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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Christians purge video game demons
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Washington

The Devil, they say, has all the best tunes. Until now he has also had the video games market sewn up.

Scene from Doom 3
Christian developers want to provide alternatives to graphic violence

From the demonic violence of Doom to the sinister Resident Evil series, many of today's most successful titles draw inspiration from dark places.

But a growing band of Christian game developers are taking a stand.

Reverend Ralph Bagley, 41, is a man with a mission. "I have always been a gamer since the days of Pong and Pacman," he told BBC News.

"But as the games got nastier, I was getting pretty conflicted about coming home from church and playing things like Doom and Quake.

"I began to look for something else, but there was a gaping hole in the market."

Earlier this year, the father of two founded the Christian Game Developers Foundation, aiming to drag Christian games from obscurity to the mainstream.

Most people who play computer games want those visceral thrills
Alex Navarro
GameSpot

"Simply forbidding our children from playing video games is not the answer," says Rev Bagley.

"We have to give them quality alternatives that match the excitement of secular games while promoting Christian values - without the violent or sexually explicit content."

Columbine massacre

Rev Bagley began his mission back in 1996, when investors turned down his first-person Christian shooter, Catechumen.

Dylan Klebold on security camera
Investors took Rev Bagley more seriously after Columbine

Only after the Columbine school massacre in April 1999, when there was a backlash against violent video games, did the money start coming in.

To date his company N'Lightning Software has sold some 80,000 copies of Catechumen for the PC in the US, UK, Australia, Holland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark.

But for Rev Bagley, and other Christian developers, the benchmark for success is breaking the console market.

Where PC games can be brought out on a shoestring, several million dollars are needed to develop a console title, more to market it - plus the console makers' approval to run it.

'Wholesome fun'

A new release, announced on the fringes of the ES gaming expo in Los Angeles last week, is lighting the way to the next level.

Catechumen screen shot
Catechumen is in the mould of Doom - but without the gore

Crave Entertainment's The Bible Game casts players as contestants on a game show, answering questions on anything from Noah's Ark to David and Goliath.

"Wholesome fun" say the makers, who hope it will encourage families to play together when it is released for the PlayStation 2 and GameBoy Advance in October.

Industry experts, however, are not convinced.

Alex Navarro, associate editor of online magazine GameSpot, said Christian games - like Christian rock music - were not likely to have the edgy thrills of their "full fat" counterparts.

We also pray for God's unyielding protection for our company, as well as others who are involved in his perfect plan for the world
Brethren Entertainment Software

"Most people who play computer games want those visceral thrills. I can't see Christian games ever being anything other than a niche product," he said.

Christian music sales comprise about 7% of the total market - some 43 million albums were sold in the US last year.

PricewaterhouseCoopers expects the video games market to be worth about $55.6bn in 2008 - up from $22.3bn in 2003.

So even a small share of the expanding industry is a tempting prize.

'Glory to God'

Developers are aiming at more than the bottom line, however, as Washington state-based Brethren Entertainment Software makes clear in its mission statement.

People are tired of having these violent, demonic games dictating to their kids
Rev Ralph Bagley

"As believers in Christ, we pray that God will be glorified through our work and that each of us draw nearer to him as we develop and grow as a business," the company says.

"We also pray for God's unyielding protection for our company, as well as others who are involved in his perfect plan for the world."

The sentiments of Christian developers will also strike a chord with the many family groups concerned about the effects of violent games on children.

"No blood, no guts, no gore," says Rev Bagley. "What we want are emotionally full games that don't just rely on adreneline.

"We are trying to build the genre of Christian gaming. People are tired of having these violent, demonic games dictating to their kids."


Your comments

Simply removing the gore from a first person shooter doesn't cut it. Its unoriginal. Now's a great time to actually innovate, something the game industry is lacking at the moment. Christian games will probably never be mainstream, but that doesn't mean christians can't write games that won't be popular. Its tough writing a game that holds to christian moral beliefs that won't end up being campy and unrealistic. In some ways, if somebody can write such a game, they're a better developer than those at any of the big game studios...but it still won't be easy.
Dave, New Mexico, US

Perhaps some of these Christian Game players should stop obsessing about why all the games these days are so violent, go into a shop and look at the driving games, the flight simulators, the sports games, the SIM games the quiz games, the card games, the golf games, the fishing games, the traditional games like backgammon and chess. Or is this just another attempt to sell their brand of religion?
Jason, La Linea, Spain

As a matter of public record this isn't as new an idea as you might suppose. In July 1984 I hit the headlines when I was one of a small team that helped Scripure Union to release the worlds first Christian interactive computer adventure game based on John Bunyans Pilgrims Progress. It ran on the sinclair spectrum in just 48K! For my "sins" I was featured on radio 1's Newsbeat and even got on to the front page of the Guardian. I still have the cutting to prove it! Since then life has taken me in a rather different direction but it is still good to see a new generation retracing our steps. Hopefully their games will be even better!
J.P.H Day, Saltash UK

According to amazon, the best selling game of all time is the sims. No violence or sexually explicit content there. As for the 'gaping hole in the market', by the time doom was released in 1994, sim city had already been around for 5 years and the number of driving simulations numbered in the thousands, not to mention sports games. Sure, there are plenty of violent games out there, but parents concerned with their children gaming habits don't have to look very far to find more suitable, 'wholesome' alternatives.
Jerry, London

I totally agree that there is too much of demonic and dark bloodied games taking away the feeling of humaness from the youth. Having more games of adventure without the senseless and inhumane killings will be better. Games to teach real values of life will do especially for kids in the UK and I'm a teacher so I know what I'm talking about.
Nana, London,UK

Games are rated for a reason, if the content offends you the answer is simple - don't play or buy. Gaming is escapism - it just depends what floats your boat. I think that it would be far more reckless to portray bloodless violence as it is action without consequence.
James Johnson, Manchester

As a Christian, I can relate to the distinct contrast between coming home from church and playing a gory computer game. When I was younger, and therefore had the time, I used to have the same problems with reading fantasy books. I also listen to heavy rock music. It is true that I have never really got on with Christian music, and certainly avoid Christian books. There are plenty of emotional games out there - take Final Fantasy which nearly made several male friends of mine cry! There are also games which are just plain less violent. Are these Christian game-makers out for less violence/sex, or are they trying to promote a Christian way of life? I think the former niche is already taken, and the latter will put a lot of people off if done badly. Good luck to you, but I hope and pray that you don't do it badly. If it's crass and obvious, then it'll simply give antagonists more ammunition.
Lucy, Southampton

I'm excited about the prospect of Christian gaming. It is about time people realize that there is a very large market for clean,wholesome, entertainment through the various media. I don't play games but if there is a Christian game on the market I'd buy it,play it and then promote it amongst my family and congregation.
Vernon R Roosevelt, Harrogate, England

This is nothing new, I remember there was a company producing Christian games for the ZX81. Machine code and everything!
Steve, Sydney, Australia

In the case of Doom, what's more Christian then purging Mars of deamons dragged out of Hell? The history of Christianity is littered with far more violent events.
James Rdoger, Southampton

What the Rev Bagley seems to be forgetting is that videogames are escapism. Whether you play games for the visceral thrill or the plot or just the sheer transportation into another world, you don't want to be preached at. A lot of games with stronger plots like Deus Ex feature some gore, since that's the world the game's set in. It's gritty, it's realistic (as games go) and without the blood the play experience wouldn't be as credible. He also seems to forget the huge amount of family-friendly games that exist. Admittedly, since gaming's got more commercialised, these are scarcer, but there's a whole back-catalogue from the 90s of Lucasarts adventure games, as well as some more recent platformers like Mario Sunshine or Psychonauts - both excellent games in their own right. Why don't people buy 'Christian' games? Because they're really, really bad. The only reason to play them is out of some kind of masochistic sense of duty. I'm a practising Christian, and I can recognise this.
Tom Hardy, London, England




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