Each week in Play in Process, Richard Clark shares what he’s been playing and why it matters.
I spent a good amount of time recently playing Journey of Jesus: The Calling, a Facebook game that is similar to Farmville in a host of key ways, but unique in that it involves an ongoing narrative in which the main character follows Jesus around through several biblical locations. It is an underwhelming game, at least when it comes to what you might expect from the story of Jesus’ life.
Because I was writing about it for another outlet, I needed to, like, play it first. The game has a lot of the typical Facebook game flaws: sluggish animations, forced or “encouraged” sharing with friends, and a game mechanic that didn’t seem to stray far from “click on this thing. Okay now this thing.” Those flaws were disappointing, but anticipated.
Facebook is a tricky platform for a videogame. In order to be successful, the developer must carefully balance the sharing mechanisms so that the player doesn’t get too annoyed with them and check out, and so that the friends of that player won’t become so annoyed at the random wall posts that the swear off the game forever. Those sharing options are what keeps Facebook games financially viable, creating a viral effect that leads unsuspecting (or in the best-case scenario, curious) Facebook-browsers to click-through and discover the game. Eventually, the hope is that a small segment of this audience will be invested enough in the game to spend money on it.
Many of the sharing options are just that: options. Still, the introduction of the Facebook activity feed – that small, constantly scrolling bar in the upper-righthand corner of your Facebook – provided a new opportunity for theoretically unobstrusive updates from all sorts of programs. Starting famously with updates from Spotify and Hulu, these updates are now being used by all sorts of games. Journey of Jesus is one of them.
So now, here I am, thinking that I am playing a game for review when in actuality I am also advertising it. The first status, “Richard played Journey of Jesus: The Calling,” is a simple enough tell – the kind of thing that is slightly embarrassing but seems to come with the territory with Facebook games. But then it got weird.
“Richard visited River Jordan in Journey of Jesus: The Calling.”
“Richard talked to a Pharisee on Journey of Jesus: The Calling.”
“Richard chose to learn about the Holy Spirit on Journey of Jesus: The Calling.”
“Richard talked to John the Baptist on Journey of Jesus: The Calling.”
“Richard chose to ask about baptism on Journey of Jesus: The Calling.”
And the prize for the most awkward: “Richard talked to Khloe the Harlot on Journey of Jesus: The Calling.”
These are just some of the statuses that appeared in my activity log over the course of fifteen minutes, making the act of playing the game double as a statement: I am following Jesus, and here are some weird things I’m doing along the way.
In a way, this Christian Facebook game has become a kind of series of bumper stickers, automatically slapped on the back of your car anytime you do anything remotely noteworthy.
“Richard Clark listened to 94.7 ‘The Way.'”
“Richard Clark listened to gospel music Sunday morning on the way to church.”
“Richard Clark is listening to Drake and going to Hell now.”
Except for the last one, which is just kind of invasive, these statuses can give the impression that we are something we’re not. It is, after all, a silly game. But I do not consider this subject matter to be a silly thing. And I don’t think I was really learning anything about the Holy Spirit or Baptism. When I do, and if I feel it is valuable to share, I will do so on Facebook with authenticity and Passion. When it comes to following Jesus, that’s something I want to tell you about personally, or at the very least, on purpose.