How Christian Games like ‘Captain Bible’ Reduced Faith to Facts

It was always an easier sell to my parents if whatever I wanted as a kid involved Christian branding, so I played a lot of Bible games growing up. These titles usually included some type of quiz component, whether the game was a platformer (King of Kings: The Early Years), a Mario Party-esque board game simulator (Bible Buffet), or even a Zelda clone where you convert people by tossing fruit at them (Spiritual Warfare).

Many of these games were made for Nintendo systems by a company called Wisdom Tree, which was actually the rebrand of the Color Dreams corporation, which had gotten into hot water with Nintendo over releasing unlicensed games. To avoid being blacklisted from toy retailers, Color Dreams decided to make Bible games and sell them directly through Christian retailers who wouldn’t have any reason to bend to Nintendo’s will. Wisdom Tree was born and, after their first game Bible Adventures moved 350,000 copies, other Christian media companies followed them into the game business.

These Bible games — even the ones that didn’t directly involve trivia — tended to reduce Bible stories down to a series of recognizably biblical assets or collectibles. They were desperate to be seen as both fun and educational. This created a constant, bizarre tension, and this tension was perhaps greater than in Captain Bible in Dome of Darkness.

Captain Bible

The Assassination of Captain Bible By The Coward Bible Trivia

Published by Christian film and television company Bridgestone Multimedia Group in 1994 for MS-DOS, Captain Bible puts you in the role of the titular character — a classic beefcake in a skin-tight superhero suit and cape. He’s part of an organization called the Bible Corps and he drives a purple spaceship. The game’s README file explains that the unnamed city has fallen into disarray after what was thought to be a weather control tower turned out to be a “Tower of Deception” built by “the enemy.” And so, the Bible Corps sends Captain Bible into the Dome of Darkness to rescue council members trapped by demon robots (“cybers.”) Once rescued, they’ll help you power a giant mech called the Unibot.

The game has almost as many bizarre mechanical ideas as narrative ones. You control Captain Bible from a third-person adventure game perspective, running through hallway mazes filled with evil cybers. You download Bible verses from stations in these hallways to match them up against the lies of the cybers. If you run into a spider robot who says God doesn’t really love you, then you’ve got to show the spider a verse on your digital Bible that says otherwise. Once you counter a lie with a Bible verse, you battle the cyber in a first-person sword fight similar to Punch Out! You’ll also find prayer rooms where you can heal Captain Bible’s HP (“Faith”) and use certain verses to power up your sword, shield, and awareness of traps.

For 1994, the pixel art is fairly detailed and the animations are engaging. It’s clear that a good deal of work went into the aesthetic and mechanical aspects of the game. This is notable, because most Bible games of the era were either extremely simple or clones of existing games with modified visuals. Captain Bible not only didn’t play quite like anything else, it invented its own embarrassingly specific science fiction Bible lore.

In the early 90s, I only got about an hour into Captain Bible because its mazes were tricky to navigate and additionally, I had only recently learned to read. In January 2020, I only got about an hour into Captain Bible because the DOS emulator I was using somehow lost my save that I had labeled “Bible Daddy.” That’s alright, though — the game is honestly a repetitive slog, full of endless hallways choked with a small variety of cybers who all tell the same lies about God, require the same Bible verses to match, and have the same weak points.

I screamed with joy the first time I stabbed a giant, football robot in the helmet and it exploded, but an hour later, after I’d demolished a full NFL team’s worth of them, my screams were ones of exhausted anguish. This repetition is only part of the larger reason that Captain Bible frustrates and fascinates me in equal measure. There’s so much obvious care in the game’s lore and presentation, but its facile desire to educate sucks the enjoyment out of every frame.

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Captain Bible

The Real Dome of Darkness Was Capitalism All Along

As Captain Bible stacked wave after wave of cybers in front of me, all parroting the same easily deflected lies, I began to wonder who could possibly think that this was a useful means of teaching kids about Christianity. The simple moral lessons the game tries to extract from the Bible would never convert any hapless 90s PC gamer who stumbled upon Captain Bible in a pile of floppies, but neither would they benefit anyone engaging with it in good faith.

I was raised and educated in the Christian church, so I collected a lot of hollow facts about the Bible. Everyone I’ve encountered who had a similar childhood has a nearly identical mental trove of them. It was common for adults to present Christianity to children first as stories and then as a series of facts and phrases to memorize. The desire to “edutain” permeated every activity. Why color a picture of a sunset when you could color a picture of a cross? Why watch a secular cartoon when you could watch a Veggietales tape?

I left the church in my early 20s, so I can tell you that this edutainment method isn’t foolproof for retaining the faithful, but I couldn’t tell you what a game designed around a real exploration of Christian faith would look like. One big problem is that, contrary to the trivia-based format of many Bible games, faith is not a fact-based exercise at its core. No appropriately sized mass of facts ever powered the essential logical leap that faith requires. For all of his efforts in the Dome of Darkness, Captain Bible’s verses are inert because they’re totally separated from context. They’re only good enough for interacting with robots following a script.

The truth is that Bible games earned their reputation as mediocre games not merely because of their overt religiosity but because they were built around a false premise. Rather than doing the real work necessary to entertain and educate, they stoked a Christian self-image and tried to make players feel smart for recognizing icons and memorizing the words in a verse. When I think about the places my parents usually purchased these types of Bible games — the Christian bookstores that littered the American Midwest and South where I grew up — it all clicks into place.

Those places were gift shops selling a manufactured sense of Christian identity. Every Bible verse shirt littered with doves, or special edition Bible for extreme teens, or Thomas Kinkade painting on a pillow was a proud shriek of self-definition. Wisdom Tree, the Bible games originators, knew exactly what was going on when they used these Christian bookstores as a way to keep producing and profiting from unlicensed games. It’s a safe bet — reassuring yourself of your identity through purchase is one of the capitalist liturgies we’re encouraged to repeat most often.

Captain Bible

Around Captain Bible’s release in 1994, the early wave of Bible games powered by Wisdom Tree’s initial success were on their way out. In the 2000s, there were several attempts to revive Christian games by finding ways to lean into the violent nature of popular games while still maintaining a level of plausible deniability. This manifested in titles like Catechumen, an FPS where you shoot demons and possessed Roman soldiers with a holy sword, and Left Behind: Eternal Forces, an RTS based on the popular book series that’s about waging literal spiritual warfare.

Both were initially successful — Catechumen claimed 100,000 copies sold between it and its sequel and Left Behind Games announced 2 million dollars in profits shortly after the release of Eternal Forces. They both spawned sequels and seemed like solid franchises, but both titles’ studios closed within five years of their first game’s launch and no imitators followed. The market just wasn’t there. As games became more and more expensive to make in the 2010s, Christian games largely disappeared or moved to mobile to keep costs down.  

Pursuit of profit has helped Christianity undercut its own core moral teachings in many ways over the course of history — suffice to say that this has been a concern since Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple. Bible games are one of the weirder manifestations of this phenomenon, but they aren’t unique in intent. A Bible-based superhero driving a giant robot appears strange on the surface, but has a much more boring core.

Captain Bible is as transparently thoughtless and one-note as you might think upon seeing a blue and white Christian Superman with a first draft of a name. He’s in the costume and has the name and that’s the content, that’s good enough to do the job he was built to do. Bible games purported to teach me about faith, but in the end, they only ever taught me to cover up my lack of it with memorized verses I used to kill evil robots.

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