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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 June 2006, 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK
Spiritual challenge for gamers
Ian Hardy
By Ian Hardy
Click's North America technology correspondent

Screenshot from Hitman: Blood Money
The violent content of games is of concern to some parents
Video games with a healthy splattering of blood and guts tend to dominate the video game landscape.

But some people on the fringes of the gaming world want to offer something different - a spiritual experience.

"Many parents, many families, are not really aware of the content of video games, what resources are out there to guide them in their choice of video games, and the fact that there is a small but growing community of Christian and family-friendly video game developers," explained Scott Scholler of the Christian Game Developers Foundation.

There have been several titles already released with a Christian theme, mostly for the PC platform because development costs are significantly lower than for console games.

But teenagers are a tough audience to please, even those who attend church regularly.

And most of us can spot a religious pitch a mile away. The advice to game developers is to tread carefully.

No cursing

"When you say it's a Christian movie, novel or video game you expect it to be really schlocky and cheesy," said Pastor Mark Brewer of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church.

There is warfare, the Bible is full of warfare, so are all the other great games that are on the market
Troy Lyndon, Left Behind Games
"It'd be great one day for people to say 'this is Christian' and know that there's going to be quality to it.

"But that takes discipline, it takes money, and it takes a craft and the dedication to do it."

Later this year Left Behind Games will release Eternal Forces, an action packed story set in a New York landscape where soldiers take on demons.

There's no blood and a no cursing rule - curse and your energy level drops.

The makers hope it will be the first title to take Christian gaming mainstream.

Troy Lyndon of Left Behind Games said: "There is warfare, the Bible is full of warfare, so are all the other great games that are on the market.

"Naturally speaking we've got new elements like spirit points, which are fantastic in that as you do good your spirit points go up; as you pray, your soldiers are more prepared for battle."

Million dollar markets

Some analysts say the video gaming business could be worth $55bn (29bn) in just three years' time. That means that even niche sectors of the market could be worth millions.

Christian-themed music and movies are often seen as success stories that the video game developers can learn from.

The Da Vinci Code stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou with author Dan Brown in Cannes
The Da Vinci Code film received its world premiere in Cannes
Until a few years ago religious and gospel music had largely been untapped.

Now it makes up 7% of all CD sales in the US, and the success of The Passion of The Christ and The Da Vinci Code have also shown an audience does exist for the genre.

But video games will have to be marketed skilfully and their content shown to be exciting, which may not be the case at the moment.

Al Davis from Lighthouse Christian Store said: "We seem to be a larger store in selling books and music and gifts.

"The software games seem to be a little bit slower with us."

No-one is pretending this will be an easy sell. To reach a wider audience and ultimately be profitable the developers might have to start producing games for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.

But some claim making money is often the least important factor.

"No one has demonstrated that you can make money making faith-based games," said Digital Praise's Tom Bean.

"We felt compelled to do it, not because we felt there was a huge opportunity that we were going to take advantage of, but that it needed to be done and somebody had to do it."

But in an industry that is becoming increasingly competitive that may not be the best way to get ahead.

A Christian video game typically costs about $1m (530,000) to produce, about five times less than a video game aimed at the mass market.

Da Vinci Code game disappoints
23 May 06 |  Technology
Christians purge video game demons
24 May 05 |  Americas

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