“It's fun, it's action-packed, and it's Biblical!,” declares the Christian Chinese News Service, The Gospel Herald, about the game YaHero that was launched by the Canadian Bible Society in March 2010(Gospel Herald Contributor). The game YaHero is described as being the only MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) that supports a Christian worldview. The site is directed towards tweens (age 8-11) and provides games, activities and a place for social networking. YaHero was created by the Canadian Bible Society, which is an organization that focuses on translating and distributing the Word of God to all people. In an effort to take their project to a greater scale, the creators describe YaHero as “moving the Bible online into an interactive game format, which allows kids to become engaged with God’s Word while having incredible fun!" (www.yahero.com, “Partnerships”). The creators promise immense safety features such as no inappropriate language in the chat system and human monitors to watch for deviant behavior. There are no outside advertisements so players will never be distracted or influenced. Players must provide an email address of a parent, which allows parents to have complete access to the child’s account. And what about parents who question why the game exists in a “fantastical and allegorical world?” As justification for such a game, the creators explain that allegories are central in biblical stories and “thousands of years of experience demonstrates that children and adults alike love an imaginative, fantastical tale” (www.yahero.com, “FAQS”). Thus, the creators thoroughly and openly address all questions of religiosity and safety, while giving parents a huge part in the gaming experience of their children. Now onto the “Play” section!
The YaHero landscape, or “The Light City, “consists of a strange mix of futuristic buildings, natural elements, and light. The numerous vine-line lamp posts with their bright orbs of light dot the outdoor city. The buildings have a swirling natural look and plants, ponds, mountains, caves and a giant central tree are illustrated in great detail. Interestingly, the “City of Light” is a floating landmass. This unfamiliar combination of man-made and natural elements, along with the city of floating island, represents a departure from reality. In the beginning of the game, the appearance of one’s YaHero character can be chosen by picking hair, skin color, and clothes or the player can use the “randomize option” to have a character instantly created by the computer. The characters are donned in clothes that can only be described as futuristic and unfamiliar that fit well with the innovative landscape.
The game involves traveling around the island completing quests that are delivered to the player by a wise, old turtle character, Anen. Along the way, the player meets all the central characters of the game, which can provide useful information on the next task of the quest. The most striking things about these characters are not the information they provide, but the reminders they provide about the awaiting quest. One task entitled “Brave the Cave” involves traveling by boat down a winding river and collecting lumens, or illuminated coin-like objects, while another task requires the player to locate musical instruments located around the island to unlock biblical scrolls. The characters like Anen are the player’s most important advisors because they direct the player and provide helpful hints in navigating the twists and turns of the island to get to the next task.
The Christian elements of the game seem subtle at first with names like the “City of Lights” and “YaHero,” which is a reference to the Christian term Yahweh (Gospel Herald Contributor). But later in the game, the player begins to collect scrolls with short, easy-to-remember bible verses on them. These scrolls have sayings from the Bible such as “Let there be light,” “As a city on a hilltop,” and “Shining like bright lights in a world.” All of these verses are related to the idea of light, which is also emphasized by the lumens tokens in the games and the many swirling lamp posts throughout the city. These verses must be remembered to pass certain stages and obstacles of the game. The many glowing light posts, occasional illuminated stained glass windows, and the constant commands of the other characters to “Shine the Light!” continually reminds the player of his or her religious quest.
Despite the array of tasks to complete along the quest, it is frustrating to be discouraged to simply explore the mysterious City of Lights and instead be instructed what task to do every step of the way. A vast amount of time is spent checking one’s position on the map and then moving along to the next location that is described by Anen or another character. Another aspect of the game is that each step along the way must be completed before moving on or going to more exciting stages of the quest. Characters in the game will actually tell the player that he or she has a quest to fulfill and refuse to respond to the player until it is their turn in the quest to reveal information. After several hours of completing numerous tasks and collecting hero points from bible verse scrolls, the player is able to complete the quest and move on to another landscape. However, multiple quests after the first one can only be accessed with a paid subscription. And a parent’s credit card.
One concern about the game is that it involves a high level of restrictions set by its creators in order to foster a safe environment for children to play and to reassure parents that children will be protected from outside influences on the internet. The website provides a virtual space for children to play with friends, but parents can actively choose the child’s friends and chatting is restricted to pre-made phrases that do not allow for the discussion of any specific interests or topics between friends. The game itself does not allow children to explore or create in the imaginative world, but only to follow the directions of another character. YaHero may offer much more protection than other online video games, but children are limited in the amount of freedom of play that they experience in the game.
In terms of the biblical context of the game, the Canadian Bible society hopes that the game will promote knowledge of God’s word and make the Bible accessible to young people(www.yahero.com, “Partnerships”). While biblical influences appeared throughout the tasks and around the city, the only Bible verses that were especially memorable were the short ones on the scrolls that pertained to light. With so many reminders of light in the world of the game, the player’s mind is primed to integrate these bible verses with the light-filled world. Also, there seemed to be some indirect religious messages in the game such as to keep persevering on your quest, that the player can be made new again as in the case of the magically repairable boat, and the omniscient presence of the old turtle character, who recognizes each task the player needs to carry out and acts as an ever-present guide throughout the player’s quest. The biblical elements are fairly salient and the game creates a positive atmosphere, but the lack of play allowed in such an imaginatively illustrated game is disappointing to a player who is surrounded by a beautifully decorated “City of Lights”. One can only follow the next direction, consult the trusty map, and try to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way.
Gospel Herald Contributor. "Canadian Bible Society Initiate Biblical Online Game YAHERO for Teens." The Gospel Herald: Global Chinese Christian News Services 9 Mar. 2010. Web. 9 Dec. 2010. http://www.gospelherald.net/article/mcat/46153/canadian-bible-society-initiate-biblical-online-game-yahero-for-teens.htm.
Yahero:Join the Quest!EyeseeTV, 2010. Web. 9 Dec. 2010 <http://www.yahero.com/>.