That’s the ambitious task a 80 year old Bible trust set themselves when embracing the power of gamification for their programmes.
The Postal Sunday School Movement (PSSM) has been on a journey of reinvention and renewal. Following a strategic review they transformed their business from bible lessons via the post to becoming a world-leading Christian video games company called ‘Scarlett City Studios’ – while staying true to their history of serving communities remotely. Their goal is to create a a virtual world for 10-14 year olds which shares the story of the Bible.
Creating a multiplayer online game is a significant undertaking – typically a commitment of millions of dollars and several years. Over the past year InGame consulted with Scarlett CityStudios to develop a business plan, funding models, marketing strategy and select a long-term technology partner. This included assessing various providers on their experience, technology, skills, working model and, importantly, team fit.
All parties agreed that the game must be fun first – otherwise, why choose a game as the medium. Many previous ‘serious games’ (let alone religious ones) have suffered from being overly worthy.
Much of Scarlett CityStudio’s design work has been around bringing together game design, learning strategies and theology, without any one element over powering the others. As a result, the world tells the story of the Bible via allegory – an approach that is less ‘preachy’, has wider appeal but is also tried and tested in religious education.
Set in a mysterious and timelessly steampunk land, the player arrives washed up on a beach and is invited to join a fledgling resistance whose aim is to restore the land to its former goodness, and ultimately return a deposed king back to the throne. This land has been overrun by an oppressive fog, and only this king knows how to start the engines that drive the fans that keep this fog at bay. Through a series of tasks, quests and interactions, the player and their friends will interact with the Bible and its story, and seek to apply learnings into the game world and their own world.
The game design uses multiple ‘game mechanics’ to get its message across. Quests align with corresponding bible stories. Overall progress aligns with over-arching themes in the Bible. The allegorical characters and events are starting points for group discussion. Regular tasks let you enact beauty, justice and generosity in the game – along with the choice to do the opposite.
It is the game’s overall system that is designed to incentivise Christian behaviour not preachy infodumps.
This is not unique, but has been an explicit part of the game design process. The worldviews of game designers have always subtly influenced the rules they create. For instance, it can be argued that classic game SimCity is a central planning socialist game where bulldozing anyone’s house for the greater good is acceptable. A superficially similar game Civilisation instead represents the American 20th Century, where technological progress is valued above all else.
Throughout history, the bible story has been carried in many forms – oral traditions, written forms, radio, movies – and a digital game is just the latest expression. Learn more about their project at www.ScarletCityStudios.com.