VALLEY FORGE, Pa.—For families worried about what to do about violence in the media, a knight in bright armor has arrived.

The knight is the protagonist of “Saints of Virtue,” a new, fast-paced Catholic video game that aims to give Nintendo a run for the money. The game's cyberhero passes through castle corridors, wages battle with bad guys like pride and envy, and outmaneuvers temptations to become a saint of virtue.

Whether he wins or loses, he might turn out to be a success with video-gamers — if the reaction of teen-agers at the Catholic Marketing Network trade show is any indication.

The fourth annual trade show, held June 8–11, attracted more than 1,000 retailers, marketers and suppliers to the Valley Forge Convention Center outside Philadelphia.

Among the 262 company booths were displays of toys and other games for children and families (see related story). “Saints of Virtue” was unique as the only animated, fast-action video game exhibited. Its producer, Virginia-based Cactus Game Design Inc., extols it as a healthy alternative to the lowbrow fare that floods the mainstream market.

“According to the Catholic Marketing Network 1999 survey of Catholic stores,” said Rob Anderson, president of Cactus Game, “less than 7% of all sales are to customers under 21 years of age. That's tragic. If we're not drawing teens in, producing games that are exciting and fun for them, then we're conceding ground to the enemy.

“People don't realize how dark and horrific many popular secular games are today. Many of them are violent and cult-based. The Christian market needs to be producing games that teens want to buy for themselves, to counteract what's already out there.”

Anderson is confident that “Saints of Virtue” exemplifies the kind of game teens seek out for themselves. The proof is that teenagers were glued to the screen throughout the show, and kept coming back for more.

For younger children, Andre Kalich, owner of Pennsylvania-based Train Up A Child Inc., introduced new Bible Action Figures.

“Retailers are delighted and surprised to discover our booth,” he said. “They keep saying what a great idea these figures are, because they know kids will really get excited about them.”

His crafted plastic figures have movable parts, a scenery backdrop depicting a scene from the character's life, and biblical references about the figure's role in Scripture. The backdrop accompanying each figure can be placed side by side with those of other figures, creating an entire panorama passing from sunrise to sunset.

Another children's item, plush teddy bears that recite favorite Catholic prayers in real children's voices, made its debut. Blue Bell Bear founder Elaine Thompson was on hand to talk with retailers.

More Than Games

But the more than 800 attendees, representing 279 retail stores, had more than games and toys to consider at the trade show. Other exhibitors offered statuaries, popular and classical Catholic music, books, rosaries, medals, crucifixes, olive wood products, night lights, calligraphied verse, magazines, videos, audiotapes and artwork.

“This is the year the Catholic Marketing Network went international,” noted network president Alan Napleton. “We had suppliers, distributors, and retailers from Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe and Australia. As this international segment of Catholic Marketing Network grows, we will be incorporating new elements into future shows for our international participants.”

Already, Canadian retailers held a spontaneous meeting to discuss their unique concerns, and decided to actively help expand the Catholic Marketing Network's outreach to Canada.

“This trade event is a great help to us,” said Charles Casazza of Mary's Garden Catholic Books in Maryland. “We opened our store around the time of the very first show and have been attending ever since. We've found lots of bargains and new suppliers, and we've made a lot of new friends.”

“It's been very beneficial,” agreed Eric Winegart of St. Gregory's Guild book and gift store in Montana. “It's so neat to be around all these great Catholics who are willing to put their livelihood on the line to save souls and spread the Catholic faith.”

Breaks from Business

Retailers and member suppliers also received the results of the first-ever comprehensive Catholic retail survey conducted by the Catholic Marketing Network for 1998, and a Supplier Directory listing member suppliers' company information. In addition, more than 125 attendees participated in a one-day retailer education seminar with Joe Tabers, of Productive Training Services Inc., and guest speaker Anthony DeMasi, editor and co-publisher of Giftware News.

In the retailer educational sessions, retailers swapped tips on how to overcome retailing challenges, improve computer system delivery and better serve customers. A “Springtime 2000 Evening Mission Conference,” coordinated by Father Michael Barrett, highlighted Catholic recording artists, including John Michael Talbot and Irish tenor Mark Forrest. Evening speakers included EWTN's Jeff Cavins, Father John McFadden and authors Bob and Penny Lord.

As the only trade show of its kind in North America, the event was definitively Catholic, with a clear foundation in prayer. An adoration chapel was frequented by attendees, and daily Masses were well attended. Celebrants Bishop James S. Sullivan of Fargo, N.D.; Bishop Joseph Madera, an auxiliary in the Military Services Archdiocese; and Father Andrew Apostoli each exhorted Catholic retailers and suppliers to pursue personal holiness and to stay true to their unique mission of evangelization.

“The light of the Holy Spirit must permeate through each of us,” Bishop Madera said. “Each one of us has a plan in the mind of God.”

According to Napleton, plans include introducing a second trade show in Baltimore on Jan. 25–28, expanding the retail seminars to two days, and co-sponsoring a sacred art component in conjunction with the St. Michael Institute of Sacred Art. The Catholic Marketing Network can be reached at (800) 506-6333.

Karen Walker is based in San Juan Capistrano, California.