National Catholic Register


Catholic 'Farmville'-style Facebook Game Unveiled

"Vatican Wars" Diminishes the Priesthood

BY Tim Drake

| Posted 6/22/11 at 10:11 AM


SGR Games, LLC has created “Vatican Wars” (formerly “Priestville”), a new online Facebook game. Think of it as “Mafia Wars” meets the Church.

The game divides players into either Templars (socially conservative) or Crusaders (socially liberal), and then allows them to “serve as Catholic priests,” take positions on social issues, and elect a Pope.

According to a press release by SGR Games, the test run of the game, involving 30,000 players, had some shocking results.

First, the game’s creators were horrified by the lengths some players were willing to go to become Pope.

“It was horrifying,” said Cheyenne Ehrlich, founder of SGR Games. “We had three reports of a player being blackmailed into quitting the race for Pope in the game. And the amount of player bullying we saw turned our stomachs. It was so awful that, on several occasions, we considered ending the game.”

In order to prevent future bullying and blackmail, SGR changed the game to allow not only cardinals, but all players, to vote for who becomes Pope.

The second problem the game creators noted was that they had a difficult time getting non-Catholics and ex-Catholics to play the game because they “can be incredibly dismissive of Catholicism and Priests.”

“The most frequent question we would get asked about the game by non-Catholics was, ‘Do you get to touch little boys?’” said Ehrlich.  “Since we didn’t want to make the game about sexual abuse, we decided to use the tendency to instantly dismiss Catholicism around social issues as a way to bring non-Catholics into the game.”

Ehrlich sees the game as a way to engage people in debate.

The game’s creators also see the game as a useful tool for “increasing Mass attendance, religious practice and interest in the Priesthood.”

According to statistics gathered by the creators, the game has positive influences on Catholics who attended Mass less than once a week.

30% said that once they started playing the game, they attended Mass more often.

45% of young men said that playing the game made them more interested in becoming a priest.

83% of Catholic clergy surveyed said they would recommend the game to members of their parish.

76% of Catholic clergy surveyed thought it would be a useful tool for bringing people back to the Church.

Call me a skeptic, but I have serious reservations. I see the game as polarizing and unhelpful to the laity’s understanding of the priesthood.

By forcing players to choose a side, the game contributes to the view of the Church as two fighting tribes rather than a unified body. The fight of the Baby Boomers in the Church is not that of younger Catholics. Whereas the Baby Boomer fight might have been about “liberals” and “conservatives” in the Church, younger generations of Catholics are not fighting against one another, but largely against the rising tide of apathy, New Atheists, secularists and the great animosity towards Christ and His Church. “Vatican Wars” is not helpful in advancing Christ’s call, “May they be one.”

Furthermore, the game presents a seriously diminished view of the priesthood. By allowing players to “serve as priests,” it flattens out the priesthood. “Anyone can do what a priest does,” the game suggests. By reducing a priest’s actions to merely debating theology and taking positions on social issues, it makes the priest into more of a politician than In Persona Christi – the only individual who can forgive sins and call down Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. The priesthood is not a game; it’s about the salvation of souls. This Sacramental diminishment of the priesthood offsets whatever benefits the game-makers say might result from playing the game. A diminished priesthood means a diminished Church.