“I need to be clear on this point: Are you telling me that Satan is literally working to confound your plans to release this game? You’re saying that the actual Devil is scheming against you?”
I’m sitting in a nondescript office in an unremarkable neighborhood in Bakersfield, CA, interviewing three men about their plans for a Biblical game based on the life of Abraham.
“I believe that, 100 percent,” replies Richard Gaeta, a co-founder of Phoenix Interactive. He argues that since the launch of the Kickstarter for Bible Chronicles: The Call of Abraham, trouble has come into all their lives.
“It’s very tangible,” adds his business partner Martin Bertram. “From projects falling through and people that were lined up to help us make this a success falling through. Lots of factors raining down on us like fire and brimstone.”
Nobody is winking or joking or pulling my leg. There is no irony here. They are absolutely serious.
In the end, the game’s Kickstarter raised only $19,000 of its $100,000 target. The game, which follows the life of Abraham, a central figure in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, is now seeking alternative fund-raising efforts.
“If Satan is rallying some of his resources to forestall, delay, or kill this project, I think, this must be a perceived threat to his kingdom,” adds Ken Frech, a religious mentor to the project. “I fully would expect something like this to have spiritual warfare. Look at the gospel accounts of demons and so forth. That’s reality. Many Americans don’t believe it anymore. That doesn’t change reality.”
In my 25 years or so of interviewing game developers, I have heard many complaints about malicious forces conspiring to confound a game’s launch. Generally, money and time are the culprits. This is the first time I have heard the Devil cited as an obstacle.
But then, this is an unusual interview. Phoenix Interactive’s executives are Biblical literalists. Gaeta scoffs at the wishy-washy notion that Bible stories are allegories. Bertram dismisses the theory of evolution as “wrong.” I ask them if they believe the world was created 6,000 years ago. “Yes,” they both say, without the faintest hint of prevarication. They also believe that the extraordinary stories surrounding Abraham all happened, just as they are described in the Book of Genesis.
Bakersfield is an agricultural city with a high unemployment rate. It is one of the most religious towns in California.
For my visit, the struggling city takes on an especially diabolic aspect. Forceful winds blow through deserted downtown streets of tattoo parlors, pawn shops and bail bonds outlets. Spectral trash-bags flap in skeletal roadside trees. A chronic drought has thickened the air.
My interview with the Phoenix guys is a few hours off, so I return from strolling around Bakersfield to sit in my hotel room and read the Gideon Bible.
It turns out, Abraham was a rum fellow. Having been told by God that he will father great nations, he impregnates his elderly wife’s servant. He also talks all the fellows in his group into removing their foreskins, including his own, which I imagine took some significant powers of persuasion. He is a skilled warrior, and a generous leader, but then again, he sets out to prove his devotion to God by sacrificing his and Sarah’s only child, an act which God, prudently, prevents.
Abraham is not above negotiating with God. On the matter of Sodom, a city that God decides to eradicate. Abraham wins concessions. Sodom is required to produce ten good people, from among its disappointing denizens, but fails to do so. In the end, the city is thoroughly smited.
Bible Chronicles: The Call of Abraham tackles all these issues (the mass circumcisions are referenced, rather than witnessed) as well as some other thorny subjects, such as Abraham’s nephew Lot offering up his virgin daughters to brigands who are intent on raping male visitors to his house (the guests are messengers from God.) Lot also gets wasted, at one point, and sleeps with his daughters.
“Not everything that happened in the Bible was sanctioned and good,” says Gaeta during our interview. “It’s going to be portrayed in the proper context, that this was a dark thing that happened and it was wrong.
“Even in the case with Abraham and taking Sarah’s handmaiden and laying with her to have a child, because they didn’t believe that Sarah would have a child, that was another one of those episodes. That was a failing of Abraham’s. That was definitely not a sanctioned event, not something that was supposed to happen.”
None of these men are frothing at the mouth or wild-eyed with beatific zeal. But their world-view is significantly divergent from the generally socially liberal, scientific consensus of gaming circles. There is talk, during our interview, of the evils of welfare, popular entertainment and promiscuity.
Gaeta talks about the “darkness” of Sodom, a city of bona fide criminals and “its same-sex relationships”. When pressed on this, he and Bertram say that direct messages about gays and the offensive lumping of homosexuals in with thieves and scumbags won’t be too closely worked in the game. This decision is based on a desire to seek a children’s age rating rather than any apparent embarrassment about the story itself. Their go-to on all subjects is The Old Testament, which is, in many particulars, hostile to the hard-fought individual rights of our modern era.
“There’s only one correct interpretation,” says Frech. “That’s what the author [of The Bible] intended. And so our job, today, 2,000 or 3,000 years later, our job is to look at a text and try to determine its meaning. But there are certain themes that are very repetitive in the Bible, particularly in Genesis. You can have some strong convictions because it’s so repetitive.”
“It’s accurate to the Old Testament,” says Gaeta, a lifelong and devout Roman Catholic. “It’s not in any way the objective to single out any groups or folks or make people feel like their choices are terrible, go repent and go flog yourself. In a lot of ways, this recount of what’s already been written will allow folks to get reacquainted again with the full version of what that story is.”
“It’s not going to be really affected by the political, social environment of today, so much as it’s just the story,” adds Bertram.
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