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1. The Early Years
The earliest Christian video games came out in the 1980s, with the earliest ones being designed for the TRS-80 Color Computer. However, these games were as basic as they were unmemorable.
For example, “Bible Scramble Games” were just Christian-themed word scrambles. And sometimes, these games were barely religiously themed. Like Music Machine for the Atari 2600, a game where you simply catch falling “fruit of the spirit” from the titular Music Machine.
Unless you had a very religious family or played every computer and console game that came along, you probably missed most if not all of these early Christian games. However, the games later released for the NES would make a much bigger splash.
2. Wisdom Tree Goes Rogue
In many ways, Wisdom Tree Games is the most infamous developer of Christian video games. And while the company is still around today, its infamy goes back to the days of the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
Nintendo kept strict control over who could publish games on their system. And one of the ways they did so was with a special lockout chip. However, Wisdom Tree figured out how to get around the lockout chip and started making unauthorized Christian games back when the company still went by the name Color Dreams.
Technically, the company broke no laws by circumventing Nintendo’s lockout chip. But Nintendo was understandably pissed they weren’t seeing profits from the sale of these games. As a result, they vowed to stop selling games through any retailers that sold unlicensed NES games.
This might have been the end of Wisdom Tree. But they eventually discovered they could sell their games through Christian bookstores. Since these businesses didn’t sell any other NES games, Nintendo’s threat meant nothing to them.
3. Ripping Off From the Best
Wisdom Tree had an interesting quality that gamers found either very cheeky or downright lazy: they weren’t afraid to copy good ideas. Specifically, they weren’t afraid to copy some of Nintendo’s better ideas.
For example, one of their most famous games is Bible Adventures. While the title had three different minigames on the cartridge, players quickly figured out that the game’s graphics and gameplay took many cues from Mario.
They were also inspired by Mario when it came to the game Sunday Funday. That game was originally Menace Beach, a game where your skateboarding hero must rescue his girlfriend before all her clothes fall off (no, really).
Wisdom Tree made Menace Beach before they went all-in on Christian games. Later, they just changed a few graphics around (making the hero carry a bible, for example) and pretended it was a new game. This is very similar to how Super Mario Bros. 2 is just a reskinned version of Doki Doki Panic.
4. When Christian Games Go Insane
Remember when we said that Wisdom Tree wasn’t afraid to borrow some good ideas? In a few cases, this led the developer in some insane directions. But none quite as insane as Super Noah’s Ark 3D.
One look at this game and you can tell this FPS was based on the design of the original Wolfenstein 3D. However, there was just one problem: a game about a soldier violently killing genocidal maniacs wouldn’t sell too well in a Christian bookstore.
So, they tweaked the theme entirely. Players must control Noah as he knocks various animals out to drag them onto his ark. This was the weirdest thing: while the gameplay is only slightly crappy, it’s hilarious to imagine that God’s divine will involves braining a bunch of murderous animals with turbo-charged slingshots so you can drag them aboard your apocalyptic orgy boat.
5. Dance Dance Revelation
In games like Exodus, Wisdom Tree helped players take control of Moses as he led his people to the promised land. This was only fitting, as Wisdom Tree would lead other game developers into making Christian-themed games with varying levels of quality.
However, one thing remained hilariously consistent: the “best” of these games usually involved making a crappy ripoff of a much better game.
For example, Dance Praise and its sequel are blatant ripoffs of Dance Dance Revolution, with the twist being that the game focuses on Christian contemporary music. Later, Guitar Praise focused on Christian music while ripping off games like Guitar Hero.
All of this served to hurt the already-shaky reputation of Christian video games. Regardless of your faith, who wants to play a watered-down version of a decent game when they could just play the original?
6. The Return of Jesus Christ
While they were mostly trying to avoid the long arm of Nintendo, Wisdom Tree set the precedent for Christian games by selling through religious bookstores. Their games and almost all future Christian games were designed with a smaller, specific demographic in mind rather than the wider gaming community.
However, one upcoming game that has garnered buzz (both good and bad) is simply called I Am Jesus Christ. The game is currently slated for a 2022 release (a Prologue is planned for 2021), and the description on Steam reads as follows: “Perform amazing miracles, interact with a cast of biblical figures and travel around the Holy Land from Jerusalem to the Galilee. Become the Messiah in ‘I Am Jesus Christ.”
Generally speaking, gamers seem perplexed by this announced title. While the developer seems very earnest, the preview videos showing Jesus healing people, fighting demons, and multiplying fish in an FPS style just looks silly. Some harsh critics think the game is satirical, and others think it is downright sacrilegious.
We won’t know the actual quality or spirit (so to speak) of the game until it releases. But for better or for worse, it looks like I Am Jesus Christ will either raise the corpse of Christian gaming back to life or drive the final nail into the cross of this gaming genre.