TruPlay’s Safe Online Gaming for Children
TruPlay (founded in 2019 and launched in 2023) has innovative and creative ideas to get children to engage in Biblical principles utilizing an highly popular platform: online gaming. I had first become acquainted with the up and coming Christian gaming company from the Fox News interview featuring Brent Dusing and Dean Cain. The innate sense of passion for creating a safe online platform for children to engage in biblical scripture was apparent, and I found Mr. Dusing and Mr. Cain’s appreciation for high quality stories and characters to be refreshing. A cursory look at their website showcases a gaming experience that has no in-app purchases, no ads or chat features, which is reassuring to me as a parent who finds those features to be a hinderance and potential hazard to younger user’s overall gaming experience. Brent Dusing, who is the CEO and founder of TruPlay, has crafted high quality Christian content through the partnership with Lightside Games. The Christian gaming studio that has reached over 7 million players worldwide and achieved 25,000 decisions for Christ.
Christian Values with Adventurous and High Quality Animation through an online gaming system
According to their website mission statement, this compilation of values are imparted to the families and children who engage in the gameplay:(From the TruPlay website)
Melissa Ingoldsby: Well, I really appreciate the opportunity to interview with you today. And thank you so much.
Brent Dusing: Yeah, thanks for having me. Where are you based?
Melissa Ingoldsby: I live in St. Charles, which is only about 15 min from St. Louis. So whenever people ask, I go for the most well known landmark places like St. Louis because of the Arch and everything.
Brent Dusing: Did you grow up in Missouri?
Melissa Ingoldsby: I did. I was born in Saint Louis, and I’ve lived there my whole life.
Brent Dusing : Oh, good. Okay. Well, I know it’s been a tough year for our team(The Cardinals). But you know, there’s always next year. Tell me your Patheos experience. I used to actually speak with people at Patheos years ago. What do you cover for Patheos directly?
Melissa Ingoldsby: So what I do is religious art. That’s my speciality topic that I’m supposed to cover. But I also cover religious entertainment, religious movies, music. I love reading and learning about faith-based topics. I love gospel music as well. So I really get into it.
Brent Dusing: Okay. Oh, great.
Melissa Ingoldsby: So to kick it off with my first question, it’s about something I think our readers would love to know. How did you first get the idea of combining modern technology with gaming and your Christian values?
Brent Dusing: I’ve been a technology entrepreneur almost my whole life. And so to me, it’s kind of a natural fit. And, if you think about it, these are interesting statistics: Only 31% of children in America believe in God. Yeah, wow, why did that happen? Well, it’s because the average child is on a screen 52 and a half hours a week. But, they’re only at church 30 minutes a week. So, you’re only at church for an hour and only half of kids go to church. So I met someone last week, and I was saying that to him, and he said, You know you couldn’t teach a child to read if they only got 30 minutes a week of reading. They will never learn to read. So why are we surprised? We’re losing an entire generation everywhere they turn with movies, music, social media, news and games. You know, any other form of entertainment has nothing to do with God, and in many cases it’s antithetical to God’s values. And so we thought, Well, where are they? They’re on a screen. What did Jesus do? He met people where they are. He was preaching at the synagogue. But a lot of times he was out on the roads. He was at parties. He went to weddings talking to people on the streets. He would go out to preach on the hillsides of the Galilee. And so the point is, you know where people are right now? They’re in front of a screen. So we’ve got to be there with content that is not just Godly, but fun and awesome and beautiful, and that’s really what it’s about.
Melissa Ingoldsby: I love that, that’s awesome. So something that’s a little bit more philosophical: There’s always kind of been a debate over whether video games can be associated with art. So with the incorporation of the high quality animation you have along your engaging characters and environment, do you feel that online gaming entertainment can transcend into art?
Brent Dusing: Absolutely. I have an engineer that I know really well who defines games as programmable interactive art. And I would have to agree. Take a look at the Zelda series made by Shigeru Miyamoto. Those Zelda games are more artistic than 99.9 of any TV show or movie you’ve ever seen. If you look at what they achieved in the third one they made, it was the one for the super Nintendo called a Link to the Past. I’ve always suspected that was the game they really wanted to build the first time, but they didn’t have the processing power. What they did there with Ocarina of Time. My personal favorite. I love Skyward Sword.
I think it’s gorgeous and of course the popular Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, from an artistic standpoint, delivered. Another game I like to think of is Monument Valley, which was a mobile game and was “Apple’s Best iPad Game of the Year” in 2014.
They made puzzles that you would have to move around to solve this maze that you were in. If you really think about games, the reason why games aren’t necessarily accepted as art is because movies have been around for over a hundred years. They’re part of our cultural conversation. When I was a kid, people used to watch the Academy awards and who’s going to win best movie best picture. Those awards really mattered in our culture. I grew up in the eighties when Nintendo came to people’s homes. Everything changed because the difference between the Nintendo and the Atari was night and day, and since then you have Nintendo. There’s Sega Genesis and the super Nintendo and the Playstation Xbox, etc. And how much that’s transformed, what gaming is now meant on phones and tablets, it’s a very common cultural experience for people in their mid-forties and under but a very foreign experience for most people in their fifties and 60 to 70. So if you’re 60 years old, video gaming is out. That’s just a silly thing that kids do right? But think about what Walt Disney went through when he made Snow White. It’s interesting. When he made Snow White, the real question was, would adults take it seriously because he was adamant that it was not just a kid’s movie. And when he saw people cry when she died in the movie, he realized, Okay, I’ve made something that’s truly art. And you know, he actually wasn’t considered an artist. He was shunned by mainstream Hollywood. He was considered silly. He was considered that way because he was making more conservative style value things people thought, “oh, he’s a rube,” and they would call him all these names, and he was never taken seriously. And now he’s the only one they remember. He is the only movie producer from the 1930’s and 40’s that anybody talks about. That wasn’t considered art and now it is. And in the same way, I think that culturally, we’re accepting that video games is now art. I’d like to think that’s why with TruPlay and some of the games we’ve made with Maple and Stained Glass in particular and Benjamin in the Armor of Logos, that they are really great artistic expressions.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Oh, that’s awesome. And you just mentioned a couple of your characters that actually segue into my next question. So what’s the inspiration behind the characters, and which one is your favorite?
Brent Dusing: I’ll kind of go through them on my shirt. So there’s Lucas. He’s a skunk. He wears a crocodile robot outfit that he built, and he’s very intelligent, but with his hands and building things as he has a mechanical kind of intelligence, but he’s on the autism spectrum. He has a harder time reading people’s emotions. His brother died a year ago and he doesn’t understand that. He doesn’t know why it happened. He’s trying to cope with the emotions struggling to express himself, and he doesn’t really know who God is. He doesn’t understand the idea that there’s this God far away that people believe in, but he can’t see him, and it doesn’t make any sense. It’s illogical to him. And he goes on this journey where he thinks he’s gonna find his lost brother who’s passed away, but he really learns more about who God is. Maple is another one of our stars. She is a little girl. She’s a bunny rabbit, and people don’t take her seriously, because she is just a little bunny. They don’t respect her, so she’s like, well, tigers get respect, right? So she’s like, “Well, I’m going to wear a tiger costume, so people respect me,” so she’s very strong on the inside and she very much believes in God, and she’s very courageous. But the thing is, she’s not very interested in anybody else’s opinion. So if somebody has a different opinion or point of view, it is irrelevant. She’s moving forward, and she mispronounces her words. She uses words bigger than what she really understands. But she has a heart of gold, and she’s trying to do the right thing. And then Benjamin is a wolverine in a polar bear costume. And he’s our warrior, you know like punching the bad guy in the mouth. He has some 27 on his jersey, and he’s the one where we got a new game coming out about him in just 2 weeks that we’re releasing. Benjamin in the Armor of Logos is about in Ephesians 6 and the armor of God. Benjamin is earning the armor of God through going on these journeys and quests, and really understanding more about his relationship with God and prayer. It’s pretty exciting, and we’ve got another girl I’ll mention that is not on my shirt, but one of my other favorites. Her name is Ava, and Ava’s parents are divorced. She is getting bullied at school, and she believes in God. But she’s really beaten down psychologically. She has to learn your identity is not who people say you are or what they say about you. Your identity is who God says you are.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Oh, wow! That’s beautiful. Yeah. I really love how all your characters have such strong personalities and really like relatable backstories. And, really, this is more personal, But I really love your autistic character. My youngest son has autism. So that’s super relatable, and I think you created a beautiful representation.
Brent Dusing: Well, thank you. You know it’s funny. I have a lot of close male friends that are on the spectrum, and I didn’t really realize it until a few years ago that about a third of my closest friends are on the spectrum. If you think about my 20 closest friends, 6 or 7 of them are on the spectrum, and I think it’s because personally, I enjoy them. They’re bright, they’re intelligent, they’re interesting. They think differently. Most people will tell you things that they think are socially acceptable or they’re parenting back what they heard. These guys are not afraid to say things that are different. They think for themselves, and I find that really enjoyable.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Well, I really appreciate that. That’s amazing. So my next question is, what do you think is your company’s biggest challenge to your innovative approach to faith-based gaming?
Brent Dusing: That’s a great question. Our biggest challenge to faith based gaming. Honestly, it reminds me of this verse that Jesus said, Many are called, but few answer. Rather, fewer chosen is what it says, but a good way to understand, it would be few answer, we are enterprisers, right? 31% of our children believe in God. Anxiety, suicide, depression rates are all time highs. There is so much toxic content around, you know, sexual content drugs, violence. And yet, there aren’t a whole lot of people who are willing to take up that cause. When I think about all the things that people get fired up and care about, and destroy property and call people names. And say all these things for things they’re motivated by. And yet, think about this. When you ask people, hey? Who’s a parent? Like you’re a parent, I’m a parent. What’s most important thing you’re like, Oh, my family.
Somebody might have some personal emotional issues going on. And they say, Well, it’s because I grew up this way. And my parents did this. Okay, I respect that. But here’s the reality. Now we’re the parents. Now we’re the adults in the room, right? Our generation X. The millennials, you know, young generation X and millennials. We’re the parents in today’s society. What is our scorecard? How are we doing in parenting? Not great? If you look at how kids are, I’m not really here to blame parents. I actually blame the content. But it’s hard. As a parent when you’ve got this tsunami of toxic stuff coming at your family. It’s like, Go to the beach. There’s a hurricane coming. What do I do? Oh, just hold your arms up. Well, that’s not gonna stop it right? To us, like Jesus said, many are called, but few are chosen. The harvest is ripe, but the workers are few. So for us we need people who are great at what they do and really committed to this cause. I find too many Christians are comfortable. What would other people think? And what would somebody say about me on Twitter? And what about this? And I’m working this company, my stock options, or they don’t want to get outside their comfort zone. God is interested in your comfort. But not at the expense of your purpose. He’s not interested in your comfort at the expense of your relationship with him, or your calling, or what he designed you for. I think too many Christians in America are too focused on our comfort.
Melissa Ingoldsby: And that makes a really good point. Because I’ve seen some Christians and other religious people when they say they’re beliefs, and it’s respectful. It’s very eloquent and Biblical and a lot of people get a lot of flak for that, and I just don’t agree. I feel like they should be allowed to say what their beliefs are. And there’s this is why we have America, the land of the free. To be able to speak, how we feel without getting persecuted for that and like I said, I do think that Christian’s should be able to say how they feel without getting cancelled. And all those things I just feel like, that’s important.
Brent Dusing: Yeah. yeah, for sure.
Melissa Ingoldsby: So I know you had brought this up in before in your other interviews. But according to Mayo health statistics, children on average, and about 7.5 hours per day looking at a screen, and then that adds up to 52.5 hours a week. What are your thoughts on that statistic? And how does that impact the work you do?
Brent Dusing: I believe it to be true, because I’ve observed it. Some parents may be listening to this or reading this and say, Well, that can’t be true, because I only allow my kids a hour or two. But there are some a lot of kids who they’re on a screen from the time they walk in the door from home all the way until nighttime. You know, every day. And so it’s true. So the question then becomes, what are we going to do about it? Because I grew up in the 80’s and I listen to a lot of Christian leaders who I respect say things like don’t go see that movie. Don’t watch that TV show. Don’t listen that music. Okay, I get it, because there is pretty bad stuff in that, and what you’re talking about. But what’s my alternative? You know, it’s not realistic to say, well, kids should just play outside for 10 hours a day. It’s not. It’s not the 1800’s. And that’s not gonna happen. So if they’re gonna be in front of screens now, how much time they should be in front of screens. Should it be less? Sure. But if they’re gonna be there anyway we’ve got to be there, you know. Jesus didn’t go chide. People say you shouldn’t be at this party. You should be doing a Bible study. He didn’t go do that. He went to the wedding to the parties he engaged with them. He saw people on the streets, and he talked to him. He just met him where they were. We’ve got to be where people are, and that’s where kids are. And that’s absolutely why, at TruPlay, we’re just going straight to them. But again with content that they’re gonna love and engage with. And we’re seeing that with our customers. They love it. They’re learning, they’re growing. And they’re walking with God.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Makes a lot of sense. So what do you think are some of the risks of modern gaming and how does your company work to mitigate them?
Brent Dusing: There’s a few risks. One of the biggest things and biggest problems that we talk to parents all the time is they don’t feel good about all the ads. I’ve seen this happen where I had one of my daughters wake up in the middle of the night when she was younger, because she’s seen these terrible ads she was playing like the Ballerina ice skating game. And suddenly there’s a zombie apocalypse ad that, when you’re 7 years old that was pretty traumatic, right? So one is, there’s no ads. There’s all kinds of awful stuff on ads that people just don’t want their kids to see. Secondly, we have no chat rooms. There’s been some issues with a lot of gaming platforms where there has been online sexual predator behavior against young children using chats. And it’s been very well documented. Obviously, there’s a lot more awareness now about a lot of the child trafficking starting to come out. This has become a bigger conversation. Well, there’s no chat rooms with TruPlay, and then the last one is there’s no in app purchases. I understand that some companies have to build their games within that purchase. That’s just how it is. But it does from a parent standpoint getting asked all the time to buy. Spend 3 more dollars or 5 more dollars for gems packs. There’s one transparent price for TruPlay. You just pay the monthly subscription, and that’s it. Those are some of the things that I think we navigate, but I think the biggest one really is. As the Bible says, the eyes are the window of the soul, whatever you observe and spend time doing eventually. That’s gonna affect the way you think of what you care about. And that’s what your soul is right, your thoughts. And so for us, we’re talking about following God’s plan for your life, you know. Try to do what’s right. Active prayer life is in Stained Glass. It’s a game, but based on the Bible, where we take, we go to Eve, and then we do Noah and Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Moses, and what it’s all about is real people encountering a real God, and what their experience was like. There’s a lot of time inside these games where time is spent. Getting people deeper into the Bible, or into their practical applications of walking with God.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. So with the plethora of gaming options that are available nowadays, many that include excessive violence and illicit activities, What is your company’s approach to engaging children and families and the wholesome based gaming?
Brent Dusing: TruPlay is one platform. There’s a bunch of games inside it. There’s dozens and dozens of hours of games. We have digital comics. We have a partnership with the action Bible where there’s digital comic books based on the Bible in there. We have other comics that we’re build that we have in there as well. And more stuff coming. We have video content. We’re launching other things that kids can do. So there’s a lot of exciting content. There’s prayer content and that the characters do get into with the kids. So there’s a lot of activities for the kids. And some of it is for younger. And some of it is for older kids. We have a lot of adults enjoy the games as well. For parents, how do you find something that you enjoy doing that your kid enjoys doing too that is really appropriate, for everybody. And that’s part of what we provide at TruPlay for our families.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Oh, okay, well, what you just mentioned about whole family gaming segues into my next question: what is your designated target audience?
Brent Dusing: We find that children from the ages of 5 to 12 really enjoy it. But then we do have a lot of parents playing the games with their kids. They’re competing for high scores on different things. It’s been pretty cool.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Oh, awesome! I love that. So how does the adventure based game play impart the values and biblical principles to your audience and the players?
Brent Dusing: Maple in the Forest of Words is one of our biggest games, and it’s an adventure game, and you start out as Maple. She goes into forest hearing there’s a lost child and she rescues Oliver, who’s been trapped, and then they go on this adventure, and Oliver is a character. He’s a fox who wears a bear costume. He’s adopted, and he kinda believes in the concept of God. The idea that you should pray to him or talk to him doesn’t make any sense to him. Oliver is a scientist and a botanist, so his science books don’t always talk about who God is. Maple and Oliver get in these tough situations, because if there’s bad guys and there’s traps, and trouble, they get stuck. And so there’s times at which Maple has to show them how to pray and talk to him about who God is, and they have to rely on. You know what’s God gonna do and how we are gonna get out of this. Our characters obviously look ridiculous. They’re animal characters in different animal costumes. But what’s really happening and what they’re going through as we’ve talked about today, real life issues get dealt with and looked at. Sometimes in life you are gonna feel stuck. And sometimes in life you don’t know what the answer is, and you gotta pray to God to provide the answer. That’s a lot of what happens in the Maple game.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Okay, it sounds like you kind of also go into identity in the game a little bit. Is that true?
Brent Dusing: Yeah, in the Ava game, she’s getting bullied and there are these little monsters with one eyeball in the game. She goes inside almost an in an internal journey where she’s getting bullied at school, or parents are divorced. She wants to be a bass guitar player. But that’s just going okay. It’s not going great, and so she has to learn that your identity is not when people say all these things about you, your identity is who God says you are who God made you to be. If somebody says nasty things you don’t have to just accept that.
Melissa Ingoldsby: No, I love that. That’s a beautiful type of expression to explain identity. So I really appreciate that. So how do you see the expansion of your company grow moving forward in the future of your gaming platform?
Brent Dusing: We’re releasing new content all the time. We have a new comic that just came out. We have a new comic that just came out and we have a new game that came out last month. We have a new game coming out in about two weeks called Benjamin and the Armor of Logos which is a game where Benjamin, who’s a very strong Christ follower, is earning the armor of God, like in Ephesians 6. He’s combating all these monsters. And so it’s a real fun, exciting battle game, but really taking you through some important Biblical principles about spiritual warfare, which is what this game is about. We have a lot of other games we’re working on that are coming up soon, and new comics and new videos. What I’d like everyone to think who is a subscriber to TruPlay. If you’re thinking about TruPlay for your family. If this is the first time you’ve heard about TruPlay, it is a living, breathing service. It’s not one and done. There’s a bunch of games and comics. We’re adding new stuff all the time. We have a partnership with the action Bible. If you ever use the action Bible, which is a really great, very successful book by David Cooke, we got some of their comics in. We’re adding other comics as people come on board, and they buy subscriptions, or they buy merchandise. They buy t-shirts. We’re reinvesting that money and continuing to build a great product. So just like if you subscribe to Netflix, or whatever else, and they’re adding new shows all the time, or new movies. Well, we’re doing that, too. We’re just adding new games, new stuff. Truplay is a living, breathing platform that’s just that keeps getting better all the time.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Well, that’s awesome. I love how you keep expanding it. It’s like expanding the universe in a way.
Brent Dusing: Yeah, it really is. It’s funny you mentioned that because the RhymVerse had our characters, Lucas and Maple, Benjamin, Oliver, Ava, and they all have their own stories and journeys, but they have a much more complicated story that they’re playing out through the games. And they team up in some games and they help each other out. There’s a much deeper narrative that’s going on in the RhymVerse where there’s an evil queen whose name is Axilla. And what Axilla’s done is twisted and manipulated and lied to people, and changed the meaning of words. She’s confiscated a lot of the Bibles. In their world the children realize that this is what’s happened, and they have to fight in battle to undo the power she seized, and because she seized power, the forest has deteriorated. There’s this black goo on the trees, and there are these things called smudge, that have taken over the forest, and the trees have deteriorated. If you think about the Garden of Eden, the world started to fall apart. Once it entered the world, and the further we get away from God’s truth and his plans for us the worse life goes. It may seem exciting in the moment, but over time, you notice mass deterioration. And so that’s what’s really happened in the rivers. There’s a much larger narrative that is happening inside each of these games in the comics that you see unfolding.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Wow, that’s deep. Well, I also wanted to ask you because you had mentioned spiritual warfare. So those kind are really mature sort of topics in regards to religion. How do you explain that to kids?
Brent Dusing: Great question. I’m going to make a bold claim, and say that Ava is the first Christian spiritual warfare game. Now there might have been some pretty dark or demonic spiritual warfare games in the past by other people? But in terms of positive spiritual warfare games. Because Ava’s game, if you really think about it, what does Jesus say about the the devil? He says, the devil comes to kill, steal, and destroy. And so, if you look at children getting torn apart by all these lies that are being told to them about themselves, about their identities and all these things. Ava’s learning your identity isn’t just because somebody calls you a name. Your identity isn’t some mistake you made all of us make mistakes. It’s fine. Your identity is who God designed you to be. You’re a child of God, and that’s where your identity starts from. That’s where your picture of who you are starts from. The spiritual warfare piece in Ava is done in a comical way. She flings these stop signs and these spinning disco balls, but it’s a way to say no, because with spiritual warfare, you’re saying no to the lies of the enemy. So that’s what’s going on. So when Ava, she’s saying, Stop, I don’t wanna listen to your lies. I’m not gonna believe your lies and get out of my life, which, if you look at Jesus he would would say all the time, get behind me, Satan, or tells the demon, get out of here and never return. It’s the same concept just played out inside a game.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Wow! I feel like that does feel a lot more relatable to children definitely. Is there anything else you’d like our Patheos audience specifically to know about you or your platform?
Brent Dusing: We have a phenomenal team here, and I’m really blessed to have people who are at the top of their game in writing and in art, and then game design, and engineering and coding. The thing is, most of us here are parents, and we see the same problems. We deal with the same things that other parents do. We just decided we’re gonna do something about it. Our perspective is parents make the best teachers. But we’re building this movement where we’ve got to have other parents coming on board. It’s almost like that old adage, you gotta be the change you want to see right? If you’re not happy with the toxic content that is being thrust upon your kids then, by subscribing to TruPlay, you’re supporting our ability not just to deliver what we have but, to keep building more games, more animations, more comics for you and your family. We wanna support and build a groundwork to really change the culture for children. Because if we could go from 31% of children that believe in God to 40 to 50 to over half, you can see a whole generational change. You could see the whole country change. You could probably see the world change. If generation Z and generation Alpha knew who God was, what His truth was, who Jesus is, and that makes a reflection of what you consume, you see that shift in the way that you live. I think you’d see a lot of these negative things going on in our society and culture can completely change.
Melissa Ingoldsby: So, that’s an extremely important message nowadays to really impart with children. I mean with my children, I want to impart that same message. So I really appreciate the fact that you’re doing that. And I want to get my oldest to play the games that you have too, because I think you created really interesting characters and the story. My son liked learning about the Bible and everything, and he reads about that all the time.
Brent Dusing: We have the new game, Benjamin and the Armor of Logos coming out in two weeks. It’s one that a lot of young boys enjoy, because it’s sword fighting.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Well, I wanted to thank you so much for joining me today. And I really appreciate all your detailed answers. And really, really great to meet you. Thank you.
Brent Dusing: Well, thanks, Melissa, I really appreciate it, and it was good to be with you today.
Melissa Ingoldsby: Thank you. Have a great one.