connecting theology and life in gospel-centred ways to the glory of God and our joy in Him
If you didn’t hear, at the beginning of 2020 game developers SimuIaM went viral with a trailer for their video game in development: I am Jesus Christ.
Check it out for yourself:
Yup, a game about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that attempts to follow the gospel narrative.
A few weeks ago, a playable prologue finally dropped on Steam – around 12 months behind schedule. It’s free on Steam to download, and it looks like they are seeking feedback for further development of the game.
So, after months of waiting I finally got to play the prologue and here’s my review.
TLDR: This is bad. On a gameplay level. On a graphics level. And most importantly: on a theological level. I am surprised that no one has stepped in to tell these guys to stop. This is a bad idea.
Let’s break this down.
The prologue begins with Jesus being woken up by an Angel at around his 30th year. The angel directs Jesus to begin his mission – which means finding John the Baptist. After speaking with Mary and some people at the market Jesus takes a nap and heads out to find John the Baptist. Along the way, you learn the basic skill of gathering and eating berries (exciting stuff this is), get baptised, and then head into the wilderness for 40 days of temptation. On day 37 you are met by an angel and trained to defeat Satan’s attacks. You meet Satan, he tempts you, you beat him, and the prologue finishes.
Or I assume it finishes – the game kept crashing on me at this point, so I couldn’t move forward.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the gameplay.
First off – this prologue looks to be some wider public beta test. The graphics are pretty subpar – say around 10-15 years behind present games. The movement is a little jerky at times, and the framerate dropped below 30fps quite a number of times (despite my gaming PC). And there are a few other bugs that I’m sure they are trying to iron out – for instance, one time I got stuck in a ditch near John the Baptist and couldn’t jump my way out (requiring a quick restart).
The graphics are the least of the worries of this game though. The Non-Player Characters (NPCs) are pretty dull. If they are not looking at you while you speak with them their dialogue is mostly limited to ‘Hm?’ with you apologising and ending the chat.
Everyone also has an American accent.
And everyone is Caucasian.
On screen display is very simple. There’s a compass at the top of the screen, directions to the next task at the top left, and once you’ve been baptised you get a Holy Spirit meter at the bottom right. I am not kidding.
On the gameplay itself, the actions are pretty straightforward. No game-pad controls, just a keyboard and mouse (which I haven’t used for a game in ages!). It’s a first-person shooter style of set-up with your classic W-A-S-D movements. The story mode is strictly linear, and while the town of Nazareth feels open world there’s nothing to do, for now. No side quests, as yet. NPC interaction is limited, so the only thing that gets you moving is the storyline itself.
The game itself is… boring. I’ll be blunt – it’s not that exciting. The opening chapters in which you go looking for John the Baptist basically involve running around having conversations. The second chapter introduces picking berries and eating. Sure, I get this. Jesus is truly human – and so he needed nourishment to sustain him. But I noticed that even though I picked every bush clean my inventory only ever read 7 berries. Can’t be too greedy I guess – not even for the Son of Man!
Anyway, it’s only once you’re baptised that things get interesting – mildly so. The Holy Spirit bar is presented to you, and then you are walked to the wilderness by John the Baptist to face the temptations of Satan. For some odd reason, as I noted above, the action begins on day 37. A slightly arbitrary time but it seems to be a few days before the 40th in order to be trained up for battle. You learn the skills of repelling an energy blast Dragon Ball Z style, using a tractor beam from your right hand to draw your enemy closer, and the crucial skill of praying to power up once your Holy Spirit power is depleted. I wish I was kidding with that gameplay, but it’s all there.
But none of it matters.
That’s right. All that training is inconsequential. When you finally meet Satan he blasts you with his energy blasts and if you don’t respond (and perhaps spend your time admiring that the floor has now turned into lava) nothing happens to you. No energy is taken away. No power is depleted. Nothing happens. So, it’s up to you to use your tractor beam to pull Satan closer (who appears as a ball of light), time your force-push repelling, take a break to pray to replenish your Holy Spirit meter, repeat, and wear him down. It’s an easy and boring challenge.
Theological challenges and concerns
I’m not quite a gamer, but I’m not against it per se. I don’t buy into the idea that gaming is necessarily an immature exercise, though it can be. I think video games, alongside other forms of entertainment, are reflective of our desire to tap into a larger story than our present lives. I’ve always been keen to find intersections between those stories and the big story of the Bible.
But this game is concerning on a number of levels. Let me list this out in order of increasing concern.
There are some niggly things throughout my play through that made me go, “Huh?”
There’s a reference in one of the wait screens that mentions that some scholars believe Jesus was born in Nazareth. What purpose is that detail serving? Why contradict what Luke and Matthew clearly state in their gospels?
The angel in the opening cut scene addresses Jesus as “beloved child of God”. That seems rather demeaning – and a title that Jesus is never given. Sonship is not quite the same as being a ‘child’ of God as Christians are called. So this opening cut scene is strange.
All the characters look Caucasian. They speak with American accents which I can forgive – this isn’t the highest-budget game (and the voice acting is… poor). But for every main character and NPC to look so Caucasian further feeds into the misconception that Christianity is a western religion.
There are random Bible passages that come up during play and are read out. Yet those passages have very little to do with the context of the scene. Especially quotes from the sermon on the mount well before Jesus even begins his ministry.
All these are little niggles – but there are a lot of them, on top of the janky gameplay and graphics.
Mary and John know too much
The game also clearly reflects the theology of the makers. It makes me wonder how grounded they are, and whether they have any oversight or how much input they are receiving. You can see that in a couple of moments from Mary and John the Baptist. Their dialogue indicates way more knowledge of Jesus’ mission and confidence in him than the scriptures allow.
For instance, Mary knows much about Jesus’ mission and that “we have also been visited by angels throughout our lives.” The gospels are silent on this – there was the original visit by the angel declaring the conception and birth of Jesus, but there is no more detail about how much information Mary did know. Rather, the gospels show us that Mary may have misunderstood Jesus:
Mark 3:21 – And when his family heard it, they went out to seize [Jesus], for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
John the Baptist also seems to have a bit too much confident knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s work in Jesus. He says, “…but I know that the Holy Spirit now rests within you, and shall serve as a guiding force for you Lord.”
That’s giving John too much credit. Rather we read later that he has his doubts:
Matthew 11:2–3 –  Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples  and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
The bad temptation of Jesus
The temptation of Jesus, the crucial moment that begins the ministry of Jesus, is poorly handled. Dialogue is completely missing. The cut scene involves some artistic license, sure, but the major battle with Satan is won through a force battle. Instead of what actually happens – Jesus relying upon and obedience to God’s Word to defeat the temptation. It’s a poor choice to make this a force battle, and one which makes no gameplay sense.
The depiction of Satan
Satan is cliched. His voice is low and booming. Presented as a ball of light, yet ultimately the game presents Satan in such a tame way. He is a non-powerful entity, limited to fighting with supernatural hadookens (force fireballs). He’s easy to deal with.
The New Testament presents Satan as far more sinister, subtle, and dangerous: whose work in the world is to blind people against the gospel, and tempt believers to sin. The game downplays his actual danger and plays up his supernatural danger – yet is easily overcome.
I’m not sure if anyone will come away thinking this is what the Bible does teach about Satan, but it surely won’t help in giving people a more biblical picture.
Taking control of Jesus
There’s something about playing Jesus which feels like a bad idea. Not just in a breaking-the-second-commandment kind of way. But the way that you control Jesus. You move him. You control the dialogue with people. The creature becomes the creator.
And you take control of a Jesus who needs help to move the story along. He needs the help of his mother Mary, he needs the help of John the Baptist, and he needs your help to defeat Satan. He’s truly human like you are, but though he has divine powers he is not truly divine.
Playing Jesus in this way destroys the incarnation.
The incarnation teaches us that from birth Jesus was truly human and truly divine. There was never a sense that he had to grow into his divinity in the same way that he had to grow as a human. The game necessarily has Jesus levelling up after his baptism and then being trained in his powers. I don’t know if the game developers realise it or not, but they have taken from Jesus’ divinity.
If the game designers were ultimately hoping that someone could be led through the gospel story I would suggest that taking control of Jesus in these ways is probably not a great way to do that.
It makes boring the best story!
I think the above issue of playing Jesus is a pretty serious theological error on the part of the game developers. But I think the biggest issue with this game is that it is boring. The gospel is the most exciting thing I can think of when speaking with people. Opening the Bible, reading it together, preaching it, sharing the good news – there are few things as exciting as seeing lives changed eternally.
So, it gravely concerns me that the best news ever to have been spoken and passed on in human history has been dulled down to this extent.
It’s not just that it’s not a fun game. It’s not. It’s also that in trying to inject excitement into the game they’ve wanted to help you enter the gospel story… only they’ve created something else entirely.
Some might wonder if this could possibly be evangelistic. Could someone be curious enough to find out more about Jesus after playing this – or perhaps be led to conversion because of the game? Quite possibly. I don’t deny that God in his infinite wisdom and mercy could use this game to do that in someone’s life.
But should we push the game out to do that? Will the cost of the bad art, bad gameplay, and bad retelling of the gospel story make the conversion of perhaps a few worth it? I’ve got my serious doubts. I think this has a higher potential of turning people off rather than drawing people in. And it’s also got a high potential to mislead in boredom about what should be the most exciting story. More people are probably going to say, “Meh, no thanks…” than “sign me up!”
This game is terrible on so many levels. I wonder if anyone will step in and say to these brothers developing the game that this is a bad idea.
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