Just in time for the Christmas season, PlayWay — the publisher behind titles such as House Flipper and Cooking Simulator — has released a trailer for I Am Jesus Christ, a first-person game where you play as the man himself. The trailer has become a sensation online, not only because of the bold concept, but also because, aesthetically, it looks fake as hell. The graphics and lighting are just slightly on the wrong side of feeling like concept art instead of actual gameplay. The simple HUD of a heart for life and a meter for your remaining Miracle Juice might as well be something invented for an episode of Law & Order. This is a trailer where a Bible is slowly being filled with black and white Polaroids taken from Jesus’ POV. The whole affair has the surreal vibe of an ad you watch to earn extra gems in a mobile game or something you’d see on Adult Swim at 4 AM.
I Am Jesus Christ is, of course, far from the first Christian video game and it’s not even the first one about the life of Jesus, but the promises made on the Steam page: open world gameplay, interactive foot washing, “a realistic fight with Satan,” these are things altogether unseen outside of fringe works like Mat Dickie’s The You Testament. How exactly do these gameplay systems work? How limited is your miracle meter? Can you grief NPCs by generating too much fish? Do you fall into the sea and drown if you run out of Holy Spirit Energy while walking on water? Will fan scenes for speedrunning and modding spring up?
I’m also curious exactly how closely I Am Jesus Christ is going to hew to its source material. What is the timeline here? Does the game start when Christ’s ministry does or do you have to do miracles to build up your reputation? Will there be Jedi: Fallen Order style flashbacks to your time as precocious young Jesus arguing with rabbis and changing water into wine? Can players flip over the tables of moneylenders in the temple? Is the Temptation of Christ going to just be a series of dialogue options or some kind of boss battle? What exactly are the in-game limits on raising people from the dead? What does Jesus seeing potential miracle spots with Batman-style Detective Vision mean from a theological standpoint?
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Amazingly, I Am Jesus Christ appears to be just one of a handful of PlayWay games in a series of “I Am” games that all have the same odd atmosphere of first person interactive fiction from people who usually make games about being a tractor mechanic.
I Am Your Principal is a school management simulation game that looks like if Stand and Deliver took place in the world of Rockstar’s Bully. You have to manage the school, avoid pranks, call parent teacher conferences, and apparently hide behind trash cans on stakeouts to catch kids with dimebags before sending them to jail. It seems like a pretty sadistic game concept with the player character in the trailer giving out” F”s for laughing at him and the game boasting that it allows you to “create your own awesome punishments.” Again, the trailer doesn’t feel like actual gameplay, more like something being played by a hall monitor character on a sitcom.
I Am Your President seems to functionally be a Donald Trump simulator, pitched at the exact medium spicy level where it could equally be seen as a MAGA power fantasy or limp satire of such. In the trailer, a brash, narcissistic president nukes North Korea, manages a Twitter account, and has a dialogue option to order burgers. The player has to prepare speeches to counter the narrative given by something that is literally called “Fake News.” International negotiations are handled through a card based minigame. You have a series of advisers that are portrayed as a floating JPEG in the middle of a three dimensional room. There’s even a special command to flip off your enemies. It looks absolutely dire.
I am truly fascinated by these bad looking games. Even though these kind of ideas are explored in visual novels and other interactive fiction, this particular strain of awkward, mid-budget, first person social game seems to be something specific and new. They all have a bizarre right-wing tinge to them: a euro-Jesus fighting D&D monsters, a tough guy principal keeping rowdy teens in line, a barely legally distinct Donald Trump. They also seem to be perfectly calibrated for streamers to lose their minds over. If these strange titles are successful, in 2020, maybe “I Am” could become the new “Simulator.”