I Am Jesus Christ aims for the faithful, as well as educational and digital tourism markets

Colin Campbell, Thursday, May 4th, 2023 10:07 am

Maksym Vysochanskiy moved from Ukraine to Poland “when the first Russian invasion came” seven years ago. Even back then, he wanted to make a work of fiction that celebrated the stories of Jesus. “I’d watch amazing animated movies like Shrek, and I’d think, wouldn’t it be great to see something this good about Jesus Christ”.

After gaining experience making mobile games, Vysochanskiy’s development studio SimulaM decided that his dream project should be interactive. “You can play from the first view of Jesus Christ, like you are inside his body and you are using his hands.”

A demo version of I Am Jesus Christ is available on Steam, in which Jesus begins his ministry by seeking out his cousin, John the Baptist. During the demo, published by PlayWay, the player (as Jesus) walks about his home village of Nazareth, interacting with family and neighbors. The game has attracted attention on various news outlets, ranging from IGN to The Washington Post.

“Jesus Christ is the most famous person on the earth,” says Vysochanskiy. “His life story has been covered so many times in books and movies, but technologies move on, and nobody has really told this story in a game. So I thought, why not me?”

He says he wants to stick to the life of Jesus as told in the gospels so that players can “visit those historical places where Jesus walked, and perform his miracles with him.” He concedes that the game “doesn’t have a budget like a Marvel movie” for special effects, but that its power is not so much to impress through the portrayal of miracles “but also by walking in those environments and meeting those people” from the Bible.

He also believes the game will be a good teaching aid in schools. “We added a lot of historical facts. I recommend that teachers play the game themselves so they can then make a decision about sharing it with students, but I do believe this is a good game for learning.”

I ask about his own beliefs. “When you are making this game, you cannot be without a connection with Christianity,” he says. “Yes, I’m Christian. Before jumping into this game, I read the Bible many times. So I know the New Testament very well.”

He says his game is not designed to proselytize, so much as to educate. “I think there is only a small probablity that this game will convert people [to Christianity]. I’m a family man. I want to make a game that I can give my children so that they will play and learn about Jesus.” He says that young people are less likely to learn from books, than from games and other visual media.

He also sees the game as a potential tourism play. The famous sites of Jesus’ work are thronged with tourists and pilgrims, year-round. “Not everyone can travel to Israel and experience the places where Jesus lived,” he says, adding that the game’s setting during Jesus’ life gives the experience authenticity that might be harder to find in the modern world.

Difficult choices

I Am Jesus Christ is a difficult game to make, he says, because he doesn not want to treat Jesus’s miracles and the key events of his life as mere missions or puzzles. “We can’t give the player too much freedom. We have to be strict about what is possible. We can’t allow players to just do crazy things.” Of course, so-called walking sims have been with us for a long time, and the best of them are great games, even if the player’s activities are limited, and the focus is on story.

That said, SimulaM has felt required to put certain game design conventions ahead of some religious beliefs. For example, while Christians believe Jesus lived as a divine being, fully formed, the game allows players to accrue powers RPG-style, so that they can use them to perform miracles as the story progresses.

Likewise, although the game is based only on the events of the New Testament, and it makes use of a lot of scripture, there are occasions when dialog needs to be written from scratch. Vysochanskiy cites an early scene in the game, in which Jesus speaks to his mother, Mary, and asks for help finding his cousin. “You don’t see that dialog in the Bible, right? But we assumed that it happened like that. It’s similar to the movies.”

Religion is a famously contentious issue, even among co-religionists. Does he expect pushback from people opposed to the game. “We are living on Earth and there are 8 billion people and many of them are Christians but they are not all the same. Some are fanatical and perhaps they don’t think we should be doing this game at all. Others want to find a way to connect with Jesus through a game. We cannot please everyone. We listen to the community and we take their feedback seriously. They are happy with what they see so far.”

I Am Jesus Christ is scheduled for an early access release later this year.

Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell has been reporting on the gaming industry for more than three decades, including for Polygon, IGN, The Guardian, Next Generation, and The Economist.

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