A Christian video game is a video game based on the teachings, morals, and themes of Christianity. This is not to be confused with video games that only contain Christian symbolism.
Christian video games are video games made primarily to appeal to Christian audiences. These games can be made for the sole purpose of entertainment or education while others exist as tools for evangelism. Examples for ways that this is often done are by having the game explore/teach Christian morals, such as turning the other cheek, or through retellings of biblical stories such as Noah's Ark. While itself a genre, these games usually intersect with other genres like with the game Guitar Praise, a Christian-themed rhythm game.
Many of the earliest Christian video games were written by the company BibleBytes in 1982 for the TRS-80 Color Computer. That year, the company released eleven games for the computer, including such titles as Manna from Heaven, Moses' Rod, and Noah's Ark. These games were compiled together and released under the name Bible Computer Games.
Several Christian-themed computer programming books, based on the original BibleBytes Bible Computer Games source code, were written by John and Joyce Conrod. The Conrods were the primary authors of the first two books while their son, Phil Conrod, was one of the original game developers and served as technical editor. The first BASIC programming book, "Computer Bible Games", included the BASIC source code for the Timex/Sinclair, Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer, and Texas Instruments TI-99 computer systems. The first programming book was written in the Fall of 1983 and published by Ac'cent Books on January 1, 1984. These beginner computer programming books were designed to teach students how to write BASIC Bible Computer Games on their own personal computer.
Since then, PC Enterprises and BibleByte Books has published several "Computer Bible Games" programming books for Microsoft Small Basic, Visual Basic, Visual C# and Java. All of these Bible themed programming books were designed for Christian Middle-School and High-School students in addition to Homeschool Computer Science students.
Another Christian video game pioneer was Bernard K. Bangley, who wrote Bible BASIC: Bible Games for Personal Computers with his son, David Bangley. Bible BASIC was published by Harper & Row in December, 1983. His book included type-in BASIC programs to create Bible games. The programs were intended to work in any version of BASIC, but the book included tips for adapting the programs for the Apple II, Atari 400/800, Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, and TRS-80, as well as extending and customizing the programs to make them more interesting.
The Nintendo Entertainment System featured numerous Christian video games, though Nintendo's corporate stance at the time was that religious symbolism was forbidden. Nevertheless, even officially developed Nintendo products sometimes featured Christian symbols; for example, The Legend of Zelda featured a Christian cross on Link's shield. One of the first NES games to use overt Christian symbolism was Castlevania, a game which followed a Christian vampire hunter named Simon Belmont who carried weaponry such as holy water, crosses that function as boomerangs, and a blue rosary which cleared all on-screen enemies. Konami released a game based on Noah's Ark in Japan and Europe, but it was never released in the United States, due to stricter standards and practices at the time. Starting in the late 1980s, the unlicensed game developer Color Dreams using the name of Wisdom Tree, developed a number of specifically Christian video games for the NES.
In 2000, Catechumen was released by N'Lightning Software Development. Catechumen is a Roman-themed first-person shooter video game known for being one of the most expensive Christian video games made. N'Lightning spent nearly $830,000 during the development process, but reportedly the developers were disappointed by the sales. Catechumen had a spiritual successor released in 2001, called Ominous Horizons: A Paladin's Calling, which eventually led to the company's disbandment.
The annual Christian Game Developers Conference (CGDC) was started in 2001 by Tim Emmerich, founder of the small independent studio GraceWorks Interactive. The conference has been described as a place for Christian game developers to gather, make deals with other Christian developers, and gain encouragement from developers with a shared faith.
In 2002, Sunday Software began developing and distributing Bible video games and interactive Bible story lessons for Windows XP to 10, primarily designed for use in Sunday School. Using 3DGamestudio, they created Bongo Loves the Bible, Galilee Flyer, Joseph's Story, Exodus Adventures, Attack of the Sunday School Zombies, and Faith Through the Roof. Designed as lessons, these games included narrated scripture and questions presented onscreen or spoken by 3d characters. Using Macromedia Director, Sunday Software also released several interactive Bible storybook programs for Windows, including Good Sam the Samaritan, Awesome Bible Stories, Elijah and Jonah, and The Ten Commandments (which features iPix photobubbles shot on-location on Mt Sinai). Most of these programs were subsequently donated to the members of www.Rotation.org, a Sunday School lesson ministry where they can be download for free.
In 2006, Left Behind: Eternal Forces was released by Inspired Media Entertainment based on the evangelical Christian Left Behind series of novels. Left Behind: Eternal Forces was a real-time strategy game. Upon its release, Eternal Forces was subject to much criticism and controversy from various watchdog groups claiming that it promoted religious warfare and bigotry. Inspired Media Entertainment went on to create four sequel to Left Behind: Eternal Forces. In 2010 Inspired Media Entertainment merged with Digital Praise (creators of Dance Praise and several other Christian video games.) However, by the next year Inspired Media Entertainment went defunct, and in 2013, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission made public their pending lawsuit against Left Behind Games under the allegations that CEO Troy Lyndon issued nearly two billion unregistered shares.
In contrast to other Christian media formats such as music, literature, and film, by the early 2010s the Christian video game industry remained small and generally devoid of high quality products. No large Christian video game studios existed, with most games being developed by small teams of developers instead. Though often lacking specific verifiable instances, a general fear pervaded some Christian groups that employees at secular video game studios were hostile toward Christians and Christian culture.
In the 2000s and 2010s, Christian video games received much criticism for being lacking in innovation and gameplay mechanics because of focusing too heavily on getting their evangelistic message across. Some Christian games were criticized for being "clones" of other, more popular games with Bible-related themes and characters simply re-skinned over the top.