• R. Benjamin Wesley

Although the first cathode ray tube entertainment device was patented in 1947, the first commercially available video games appeared in 1971. The first video game system widely available for home use was the Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972. In the same year, Pong was released, which created record sales for the new video game industry. During this era, computer games were only available on mainframe computers such as Plato on university campuses. In 1975, several computer role playing games were developed on mainframes including Moria and Dungeon. Moria was a single player game in which a character with multiple statistics, such as cunning, piety, wizardry, and vitality, explored multiple mazes, fought enemies, and collected treasure, with the goal of reaching the highest score possible. Graphics were simple first-person three dimensional drawings of the game world. Moria inspired a more popular and commercially successful computer game in 1981, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, released on Apple and IBM home computers. Rogue was released in 1980 with similar game mechanics, but top-down graphics displaying an overhead view of the game world utilizing ASCII characters. Rogue inspired the more popular and commercially successful Ultima, which replaced ASCII characters with graphic tiles placed side by side to represent an entire fantasy world comprised of continents, cities, villages, oceans, rivers, and dungeons.

Throughout the 1980s, Wizardry and Ultima sequels dominated the computer role playing game genre with hack and slash action, with almost no emphasis on narrative storytelling or ethical decision making. One exception was Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, a computer role playing game which started with a series of moral questions, which determined the baseline statistics of the character. Game decisions actually determined progression or regression of these statistics. The quest of the character to become an avatar actually represented a spiritual journey mimicking real life in a very basic way. Multitudes of computer games were produced using the hack and slash model through the late 1980s until the late 1990s. In 1995, two Canadian physicians formed a software company, Bioware, which published Baldur's Gate in 1998 through Interplay. Baldur's Gate revolutionized the genre by introducing a narrative story with ethical decision making with real consequences to gameplay, expanding the spiritual journey aspect of Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, and improving the top-down graphics with isometric third-person perspective in pre-rendered environments. Baldur's Gate spawned multiple expansions and sequels, and inspired development of the Dragon Age series, also published by Bioware through Electronics Arts. Dragon Age expanded on the ethical decision making and narrative storytelling elements of Baldur's Gate, and linked the main character's journey with the overall outcome of the game world. While computer role playing games depend upon the epinephrine-stimulating thrills of high resolution graphics, and the dopamine-stimulating rewards of quest accomplishment, the potential for a temporary suspension of disbelief from a masterfully crafted story may momentarily touch the spirit, yet leave its ultimate journey unaffected.

  • R. Benjamin Wesley

In the motion picture The Prophecy, Christopher Walken plays the archangel Gabriel, who brings a war of angels in Heaven down to Earth. This war started between the angels loyal to God, and the angels allied with Gabriel, who is jealous of God's love for humans. In the Ancients Saga, the Divine creates the universe, and gives His angels authority over the humans who live on the planet Promos. Falonayus, His first angel, becomes jealous of humans on Promos, and tempts them to turn away from the Divine, and His messenger angel, Gabriolus. The Divine commands Gabriolus to build a portal from the collapsing star, Vellorum, near Promos. As Vellorum deteriorates into a quantum singularity, space and time tear, creating a wormhole. Gabriolus suspends this wormhole in time, and elongates it, so that it travels from Promos to a planet, Urth, at the other end of the galaxy.

From His celestial realm, the Oververse, the Divine strikes down Falonayus, and exiles him to another dimension, the Underverse. Falonayus waits in his new realm, plotting revenge against the Divine and Gabriolus. The human sect loyal to the Divine and Gabriolus are known as the Promosatti, or people of the promise. The Promosatti remain on Promos to populate, prosper, and worship the Divine through the teachings of Gabriolus. As Vellorum collapses into a black hole, the intense gravitational forces, along with the time and space distortion, confer telepathic and telekinetic powers to the Promosatti. The Divine directs Gabriolus to exile the disloyal humans, the Dromosatti, or people of the dark promise, to planet Urth. Gabriolus gathers the majority of the Dromosatti, and takes them through the portal to planet Urth, to start new lives away from the corruption of Falonayus. A few Dromosatti remain on Promos long enough to develop the telepathy and telekinesis of their Promosatti kin. They burrow beneath the surface of Promos to build underground cities, far removed from the light of the Divine and Gabriolus. The Dromosatti on Promos secretly repopulate themselves underground, and use their telepathic skills to obscure themselves from the Promosatti and Gabriolus. These events create the setting for Portal of the Ancients: Book One of the Ancients Saga.

  • R. Benjamin Wesley

As I first conceptualized the universe of the Ancients Saga, I focused on the broad concepts of world building, including solar systems, stars, and planets. I narrowed my focus down to cities, landscapes, lore, history, and characters. I considered what types of belief systems the beings in my novels would have, and how to present these beliefs to my audience in a captivating way. Modern comics frequently focus on heroes, villains, journeys, and struggles of good versus evil. A few franchises delve a bit further, touching on spiritual themes in a broad way, or in the context of the specific setting where the comic takes place. Two examples of Marvel comics which contain spiritual themes are Doctor Strange and Thor.

Doctor Strange introduces spirituality in the context of an individual's journey through the material plane, which is the starting point for Dr. Stephen Strange, a materialistic neurosurgeon, who struggles to find his identity after an automobile accident renders him crippled. He eventually finds a new purpose as a student of the Ancient One, a mystical master who trains Strange to harness the powers of astral projection, as well as incantations which eventually allow him to open portals to alternate dimensions, and reverse time itself. During his metaphysical journey, Doctor Strange discovers that life offers more than the glamor of a brilliant neurosurgical career, the esteem of colleagues, and the acquisition of material wealth. He sees his role in a larger sense as a wielder of good versus evil.

Another Marvel franchise which successfully explores spirituality is Thor. Utilizing Norse mythology, this comic series takes its main character, a god of Asgard, and casts him into the world of humans. Thor must journey among mortals to learn humility, and understand his place in the universe. Initially, he struggles with his own vanity. He learns through his journey that he has the inner strength to battle through his power struggles with his father, brother, and sister. He learns to trust in others, and work as a member of a team for the good of the universe. He even learns to view himself with a sense of humor. His ability to embrace his human-like qualities and rise above his flaws makes him a more effective hero, as he battles against foes within his own family, and enemies from other worlds.

As I crafted my own imaginary world of the Ancients Saga, I decided to explore spirituality through the use of symbolism. I looked to C.S. Lewis for inspiration, with special focus on his Chronicles of Narnia, a series of fantasy novels for children, which were later made into animated and live action films. I found The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to be especially effective through its use of symbolism to portray religious themes in a nondenominational way. Once again Lewis uses a journey to transform his characters from self-centered beings into individuals capable of seeing beyond their own concerns, to envision their world with different lenses, putting the needs of others first. To develop the world of the Ancients Saga, I started with characters locked into a conflict of good versus evil. I added a benevolent deity, referred to as the Divine, served by an archangel, Gabriolus. As a counterbalance, I created Falonayus, a fallen angel with a grudge against Gabriolus and the Divine. These two realms, the mortal plane and the spiritual plane, formed the foundation of my first graphic novel, Portal of the Ancients: Book One of the Ancients Saga.

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