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Virtual smite

The "Christian game market" heads toward an edgier, more-violent style

If you've ever had the urge to hurl a big ball of holy smite at your enemies, now's your chance. Eternal War: Shadow of Light-the latest addition to video games aimed at Christians-allows players to smite at will. They can also take down demons with "soul disks" and "Trinity blasts" while assuming the role of an angel named Mike sent to save a suicidal teen.

Eternal War is not the average video game. Low-key, mostly innocuous games like Heaven's Quest, Pilgrim's Progress, and VeggieTales have dominated the small "Christian game market" for years. But a new, edgier style is emerging as a handful of software developers create games that combine King James language with aggressive violence. The target audience for the new genre ranges from Christian teens to twentysomethings who've never picked up a Bible, according to Tim Emmerich, organizer of the Christian Game Developers Conference, which met last month in Portland, Ore.

Mr. Emmerich claims that the games serve a dual purpose: providing an alternative to the "blood and guts" violence of popular secular games, and delivering an evangelistic message through spiritually oriented plot lines. The plots of the newer games, however, often employ grim spiritual violence, and if non-Christians learn about Christianity from the games' content, they may end up confused.

For example: Mackenzie Ponech, CEO of Two Guys Software and creator of Eternal War, thinks his game is "a good stepping block for people to learn more about Christianity in a modern way without having to feel threatened or pressured." But the game's plot doesn't exactly read like the Gospels: The player takes on the role of an angel sent to save a suicidal teen named John Coronado from the demons of drugs, porn, and self-mutilation. The player launches balls of smite, Trinity blasts, and holy daggers at the demons. If the player wins the game, John's soul is saved. If he loses, John goes to hell.

Mr. Ponech says, "I'm not concerned about the game giving people the wrong idea about how the Christian faith works. . . . I think it presents a reality that people face every day."

The violence in Eternal War, with its 50/50 chance of the main character's eternal damnation, is different from violence in secular games, according to Mr. Ponech: "The difference between Eternal War's violence and any other action game's violence is that we don't glorify it. You won't see blood splashing all over the place, and you won't see chunks of enemies flying through the air. Our enemies fade away with a scream, much like you'll see when a demon is cast out from a person."

Mr. Emmerich says he plays Eternal War, but "I don't let my children watch while I play it." He says two other popular "Christian games" on the market-Ominous Horizons and Catechumen, both developed by N'Lightning Software-also require parental discretion. N'Lighting spent more than $1 million to develop the two games over the last five years. The company's CEO Ralph Bagley told the Associated Press that his games avoid "all the blood and guts and gore" of mainstream fare. The games may not have all the blood and guts, but they do have plenty of demon possession and calling down God's wrath. In Catechumen, the player's role is that of a Christian trying to save his friends from demon-possessed Roman soldiers in the catacombs of Rome. The player obliterates demons with the "sword of the Spirit." When he hits soldiers, they're immediately converted and fall to their knees, as Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" rings out in the background. In Ominous Horizon, the player tries to recapture the stolen Gutenburg Bible from Satan while using Moses' staff to zap druids who get in the way.

"Christian video game" sales were estimated at $200 million last year and are likely to grow. Two Guys Software is working on a sequel to Eternal War, N'Lightning has a new adventure game in the works, and the newly formed Left Behind Games Inc. is set to release next year its first game based on the apocalyptic book series.

-Jamie Dean is a WORLD intern