All images courtesy of Jorge Herrera unless stated otherwise.
Imagine being among the crowd of people around the pool of Bethesda, hoping to be healed by its waters. A man then approaches you and asks, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6).
That man is none other than Jesus Christ. The scene changes, and you are now looking at a lame man being healed through His perspective, the eyes of Jesus.
Events in the gospel like this can be hard to imagine; I often struggle to see the significance of the things Jesus did at the time.
But one man is working to change that. Enter Jorge Herrera, whose latest virtual reality game – “Discover God” app – aims to help people experience Jesus in a whole new way.
Curiously, the game designer isn’t a software developer by profession. Currently working with The Message Trust in England, Jorge’s passion to share the gospel with at-risk youths and prison inmates stems from his own life-changing experience after he met Christ.
Growing up in a low-income household, Jorge relied on video games to get through life. He laughs to himself as he describes video games as something like his “babysitter”.
Jorge’s mother had schizophrenia and his dad was a drug addict. Jorge would follow him down a similar path of alcoholism and drug abuse as a youth.
There was no progression in my life and I was lonely.
He shared how he suffered through depression at 23, where his anxiety would often bring him panic attacks.
“On Facebook, I saw all the people I went to middle school and high school with move on with their lives,” Jorge said. “But I was the same. There was no progression in my life and I was lonely.
“It felt like I had more enemies than friends and it got me questioning God – not that I really knew God at that time. I was just searching for something in general.”
Jorge then shared how he bumped into a friend outside his apartment building.
After catching up with him, Jorge eventually confessed to his friend that he wasn’t okay and that he hadn’t spoken to anybody in weeks. His friend then shared about his Christian faith and how through he was able to live in hope through the gospel.
“Right out there, on the streets, I prayed and accepted Christ. That’s why I want to share the gospel because I know the hope it can bring to young people.”
GETTING TO GAMERS
Jorge sees video games as an opportunity for the gospel.
“Video games are stereotypically seen as violent,” Jorge explained, “But there is a large community of video gamers out there that is unreached. I want to take this feature of youth culture and redeem it back to Christ. To stand in the gap for that unreached people group.”
He also believes video games can be a platform that builds communities and a tool to help youths learn new skills.
“In the UK, a good youth group needs video games. You’d see the really shy and quiet kids all of a sudden open up once video games are involved, and they’re like a whole different person.
“Video games are disarming and they’re a powerful vehicle to build relationships.”
Jorge shared that different youths need different methods of engagement: “Not all youths learn through the traditional methods of sitting down and listening to a lecture, some need to experience something to learn it.
“In video games, you learn things but you don’t realise it because you have fun at the same time.”
Instead of taking their phone away, I’m going to bring Jesus to their phone.
“When you work with young people, you’re not meant to take young people and make them go to you,” explained Jorge. “You bring the church to them.”
“The young people are what older people now call digital natives,” he continued. “So, for me, instead of taking their phone away, I’m going to bring Jesus to their phone.
“By bringing Jesus to them through virtual reality, it’s my hope that it would encourage them to still be who they are and have the freedom to have God reveal Himself to them the way He has made them.”
MODERN METHODS, UNCHANGING MESSAGE
The idea first came to Jorge in 2018, when he attended a seminar called “Spirituality in Video Games” at Nazarene Theological College.
His teacher had recommended everyone to play the game That Dragon, Cancer.
That Dragon, Cancer was unlike any other game Jorge played before. He shared how it had some elements of gameplay, but the player would follow a narrative for the most part.
Jorge was fully absorbed and engaged: “The game made you feel what they wanted you to feel, and the way they made that happen was really unique to me.
“That became my lightbulb moment where I thought, ‘This is amazing, why don’t we do something like this for Jesus?'”
Today, the “Discover God” app is the world’s first Christian virtual reality video game.
In this game, Jorge hopes that players can step into the shoes of Jesus and participate fully in the various New Testament narratives. Speaking on the newly launched Oculus demo, the game’s narrative centres around Jesus healing a lame man in the pool of Bethesda.
Technology has opened up brand new possibilities to help people experience the Bible in a whole different way.
Not only will players get to witness the healing the lame man from Jesus’ point of view, the game also delves into the life of the lame man as well. How did he continue living after Jesus healed him? One will see get to see how the lame man’s life changed because of that encounter with Jesus.
“Discover God app isn’t adding or taking anything away from the Bible,” said Jorge. “It’s presenting the Bible in a different package. Technology has opened up brand new possibilities to help people experience the Bible in a whole different way.
“How are we engaging with these new platforms and communities?”
The game currently comes with a session plan and in-game guide on how the experience can be used to facilitate a small group session. These sessions help apply what users experienced in the game to the Christian faith, and help answer any questions pre-believers may have about what they saw in the game.
Jorge created the game with the vision of seeing churches, especially the youths, use his game as a creative resource for outreach. He also plans to take the game to a new level by working towards creating a multi-user experience so that people can build a community online and experience the gospel together.
“I think it’s important to have that group facilitation aspect so that people have the opportunity to ask questions and be engaged in person. But I also believe the Holy Spirit moves in the digital realms.
“God’s presence is not limited to a physical space. The same way we see the Holy Spirit moving through livestreamed church and worship services during the COVID-19 situation, we will see the Holy Spirit move in the realm of a virtual reality game.”
THINK + TALK:
- What’s your take on video games?
- How might outreach and video games come together in your community?
- What are some other ways we can use technology for digital outreach?