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The Invention of the Christian Videogame

By Delirium in Culture
Mon Sep 01, 2008 at 08:54:42 PM EST
Tags: videogames, religion, Christianity, business, carrots (all tags)

With the widespread success of Christian-themed videogames like Left Behind, apparently created for combinations of monetary and religious-proselytization-of-our-bizarre-take-on-apocalyptic-Christianity reasons, the subgenre of "Christian videogames" is now pretty well entrenched. Less well known is that the first Christian-themed videogame was created only in the late 1980s, and in fact the genre was invented by an obscure, not very successful, formerly secular, and vaguely scofflaw 1980s NES developer pretty much solely as a way of getting around Nintendo's licensing rules.

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Color Dreams' claim to fame was that they were the first company to get around the Nintendo lockout chip and produce unauthorized NES games. However, Nintendo started successfully putting pressure on retailers not to carry these games. Also, the games weren't very good.

Looking for an alternate market, the company stumbled upon a genius plan: they'd reskin their games to make them "Christian", and sell them in Christian bookstores instead of videogame stores or normal retailers. Since Christian bookstores didn't sell other videogames, they weren't too vulnerable to pressure from Nintendo, especially since none of the official Nintendo games were Christian-themed (and therefore Nintendo was probably in league with the devil). This simultaneously solved the "games weren't very good" problem, because since nobody else made Christian-themed videogames yet, they had no competition, and religious parents buying these games for their children probably weren't going to quibble over the quality of gameplay anyway.

The company changed its name to Wisdom Tree, did some really shitty reskins to produce absurd games that were barely even about religion at all apart from having Bible trivia sometimes pop up and maybe demons getting slaughtered, and thereby invented the Christian videogame. And they're still in business today, so it seems to have worked.

For those who like their history [citation needed], here's a passage from Ian Bogost's book Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames (MIT Press, 2007, pp. 287-288):

Color Dreams, a struggling publisher who managed to bypass Nintendo's first-party lockout chip in the late 1980s, attempted to appeal to nonsecular players with a series of religion-themed games. Color Dreams changed their name to Wisdom Tree and reskinned a number of their previous games to present semireligious themes. The games themselves verge on the absurd. Bible Buffet challenges players to throw utensils at opponents and collect carrots while answering Bible trivia. In Sunday Funday, a reskin of the Color Dreams platformer game Menace Beach, the player pilots a skateboarding youth dodging obstacles to get to Sunday School on time. Other games leveraged the era's popular 2D platform conventions for Bible-themed adventures. In Exodus, the player takes the role of Moses, who shoots W's that represent the world of God. Similarly, Bible Adventures recreates three Bible stories, Noah and the ark, the story of the baby Moses, and David and Goliath. And Spiritual Warfare borrowed the action/role-playing conventions of The Legend of Zelda; the player helps a young Christian who must rid his town of demons by converting them to Christianity.

Wisdom Tree does not appear to have been motivated to create these games in the interest of faith alone. Color Dreams struggled to sell their secular games because Nintendo put pressure on retailers to refuse to sell unlicensed titles. Because Christian bookstores and specialty shops did not sell other Nintendo games, Wisdom Tree correctly predicted that such retailers would be happy to sell their unlicensed titles without concern for reproach from Nintendo. Nevertheless, the company must be credited with inventing the genre of religious videogames; they remain in business today selling old and new titles alike.

Genre innovation notwithstanding, Wisdom Tree's games did not proceduralize religious faith. Instead, they borrowed the operational logics of platform and adventure games, applying vaguely religious or biblical situations atop the familiar gestures of moving, shooting, and jumping. Many of the games were direct reskins of previous Color Dreams games, further accentuating their focus on movement over belief.

Nearly twenty years later and they've got basically the same business plan. Wish match-three games were a bit more religious than just matching some colored blocks? You can play Walls of Jericho, where you need to match colored blocks that happen to constitute the Walls of Jericho, and do it quickly before your followers leave you! By the time you get to an adventure game named Jesus in Space, where you proselytize to aliens and robots in space and on Planet Whammo, you start to wonder if the company is actually trying to figure out just how ridiculous they can make their games and still sell.


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o Eat carrots at the buffet 65%
o Skateboard to church 45%
o Shoot conversion bolts at demons 55%
o Color-match the bricks of Jericho 35%
o Wash feet on Planet Whammo 75%

Votes: 20
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Walls of Jericho
o Jesus in Space
o Also by Delirium

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The Invention of the Christian Videogame | 25 comments (21 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
Christian Demons (none / 1) (#1)
by Wen Jian on Mon Sep 01, 2008 at 06:58:14 AM EST

That's a pretty scary idea, until I realised that believing in God is pretty much a prerequisite for being a demon anyway...
It was an experiment in lulz. - Rusty
Ther's no Satan without God (none / 0) (#10)
by Hiphopopotamus on Mon Sep 01, 2008 at 07:42:30 PM EST


I'm In LOVE!
[ Parent ]

Satan != the Devil/Lucifer (none / 0) (#17)
by 7h3647h32in6 on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 03:16:29 PM EST

[ Parent ]
hires or stfu (none / 0) (#20)
by Beagle or Blaster on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 10:57:53 PM EST


First sentence:

Lucifer is a name frequently given to Satan in Christian belief.

[ Parent ]
Make it longer (3.00 / 4) (#2)
by GhostOfTiber on Mon Sep 01, 2008 at 08:42:51 AM EST

You didn't mention the spat between id and Wisdom Tree over reusing the wolfenstein engine for their Noahs Ark came.

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne

that I don't know much about (none / 0) (#8)
by Delirium on Mon Sep 01, 2008 at 04:29:24 PM EST

I also can't find evidence that there was actually a public spat. There are rumors to the contrary—that id licensed the code to Wisdom Tree to thumb their noses at Nintendo for a dispute over the Nintendo Wolf3d port. But that's also just innernet rumors.

[ Parent ]
yeap (none / 1) (#6)
by Lady 3Jane on Mon Sep 01, 2008 at 03:32:51 PM EST

i have both label variations of king of kings in my nes collection.

8====================================================================D ~~
8 Please enjoy a male chorus, All of us will become human rifles and bombs!
8 This is offensive. Fix your site Rusty you have to -- The Honorable Edwin Lister
8 Please enjoy a male chorus, All of us will become human rifles and bombs!
8====================================================================D ~~

you're still misquoting me (none / 0) (#12)
by j1mmy on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 08:45:55 AM EST

fix your sig 3jane you have to

[ Parent ]
A old friend of mine (none / 1) (#7)
by QuantumFoam on Mon Sep 01, 2008 at 03:57:53 PM EST

had parents that wouldn't let him play video games not purchased through the Christian bookstore. When I hooked him up with a modded Xbox and emulators years later I had to watch him play through the games of his youth, and they all sucked balls.

- Barack Obama: Because it will work this time. Honest!

Ha, (none / 1) (#11)
by blaaf on Mon Sep 01, 2008 at 10:51:41 PM EST

good article.  Reminds me, one of the (many) game engines licensed/reskinned to for the "Christian" market in the early 90s was Jill of the Jungle, which as I recall was licensed as Onesimus: A Quest for Freedom, which was basically just Jill of the Jungle except that you were interrupted by a verse from Philemon every few seconds.

i am happy to say (3.00 / 3) (#13)
by circletimessquare on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 10:46:28 AM EST

i know absolutely nothing about this subject matter

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Interesting (3.00 / 3) (#14)
by Sgt York on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 11:23:30 AM EST

but not all that surprising. Some of the crap out there is simply unbelievable. Some examples:

My daughter wanted to read the Bible. The standard translations are a little over her head (we tried it; many of the words are just beyond her vocabulary), so we went to a Christian bookstore for a more kid-friendly version. This is when i first encountered the Bibleman action figures.

I was just glad my kids looked equally disgusted. My son saw the shelf of Bibleman action figures. He stared for a moment, trying to comprehend.

Finally, he points, "Dad....what is that?"
I tried to keep my voice neutral. "It's an action figure. Like your Clone Wars troops or your knights and castle. See? He has a sword, and armor. He can fight the bad guys....like...uh...I guess this guy."

He listens, examines the toys....puts it back. "Is this ... um....like, for the kids that can't afford good toys?" I tried not to laugh. I did anyway.

Another was this series they did at our church recently, for Sunday school. They had some kind of superhero cartoon characters, each supposed to extol some virtue. Full size action pose posters around the room of each character. They gave out small comic books each week, telling some story about the good guys fighting the bad guys with good deeds or something. My kids always just left them in the room, so I never got a chance to look at them, and I sure didn't want to appear interested.

At the end of the series, they told the kids they could take a poster home, and they drew names out of a hat. My daughter told me later, "They pulled my name out first, so I got first pick." She gestured towards her brother, "He didn't want it, either."

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.

Check that (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by mirko on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 11:49:44 AM EST

What I especially love is the review...

Ultra positive, even though the poor bastard has not received that piece of shit at the time his fucking genitor writes it...
Finally I managed to make the decision that I would work on it. - MDC
we had to huddle together - trane
[ Parent ]

What about Doom? (none / 0) (#15)
by mirko on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 11:46:12 AM EST

Ain't it an Xian game as well?

After all, you've got to invade Hell and beat the shit out of its inhabitants.

Well, this could also be an American game...
Finally I managed to make the decision that I would work on it. - MDC
we had to huddle together - trane

Classic doom has a porn mod /nt (none / 1) (#18)
by ksandstr on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 07:25:51 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Time for Xtian pr0n IMO$ (none / 1) (#19)
by Smiley K on Tue Sep 02, 2008 at 08:06:46 PM EST

-- Someone set up us the bomb.
[ Parent ]
Passion of the Christ mod? /nt (none / 0) (#22)
by ksandstr on Wed Sep 03, 2008 at 10:09:21 AM EST

[ Parent ]
is it too "fantesticular" for Amuritans? (none / 0) (#21)
by mirko on Wed Sep 03, 2008 at 02:39:58 AM EST

no room for "/nt" in the subject bar ;(
Finally I managed to make the decision that I would work on it. - MDC
we had to huddle together - trane
[ Parent ]
Don't forget: (none / 0) (#23)
by Spatula on Sun Sep 07, 2008 at 09:46:53 PM EST

The Angry Video Game Nerd's excoriating review of Bible Games. Well worth the download time.
someday I'll find something to put here.
Let's all not forget about their other work... (none / 1) (#24)
by bcRIPster on Wed Sep 10, 2008 at 03:00:09 AM EST

They had the license to do a Hellraiser game =D

Noahs Ark was fun. (none / 1) (#25)
by lemonjuicefake on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 11:19:01 PM EST

Baby moses was lame, david was hard on the philistine/goliath level.

The Invention of the Christian Videogame | 25 comments (21 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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