I’m currently working on a design for a game called Megachurch. The idea is that each player is trying to build their individual church into a megachurch by using their pastors to take actions and grow their attendance numbers. It’s got potential as a game, but it’s been really fun thinking through it all thematically. Designing a tongue-in-cheek satire of the American megachurch has been cathartic and freeing in a lot of ways. It’s also given me pause to think about the intersection of game design and social commentary. Megachurches are generally indefensible, in my analytic opinion, as productive faith communities, and at times create an intense absurdity that demands satire. I feel, as an artist, a certain responsibility to engage with social assumptions and norms, holding up a mirror to those I feel compelled to examine. Worship teams playing concerts to sold-out stadiums, celebrity pastors who hang out with famous musicians, movie stars, and athletes, unbelievable budgets and enough money to make a serious dent in the major social and economic crises that the world is facing, and preachers with designer shoe endorsements; all demand examination.
I took the idea to a friend of mine who runs a successful publishing company. I asked him whether or not building a megachurch was a theme that any publisher would be willing to touch. He was reluctant, but told me that it might be possible with the right approach. There is certainly a market for this type of game. There are enough people out there who have been burned by the American church industry (a term which I use intentionally), or who are standing outside of the conversation, looking in and scratching their heads at how it’s even possible for someone like Joel Osteen to be so comically successful. But, there are also those who would not be able to enjoy the joke. People who have bought into the sanctity of it all might throw a fit, decrying the heretic apostasy of trying to hold a mirror up to something as holy, anointed, and undeniably blessed as churches of 20,000 people that congregate in sports arenas or renovated shopping malls.
I’ve kept that in mind, and have tried my best to make Megachurch satirical but respectful. I don’t want to insult or belittle anyone’s experience or expression of faith, but the absurdity of the American megachurch demands to be lampooned. There may not be much of a future for Megachurch, but I’ll go on designing it as long as it’s fun to design. The jokes are nuanced and the game play is engaging so far. Hopefully, as it all starts to streamline and refine I’ll have a game that is interesting and strategic, that can be enjoyed whether you’re a megachurch goer or not.