories in a deeper way which would otherwise require not only reading the Bible, but researching numerous other historical texts and archaeological works. With a game like Call of Abraham, a player can gain all of that just by playing.

GS: In your game, you can only commit an act of violence if it is honorable, as you say. How do you determine what is honorable or not?

MB: Many games reward the player for killing and destroying everything that they can. Call of Abraham rewards the players for conducting themselves honorably. Combat has a place in the game as it does in reality, and the Bible teaches this. Defending the weak, the innocent, one’s home or one’s self from attack, for example. Furthermore, not all combat situations need to end in death. The player is rewarded for demonstrating wisdom and temperance, and a respect for life.

GS: You don't actually play as Abraham himself in Call of Abraham; can you explain the thinking behind putting the player into the shoes of a member of his caravan instead of Abraham himself?

RG: We recognized that allowing the player to be Abraham would cause issues with the story unfolding as told in the Bible, which would compromise either the ability to ensure biblical accuracy, or the ability of the player to make decisions. The player character is a fictional Elamite outcast who finds work with Abraham's caravan before departing Haran. Elam was the rising power in the region at that time. The background story of the player character unfolds as the game progresses, and compliments the main story of Abraham's journey.

GS: What is your ultimate aspiration for Call of Abraham?

MB: Our ultimate aspiration is to produce an interactive representation of the story of Abraham that is true to the Bible, and brings people closer to the God of the Bible.

GS: Do you think a Christian and a non-Christian would both enjoy the game?

RG: Absolutely! The playability of the game and intrigue of its story line will not take the player's perspective for granted. Whether you are a Christian or not, whether you believe the Bible is true or not, you will enjoy the adventure, the scenery, and the challenges you will face in the course of helping Abraham on his journey as told in the Bible.

GS: I spoke with Father James Martin of America Magazine about this topic, and he brought to mind the fact that experiences of God often come in groups. But Call of Abraham is a single-player only game. Why not include multiplayer?

MB: We considered multiplayer, but we opted against it for this first title. We're already breaking new ground, and we wanted to ensure the focus was going to be on an immersive adventure that brings the player deep into the story. The camaraderie of playing with friends can distract from that. This has been our experience anyway from over 30 years of gaming. We are working on plans to incorporate multiplayer functionality in some future titles.

GS: What are you going to do if your Kickstarter campaign comes up short?

RG: We believe that the campaign will succeed and we are walking by our faith in God day by day, even as Abraham did. God already knows if it will succeed or come up short, and if it does, He will lead us where to go next as we continue our faith journey to bring the game to completion.

We aren't adding to the story anything that would be out of place, as some games have in the past, to where you are going to feel like you’re attending a church service.

GS: I've played some of the Adam's Venture games, and while I enjoyed the visuals, the game came across as maybe too "preachy." In Call of Abraham, where do you draw the line between infusing the story with God's message and making fun gameplay?

MB: We draw the line where the Bible draws it. We aren't adding to the story anything that would be out of place, as some games have in the past, to where you are going to feel like you're attending a church service. We are simply going to tell the story of Abraham as the Bible does, and we'll let God do with that what He will in the hearts and minds of the players.

GS: Some of the most popular games today are the most violent ones; we're sucked in by this 'power fantasy' phenomenon. If not violence, then what is the "hook" for Call of Abraham?

RG: Many of the most popular games today overdose players on violence and head pounding action. The Call of Abraham will give players the thrills and suspense of an epic adventure, filled with honor, mystery, combat, hope, and despair that is able to stand on its engaging storyline rather than the incessant banging of the game controller.

GS: Do you think any of the mega-publishers like Activision or Electronic Arts would be on-board to publish a Christian-themed game?

MB: We can't really say whether or not they would, or even if they should. It may or may not be in their best interests, or in that of the game. These companies after all have their own visions for the kinds of games they are comfortable with and want to be a part of. From a business perspective, it might make sense.

GS: I have the Bible app installed on my phone right now and everyone once in a while I'll get a notification and it will play church bells. So it seems to me like God is capable of reaching people wherever they are, even today when our lives are filled with so many distractions. Do you think games like Call of Abraham could help encourage the Church to think about using games as a means for evangelization?

RG: Games have been used as tools in various segments of the secular industry for years. The public school system uses them to teach our children academic concepts. The more we speak and engage with the Pastors from various churches across the area we find that there is an increasing consensus amongst them realizing that video games are a tool that are being played several hours a day by our youth and would be well served to use that time engaging in games that hold true to biblical teaching vs. what's out there now. Although there are a plethora of Sunday School type games that are aimed at a younger audience, it is our young adults that are influenced heavily on a daily basis by the video game market. We hope to have Call of Abraham be the first in a long line of entertaining and spiritually based games that will stir a hunger in our youth for God's word.

Discussion

1530 comments
jimmy_russell
jimmy_russell

Video games can depict extreme violence, sexual deviance, politically charged propaganda. But God forbid a video game should have a positive message for the youth. Judgement Day is upon us.

Hurvl
Hurvl

On the Day of Judgment (the games release date) I shall foretell whether it's worthy to partake of my spare time or if the lolcat prophets of the Internet more deserve my attention.

Tao_and_Zen
Tao_and_Zen

I think that our civilization had evolved enough to realize that all religions, or any system of belief, are metaphors or analogies that describe a deeper -- perhaps spiritual -- truth. As we are not in a position to verify the accuracy of any given theory, not even the comfortable ones that we rely on daily -- as quantum physics has been showing us -- we don't want simplistic absolutes any more. The bible is a tired old mythology that most of us have been over-exposed to all our lives. While there are some good, important ideas in it, there is a lot of shit also. A method of teaching that was relevant thousands of years ago is not effective for our current civilization. Neither are the lessons the same. It's time to move on; we want something new. Based on how so many people have been reacting to yet another Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, Battlefield or yet another Hollywood remake, I'm confident I'm not alone in this.

That said, I am tired of the dominance of violence -- of people killing people -- in games. I applaud games that focus on cooperation, creating or building, exploration and personal growth over competition (except maybe sports games) and destruction. Yet these guys still want to include combat because sometimes it's "honorable". What part of "thou shalt not kill" is confusing? They claim the bible supports killing -- certainly there's plenty of it in there -- but that commandment does not end with "unless you have a really good reason for it".

I'm curious, why aren't there any successful muslim or buddhist themed games? I think it's because religious stories are not interesting in that format. They're too familiar and there is no mystery.

Anyway, I can't see a market for this game, except for those kids whose parents won't let them play anything better because it will lead them to temptation and the devil. I'd like to believe that those who subscribe to such mythologies are a diminishing demographic.

meatz666
meatz666

There are not many Christian games, because every time you mention anything from Christianity, they go crazy, throw you rocks, and want you to burn in hell. 

Redsyrup
Redsyrup

I wonder if pedophile priests will be included? A gateway to Sunday School.

Karchy
Karchy

The only bible i ever touched is the one in Castlevania..

Devil_78
Devil_78

We saw games support gays like mass effect and dragon age . We saw games support atheists like AC . Why are many people against this bible game ?

I believe in god and i proud of it but as a gamer i care about the game itself if its good i will play it if not i will pass .

digitaldeaddog
digitaldeaddog

A bible game that's largely unpopular falls in line with the "small flock" theory. They should feel relieved, it means they're on the right track. My problem with this is it's a game based on the old testament, which was stricken down when Jesus(the son of god) came into the picture, and said it's was crazy and showed people how to behave properly. Also, if anyone remembers history, it wasn't long after he died people started calling themselves christian that weren't. These people are pseudo-christian and are after money and fame. Being christian isn't about proclaiming it to every that doesn't care, it's about having integrity and knowing that ONLY god will recognize it. That being said, there is nothing wrong with fame and fortune as long as it isn't in "honor" of him/her.

banana23man
banana23man

Seeing that the game only have 2 weeks left for funding and $16k funded at the moment, I'd say god isn't on their side, which is really intriguing. One would think a god so egoistical that it demands everyone to worship it and condemn non believers to hell, would ensure that funding target of a bible game is reached in 1 day.

Paul2004
Paul2004

he talks a big game but can they pull it off ?....with its current kickstarter funding i doubt it. He also doesnt seem to understand that biblical/mythological figures and events have been used in successful games in the past (God of War is based on Greek gods) so the problem isnt with the base. Its because it looks like a 20 year old game and sounds boring.
His "It cant fail !" attitude is gonna bite him in the ass, its that same attitude which resulted in some of the biggest mistakes in human history (The Titanic was unsinkable, she sank on her maiden voyage)

TheKokopelli
TheKokopelli

Well, I seem to remember the developers of another Christian based game, built upon the book series, Left Behind, attempting to achieve the same results as referenced in the article.  It failed.  Miserably.


And perhaps he read from a different Bible than I did, but the whole defending the weak is biggest load of bull crap I've ever read.  Case in point, the numerous cities and towns raised by Joshua in the OT.


This game will very likely follow the same path as the others that come before it, eventually being mocked by a very aged Angry Video Game Nerd 20 years from now.

kryotech
kryotech

I've never seen any religion based games, especially Bible games, before. I have seen plenty of mythology games (like Norse mythology, Greek mythology, Hindu mythology) which don't really try to argue the morality and what not, but simply focus on story telling.

Rooten
Rooten

...WTF is this shit!?!?!

king_wrecked
king_wrecked

first off--LOL

second, i would love to see a great bible-based fighting game.  jesus vs. moses would be fantastic.  especially if there were finishing death moves.  this stuff would have to be more explicit and gory than anything mortal kombat has come up with.  like where jesus would shove his sandals up other dude's ass, then pull them out through the dude's broken-jawed mouth.

now, if we could get an overall religion-based fighting game, with like mohammed vs. buddah and such--that would be superbly epic.  granted, the muslims don't like mohammed being depicted in any way.  but, it's probably time they got over that.  i mean, there'd only be a few bombings.  it's a fair price to pay.

banana23man
banana23man

Why isn't anyone making games about the one true god, His Noodliness?

Damnation_6
Damnation_6

Wow there are a few people spreading some lies, false statements, distorted truthes and christian propaganda in the comments below like there is no tomorrow. Unfortunately for them it's the age of the internet and people can actually fact check what some of these people say or claim. Luckily there are just as many if not more who call them on their BS.

But dont take my word for it. Never just assume something anyone says. Think for yourself and find out for yourself.

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

Alright I quit. I had first comment and it's not actually possible to scroll back to the first of 1500 comments so whatever, f it.

noandno
noandno

Bravo, Eddie... Bravo

bigcrusha
bigcrusha

If their aim is to give Christians a bible game, the game is fine as it is and it will probably sell that audience well. 


If their aim is to give Christians a bible game and missionary convert the non-believers to win bonus points with God, this game is going to Hell (on earth)


If their aim is to give Christians and Non-Christians a GOOD video game based on religion, they are failing hard. From the un-impressive models, textures and gameplay they showcased, the game looks like a critique disaster. Especially after they said in the first 1:30 of this interview that they aim to dethrone World of Warcraft:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OWk3gcJbWo

ExtremePhobia
ExtremePhobia

I'm intrigued by the idea and even by this guy's desire to make such a quality game. What I doubt is how such a game could be both accurate (to the MEANING of the Bible) without being boring. There's a lot of really wild stuff in there but most of it is glossed over because it tends to be the opposite of the main messages of the Bible. Granted, I don't think they are quite something for public consumption because a lot of them are rather graphic or completely unacceptable by today's standards.


But I'm interested to see if this guy can pull off what he claims. I want to see what kind of game that would be.

Mr_Mark_Legion
Mr_Mark_Legion

ud think a bible game would knock the socks off of people. Stephen King has nothing on the science fiction thats the bible.

Fiendvinny
Fiendvinny

No substance in a bible game. The plot is terrible at best, and the characters not believable. End communication!

prats93
prats93

It will be hilarious watching this game fail miserably.

Gegglington
Gegglington

he's not the Messiah He's a Very Naughty Boy

leikeylosh
leikeylosh

The gameplay better be very very good, because graphics are laughable.

Bezee4u
Bezee4u

I'm Christian, believe in God and proud of it :)


Now move along please....!!

psuedospike
psuedospike

Cause Christians are too busy trying to figure out evolution and whether or not God approves of slavery to spend time making a good video game.  *ZING*

Anigmar
Anigmar

Even though I have little interest in this game I must say I'm surprised by this guy's tolerance. He is not the "read the Bible or go to hell" type, but a "look, you might be interested in this. No? Okay" type. I really respect that.

analgrin
analgrin

There are plenty of games about monsters, ghosts, the boogey man, witch hunters and dragon slayers. Guess a game about God is no different.

Rickiej
Rickiej

@jimmy_russell  This comment is full of irony, the bible is known for its extreme violence, rape, murder, propaganda, and hate. Please, take your falacies somewhere else.

Hurvl
Hurvl

@meatz666 I think it's funny when the pope says that he doesn't like a certain videogame. As an atheist, I won't play that game just to mess with him, because I'm too much of a discerning gamer to let such simple matters decide what games to play.

deadpen
deadpen

@meatz666 HEY..........you forgot the stealing, killing, and rape.

TheKokopelli
TheKokopelli

@Devil_78 Historically, Biblical based games have been very mediocre in terms of quality and game play.  The last being the laughably bad Left Behind: Eternal Forces.  The screenshots and "box art" images for this game are equally bad.  This looks like something I would see on the App store or featured as a Facebook game.  While graphics aren't everything, the gameplay I've seen from the brief clips on-line are equally bad.


While I am not a Christian, I am not adverse to watching a show, reading a book, or playing a game that tends to lean towards a Christian themed message if the story and quality are good.  Provided it doesn't evolve into something preachy.


But based on what I've seen and read on this game, it's going to tank.  It wouldn't matter if it was based on the Bible, Torah, Quran, the Tibetan & Egyptian Books of the Dead, or carried a Wiccan message.

nparks
nparks

@Devil_78 Why are many people against whatever Call of Duty just came or is coming out next?  Why are many people against the Wii U (or Xbox One or PS4 or Steambox or Ouya or anything else)?

People have opinions and people voice opinions.  On the internet, this is often a blunt process.  But wrap that opinion in religious belief, and suddenly those same criticisms become off limits?

"Bible based" games should not be immune to objection because frankly the Bible has a lot of objectionable material in it (which is not to say that it is all bad).  Given the choice, I'll side with more discourse, even if some of it is impolite, than having sacred cows that we must never debate or question.  That's the only way the marketplace of ideas can function and we can make progress.  These developers should be free to enter that marketplace with their game, and we should be free to engage it with criticism.

nparks
nparks

@TheKokopelli I agree, if they are going to be accurate to the biblical story of Abraham, then it really can't be about defending the weak.  The story of Abraham is all about tribalism, about assuring readers that Abraham's descendants really deserve to own the land they were on because their ancestors were just so much inherently better than the horrible, terrible Canaanites they slaughtered and took it from (although fortunately, the genocides of Canaan are almost certainly mythological and not historical).  In these stories, right makes might, so if somebody is weak, they are most likely also evil and deserved to be defeated.

And that is the primary reason why you cannot make a bible game that is both accurate and appealing.  Few people today actually accept biblical morality and its endorsements of dictatorships, military conquests, genocides, slavery, owning wives as property, etc. as being valid.  In many cases (see above), it is downright abhorrent to modern sensibilities, so you have the choice of either appealing to those sensibilities and toning down or omitting the most objectionable content, sacrificing biblical accuracy and faithfulness, or you give an accurate and complete presentation of the biblical content and alienate an audience that has made significant moral progress over the last 2-3 thousand years since those books were written. 

Modern Christians pick and choose just the parts they like and ignore (or in many cases have never even read) the rest.  I expect much of the same from this game, should it ever be released.

notorious98
notorious98

@kryotechAngry Nintendo Nerd - Bible Games.  Take the 20 minutes and watch it.  It's fantastic.

snacky_smorez
snacky_smorez

The game is merely to spread the faith. Nothing more. This game with fail hard.

snacky_smorez
snacky_smorez

You have an imaginary friend. Good for you. Only is this nonsense acceptable in religion.

banana23man
banana23man

@Bezee4u Funny you should have a militant atheist as your profile picture. Also, when people say "I believe in god", I hear "Don't unplug me from the matrix".

Hurvl
Hurvl

@TheKokopelli@Devil_78That game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, also seems quite biased towards creationism and intelligent design if you look at a few screenshots availabe here on Gamespot. It pretends that it's open and willing to debate, but uses descriptions of what it dislikes (e.g. evolution) to make it seem less likely than creationism. As a scientist and atheist I'm of course biased towards evolution, but science is not only based on what is more likely, but what you can actually prove. Intelligent design and creationism sound more likely only if you assume that there is a God.

Badmutha
Badmutha

@nparks @TheKokopelli Wow, now that's an intelligent discourse unlike most nay-sayers who just mindlessly hop on the God-bashing bandwagon... Well done.


Carpetfluff
Carpetfluff

@snacky_smorez It's a pointless exercise then, because the only people who will buy it are already on board. Literally preaching to the converted.

Bezee4u
Bezee4u

@banana23man@Bezee4uI just like the Harry Potter movies xD The actor's belief's are off no concern to me :P


You can think whatever you like...No get moving ^_^

banana23man
banana23man

@Badmutha @nparks @TheKokopelli  No one bashes god. If one is smart enough to see through the falsities of religion, he would bash religion and the propagation of faith. If one can't see past his own delusions and clings on to religion, he wouldn't be bashing god either. Anyway, there's no bandwagon. With the advent of internet and access to information, people are increasingly searching for real answers and not just "god did it".

banana23man
banana23man

@Bezee4u @banana23man I'm pretty sure according to the bible, liking Harry Potter would be a sin since it's promoting witchcraft. Secondly, you're right that his beliefs should be none of your concern but according to your religion, he is a sinner, so idolizing such blasphemer is itself a blasphemy. You should really rethink your definition of "believe in god" if you can't even get the basic rules right.