A Videogame Based on Jewish and Christian Texts
While the theme of good versus evil is present in just about every videogame on store shelves, developers and publishers have taken pointed steps to avoid specific ties to scripture.
It's hard to blame them. Religion is something that people take so personally that the risk of offending someone is high. And that risk is essentially doubled with so many different, passionate views on what represents the truth.
Major publishers, like Electronic Arts and Activision-Blizzard, still haven't shown an inclination to venture into holy waters, but one smaller game publisher is taking a leap of faith.
Ignition Entertainment is finishing up work on "El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron," a game that is based on the Book of Enoch, an ancient text that, while not a part of either the Jewish or Christian canon, is printed in the Dead Sea Scrolls and is said to have had a significant influence on the beliefs of both religions.
In the game, due this July, God sends down seven angels to watch over the earth, but over time, they learn to love humanity, even siring children with them. Humanity, in turn, begins to worship the angels.
Upset at this, God considers wiping out the planet, but Lucifel—his top archangel, who ultimately will change his name to Lucifer and become the ruler of hell—suggests he instead send Enoch, a man so pure of heart that God has invited him to never die and live in heaven.
After a long search for the Tower of Babel, Enoch finds the angels have each created their own utopia, creating a variety of game levels in a variety of time frames. Suffice it to say that "El Shaddai" is likely the only Biblically themed game to ever feature motorcycles and a cell-phone toting Lucifer.
"These stories, these myths and legends, they used to be part of the oral tradition," says Shane Bettenhausen, director of new business for Ignition. "For us to take this ancient tale—that a lot of people in the west don't even know—and reinterpret it is really cool.
"Our main goal is not to make it a youth group game. I think it's cool if people find it and are attracted to it based on its theme, but you want to sell it like it's based on other mythologies."
Rather than putting the game in the hands of Western developers, who might find an adaptation of part of the Dead Sea Scrolls intimidating, Ignition brought on a number of Japanese developers who had worked on hit franchises like "Devil May Cry," "Resident Evil" and "Okami".
"We said 'We'll give you the Book of Enoch. Read it. Feel free to adapt it. Modernize it a bit, and make it something the audience will like'," says Bettenhausen. "We gave them a lot of creative freedom and they took it and ran with it."
Ignition will self-publish the game in the U.S.—and it's not fooling itself. It knows it faces an uphill battle, not only with consumers, but potentially with retailers.
In 2006, Wal-Mart found itself in the center of controversy when it stocked "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" on its shelves. The game, based on the popular book series, which gave the author's interpretation of the Book of Revelation, proved controversial as players were instructed to either convert or kill non-Christians.
"El Shaddai," meanwhile, casts the future devil in a heroic role and tasks you to dispatch angels.
"I think when you see this game, there are lot of things about it that might prevent it from reaching a true critical mass audience," says Bettenhausen. "The art design is abstract—and that's by design. The character design is very atypical … And there's a few things that make this left of center. We're not expecting to get 'Joe Wal-Mart.' … It's always a concern in the back of my mind about how people will react. Once the game is out, we may find a few people who are on the fringe who may be upset but having played the game through, I don't think that will be the case."