Singing the praises of these virtuous games
Computing - August 2005
Friday, July 22, 2005
I was a little leery of reviewing kids software from Digital Praise, a company that publishes “Christian entertainment software,” but I needn’t have worried. While the company’s stated goal is to “spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the Christian values it espouses are pretty universal: patience, charity and kindness.
I didn’t find any proselytizing in these two programs, just messages about virtues—such as perseverance and nonviolence—that are important to most faiths.
My son loved playing these games (mysteries with no violence). But when I asked him what he’d learned from playing the games, he showed me how to control the characters and various tricks to getting through the mazes and puzzles. The values had completely escaped him.
The idea of putting moral messages into kids’ video games may make sense to parents, but in practice, I didn’t find it very effective. These are pretty straightforward computer games with stories and challenges, but their main virtue is entertainment. Each CD-ROM also includes an audio program from the “Adventures in Odyssey” radio series, but I did not listen to them.
Note to parents: I did not find any discussion of the Christian faith in either of these games, but I did not play through every level. I like these games and enjoyed playing them with my son. I would feel comfortable giving them to children of any faith, but parents of other faiths may feel differently.
ADVENTURES IN ODYSSEY AND THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, Digital Praise, www.digitalpraise.com, (800) 287-2279, $29.95; ages 8 and up.
The set-up to this game is unnecessarily complicated; I skipped much of it. Essentially, it’s a treasure hunt. According to family legend, patriarch Peter McAlister left behind a treasure for his children to find, but first they have to undergo a Gauntlet of Virtues, a test of character that would lead them to the treasure. Players race through a series of seven challenges (each supposedly designed to promote a particular character-enhancing virtue) to beat an evil villain to the treasure. The games are fun and entertaining, but I didn’t find them much different from the challenges in most computer games for this age group. Unlike some games, they are nonviolent and nonsexist, virtues I appreciate.
In most of the challenges, players navigate through mine shafts and underground tunnels using typical computer game skills such as running, jumping, climbing, swimming and throwing while avoiding gulches, boulders, wind gusts, nasty bats, bears and blowfish. Before each challenge, a recording of Peter McAlister’s voice explains which value the game is designed to instill. For example, to learn how to “live joyfully,” one game asks kids to unscramble words preceded by “don’t be” or “do be:” “Don’t be violent.” “Do be serene.” I seriously doubt children learn values from didactic messages like this.
My son liked unscrambling, then sounding out, the words in this game, but it surely didn’t make him more helpful and kind or get him to stop teasing his sister.
ADVENTURES IN ODYSSEY AND THE TREASURE OF THE INCAS, Digital Praise, www.digitalpraise.com, (800) 287-2279, $29.95; ages 8 and up.
It takes a while for this game to get going, but once it does, it’s addictive. The three protagonists of this series, Eugene, Whit and Connie, embark on a hunt for lost Incan treasure that involves following a twisted plot, searching for clues and following leads all the way to Peru.
Years ago, Eugene’s archaeologist parents disappeared in the jungle. One morning, Eugene wakes up when a rock is thrown through his window threatening him with harm if he doesn’t produce a map to the Incan treasure. Eugene has never heard of such a map. He enlists his friends’ help to find the map and to unmask the person who is threatening him.
Eugene finds a phone number in a pen his mother gave him years earlier, and when he calls the number, he discovers an old friend of his mother’s from graduate school. She has a gift for him: a journal written in code. Eugene and his friends use a special computer program to break the code and decipher the journal. They search old articles, decipher puzzles, make a secret device and find long-hidden clues in a complicated journey that leads them to the Peruvian jungle. Along the way they encounter old friends and archenemies of Eugene’s parents. But are these people really as they seem?
This program is an entertaining mystery that my son and I enjoyed playing together. Some of the puzzles—such as organizing archaeological artifacts by period—are quite difficult, while others—making a hidden camera—are relatively simple. The program gives players many clues so the journey, while long, is not arduous. Once the action shifts to the Peruvian jungle, the game becomes more like a series of arcade game. But it’s still an adventure that makes sense as a story rather than a series of unconnected challenges.
My son and I didn’t find the treasure, nor did I notice any mention of values or virtues. We simply had fun playing, a virtue unto itself.
Jane Huth lives in the north suburbs with her husband, a second-grader, a kindergartner and a baby.