by Bob Smietana
(RNS) When Mike Woodward was growing up, he learned about the story of David and Goliath in Sunday school with a teacher who used a felt board and puppets to bring the story to life.
His sons Parker, 12, and Owen, 9, had a more high-tech experience — battling wolves, lions, a bear and finally the big guy himself — as beta testers for DvG: Conquering Giants, a new virtual reality game that retells the famed showdown.
The game is the first offering from Virtuous VR Gaming, a new video gaming company that hopes to connect kids and young adults with classic stories from the Bible, using an immersive VR experience that’s both fun and educational.
Woodward, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said his sons have a good time playing the game and are learning about the Bible. That’s a win, he said.
Besides, VR is a lot cooler than felt boards.
For the boys, playing DvG has been a hoot.
The game is set up in a campaign, much as classic games, like Punch Out!, the Nintendo game made famous for featuring former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. Players start out with an easy opponent, some wolves harassing a flock of sheep in the fields, and move on to more difficult opponents before facing Goliath. In each level, players learn a different skill that helps them move up. Players can either use a virtual sling that they whirl overhead or a slingshot.
Parker Woodward said the game made him think about the battle between David and Goliath in a new way. He used to think David just showed up one day and ended up fighting against the Philistine giant.
Playing DvG made him realize a lot of preparation went into that fateful battle.
Along with the campaign, players can compete for spots on a leaderboard with rankings for accuracy and speed. That has led to some friendly competition between the boys and their dad. The boys have beaten Goliath a few times.
Dad still has some work to do.
“I know what I am supposed to do,” he said. “But I can’t quite get there.”
The game holds up against other VR games, said the Woodward brothers, a fact that delights game developer Jarom Sidwell, a veteran Hollywood special-effects expert who worked on films like “Avenger,” “Avatar,” “Transformers” and “The Hobbit.”
After hearing that Parker and Owen had played Vader Immortal, a Star Wars game, he posed a question: “Who’s tougher, Darth Vader or Goliath?”
“Goliath,” the boys said in unison. Goliath is faster, they said, and less prone to monologuing.
“Yes!” said Sidwell. “I’m going to write that in the diary.”
Sidwell, whose software company Immersive History has also created a VR version of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, said the game has allowed him to combine two of his passions, the Bible and special effects. More than anything, he said, he wanted the game to be fun and to bring the story of David and Goliath to life.
By doing that, he hoped players would get a chance to experience the Bible. And maybe learn something along the way about overcoming challenges in life.
“With a little bit of perseverance and a little bit of faith and fight, you can conquer giants in real life,” he said.
Bill Issler, owner of Virtuous VR Gaming, which developed DvG, got the idea for the game after seeing how young people are attracted to VR experiences. A former engineer in the steel industry who later ran his own software company, Issler started a nonprofit called Industry Lift that developed VR games to attract young people to the construction industry. The nonprofit has developed several VR games that allow users to drive a forklift or crane or learn to weld.
Having seen how well those games worked for the construction industry, Issler wanted to try the same approach for the Bible, which he says is one of his passions in life.
Issler said the Bible has shaped his life and the life of his family. His parents were German immigrants who came to the United States with the help of a Baptist group. He now attends a community church in Virginia. After selling his company, he said he wanted to use the blessings he has received to help others.
“My passion is using the resources I have been given to do good,” he said.
Issler said he wanted DvG to be high quality and good enough to compete with other video games while still being family-friendly — and to be exciting without the shooting and blood and guts found in other popular games.
DvG, which is rated “E for everyone,” features what Sidwell called “Looney Tunes” style action. When a player defeats Goliath, for example, the giant topples over in a comic animation.
The game is currently available on the online gaming website Steam for the Oculus Rift VR system. The developers hope to have it available soon for the Oculus Quest and Playstation.
Sidwell is already thinking of a followup, if all goes well — a multiplayer game based on the life of biblical strongman Samson.
“What really intrigues me about Samson is that it is telling the exact opposite story of David,” he said. “Samson is the Goliath of his time. What does it look like to be Samson and what are challenges as you go through fulfilling God’s purposes?”