New online game from Germany inspired by Bible stories | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 01.10.2010
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New online game from Germany inspired by Bible stories

A company in Germany has created a new computer game based on the Bible, hoping that the inspiring storyline will convince gamers to jump into Abraham’s shoes and find the Promised Land.

A screenshot of the game shows a village that the player must oversee

The Bible Online roughly follows the plot of Genesis

A new video game released earlier this week called The Bible Online lets players enter the ancient world described in the book of Genesis. Christian video games have been around as long as games have been made, but have never really seen the type of success as their more mainstream competitors.

The game, developed by Siegburg-based FIAA, just outside of Bonn, is played in a web browser, meaning that there is no software to download.

The game places the player in the shoes of Abram, as Abraham was known earlier in Genesis, who is tasked with building up a city to protect and house his tribe. The narrative aspect of the game isn't completely apparent from the beginning, in favor of an isometric city-building perspective.

The player is advised by a tutorial guide, telling them what to build or upgrade next, and giving quest rewards for completed structures. Each structure is built after a countdown timer elapses, with more advanced buildings taking longer and longer to complete.

Though the game is free to play, users can buy in-game currency called shekels with real money, and spend these to cut down on the construction time. This connection to the real-world economy is in line with other popular online games, like Mafia Wars and FarmVille.

Not proselytizing?

This type of game play doesn't scream evangelism, and that is the point, according to FIAA director of operations Peter Lee.

"It's not our goal to make people convert with this game," he told Deutsche Welle, but then added that he himself and CEO Allen Kim are both Christians.

A poster from the game shows Abraham in an epic pose

As Abraham, players are expected to build up a town and carry out quests

"If they get the chance to read the Bible, and it's not just staying on the shelves gathering dust, if they just open it up once in a while, then we're happy," he added.

So what's the allure for people who aren't Christians or who don't have a dusty Bible on a bookshelf? Lee asserts that it's just a game, and that the backbone of any good game is a good yarn.

All in the telling

"If you need to make a game, you need a good storyline," Lee said. "If you look at World of Warcraft, they have a great storyline, and they pretty much made it up. But the Bible, the Old Testament especially, has a really good storyline."

Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Morgan video games industry analyst, agreed wholeheartedly that stories tend to make the game.

"If the game tells a good story - if you think about why games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption did so well - it wasn't that the game play was that innovative, it was because the story was interesting," he said. "And the Bible has interesting stories, really, really interesting stories. It depends on the game - if the game sucks, it's not going to sell well, period."

But, if the Bible is generally accepted to have a good storyline, why aren't more biblically-themed games seen on store shelves? Alex Riley, a professor of sociology at Bucknell University in the United States, noted that while games based specifically on the Bible might be rare, games with religious themes are not so uncommon.

There aren't so many games based on actual historical religions - on Christianity, on Buddhism, on Islam - but the sensibility of religion as a narrative is present in other ways in lots of video games, Riley said, referring to one of the first so-called God Games, Populous. This game set the player as a deity responsible for nurturing a tribe of mortals. As a nearly omnipotent being, the player could use their powers for good or evil.

Gaming as catharsis

Riley's recent book, "Impure Play," touches on this subject of morality in gaming. Politicians and the media pay a lot of attention to violence in video games in this day and age, often blaming simulated violent content for real world acts such as school shootings.

Revellers celebrate Carnival in front of Cologne Cathedral

Carnival today is a very tame affair, Riley says

But according to Riley, simulating violence, or acts of symbolic transgression, used to be mainly the realm of the Church, specifically at the Carnival celebration that precedes Lent. During the Middle Ages, the religious establishment encouraged its congregations to act out licentiously, Riley said.

"That transgressive ritual state in Christianity has been bled out of religion," Riley said. "When we look at Carnival today, it has become a pale shadow of what it used to be, with police on hand to make sure it doesn't get out of hand."

All that bad behavior that used to be considered the "sacred impure," Riley said, is now frequently explored through popular culture, including video games.

Certainly, if taken literally, the Bible could make for one of the most violent video games ever made, but FIAA is not interested in making that sort of game, Peter Lee said. Though there is warfare in The Bible Online, casualties are not graphically depicted, but rather, displayed as lists of statistics.

For their trouble, FIAA has heard some criticism over making the game, Lee said. Some conservative critics from within the Christian community have said the game is not going to help and condemned it as a marketing gimmick, Lee said. But others are commending the game for being an accessible tool to "bring people to the Bible," he said.

FIAA hopes to expand this game, setting its players off on an exodus out of Egypt soon, and potentially even into the New Testament sometime in the future.

Author: Stuart Tiffen
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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