by Jesse Florea
Zeppelins zoom across the sky. A nasty fog festers over the ground. An evil emperor rules with his robotic army. Only the mysterious Scarlet Man and a fledgling resistance can restore Aethasia to its original glory.
At first glance, The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance looks like an exciting Web-based adventure game. And it is. But it’s a lot more. Just as C. S. Lewis brought biblical truth to light through books set in Narnia, Scarlet City Studios created the steampunk world of Aethasia to teach the biblical narrative.
“The allegory is relatively tight,” says Scarlet City Studios Worldbuilder Tim Cleary. “Young people can play the game and go, ‘This story is amazing,’ not realizing it’s Abraham’s story. The Aetherlight allows the Bible to occupy a place in their imaginations, not just a place in their brains.”
In all, sixteen “episodes” of the game are planned. The first one (Abraham’s story) hit the market in May. Episode 2: The Resistance Takes Flight launched August 5. Next month, a third episode goes live that takes players to a snowy world where they experience Joseph’s story.
“We want the biblical story to inspire and relate with young people all around the world,” Tim says. “We want them to realize it’s not a book of segmented and broken stories, but it’s a comprehensive narrative with Jesus at the center of the story.”
But instead of a sandal-wearing Jesus, gamers encounter a scarlet-cloaked Savior. His face is hidden. He has probably just dropped out of the sky, right into their mission. The Scarlet Man leads players deeper into the Resistance, where they fight against evil and learn more about God’s Word.
And, ultimately, creatively reaching kids with the gospel is the motivation behind the game.
Imagine the feeling of stepping off a bicycle and sitting down behind the wheel of a Formula One race car. That’s essentially what the Postal Sunday School Movement (PSSM) did six years ago when it founded Scarlet City Studios.
For more than seventy years, PSSM used the mail to reach kids in remote areas of New Zealand with God’s truth. The organization sent Sunday school lessons to children who couldn’t attend church.
“But they never would’ve said their mission was to reach kids through the postal system,” Tim explains. “They would’ve said, ‘Our mission is to reach kids where they are with the story of the Bible.’”
Children don’t play outside like they used to in 1938. They play online. They interact with clicks and keyboards, not with pen and paper. In 2010, PSSM held forums with theologians and youth pastors to figure out a way to impact children in the twenty-first century.
Tim, a former youth pastor, took part in one of those early meetings. He shared his vision for a video game that told the story of a King who asked regular people to help him take back his kingdom.
“That’s what the story feels like to me,” Tim says. “There’s a God who people do not understand. He is wonderful, but He looks crazy to people. And He asks us to be a part of His redemptive plan to draw His kingdom back to Himself. That means we’re going to look a little crazy, too.”
Going from a snail-mail Sunday school curriculum to a high-tech steampunk video game to teach about God probably looks crazy to people. PSSM sold a building. Board members chipped in their own money. Everybody involved bought into a “crazy” vision . . . and they’ve seen God’s blessings.
Almost immediately, American Bible Society (ABS) came on board.
“American Bible Society has been leveraging the technology of the day to deliver Bible resources to people for the last 200 years—in this case, via a one-of-a-kind video game experience,” says Arthur Satterwhite, senior manager for National Movements Mobilization at ABS. “We were thrilled to consult with Scarlet City Studios to support the development of The Aetherlight.”
Furthermore, Tyndale House Publishers has released The Aetherlight Bible, which features full-color insert sections highlighting the connections between Scripture and the game. Scarlet City has also created The Aetherlight: Companion Engines App that takes players into the biblical text, explains the parallels between the game and the Bible, and then rewards players in the game for learning about God’s Word.
“God has been orchestrating this since the beginning in a way that’s just unbelievable,” Tim says.
Scarlet City Studios has grown to a staff of over twenty-five, including some of New Zealand’s top game designers, 3D artists, animators, and storywriters. Graphically, The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance rivals anything on the Web. The gameplay is equally impressive, requiring kids to solve puzzles, build weapons, and win battles.
“We’ve had parents tell us, ‘This is a game that actually has my kids wanting to open their Bibles, and see them in a new way,’” Tim notes.
Parents can receive emails that show what their children are learning about God’s Word in the game. But players are doing more than just opening their Bibles; they’re living out their faith in the real world as part of the Resistance.
Two brothers wrote in, telling how they decided to clean up their local school. They even asked their parents to buy bottled water to give out at a PTA 5K Fun Run. The family set up a table and handed out water to all of the runners, because “that’s what the Resistance would do.”
Scarlet City has partnered with World Vision to encourage other players to do the same thing. They want to see gamers reach out to the most vulnerable parts of the world with tangible help to change lives and advance God’s Kingdom.
“This 10- to 12-year-old demographic is capable of more than we think,” Tim notes. “We just need to give them more to be capable of.”
So changing the world isn’t too big a goal, whether that world is Aethasia or Earth.
“Young people can live right-side up in an upside-down world,” Tim concludes, “where their lifestyle becomes part of the Resistance, and they grow in their foundational knowledge of the Bible and live out that Great Story in faith, hope, and love.”
Find more information at https://Parents.TheAetherlight.com
The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance, the Aetherlight logos, Aethasia, and all game characters and likenesses are trademarks of Aetherlight LP.