Which Biblical Genres Are Suitable For Teaching Through a Computer Game?

When I originally came up with the idea of making a video game as a means of teaching a passage from the Bible, I’d been playing all of the old LucasArts point & click adventure games using ScummVM. This kind of story-driven game seemed like the perfect fit for communicating Old Testament narrative, offering a way to teach people both the facts of the story and the significance of those events, and doing it in a fun and engaging way.

But what other genres of Bible literature lend themselves to being taught through a video game? What about the poetry found in places like the Psalms, or the incredibly visual apocalyptic imagery found in places like Daniel or Revelation? My original plan was to stick to narrative passages, but I’ve been beginning to wonder if my hesitance to tackle other genres is less about the inherent difficulty of adapting those forms of literature and more about the fact that I’m a computer programmer – and so I don’t really get poetry. My teacher at Cornhill, Christopher Ash, often speaks about those amongst us who are “Harrises” – named after the character from Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat”:

“You can never rouse Harris. There is no poetry about Harris – no wild yearning for the unattainable. Harris never ‘weeps, he knows not why.’ If Harris’s eyes fill with tears, you can bet it is because Harris has been eating raw onions, or has put too much Worcester over his chop.”

But recently, two things have happened to make me think again about this. Firstly, I’ve been playing a game that is pure poetry – Aquaria. Aquaria follows the adventures of Naija as she awakes to her own existence and seeks to establish her identity. There is a narrative element to the game, certainly, but the whole experience has a kind of dream-like quality to it, and its use of language seems more concerned with how it makes you feel rather than merely conveying information.

The second thing that happened was a series of lectures at Cornhill looking at the book of Job. A little like Aquaria, the book is set within a narrative framework – it’s an account of the sufferings of Job and how his so-called friends sought to comfort him – but most of the book is poetry and uses a lot of visual imagery as it explores the foundations of the world that God has made. Consider this passage from Job 28:

“Surely there is a mine for silver,
and a place for gold that they refine.

“Man puts his hand to the flinty rock
and overturns mountains by the roots.
He cuts out channels in the rocks,
and his eye sees every precious thing.
He dams up the streams so that they do not trickle,
and the thing that is hidden he brings out to light.

“But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Man does not know its worth,
and it is not found in the land of the living.”

Mount Doom
Later, in Job 38 God speaks to Job about all the wonderful creatures he has made, and your mind can’t help but conjure up images of these fantastic beasts.

All of which got me thinking about the potential for a somewhat more contemplative game that allowed you to explore the depths of the deep and the roots of the mountains and to consider some of these realities that Job points us to. I’m sure that it’s a whole new minefield of heresy to be navigated, but it struck me as at least being worthy of consideration.

What do you think – what other Biblical genres could be tackled in a computer game?


2 Responses to Video Games About Biblical Poetry

  1. Martin Eden says:

    Making games based on the poetic books of the Bible sounds like an excellent idea. However, I don’t know how directly it is possible.

    I guess the poetic books of the Bible might be described as God speaking in language that makes you feel the intensity of the truth, rather than persuading you of it with narrative or logic. We can have our eyes opened by Isaiah 40:

    21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
    22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

    And it makes us appreciate and acknowledge God’s power, majesty and sovereignty in a way that just being told “God is omnipotent” doesn’t do.

    But the problem with translating this into a video game is that poetry is itself a medium for communicating ideas. Video games are a different medium. So I wonder whether we should be trying to make video games from the Bible’s poetry, or trying to make video games that express the same truths as these poems but in the language of video games. We can be inspired by the Psalms to praise God with games and lead others to do so, and we can use some related imagery and metaphors, but can we actually put the Psalms into a video game? What do you think, Andy?

    • andygeers says:

      Good thoughts there, Martin!

      I’m sure you’re right that poetry is its own medium and therefore will always lose something / become something different in the transition to a video game.

      And as for Psalms themselves – yeah, I’m not too sure! But the Job stuff just leapt off the page at me as something you could explore in game format. Done well, I reckon it could evoke the same emotional response as the text does.

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