This Video Game Lets You Become Jesus’ 13th Disciple
It’s like ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ but with Pharisees instead of gangsters.
It’s easier than ever to make your own video games. There are dozens of user-friendly tools that let even rank amateurs transform their ideas into code. A whole community of independent designers has sprung up all over the world in the last few decades, creating innovative and artistic games like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Let’s meet one of them?—?a Brit named Mat Dickie.
Mat made his first playable games in 2000?—?dozens of them. He used clip art of “The Simpsons,” parodies of his college classmates and stolen images of professional wrestlers. He polished his skills in the years to follow, eventually getting good enough to sell his games over the Internet under the name “MDickie.”
Although the games released under the MDickie umbrella are crude, Mat managed to develop a fan base and make some money. His wrestling titles?—?easily the most popular?—?saw yearly updates and made enough money to support other ideas, like a game set in a prison and a war game.
And then in 2008 came “The You Testament.”
In the “The You Testament,” you’re cast as Jesus’s previously unknown 13th disciple and tasked with making your way through the Middle East on the Savior’s heels.
Life is hard in Jerusalem, though. You must carefully manage your physical, mental and spiritual health. It’s a lot like “Grand Theft Auto,” but with Pharisees instead of gangsters. The restrictive Roman empire is in full effect; out-of-line behavior results in you being unceremoniously put to death. Like real life, there’s no “continue” option in “The You Testament.” Fail in your spiritual quest and you must start over from the beginning.
There have been many computer games with religious elements, from the “BibleBytes” series in the early 80s to a high-profile series based on the “Left Behind” novels. They’ve all stuck close to scripture, focusing on the Bible’s words as the one true path to enlightenment.
“The You Testament” is nothing like those. You can probably figure that out from the quotes the game displays on loading screens, from luminaries like Confucius, Buddha, Kanye West and … Osama Bin Laden. Or maybe it’s the “gore” setting in the options menu (set to “extreme” by default) that clued you in. Mat Dickie isn’t interested in re-telling the same old story of Jesus one more time. Instead, he wants to use the “greatest story ever told” to delve into the nature of faith and the spirit itself.
Because the game is built using Dickie’s wrestling engine, hand-to-hand combat plays a big part. You can punch and kick any other individual in the game, up to and including Jesus. Because Dickie loves customization, Jesus doesn’t have to be a brown-haired man with a kind gaze. He can be a woman. Or a dwarf. You can randomize the appearance of every character in the game if you like.
While the core narrative follows the life of Christ, recreating several iconic moments from the Bible, “The You Testament” isn’t looking to bore you. Instead, your presence as the 13th disciple throws everything around you into chaos. Most of your time is spent avoiding?—?or beating the shit out of?—?the various Middle Eastern denizens around you. The game insists that you sit down and not move while the sun is down, so a good portion of your non-combat experience involves waiting patiently.
The path of salvation as told by Mat Dickie doesn’t involve sacrifice and rebirth. Instead, as the game goes on, Jesus gifts you with a wide array of supernatural powers, triggered by meditation and focusing on your chakras.
Some of them are relatively scriptural, like the ability to conjure food to feed the hungry. Others … well, we’re pretty sure that there’s nothing in the Bible about being able to shoot knives from your hands or possess people’s bodies. If you’re starting to think that the theological background of “The You Testament” might be a little muddled, just wait.
As you gain these abilities, the game introduces Satan to bedevil you into using them for personal gain. Too much time around the Antichrist and your spiritual energy meter will drop, enabling you to do other miracles like shoot fireballs at innocent people.
Midway through the game, Jesus takes you to the mountaintop and teaches you about the true nature of reality. This isn’t when he dies on the cross, though. Instead, he performs a little magic trick and exposes the universe as a computer simulation of hollow polygons, allowing you to see the hidden structure of “reality” as … a computer game.
It would be easy to think of this game as a piss take on religion, an intentionally ridiculous spin on the Bible that showed how absurd taking the book literally can be. But it’s not.
I’ve been fascinated by “The You Testament” for years, and finally decided to contact Mat Dickie directly to ask him about his inspiration for the project. He was very forthcoming with his answers.
“I was introduced to Jesus by the TV shows my mother would watch such as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ in the 80’s,” Dickie tells Dose. “I really did consider it to be ‘the greatest story ever told,’ and the life of Jesus still fascinates me in books and movies. So once my game development skills reached a certain point, I felt I would make a videogame version of it?—?as both a celebration of what people already know and an exploration of what we don’t know. I felt the conceit of a virtual world was actually the perfect place to explore what it means to be spiritual.”
The gaming press didn’t enjoy “The You Testament.” PC Gamer called it “the best worst game ever,” and it was the only major publication to even deign to cover it.
Religious media was even less kind. A review at Christian Gaming Zone proclaims it “deceptive, confusing, and possibly heretical.” And this doesn’t even get into “The Making Of A Prophet,” the version of the game Dickie made that replaces Jesus with the Prophet Muhammad.
Dickie had harsh words for the critics. “It took six months of careful planning and hard work to make a 3D RPG on that scale, with such epic source material to reinterpret for a game. That’s why it hurts when people dismiss it as a ‘joke’ or an ‘insult.’ If I wanted to make fun of religion, I could have chosen a much more simplistic way of doing it! It was literally the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything, and I gave it away for free.”
That’s right. Unlike his other titles, “The You Testament” was freeware. Mat Dickie spent six hard months of his life on a game that he’d never charge a dime for.
“I feel it’s a creative twist on something that could have been very mundane. Perhaps too creative for some, because that’s where I managed to offend Christians as well as atheists! But I expected the backlash. Can you imagine a game about religion that WOULDN’T offend anybody? That would perhaps be the greater sin.”
You can download “The You Testament” here.