Exodus, one of Wisdom Tree Games’ 1991 full length NES offerings, casts the game player as Moses of the Hebrew Bible, battling Egyptian soldiers while completing a series of one hundred mazes. The player collects manna and other treasures, including bibles and crowns, throughout each level while warding off attack from Egyptian attackers, all to the tune of an eight bit chorus singing “Father Abraham.”
When a player collects all of the items in a level and makes it back to the portal leading to the next level, an animated prize screen takes over, showing the player where they are in the Exodus story, as they play through the entire narrative. Following each prize screen is a five question quiz on the text of the book of Exodus with questions of surprising specificity and increasing difficulty. Interestingly, though, not every question has a specific answer, and some answers are simply “The bible isn’t specific [on that point].” The player is challenged to read through the narrative again as she plays the game in order to answer these questions, and each right answer is rewarded with the game’s highest prize – a pixelated, blue and white bible.
Wisdom Tree Games’ website copy for the Exodus game offers players a chance to “Help Moses solve the puzzle with 100 fascinating levels featuring mazes and other obstacles to faith. With your staff and the spoken Word of God, you will defend against enemies including magicians, taskmasters, Pharaoh’s soldiers, weaknesses of man, hardened hearts, and other devices that challenge the character of God. Along the way, Moses can gather Holy oil, the armor of God, greater faith, and much more.” (http://www.wisdomtreegames.com/games/exodus/ Emphasis mine)
The Exodus game is largely unimpressive in its gameplay – no new ground was broken and, without t
he narrative interludes between each level, there would be little about this game that is explicitly “religious.” Interesting, however, is the game’s depiction of violence. Whereas contemporaries of the Exodus game are expected to have their heroes shoot guns or arrows, or wield swords or lasers, Exodus has Mos
es shooting and defeating his enemies with an unexplained “W” of light.
The game’s copy hints at this being the “spoken Word of God”, but no in-game explanation is made of any game features. The white jars labeled “M” that Moses must pick up in every level are likewise presumably manna, but again, no explanation is given. In fact, while the n
arrative interludes take the player through the story from beginning to end, the gameplay itself is something more of a narrative hodgepodge – mixing elements from everywhere in the story into each level. Nowhere in the Biblical narrative is Moses concomitantly gathering manna and fighting the Egyptians - these events happen years apart. Moreover, Moses is made to pick up crowns and bibles – one being extra-narrative all together and the other, the bible, being anachronistic by around fifteen hundred years. While the narrative interludes move linearly, the gameplay of Exodus creates a deeply biblical world for the player, ripe with religious imagery but completely devoid of narrative framework or hermeneutical explanation.
The game’s ad copy is interesting in and of itself, claiming that Moses is not fighting with God, but against “devices that challenge the character of God.” (Ibid.) It is an interesting, if not particularly mainstream Evangelical, cosmology that posits the hardening of hearts and the weaknesses of man challenging the character of God, especially when the Exodus narrative describes the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as coming from God directly. This cosmology does fit the framework of the game, however, as Moses - not God - is the agent of change that moves this story forward, and no redemption is possible save for Moses’s victory over Egyptian foes.