The Alternate Reality Gaming genre has remained virtually untouched by mainstream / contemporary Christianity, it seems. This doesn’t include, however, the trendy use of Bible verses that show up almost commonplace for poetic purposes, spiritual themes, emphasis of good vs evil, etc. It’s a time-honoured tradition found in movies, tv, video games, books, and virtually any creative medium in use today, wihout necessarily being religious in nature. So to have a Christian ARG - not a mock piece, not satirical (as opposed to religion, that is) – but an ARG built/sponsored by Christians, in an overwhelmingly secular entertainment/marketing genre, is rare.
Recently, Christian author Ted Dekker promoted his book series the Lost Books of History with a well-produced ARG. It attracted flocks of Dekker fans to the in-game forums and to Ted’s own forums, gained some new fans (such as yours truly, who ended up purchasing the books) and in the end a final gathering was enjoyed by many fans.
Another campaign for a youth event got off to a rocky start – “Everything is going to change” was the catch phrase, and their attempt to gain attention for their website via youtube videos tagged with popular ARG phrases and names, earned it a fairly bad reputation from the start in the ARG community, as if it were attempting to ‘piggy-back’ off the popularity of other games.
When the trailhead was first posted at Unfiction, I was very, very skeptical. Citizens of Virtue claims to be a Christian organization that is beginning a campaign to “educate the world on God-sanctioned morality”, based on the “classic seven virtues”: Temperance, Patience, Chastity, Kindness, Humility, Diligence, and Charity. That’s not too bad given the context. But after reading more detail on the website, such as their convictions, written letters, their accomplishments, etc, the organization comes off more and more as a ‘right wing’ conservative organization – one that isn’t typically viewed very highly in the public’s eyes, with some shady goings-on behind the scenes.
“CoV” is also the maker of a drug they’ve named “Passionix” – “the innovative new solution to the passions that can override the judgment of our youth and lead them into temptation.” (a product eerily reminiscent of another recent local ‘drug’ campaign called “Obay“).
CoV also runs a camp called Camp Francis. All seems well and good, if it weren’t for some worrisome / possibly satirical letters and content from past campers.
Shortly after its discovery, some members of the ARG community received a downright upsetting press release from CoV – with the bold, blatant header: “CITIZENS OF VIRTUE CONDEMNS “ALTERNATE REALITY” GAMES“. Suffice to say, I wasn’t too impressed! It seemed as though it was either a fictional organization mocking Christianity, or a real organization that really wasn’t out to make many friends (a least in the ARG community!). However, curiosity never stopped ticking, and others in the community dug deeper, retaining the hope that this was indeed a legitimate ARG, even a legitimate Chrisitian ARG.
The key pointer to this being more than meets the eye, was the fact that among the listed virtues on CoV.com, four letters were slightly greyed: H E L P. If it were a real organization, it would have been noticed and removed. So, we were left with essentially a satirical Christian organization, an obviously fictional product, and the ARG staple: a cry for help.
To recap through events up to the time of this writing, VP of PR Savannah Merks was found on Facebook, along with a Citizens of Virtue group. She posted a comment about how different CoV was from this other website: jesuswantstosavechristians.com.
So with a sigh of relief, we found JWtSC containing what appears to be codes - patterns and boxes representing the letters of subheading titles. The website is for a new book ”Jesus Wants To Save Christians“, by Rob Bell and Don Golden. Rob Bell may best be known for his founding of Mars Hill Bible Church, as the face of the video series NOOMA, and author of a number of other popular books.
We now know that Citizens of Virtue is a fictional, satirical organization (*phew*) set up as part of the campaign surrounding this book (*phew*). Rob’s book purports to be very down-to-earth and applicable to modern Christians, and non-Christians, looking for answers and ways to apply their faith to life as it exists today… Without condescension, without big religious words, without that ever-mocked “religiosity” that today’s culture seems to detest. From the website:
“It’s a book about faith and fear,
wealth and war,
poverty, power, safety, terror,
Bibles, bombs, and homeland insecurity,
It’s about empty empires and the truth that everybody’s a priest, it’s about oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate and participate in the very things Jesus came to set people free from.
It’s about what it means to be a part of the church of Jesus in a world where some people fly planes into buildings while others pick up groceries in Hummers.”
Ok, back to the game. Where are we at now?
JWtSC has a section called “Help the Seven”, which reveals (are you ready?) a cryptic message. Using the same grid-typeface from the site, the message spells out (spoiler– block the following text to read it) “FRUITOFTHEGARDENDOTCOMINPUTCAMPHIRE“, which of course becomes fruitofthegarden.com. (spoiler–) Entering “CAMPHIRE” as the search takes you to a hidden page where we find that Lila Greene is looking for help to find her nephew, Xander Greene, who recently joined Citizens of Virtue. (could this be the source of the “H E L P” on their website? hmm…)
CoV also lists a few upcoming events they’ll be appearing at, and is also open to recruiting “Virtu-Volunteers” to aid them at the events. Events include Passion in Vancouver on October 6th (which has since passed), Catalyst in Atlanta on the 10th, and the NYWC in Sacramento on the 10th. Along with those upcoming events to watch out for, CoV will be launching their Virtual Virtues campaign occuring on a weekly basis, beginning October 8th - watch the website for details.
So the mystery remains – Where is Xander Greene? Lila, his aunt, also emailed some people asking if they know anything about Xander, and where he may be. She signed her emails with the phrase “KJV SoS ?henna?” – a reference to ‘henna blossoms’ mentioned in Song of Solomon in the KJV,also known as (spoiler–) camphire (another game entry-point for people to find her hidden website). Not only that, it appears that Lila is also currently reading Jesus Wants to Save Christians (surprise surprise!).
As for Xander, he was the lead in a band called Bridegroom of Blood, which has a Myspace page, though recently disbanded by Xander.
What has Citizens of Virtue done with Xander Greene?
Try calling their toll free number: 1-888-64-VIRTU (648-4799) - there’s more going on here than we think.
Watch for CoV’s Virtual Virtues campaign launching October 8th with “Temperance”, and if you can make it to either of the upcoming events listed above on October 10th, watch for CoV “Virtu-Volunteers!”. Perhaps the people opposed to Citizens of Virtue have information that will help us determine the whereabouts of Lila’s nephew, Xander!
- Discussion at Unfiction
- Follow along the game events and help manage the community wiki
- Read a bit of info from ‘behind the curtain’, at Lancelot’s blog
- Check out an interview with Rob Bell at Relevent Magazine