This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
In the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of playing a demo version of the biblically-inspired title I Am Jesus Christ, soon to be released by developers SimulaM and PlayWay. The premise of the video game is to recap Jesus’s actual life events, spanning the time just before his baptism to his crucifixion and eventual resurrection.
Maksym Vysochanskiy, CEO of SimulaM, said the initial inspiration for the game goes way back. “Basically, over 20 years ago, I was so inspired by computer-animated movies like Shrek and Toy Story that I thought, ‘It would be great to make such a movie about Jesus Christ,’” he said. Over time, the idea began to take the shape of a video game. The project was later green-lit by the publisher PlayWay.
The demo version I played was about two hours long and still in its preliminary stages – or at least I hope so. However, it clearly shows what SimulaM is trying to do: a series of gamified scenes that adapt episodes of the life of Jesus to the video game format, linked together by visual representations of passages from the Gospels for context.
As far as graphics go, the game is anything but subtle – in its title screen, the “I” is represented by an image of none other than Jesus Christ himself levitating in the air, his arms outstretched, ready for his ascension into heaven. That said, the game is fairly serious in its depictions of Jesus’s life, it even includes references to the biblical verse corresponding to each incident.
Unfortunately for the developers, though, it also has ridiculously high meme potential. “We already had that problem with our trailers, but... somebody needs to make such a game,” replied Vysochanskiy, when I asked him whether he was worried about what the internet would do with his work.
The game begins with the search for John the Baptist. As Jesus, I had to ask my fellow villagers where he was and then make my way to him without starving. That mostly meant picking fruits from the bushes along the way to keep my health bar full.
My impression of this first level was that it was a bit of a hodgepodge, but the situation quickly escalated. In the next level, I, Jesus, had to fast in the desert while surrounded by angels training me to fight. Quite a bit of a departure from the source material – certainly no turning the other cheek in this one.
With the press of a button, I could instead gather the energy balls thrown at me by Satan and bounce them back, with a magma-filled crater as a backdrop (a natural feature obviously very common in Palestinian deserts).
Every now and then, I had to stop and pray to recharge my “Holy Spirit”, consumed by the use of my powers. I’m no theology expert, but I don’t recall Jesus ever running into the issue of a possible "Holy Spirit depletion", especially since I’m pretty sure the Bible says they’re supposed to be inextricably linked together as one God.
After defeating Satan à la Dragon Ball, Jesus begins his preaching and his journey to Jerusalem. Apparently, that also included destroying evil crystals placed by Satan in several Palestinian cities. I also solved a bunch of puzzles in a celestial dimension to unlock new miracles and then used said miracles in my preaching. I magically caught fish to persuade fishermen to join me (Luke 1-11), turned water into wine to save a marriage (John 2: 1-11) and made myself smaller to enter a little boy's body and destroy viruses that were going to kill him (Once Upon a Time... Life 4: 46-54).
All in all, despite the creators’ best intentions, the adaptation is quite… jumbled. I asked Vysochanskiy if he really thinks it’s possible to make a Christian video game. He replied that he doesn’t see why not, especially since there are so many books and films dedicated to the life of Jesus.
I see his point. The first feature-length film about Jesus appears to have been distributed as early as 1912: From the Manger to the Cross or Jesus of Nazareth by Sidney Olcott. Many others followed it, including The King of Kings by Nicholas Ray (1961), The Gospel according to Matthew by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1964), the musical Jesus Christ Superstar by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber (1973), and Mel Gibson’s hugely controversial The Passion of Christ (2004).
Many of these movies have become blockbusters: The Passion of Christ racked up more than €570 million on a production budget of less than €30 million. And if cinema has been able to successfully tell the life of Jesus in so many different ways, so could a video game. In theory, anyway.
In fact, this is not even Jesus’s debut in the gaming medium – in 2017, he had a cameo in Fight of Gods, a fighting game by Taiwanese developer Digital Crafter, where important figures of different world religions faced off in a series of epic smackdowns. The game ended up being banned in Singapore and Malaysia due to its religious contents.
However, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something profoundly incompatible between Christianity and gaming. It’s pretty clear that I Am Jesus Christ struggles to translate these episodes into the objective-challenge-reward system that makes up traditional gameplay. Something isn’t quite right.
The teachings of Jesus tell us that whoever has the lowest score in life, those who languish at the bottom of the ranking, those who have failed their mission either partly or completely, will be the first to receive a reward in the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s not really compatible with many video games’ objectives – Jesus certainly wouldn’t want you to selfishly amass resources, kill your enemies or collect money from people to buy better weapons, for instance.
If you, too, are curious how this one will turn out, the game is set to be released for PC by Christmas 2022. And the Christian game trend shows no sign of stopping: In the upcoming years, PlayWay will also release Moses: From Egypt to the Promised Land, a game centred around the story of the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. In the meantime, SimulaM is working on Noah's Ark, a simulator all about the construction and management of the legendary ship.