I’ve played quite a few less-than-good location based games lately. A Ghostbusters-themed game sits on my phone’s home screen whispering, “come on, play with me, you KNOW I’m mediocre at best.” I will play it soon, but I don’t have high hopes.
I swear I go into these things with a full heart and wanting to have fun, but the field has let me down as of late. Too many developers are trying to chase Pokémon Go’s riches using random intellectual properties, and none of them are bringing personality or anything beyond the shallowest ideas to their work. I was saddened to read a headline that the company behind The Walking Dead: Our World is laying off a bunch of staff after the game’s poor performance, blaming marketing expenses and technical challenges. Even though I found that the game had far more wrong with it than what the company claims, it stinks that real people lost their jobs.
For me, if there’s any silver lining to be found within these mediocre experiences, it’s that I tend to learn a lesson or two for my own professional development. Currently I’m working on a proposal for the next version of the app that employs me, the first time I’ll have full say over its design future, and I’d be stupid to not take note of the problems I’ve seen first-hand as a player of these location based games.
A second headline turned my head in a different way: a BBC piece titled, “Catholic saint-finding game Follow JC Go! wants to rival Pokémon Go”. I shut off the music playing in the room, just to sit in absolute silence while reading more. I then quickly downloaded the game.
Disclaimer: My bad jokes in the following post give it away that though I was raised Episcopalian, I am not religious. To be clear, I don’t mock, belittle, or begrudge anyone who is, so long as their beliefs don’t harm others and are practiced in ways that help those in need.
Also, Follow JC Go! was funded by a foundation called Fundación Ramón Pané and an evangelical organization called the Jesus Film Project. Conveniently enough, you can watch videos sponsored by these organizations within the game to earn more of the in-game currency (because of course there’s an in-game currency). You can also send them money to earn more in-game currency. Those videos largely promote an annual religious youth convocation in Panama featuring plenty of attractive young people standing in water while smiling at the sky. I bring it up mainly because, while the game itself seems earnest and harmless, I have a distrust of evangelical organizations, especially those unfamiliar to me. Some light internet digging didn’t return controversy but I remain cautious. Ok, please continue.
Follow JC Go! is really… something. I’ve spent a lot of time with the game now and I’m still stunned that it exists. Follow JC Go! has you walking around collecting Catholic saints, biblical figures, and famous Christian “works of mercy”. These collectibles are placed into a map of your real-world surroundings and when you physically get near one, a true/false question about that person/act is posed to you. If you get it right, that person/act is added to your collection. Gotta collect ‘em all! I’m still hunting for Jesus, though I’m not certain he’s actually in the game. I suspect that would be too blasphemous.
Also populating the map are icons that you must approach to collect and refill deprecating energy bars of bread, holy water, and piety (I think). They, however, are so plentiful I’ve yet to determine what, if anything, happens if one of those meters goes empty. Like the unholy creature I am, I’ve been trying to avoid holy water to see what happens when it runs out and those icons have been impossible to avoid on the map. It burns.
The game part of Follow JC Go! isn’t very good. Despite a lack of religiousness on my part I’ve long been a student of religion, folklore and mythology and so, I actually wanted more from the trivia questions about the saints and Catholic icons in the game. Often the questions given are just vague quotes and you have to guess if the attribution is correct or not. My knowledge of Biblical figures is pretty solid, but I don’t know much about the Catholic canon. I wish the game was a better teacher. If I get something wrong about what a saint stood for or said, then point me to resources where I can learn more about them. This game seems like a good opportunity to teach about the Catholic faith and it fails.
That rough-around-the-edges feel of Follow JC Go! is found throughout the game. It was launched in Spanish with an English option added later, but despite this, many chunks of text were still not properly translated. My Spanish is very rusty and the overall lack of instructions from the game isn’t helped by prompts that I can’t read.
Also, Follow JC Go! commits the usual location based game sin of not providing audio prompts when you’ve approached something you can collect. It means that you have to keep your phone out and be constantly looking at it as you walk around. Being able to play while your phone is in your pocket is an essential feature of a location based game and I will never not complain about a game failing to include such a feature.
So, that silver-lining bit I mentioned back at the beginning of this? Follow JC Go! has an odd, unnecessary, but thought-provoking system for finding and guiding you to points of interest. Fancy watching a movie? Tap the “Fun” button and be given a list of nearby theaters.
The game will then visually guide you there (though if you deviate from the recommended path, the directions don’t update with you). I guess it would be useful if you’re running an errand and instead of running a separate maps app, you can be guided solely within the game. So long as that destination falls within the game’s odd categorization system and again, the game’s definition of “Fun” only extends to movie theaters. Other categories are just as rigid.
This system caught my attention because I’ve not seen anything like it in this genre of game. Wayfinding is an important pillar of location based game design and something I intend to improve in the app I’m working for. Follow JC Go‘s feature is definitely something I’m going to cite in my own notes about how I want to implement wayfinding. Maybe not the weird database of locations, but adding a visual component to guiding users around the world.
Follow JC Go! was a novelty and a good break from the string of intellectual property cash-grabs I’ve been playing as of late. For the faithful, however, it really doesn’t go far enough with its factoids and in a way, that’s a shame. Intellectually, I find the idea of a location based game teaching the history of a religion to be fascinating. The game’s developers have been pushing out the occasional update, but it’s unlikely they’ll add anything that’ll resurrect my interest or save my soul. My canon will have to remain incomplete.