What Would Jesus Play?

Warning: Rant Ahead. Proceed With Caution.

Today while catching up on some game industry news, I happened across a link to Project X, an initiative to create a text-based, multiplayer “Christian” game. This project really seems to epitomize much of what I find abhorrent about the American Christian subculture. These are some of the reasons I think this is a terrible idea, both as a Christian and as someone who works in the gaming industry.

First off, we Christians have a command from Jesus to be in the world, but not of it. We are elsewhere called to be the salt of the earth. Now, by creating a “Christian alternative” to the mainstream gaming scene, we remove ourselves from contact with the rest of the world, and thus deprive ourselves of the chance to obey these mandates. Christians need to be fully engaged with the world. We don’t need to encyst ourselves within a protective layer of isolation. Want to apply your faith to your gaming? Then go buy Ultima Online, Everquest, or Asheron’s Call and see what it’s like to live and play as a Christian among real people. (I’d vote for Ultima Online myself, but that’s probably because it keeps my kids in peanut butter and diapers.)

Second, if you’re going to market something as “Christian”, you’d better be dang sure that it lives up to the highest standards of quality in the industry, and is compelling in its own right. Putting a fish on a crappy product doesn’t honor God. Believers created much of the finest art in history. Bach signed all his music SDG, which stood for Sola Dei Gloria – To God Alone Be The Glory. But you know what? Most people don’t buy The Goldberg Variations because they see it as a way to practice their faith. They buy them because they’re fine, compelling, well-crafted pieces of music. And if you’re a Christian designing a game, your responsibility is to make it a fine, compelling, well-crafted game. Your responsibility is not to swipe intellectual property from Bunyan and Lewis so that customers with more money than sense recognize it as “Christian”.

The fact that Project X is being designed as a text-based game, a genre generally considered passé in the industry, and that the page describing it is rife with misspellings doesn’t bode well for the quality of this product.

Third, the very concept of a “Christian Game” seems to me an elusive one. What makes a game qualify as “Christian”? That it has angels in it? That it swipes a setting from authors who write from that understanding of the world? That it says it is? That it has the word “Jesus” in it at least 58 times? Bah. Even if they design their game as “Christian”, by their nature Role Playing Games give players the chance to behave in ways anathema to that world-view. The only way to keep an RPG “Christian” is to severely limit the player’s choices, and thus make the game less compelling once again. Double-bah.

So, what’s the ultimate motivation for this project? The chance for Christians to feel a little better about themselves while playing a feeble, watered down version of what the rest of the world is playing (and enjoying more)? The chance to make money off the same individuals who buy golf balls and swizzle sticks with WWJD emblazoned on them? The Project X site says that the organizers want to “[create] a deep, online gaming environment in which Christians can immerse themselves in a world that honors the Christian world view and nurtures a Christian’s faith.” But it seems to me that if you’re relying on a game to nurture your faith, then you’re already in a bad place, and withdrawing into a fictional world isn’t likely to help that.

So after examining all of this, I’m still left wondering – what’s the point? This sort of undertaking seems bound to be at best a disappointment, both to gamers and to any but the most undiscriminating of Christians. And at worst, it seems the sort of thing that would get one driven out of the temple with a whip.

End of rant.