Endorsed by the American Bible Society, The Aetherlight is a multiplayer point-and-click adventure game that retells the story of Scripture in a steampunk world filled with quests, puzzles, crafting and more.
The Aetherlight’s “World Builder,” Tim Cleary, is a former youth pastor passionate about drawing youth into God’s story. In this interview, Cleary shares the challenges of building scriptural truths into the narrative, how The Aetherlight complements more traditional kinds of teaching, and the best ways for parents or ministers to participate in the process with kids.
Q: How did your background as a youth minister inform how The Aetherlight is put together?
I guess it really came down to the question of connecting with audience. As a youth pastor, you hone a series of skills revolving around chugging milk, making jokes and swinging young people around to a biblical principle so quick, they get whiplash—and while they recover, you know that message has found its mark.
We had to learn really quickly that a game is a different format from, say, a sermon. But the core needed to be the same: A balance of theology and theatrics. We needed to take our source material extremely seriously, but we could never take ourselves, or the way we delivered that source material, too seriously!
Q: What are the challenges of building scriptural truths into this kind of interactive narrative?
Everybody wants it to be a "choose your own adventure" story! Remember those books? And to an extent we can do that—we can let you feel in charge of your choices and decisions in game, but ultimately, we have a set story to tell, and it’s the most important (retelling of the) story you’re ever going to hear!
Q: The Aetherlight was created for a generation that grew up on digital content. In what ways can this game complement more traditional kinds of teaching?
Agency is important—the ability to feel like your presence, decisions and input matter in the world, and we’ve built that into the game. This digital generation wants to actively participate rather than simply consume content, like a generation before who grew up on simple TV. Games give you that opportunity.
The other thing that is immensely exciting from an educational point of view is that good story is not tied up in the part of our brain that handles rote learning (with information and facts), it’s stored with memory. We’re able to let you "feel" the story—making it an experience less likely to be forgotten, or simply filed away with fiction or fact in your brain.
Q: How did your company’s partnership with the American Bible Society impact The Aetherlight?
Being a little studio from New Zealand trying to break into the United States was always going to be tough. We’d done the work—blood, sweat and tears had been spent on everything from gameplay to theology! However, having the American Bible Society team on board gave us a new reference point, a “giant” in our corner, so to speak. They were a tick of authenticity for many folks, and their incredible willingness to partner opened up relationships with other Bible societies around the world.
Q: What are the best ways for parents or ministers to participate in the process and discuss with kids what they’re learning from The Aetherlight?
As young people complete the quest, parents are bought into the equation through emails, telling them what the kids are experiencing, and giving discussion starters. Use these! But also, pastors, ministers and parents should grab an account and play with the young people in your world! For us, there are few things cooler than knowing that people are experiencing this world together.
We also have an incredible companion Bible releasing in the fall from Tyndale House Publishers, which will be an amazing resource for families to explore together!
The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance is available for PC, Mac, iOS and Android, and can be downloaded at: https://theaetherlight.com/parents?referrer=salempubfeaturedstory.