March 12, 2012

Game Design Philosophy

First off, thanks for your time and attention. I appreciate the fact that you took out time to read up on us and hopefully engage in our dialogue about society, the industries we're involved in, and theology.

I've been planning to make games since 2002, and so on my journey I've had lots of time to think about and examine my beliefs on game design and how it should work.

First of all, when I use the phrase "Christian games", several images always come to people's minds:

  1. Oh, well it's Christian, so it's not going to be violent.
  2. It's a reenactment of Bible stories.
  3. It's going to suck.
  4. If it doesn't suck it'll be extreme and make Christians look bad publicly.
  5. It'll be too preachy and turn off players.
  6. It'll be too subtle and players will miss the message.
  7. Ooh, something for my kids to play.
These perceptions are my uphill battle, but if I may, I want to turn your attention to another saint who did an exemplary job at faithfully proclaiming the Gospel while also delivering a good product: Lecrae. He's a Christian rapper I learned about when I came to Calvin College.

He's noted for being a skilled lyricist, his message is unmistakably Christian, and his beats are something you'd proudly thump in your car. As such, he's seen a lot of success and garnered lots of exposure. He's so prominent because he was one of the first Christian rappers to produce industry-standard music when the image was that Christian rap was unbearable.

In the same way, my approach to game design is that it's a game first. I can't just throw garbage on a disc and attach "Jesus" to its label and say this is why people should buy it. "God bless this mess." No. It needs to be a worthwhile product, if just for personal fulfillment, much less ministry. As such, all of my games have to pass a two-pronged test: If it's a Christian game, why should a nonbeliever buy it? What's the hook? And second, what does this game do for God's people?

Next, my approach to game design is entirely different. We serve a creative, original God. I'm sure I am overlooking fine examples of Christian games on the market today, but the image of Christian games is that we're making knock-offs of original games, that our games aren't innovative, etc. Not only am I turned off by the idea of making a knock-off of some hit game, I'm also equally turned off by making a reenactment of Bible stories.

I'll be frank: Even if I wanted to remake those stories (which has been done in the past), there isn't enough content in Scripture to make a lengthy 10-hour game, unless it's a compilation of multiple Bible stories, which unfortunately splits our attention. But even more important is that God has done more than what's in Scripture. Look at your own life for evidence of that. Why can't I then craft a story based off an original concept?

What I want to do is craft a Bible-esque story. It wouldn't necessarily be PG-13 material. God is good and so is His Word, but that doesn't mean that it's always kid-friendly. It ministers to every age group, and likewise, so do my games. And like Scripture, it won't pull any punches about the character's true nature. The very character you may play as may be just as lovable as he is sinful, like David. Characters won't necessarily be all good or all bad, just like real people. Nor will their actions only act as a positive example; this comes off as forced and disingenuous, and players will see such spiritual maturity as unattainable. Rather, the character will make decisions as though no one is watching, and the player will take note from the results and really think about what they would do in a given scenario.

At the end of the day, I want to challenge assumptions about what a Christian game is, by first making a game that's "real". It must minister to players where they are. It must be original, because we serve a creative God who can inspire THE best games imaginable. Our challenge is to counteract the narrative you hear in the larger culture with our own narrative, to reshape the way you approach the problems you encounter in life. 

Let's renew culture. Let's renew life.

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