There's this trend I notice in media that tries to obviously incorporate a religion's teaching into something popular. Be it comics or games, it always feels forced to me. I would know I've tried making a comic like that. Serious Games are often met with the challenge of teaching something. Some methods work better than others. And since I've now studied the theory behind it...I've learned which ones don't really work as well.
As expected Christianity (Puritan-Protestant Christianity) usually is the subject being preached in the game. So let's do a short bit of history and then figure out if its really possible to make a FUN game with religion as its theme...or just a good one.
Old Testament Style
The few examples of Christian games I know of are from the Angry Video Game Nerd's Review of Bible games. These were basically reskinned games based on popular or unpopular Nintendo games. They took well known bible stories like Noah and the Ark and made a platformer game of some kind. These games were not well balanced or designed.
Beyond these examples I know of very few video games with Christian based themes. Many of them are "Bible" games that help kids learn the stories or somehow make them interactive. I don't seem to recall any GOOD or well-known Christian Games or Bible Games.
Can I hear an AMEN?
Why does Christian media have such a hard time? Is it because video games are so widely accepted to be evil? Or because religion, like sex, is something people hold too near and dear? You can't please everyone. And I really don't think there's a lot of money in the production of such games. Why would there be at this point? There haven't been any commercially successful Christian games to my knowledge. And this is a market society. But this is also true for lots of other Christian Media like books, comics and cartoons. Many are just very poorly done.
But you do get gems in other forms of Christian media like Veggie Tales. Big Idea had a GREAT idea with their quirky veggie characters retelling stories of the bible, parodying popular series (like Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings) and super hero stories. And while there's always a moral to the story and they are serious about promoting good, they do something right. They have fun. They don't tell the bible story word for word or accurately, but they add in silly or absurd humor. And it doesn't get into the way of the story or the lesson learned. In fact it might make me want to re-read the actual story.
So can games also be like Veggie Tales? Something fun? I believe so, but I haven't seen or heard of it yet.
Are you Listening to What I say?
I think sometimes people take things too seriously. When I was trying to make a Christian-Catholic comic, I was SO focused on making sure my message got across that I ignored details like well the story. That's the beauty of art and storytelling is that they can offer representations of truth in a way we can process. Like a spoonful of sugar and medicine. But I feel like the medicine approach is taken by the creators of Christian media. Preach, Preach, Preach.
I mean...holy cow, even Jesus used parables! No one, especially an audience that wants to be entertained, likes to be told what to do.
Games can be a pulpit, but like any media it's delivery should not force the medicine.
In many way though, Christian games estrange a large audience, despite a majority of Western Culture proclaims to be Christian. So what are some of the methods games can use to talk about faith?
Tell us a Tale! A Tale!
Chronicles of Narnia is about Jesus and Christian life you know. But it can still be enjoyed as a fantasy. The same thing can be said about Jesus' parables. They can be enjoyed as little stories that tell a life lesson, but they can also be dissected to something much deeper. And many games do tell stories. In my opinion, Christian games should aim more at being parables instead of blatant Sunday School lessons. This would also widen the audience to non-Christians.
They Will Know We Are Christians by our Love
I've played a few games where there was one very religious character. This can continue to happen because it's part of a believable character.
However this is usually twisted into something else. The religious character is seen as narrow-minded, preachy, arrogant, stubborn or naive. This seems to be a popular view of people with faith. Oddly enough the opposite is true of people with real faith. People who truly believe and follow their faith are accepting of other beliefs and lovingly try to resolve differences.
But that's not popular belief. Game stories like to assert that logic and science explains religious superstition. It makes a fool out of our naive priestess and eventually she either remains "blinded", is betrayed by her deity or "sees the light". (And dutifully follows the religion of science.)
A better solution is to not victimize any one religion or really make it obvious. It should be feasible to make a diverse group of faith work together. It happens every day. There's a wide range of faiths in the office I work in and even in my circle of friends. We don't see eye to eye on faith but we can work together and we don't spend time forcing our believes on others.
Personally St. Francis of Assisi's philosophy works for me and should work for stories: Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words. A character or story's action should highlight or show off an ideal or lesson or belief. Instead of a narrow-minded, sheltered, naive priestess make her kind-hearted, generous and honest about her faith life. She shouldn't live to preach her faith but live her faith. If she doesn't agree with another character's faith or moral, have her be honest that it makes her uneasy or inquisitive. "I'm sorry I don't understand why you do this." Even people with strong faith can question their faith...and in fact they should. For doing so makes faith stronger.
So there is potential to have Christian values or stories in Games. It just needs the right kind of execution. Like serious games, fun should still be a priority. Because learning made fun is better remembered. There is a place for blatant preaching but its a turn-off for games. And there is definitely a call for games that have a "positive message" in the market.