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By George Raine, Catholic San Francisco – From August 27, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

Computer store shelves are chock-a-block with video games with guns blazing and cars crashing. But a new title, “Paolo’s Journey,” delivers a much happier ending: A boy makes friends with Jesus.

The 3D video game, aimed at youngsters 12 and older, teaches the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It was developed by a priest in the Philippines who, as a child, used cartoons to tell fables and now applies new technology to evangelize.

Art studio founder Ronald Schaffner and Father Maximo Villanueva Jr., a diocesan priest in the Philippines, have created a video game that teaches children the sacraments, the Ten Commandments and Christian living.

Art studio founder Ronald Schaffner and Father Maximo Villanueva Jr., a diocesan priest in the Philippines, have created a video game that teaches children the sacraments, the Ten Commandments and Christian living.

Father Maximo Villanueva Jr. of the Balanga Diocese in Bataan, was assisted in the project by Ronald Schaffner, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in San Mateo and the founder of Secret 6, an art studio with offices in Burlingame and a production facility in Manila.

Schaffner offered to do the work free of charge.

“The idea of using video games to teach catechism was not a stretch for me,” Schaffner said. “I was excited to use the medium that is so often aligned with negative stories due to violence in some games for something positive.”

Schaffner added: “As a father of four children, I also have first-hand experience in how children are influenced by games.”

“Paolo’s Journey” tells the story of a 9- or 10-year-old boy who one day after school chases after a kitten. Paolo falls into a deep well and ends up in a series of caves. There, an angel instructs him to answer questions in three categories: the Sacraments, the Ten Commandments and Christian Living. Correct answers will allow Paolo to access keys that will enable him to find his way home.

“In reality, Paolo is anyone of us, looking for a way to reach Jesus,” Father Villanueva said. “It is anyone’s journey in the road we call life.”

“Paolo’s Journey,” which is available in English, Filipino, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian translations, was introduced in July at a Philippines’ Catholic Bishops’ Conference meeting. CDs of the game are being distributed to Catholic schools in the Philippines, and there are plans for international distribution that would finance future games.

“It is so simple yet so profound to leave an imprint, especially on young people, and even grown-ups,” Father Villanueva said. “It can move mountains.”

Father Villanueva, who studied 3D animation during two visits to the New York Film Academy and further study at Disney Studios in Los Angeles, created the script, the 3D models of Paolo and the angel character, the environment and more. He ultimately teamed with Secret 6 to produce the game.

As a child, Father Villanueva dramatized fables and myths for his five brothers and five sisters, using cut-out cardboard. Later, having listened to stories his parents told the children while gathered on their balcony in Naga City after supper, he decided to produce “live cartoonish” adaptations. His passion for cartoons, anime and 3D movies was born.

“When I became a priest, I told myself, ‘Why not use that medium to evangelize, at least as an alternative?’” Father Villanueva said.

It was during Father Villanueva’s second study trip to the New York Film Academy that he became determined to use video games for evangelization.

By 2009 he had completed the work on “Paolo’s Journey but needed help with production. He wrote several animation studios but was discouraged by the fees quoted – $25,000 and up. Schaffner’s offer to do the work free of charge was an unexpected blessing, Father Villanueva said.

“He believed in the project,” the priest said. “We both believe in God and the Church. And the wonderful fairy-tale birth of ‘Paolo’s Journey’ started.”

Schaffner said video games may not replace real life lessons or experiences but help simulate real-world situations that the player can learn from.

“We laid out the game with the idea that it must be fun for children to keep them engaged, while maintaining educational value,” he said.

The project had the support of Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan. When announcing the launch of the CD at the bishops’ conference meeting in the Philippines, he said the conference will fund 10 CDs for each diocese to distribute to schools, the Union of Catholic Asian News reported. He added that while he was head of the Balanga Diocese, he sent Father Villanueva to study animation in New York so that he could bring “technology for new evangelization” back to the Philippines, the news service reported.

In an e-mail, Archbishop Villegas said the game is really a response to the appeal of three popes: John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

“Jesus Christ must be preached and taught to all people, using all the means available and in all situations possible,” he wrote. “We will not leave any stone unturned.”

The game is based on the 2005 Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was issued during the pontificate of John Paul II. It is also in keeping with Pope Benedict XVI’s interest in digital media to spread Church teaching.

In 2009, Benedict titled his message for the 43rd World Communications Day “New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship.” He said new digital technologies are bringing about fundamental shifts in patterns of communication and human relationships.

“Human hearts,” the pope said, “are yearning for a world where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion.”

Archbishop Villegas said there is no substitute to proclamation and witnessing by exemplary living.

“The message of Christ must be spoken, heard, studied, prayed over and lived,” he said. “This video game is only a supplement.”

Still, the archbishop said, the dream is “to reach young people all over the globe.” It represents an effort, he said, to “keep trying our best to make Christ present in the lives of our people – that our young may know Jesus, love Jesus and follow Jesus.”

Father Villanueva said he has nearly completed his next game. In it, Paolo is now a young adult and is looking for his girlfriend. The game will focus on the parables of Jesus.

For more information on the game, and to contact Father Villanueva, go tohttp://videoketics.com/paolo’sworld.html.

From August 27, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

Original story can be read here: http://www.catholic-sf.org/news_select.php?newsid=18&id=57474