Call it a case of raise-'em-up rather than shoot-'em-up. When the hero with a in the video game "Catechumen" uses a "sword of the spirit" to vanquish a Roman soldier possessed by demons, a bright light appears and a "Hallelujah" chorus sounds. The soldier falls to his knees and prays.
"He's been delivered," says Ralph Bagley, CEO and founder of N'Lightning Software Development, which created and distributes the game.
With its lack of violence and gore, "Catechumen" is a far cry from "Doom," "Grand Theft Auto," and other popular video games. It's one of a handful of Christian videogames created as clean, Bible-based alternatives to other games. Some of the Christian entries don't have villains at all, and focus on instilling values.
"They're meant to maybe prompt a question: 'Why shouldn't I lie, cheat, and steal? Why should I take responsibility for my actions?' " says Bill Bean, cofounder of Digital Praise, a video game company.
The evangelizing nature of the games tends to be subdued, however, and several have received rave reviews from the secular press for their game play. "My calling is to create high-quality fun games that are alternatives," Mr. Bagley says. "But anything I put out is not going to be preachy. God has a sense of humor, and He wants people to have fun, too."
Fun or not, it's not clear if the Christian video games can survive in the US video-game market, estimated at $10 billion. There are already plenty of other games that don't emphasize sex and violence, says David Cole, who monitors the video-game market for the research firm DFC Intelligence.
For now, neither N'Lightning nor Digital Praise is breaking even, although they're hoping to reach out to retail stores and move beyond Christian bookstores and Internet sales. The games themselves cost as much as $1 million to develop, less than the $5 million-plus that other companies spend.
Of course, the Christian video-game business isn't just about money, Mr. Bean says: "You can never have too much of Christ, too much of His word, too much of that influence."