From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. Today's starts in a small suburban house back in 1994, where the road to Hell is about to get another brick's worth of good intentions...
"Hey, Bobby," calls Mom. "Guess who got you a new electronic videogame at the store!"
"Mom! Awesome! What is it? TIE Fighter? Day of the Tentacle? System Shock? Sam and Max? Oh, Mom, please say it's Sam and Max! If you got me that, I'll love you forever and ever until I turn 15 and start hating you and everything else! Is it Sam and Max? Oh please oh please oh please! "
"Even better! It's a game that'll teach you all about the Bible."
"Bobby? Those had better be tears of joy I hear, young man!"
Edutainment is one of the hardest genres to make—pardon the technical term here—not crap. It's rare to see edutainment succeed at being either educational or entertainment, never mind a glorious fusion of the two capable of Inspiring Young Minds. Frankly, that's not even usually the point. In most cases, the best way is to focus on the game, with mechanics and memorable moments that point in the right direction and encourage learning-by-doing rather than learning-by-being-drowned.
Unfortunately, that doesn't look convincing enough as an educational experience. Multiple choice tests, maths problems, and cartoon characters with names like Professor Calculator on the other hand are basically useless, but make parents feel like they've successfully found some middle-ground where Bobby and his sister Bobbi aren't just frittering away their lives by shooting aliens from Planet Zog. Every now and again, a game comes along that finds a decent balance. Carmen Sandiego did okay for history and geography. The Dr. Brain series was good for problem solving. The majority though are insipid pap, as insultingly patronising as they are ineffective.
And that's just when it's teaching facts. Morals are a whole other kettle of scorpion piss.
You can probably guess Captain Bible's gimmick, and much like Captain Copyright and Captain Euro, yes, the correct response is laughter. Nothing screams 'desperate attempt to talk to The Kids' quite like a hastily manufactured hero, with the possible exception of a youth group showing up in a school assembly to perform a play called "Dope Ain't Dope!" You know? The ones everyone either laughs at, or sits through politely before going out into the playground to laugh at? Right. Those. These.
Captain Bible is probably the worst superhero ever to get his own videogame, and that's quite a feat considering that his arch-rival is Captain Novolin, a diabetic crime-fighter whose special powers are 'avoiding junk food' and 'correctly timing his insulin shots'. Just to quickly clarify something though. As with The You Testament, this crappiness has nothing to do with this being a Christian-themed game, or even a religious game, but because even on its own terms, it's a very silly one indeed.
The premise is that it's the distant future, and a city has been sealed by a Dome of Darkness. The Bible Corps—yes, really—have rushed to the rescue, and failed miserably to get through or accomplish anything. On the edge of losing hope, they finally call on the one being who has a hope of bringing salvation to the lost souls within. What? No, not him . Captain Bible, of course! No word on whether that's a name or a title, but chalk one up for nominative determinism just in case. Just think what might have happened if his parents had said "You know, Lord Satan is a nice name for a boy."
It turns out that the Dome of Darkness is being generated by a Tower of Deception inside the city, acting as an anti-truth field that makes people susceptible to being deceived. Being a good Christian, Captain Bible's immediate response is "Why don't we just storm the city and take it by force?" However, this isn't an option. The combined might of the Bible Corps' Big Laser division has only been able to cut a small hole in the dome, which they plan to use to send Captain Bible through, probably to his death.
"Can I expect any resistance?" asks the Captain. "Yes," the Chief replies. "The enemy has been building deception cybers that are programmed to feed lies to their victims until they forget the Truth. Each Cyber is protected by a lie, so it takes just the right verse to get past the lie to attack the cyber."
"Should I expect any problems with my computer bible?" asks Captain Bible, blissfully unaware that the cybers will also turn out to be protected with guns and fists and stabby bits of metal.
"It might be damaged going through the field, so we've been sending in scripture stations."
Wait. Captain Bible... doesn't know his Bible? He has to actually flip it open and find key verses? I'm an atheist, and I'm apparently a better Christian shock-trooper than this guy. And nobody at the Bible Corps has a paper copy? And not only have they not drummed him out of the Corps in shame, they've invented special technology just to give him cheat-sheets in the middle of the spiritual warzone?
Guys, it's not too late to call in the Marines to handle this situation.
"Okay! I'd better go do it!" announces Captain Bible, which has to be one of the least enthusiastic openers to a mission ever. Pausing only to pray for his success, because, well, ham-fisted religious game, he jumps into a transporter beam and is whisked into the City of the Damned to begin his epic adventure. It was about this point that I realised what his theme song kept reminding me of, which was a problem, because it was a slower version of Big Gay Al's I'm Super from South Park.
The game is dirt simple. Every area is a locked down map full of doors and corridors, with monsters and Scripture Stations in the way. Every Scripture Station is a random, out-of-context quote that you'll nevertheless need to defeat a monster. Every monster starts with a Cyber Lie such as "You are a fluke of nature, just a random, meaningless event", which you have to defeat with the scripture equivalent of "yo momma". If you do, the fight switches to an action sequence where you render the whole argument pointless by just whacking the crap out of it with your sword. Chances are you won't though, because Captain Bible knows literally nothing about his own religion. Not one quote.
And that's our hero, ladies and gentlemen. His plan to save the world is running up to a monster, standing around while it says "You don't need to help other people, just mind your own business!" only to end up stuttering and stammering "Yeah? Well... you fight like a cow!" ADMIRE HIM!
The back-and-forths themselves are often odd. They're firmly written for believers, which is fine, and believers in the developers' very specific take on Christianity, and again, OK, fine. They're entirely based on soundbites though, with no context, and the use of the word "Lie" is often out of place. It's one thing when it's or "When Jesus died, he stayed dead. After all, nobody saw Him after the crucifixion", since an overtly Christian game acknowledging the Resurrection as fact is hardly problematic, whether you personally believe it or not. "The rainbow is just light refracting through water, not a creation of God with a divine purpose" is less cut and dried, even if the expected answer is just as obvious.
By far the strangest though is "Children are born pure and innocent, if you let them do whatever they want, they will grow up with great wisdom". Again, never mind the belief itself. There's just something a little creepy about an educational game having kids nod sagely and click "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him", before ramming home that moral victory by beating the robotic shit out of a giant cyborg ant and pretending it's Miss Wood.
I'm just saying, is all...
Most of the game is just this. Meet a monster. See if you've got the Scripture to beat its argument. If not, promise you'll return later and hope that the Bible Corps send you a helpful flashcard, instead of "He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD." However, every now and again you run into something you can't bypass on your own, like a dark corridor. How do you navigate this impossible obstacle? Feel your way along the wall? Rely on the fact that it's always a straight line to the exit? Nope. You find a chapel and pray.
For a group of atheist robot monsters, the cyborgs are pretty cool when it comes to the many churches scattered around their new city. At any time, you can pop in for a quick pray, refilling your FAITH (read: health) and asking God directly for help. Despite the fact that God in this game acts like a spiritual vending machine, Captain Bible never asks for anything like, say, "The hyper-blaster from Silent Hill" to help him out, but rather the Sword of the Spirit and the Shield of Faith and a candle to help light his way. He has to have found the right Bible verse before he has the guts to ask the question, but as soon as he does, God immediately zaps it down without so much as an angelic Hallelujah.
The best bit is that Captain Bible isn't just the lamest superhero ever, he's also the most ungrateful. You'd think that an arsenal straight from God would be something to look after, but no. As soon as he changes city district, he apparently just chucks everything off the nearest bridge, before realising the error of his ways and begging for replacements. Even better, he sticks a knife through the entire game's premise, by first deleting all the Bible verses he's collected so far on the grounds that they're apparently now useless to him—there's a lesson for kids!—and forgetting them all. Even the two lines he uses to get God Himself to throw him a weapon and support pack from on high.
This is one of the few edutainment games that doesn't only seem to acknowledge that rote-learning approaches like these aren't very effective, it writes that fact into its own bloody design.
What's not as forgettable is what happens when you find the first brainwashed Victim. You find her in a room full of the biggest earwax candles you'll ever see, worshipping a giant picture of a hippie wearing a sheep's skin. Symbolism? Wouldn't want to spoil it!
"Would you like to talk to me?" ventures Captain Bible, apparently aware that when someone called Captain Bible shows up at someone's house, most people are likely to be 'just popping out to the shops' or 'just cooking dinner' or 'just needing to do a really big poo'. The girl is no more enthusiastic, telling him "You must be from Babylon, you are not a True Believer! This is the NEW Lamb of God! He's always been so good to me, and guided me into the new truth and accepted me into his family."
"Just because he seems nice, that doesn't mean that he doesn't have an ulterior motive," replies Captain Bible, immediately redefining irony by adding "Listen to this verse... Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."
This is the part where the girl should glance over her shoulder at the man dressed in white robes, wielding a sword in one hand and covered in the splatter of roughly fifty killer robots. Instead, she's distracted by the painting suddenly and inexplicably exploding into flame, to be replaced with:
The girl is shocked by this, and declares: "He LIED to me! That means that GOD lied to me!"
Captain Bible digs deep into his scholarly learning and debating experience, effectively replying: "Did not!" The girl happily accepts this on face value, also agreeing to buy Tower Bridge from him.
"Is there anything I can do to help you?" she adds.
"Yes! I will need your help to operate the Unibot!"
"And you knew this coming in?"
"So... you had... an ulterior motive? And seemed... nice?"
"WOLF!" screams the girl, pulling a poisoned dagger from her belt and stabbing him through the face. Or not. In fact not. That doesn't happen. But frankly, it probably should. And so we leave Captain Bible as he flies to the next part of the city, where the graphics are a bit different but the game is exactly the same. Does he succeed in his holy quest? Who knows? Who cares? Not I. Not one bit.
Excuse me. I've got a floppy to go copy. Just for old time's sake.