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Help Your Kid Learn the Faith... Through a Video Game?

Help Your Kid Learn the Faith... Through a Video Game?

When I heard that Loyola Press had produced a Catholic catechetical video game, I have to admit I was skeptical. Striking the balance between educational and fun isn’t always easy to do, and it takes a lot of time and money to produce a quality video game. Still, I was curious. What would a catechetical video game look like? Could it be done well?

 

When Mandy Lemos, Loyola Press’ publicist for Wanderlight: A Pilgrim’s Adventure, contacted me to ask if I would like to try the game out, I jumped at the chance. She sent me a free demo of Wanderlight as well as some promotional material, later giving me access to all the levels. Now that I’ve had the chance to play the game, here are my impressions:

 

The Premise

Wanderlight places the player in the shoes of a character simply called “Pilgrim.” In each level, Pilgrim has to go on a journey to help others, overcoming various challenges while learning more about the Catholic faith along the way. Pilgrim carries a lantern that grows brighter when good decisions are made, and is accompanied by a dove sidekick reminiscent of the Holy Spirit. Each of the game’s seven levels includes topics from the religion curriculum of a different grade, from kindergarten to sixth grade. Wanderlight is designed to be played by individuals or used by schools and religious education programs as a supplement to their curricula.

 

How Does it Teach the Faith?

One of Wanderlight’s major strengths is the catechetical element. Through the Pilgrim’s eyes, players cover a huge amount of ground, from the beatitudes and Bible stories to Catholic social teaching and the sacraments. The game provides a forum where players can put abstract concepts of the faith into action, learning them in an experiential way. Different characters, such as saints, priests, and nuns, guide the players and help them deepen their understanding. For example, in one early level, St. Francis of Assisi introduces players to the beatitude “blessed are the meek.” Players then use this beatitude to solve the problem of removing troublesome racoons from the village and handling the insults of angry bystanders with gentleness and forgiveness.

 

© 2020 Loyola Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission. 

 

I especially love the way Wanderlight incorporates prayer experiences into the gameplay. At various points throughout the game, prayers are introduced to the player. Some of these are as basic as the sign of the cross or the prayer before meals. Others are as complex as the Apostle’s Creed, the Stations of the Cross, or making a daily examination of conscience. These points in the game are not merely checkpoints for the Pilgrim to pass-- players themselves are invited to really pray. The words are shown on the screen, and a clear voiceover reads it aloud while reflective music plays in the background. Players have access to a ‘Prayer Tent’ where they can go to return to their favorite prayers, including songs and Bible passages as well as recited prayers. St. Ignatius of Loyola also leads the players through more imaginative prayer experiences involving an encounter with Jesus. These experiences are short and simple, but I think they provide a valuable way of introducing children to a variety of styles of praying, as well as showing them the many situations when it can be helpful to stop and say a prayer.

 

The encounters with saints were another aspect of the game that was particularly well done. Some saints are important guides for the players along the way. Others are more like ‘easter eggs’ that the player can discover by exploring. The saints share about their lives, their experiences of God, and the different elements of the faith that were closest to their hearts. The diversity of saints is very well chosen, with men and women from all over the world. There are popular saints and lesser known ones, ancient saints and modern ones. Players can talk to Mary, the mother of God, but they can also get to know St. Mariam Thresia Mankidiyan, an Indian Syro-Malabar rite nun who died in 1926. I believe that letting kids encounter the saints in the game will help them understand that saints are more than images on a holy card. They are real people that we can have relationships with, who have something to share with us. I hope that Wanderlight might inspire players to go learn more about their favorite saints from the game and pray for their intercession more often.

 

© 2020 Loyola Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission. 

Is it Actually Fun?

Turns out, it really is. The graphics, music, and overall atmosphere of Wanderlight are whimsical and gorgeous, hitting on a colorful style of animation that appeals to a wide audience. Players have the freedom to explore many areas, going inside buildings and caves and meeting a variety of non-player characters. There are churches, shrines, and even a Catholic gift shop where players can select different items (such as rosaries or theology books) to see an explanation of what it is and how people use it. All these details make playing Wanderlight an enjoyable experience.

 

Although the game is striving to be catechetical, it also has plenty of funny moments. Remember those troublesome racoons I mentioned earlier? The player learns about meekness and care for creation by devising a way to safely get them out of the village. How, you ask? By distracting them with a clockwork robo-chicken made by Bartolomea, the town’s quirky inventor. Later on, players have the option to participate in a mini-game called Noah’s Arcade when a newly arrived refugee child invites Pilgrim to play a video game with her. The off-the-wall solutions and interesting characters make Wanderlight entertaining, even when the issues being dealt with are more serious. 

 

Another way that the game blends fun and serious catechetics is by framing the educational elements as a challenge or scavenger hunt. I didn’t care about knowing what the other beatitudes were until St. Francis of Assisi gave me a charm bracelet with missing charms for the beatitudes I hadn’t discovered yet. In a similar vein, every time players meet a saint, they receive a saint medal that’s kept in a special area of their backpack. But the game also shows you all the slots for medals you don’t have yet. Like with Pokémon’s “gotta catch ‘em all!” this is a great way to motivate players to look for and meet all the saints in the world of Wanderlight.

 

Who is Wanderlight for?

Wanderlight is advertised for children ages 5-12 because each level covers the curriculum of a different grade, from kindergarten to sixth grade. While the seriousness of the issues discussed does increase with each level, from taking care of a racoon problem to assisting with a refugee crisis, the challenge of each level does not increase significantly and the topics are still presented in a way that is fairly simple and accessible to children. The mechanics of the game itself are very simple and intuitive. The types of obstacles players are required to overcome are impossible to fail, and primarily involve searching for things or solving mazes. Every level includes voiceovers that read the dialogue out loud for younger players. Because of this, I believe that a younger player would not find it difficult to complete the entire game.

 

© 2020 Loyola Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.  

Older players might benefit from having an adult help them go deeper in the issues presented by Wanderlight, especially in making real-world connections to current events. For example, after your child completes the last level and learns about the sacrament of Confirmation and the Church’s teaching on caring for refugees, it might be good to talk to them about your own experience of receiving the sacrament of Confirmation and help them research today’s refugee crises. Wanderlight introduces children to these topics, but a video game can never totally replace the need for actual discussion with parents and educators.

 

When Wanderlight is purchased by schools and religious education programs, it comes with special administrative tracking and reporting features so that teachers can see the progress made by their students. See Wanderlight’s website for details on how Wanderlight can be implemented in a classroom or used in a group.

 

Room for Improvement?

I don’t have many criticisms for the game as it is now, but rather areas of potential for future development. Currently, Wanderlight does allow the player to explore different areas and have some control over the direction of in-game dialogue. However, I would love to see even more interactive elements, both in the scenery and in the dialogue, so that players could have greater freedom of movement (eg. in being able to jump or climb) and could more significantly change the direction of a conversation, making choices that more seriously affect the outcome of the game.

 

Furthermore, the obstacles in Wanderlight are simple enough that most children could pick up this game and play it without too much difficulty. This makes it ideal for younger players and classroom use, but if the types of quests and puzzles were expanded, the game could reach a wider audience. A difficulty level in the settings could allow the game to be put in ‘easy mode’ or ‘hard mode’ depending on the players’ abilities. That way, it could still be used in a classroom for children of all gaming proficiencies, while the catechetical material would be communicated through challenges appropriate to each age level.

 

The Verdict

All in all, I was impressed by Wanderlight. It’s a beautiful game that aims to really teach kids their Catholic faith and foster their relationship with God. As video games grow in popularity, not just in entertainment but also in education, I would love to see Loyola Press and other Catholic companies do even more in this field. Wanderlight is a great start, but I pray it’s only the first step in many more solid Catholic video games to come.

 

Visit the website to learn more about Wanderlight: A Pilgrim’s Adventure or play a free demo of the game. 

 

 

Our guest blogger is Sr. Allison Gliot, a novice with the Daughters of St Paul. She is from Falls Church, Virginia, and has a degree in Theology and Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America. She loves video games, but not as much as she loves Jesus. 

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