HOLY GAMER: Friars at DC church develop online video game

When you think about video game makers, a few names that probably come to mind are Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

But members of a Catholic religious order dating back to 1216 AD have launched a new video game right here in the District.

In fact, life for the monks at St. Dominic Church in Southwest Washington is full of prayer, study, service - and video games.

"I have not heard of another monk or friar making a video game like this," said Brother Athanasius Murphy.

Murphy is a millennial monk so to speak and a video game is his newest creation. It started about a year ago when he and some fellow friars were trying to figure out how to draw crowds to their Passiontide celebration this Saturday. It is a candlelight prayer vigil that kicks off the end of Lent heading into Holy Week.

"One brother teasingly said, 'Why don't we make a video game about this? Then everyone will want to come,'" Brother Murphy explained. "We were joking about it, but once we realized that it was possible to do, we decided, 'Well, why not give it a shot?'"

The 27-year-old friar said several monks and other volunteers were involved in coding what became "Passiontide The Videogame." It took a small team six months to create and it went live on Ash Wednesday.

The online game allows you to be a Dominican friar in Washington D.C. walking down 7th Street past the L'Enfant Metro station navigating obstacles like lava and collecting candles to get to St. Dominic Church.

"The intention was to be retro in its style," said Brother Murphy. "We wanted people to see the game and just chuckle and laugh and say, 'What is this supposed to be?'"

They initially made the game to encourage locals in D.C. to come to their event. But there is a reason it is called the World Wide Web.

"Thousands have people have played all over the world," Murphy said. "People in Japan. People in Africa."

Older friars, who were amused at first, are now quite proud.

"It's entertaining, it's amusing, it's fun, and I'm always in favor of making religion fun," said Father Gerry Lessard.

Brother Murphy said it has been fun mastering the game. Though he works in a church built in the 1800s and reveres the ancient traditions of his Catholic religious order, he said he feels like he will be a true winner if his modern day methods succeed in bringing more people into the church.

"We as Dominicans, we want to bring traditions of Catholic Church and the truth of the Catholic Church to where people are today - even if that means playing a video game online," he said.

Brother Murphy said this video game appears to be the first of its kind developed by a Catholic religious order, but he hopes it isn't the last. Given the attention this one has gotten, he and his fellow monks hope it inspires more sophisticated games to expand the Catholic presence in the gaming world.