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From crazy idea to reality of a global video game!

Homepage Feature — 3rd February 2021

From crazy idea to reality of a global video game!

During George Herrera’s first year at Nazarene Theological College, he attended the school’s one-day seminar, Spirituality in Video Games. The seminar gave him a crazy idea: Design a video game that enables the player to experience the life of Jesus Christ.

Never mind that George had zero experience with designing or programming a video game, and didn’t even know where to begin.

But that didn’t stop him. Fast forward three years, and George is the owner of a video game company and a registered charity, has found investors, hired designers, and is progressing toward his seemingly outlandish goal.

“I need to make this, but for Jesus”

It was at the seminar that George first heard Christian spirituality should be linked to video games.

“I never heard that before. The video games I was used to were, like, Grand Theft Auto,” he said. But, “there’s other games that let Christians reflect on different elements of life, such as religion, life and death, relationships, and things like that. The new style of video games is to get you to reflect and think and creates dialogue.”

The seminar introduced Herrera to a role-playing virtual reality video game called That Dragon, Cancer It was created by a real-life family whose 12-month-old son was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The player becomes one of the parents, and the game opens in the doctor’s office, as the doctor announces the terrible news.

As the player advances through the game, it reaches the inevitable point of the child’s death. Then the player experiences what the parents felt as they grieve and try to move forward with their lives.

“The rest of the game is the parents struggling with their faith, asking God why this happened,” George said. “There were different times [playing the game] that I felt sad, questioning God, or felt happy. I reflected on how I never felt like that playing a video game. I had an epiphany moment: I need to make this, but for Jesus.”

Step 1: Get a game designer

Still a first-year, Mexican-American foreign student at NTC, Herrera contacted Numinous Games, the studio that produced That Dragon, Cancer, to ask if they would design his virtual reality video game on the life of Christ.

“Right away, they’re like, ‘No. We don’t work with individuals. Our budget is millions.”

But George persisted, contacting them four or five more times, begging for a hearing. He pestered them so much that they finally agreed to a video conference meeting.

“There’s 2.5 billion people in the world that play video games, but there’s only 2.2 billion Christians,” he told them. “I look at video gamers as a mission field. They are their own distinct people group. I think people who play video games who are often marginalised, who society shuts out and ignores. Sometimes they are disabled people or people who have sex identity issues. A lot of these people play video games because they’re free and they’re not judged.

I want to make something in their context. I don’t want to show them religion or what a denomination believes; I want to show them Jesus

“What I want to do is create something that translates well for them,” he continued. “I want to make something in their context. I don’t want to show them religion or what a denomination believes; I want to show them Jesus. I think if I can take Jesus to them, the gospel will be really powerful in that medium, and they will accept Christ.”

Step 2: Get funding

The team at Numinous were after all convinced. They agreed to design his game, Discover Christ. But, they asked how he planned to pay for it.

“One of the things I didn’t know anything about was video game design or producing, or an actual, legit business. So, for a long time I was paying them monthly to come up with a game design and I was using my savings.”

He spent his own money for a year before it occurred to him that perhaps he could acquire funding from investors or grants.

So, he registered a charity and sent out funding applications. All of them were denied, because in 2018 and 2019 foundations and other organisations were only interested in community gardens, social justice projects, and the like.

“I wish they could have fast-forwarded and realised there’s going to be a global pandemic and digital resources for young people is one of the major things everybody’s going to need,” Herrera said, shaking his head.

One step forward, one step back

In 2018, George had met and fallen in love with Katie. They married and started a family. Katie was a staff pastor at a local church in Manchester, and George was still progressing through his bachelor’s degree while serving in various ministry placements. He realised he couldn’t keep burning through his savings account. So, he went to God.

I can’t afford it. If it’s really yours, you’re going to pay the bill. I will go as far as you take me, but you have to pay the bills.

“God, I know this is yours. It’s your idea, you put this on my heart,” he prayed. “I can’t afford it. If it’s really yours, you’re going to pay the bill. I will go as far as you take me, but you have to pay the bills.”

A month later, a chance meeting with a friend turned into an introduction with a global organisation dedicated to world evangelism. George traveled to India for five meetings in two days. The group caught George’s vision. They agreed to fully fund the project at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Two weeks later, the coronavirus pandemic triggered a worldwide shutdown, and the organisation was forced to reallocate the promised funding to feeding people, instead.

Herrera was back at square one.

Step 3: Get training and support

But all was not lost. The Lions a Christian business entrepreneurship program, accepted George as one of 15 people in a one-year mentoring cohort toward developing their innovative business idea.

Following the year of training and equipping, each of the 15 people pitched their business idea to The Lions board.

They selected George as the program’s winner in December 2020. The award comes with six months of wages to work on his business idea, and help finding investors to get the video game off the ground.

As of February 2021, George is building the game’s website www.discovergod.app and working on the game’s development.

Step 4: Develop the business

Meanwhile, George graduated from NTC with his Youth Work Degree, and went straight into NTC’s Master’s Degree in Transformational Leadership. His first intensive module in the fall of 2020 was Social Entrepreneurship – perfect for equipping him as he develops his video game business.

“The module was really good. [Guest lecturer] Tom Sine taught us about forecasting. It’s a business concept, but he made an argument that Christians should forecast in general and use it as an opportunity to create new ministries to identify problems and challenges as well as opportunities. I did that for my video game and it’s been really useful.”

George has cut many other commitments out of his life so that he can focus on his studies and on business development, alongside being a husband and father.

“One of the things I appreciate NTC for is they have fully assisted, or at least put me on the pathway, to realise what my calling is,” he said. “If I focus and give this video game my all, I will create an organisation that has a global impact. That is my goal and what I am going to do.”