Best Theology Video Games of 2015

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We hate it when Christians dismiss video games for “being ungodly.” So we made this Game Of The Year List to focus on the good and redemptive qualities within games (and have a little fun with the GOTY awards in the process). We hope this fills-in some blanks on games you may have missed. And maybe it will even challenge your notions on what makes a game worth playing. We hope that it encourages those of you who are curious about faith and gaming. Enjoy!

Best Christ-Like Game Moment of 2015
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain — when you self-sacrificially bleed for your enemies, gently make them go to sleep, and give them big balloons to float-ride back to your base where they become your BFFs.

mgsvInterestingly enough, this mechanic is central to the game’s overarching goals of building a base and team.

Josh wrote about this scenario in much more length at Gamechurch, where you can read more on this crazy scenario.

 

Best Un-Christ-like Game Moment of 2015
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain — when you rip enemy soldiers apart with grenade launchers, get their guts all over your face, and grow a devil horn on your head — just as you climb into the helicopter to find Quiet’s blood-soaked-and-mostly-bare chest sitting right in your face.

Violent destruction is always an option in Metal Gear Solid V, but it’s not something that the game heavily encourages. In fact, acting this way will lower your mission score and make it take a little longer to reach your overall goals.

Most Biblical Video Game About Genesis 1-3 (Garden of Eden)
The Talos Principle, Grow Home (Tie)

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The Talos Principle* starts with God talking to you. His voice booms audibly from heaven as he places you in a garden and tells you that he created you for His purposes. He trains you in how to tend His garden, by solving Portal-like puzzles. There’s even a serpent. It seems just like the Garden of Eden until you look at your hands and notice they’re robot hands. The game’s unusual take on God deserved its own article, which can be found at Geeks Under Grace.

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*While Talos Principle came out on PC in December 11, 2014, we believe it deserves 2015 recognition since most of us only got to it this year — and it just came to PS4 in October.

Grow Home also starts in a garden as a robot, but without the literal expression of God. Instead you’ve got a powerful Tree of Life: a Star Plant, and you’re given the role of gardener. You climb the branches of the tree, lay hold of giant shoots, and direct them into life-giving nutrients. As the tree grows upward, you get closer and closer to home (your mothership, named MOM). As you grow the plant and climb to where it takes you, you’ll find no serpent, but there’s a lot of “fall.” Though, perhaps not the popular Biblical idea, instead there’s lots of literal falling and getting up again.

Most Biblical Video Game About Genesis 4-6 (Humanity’s Fall & The Flood)
G PRIME, BADBLOOD, Xenoblade Chronicles X, The Flame in the Flood (4-Way Tie)

G PRIME explores the nature of fallen humanity in a recreation of Noah’s Story of The Flood and the Ark set in the far-reaches of Space. Story beats come in-between the physics-based puzzles. Navigating the stars and interstellar gravity is the basis for the game that thoroughly explores the notion of being the last humans and how to reconcile the decisions that got humanity to that point. G PRIME revises and improves every element of its original 2008 incarnation, G – Into The Rain, and is brought to us by the very Biblically-minded team, Soma Games. You may have difficulty finding this one as it’s only presently available on Soma Games’ website.

ss_37f2443aa9138dadd2d061b4f5c90d611335804b.1920x1080BADBLOOD frames itself around this Bible verse: “One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.” (Genesis‬ ‭4:8‬). This verse sets the stage for BADBLOOD as a one-on-one stealth murder game. Two players sneak across a square grid on a split screen. Then they try to read each other’s screen to find and kill each other — with primitive means. It’s tense and awkward, and might not be the best multiplayer game, but it captures the disorientation and grossness of fratricide.

29Xenoblade Chronicles X also delivers a plot similar to The Flood and the Ark. Humanity leaves Earth in massive ark ships after seeing our home destroyed by aliens. They go to a new world and make a new life — where the game takes place. Most of the game plays-out across one of the largest and most-vast open worlds ever to be featured in games, and it’s all about settling and re-defining the future of humanity.

The Flame in the Flood doesn’t have a story mode yet, as it’s still in Early Access on Steam. But the biblical allusions to The Flood are clear as day. The game takes place in a post-Americana setting with Bluegrass and difficult survival on a flooded river. The spirit of this one seems deeply tied to American spirituality and Biblical allusions even without ever overtly stating so. It currently only offers an endless rogue-lite survival mode, but it’s very much worth looking into.

Best Enemy-Loving Game
Undertale, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Tie)

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Undertale starts with a simple setup: humans and monsters hate each other. The only problem is that you’re a human girl who just fell into the monster underworld. This plays like a traditional Japanese RPG at first, but you’ll soon learn that the turn-based battles have strange and varying action options like pet, flirt, and cry.

undertaleExploring these nonviolent actions allow you to win battles not by fighting back, but by choosing to “spare” your foes. Enemies still attack when you don’t fight back, which you must evade using an Arcade-Shooter-style dodging minigame. But the game deeply rewards players who walk in forgiveness and refuse to retaliate.

Metal Gear Solid V (MGSV) has a base-building metagame that can only be accomplished by preserving the lives of enemy soldiers and safely extracting them via balloon (Fulton Extraction). This may still involve punching them in the face to knock them out, sleeper holds, or shooting them with tranquilizer darts, but the goal is disarmament and peaceful reconciliation. We often found ourselves taking enemy fire and getting covered in our own blood for refusing to take the lives of our foes, who we’d gladly make additional sacrifices for — despite their attempts to kill us.

Best Illustration of Perseverance
Ninja Pizza Girl

You’re a teenage ninja pizza-delivery-girl dealing with self esteem issues. Suddenly, you get knocked down by bully ninjas who record your failures on their cell phones while they laugh and mock you.

ninjapizzagirlIn other games, this is death. But in this speed-running platformer game, it’s an obstacle. Mash the “A” button to work-up the willpower to get back on your feet and stand tall against the wicked lot who accuses you. Suddenly color comes back to the world, and before long you can get back up to full speed and see the screen fill with color just as the dubstep kicks-in. We’re not the biggest dubstep fans, but when it perfectly matches the emotional state of overcoming and persevering beyond bullies, it fills us with joy. This may be the best illustration of perseverance we’ve ever seen in games.

Best Representation of Family
Ninja Pizza Girl

We have to give Ninja Pizza Girl another award for this one. Family is at the absolute heart of what Ninja Pizza Girl is all about. The story focuses on a family pizza business and how each family member needs one another. Plus, the game was literally made by a family: a father, wife, and daughter team that worked with their local community to make the game the living embodiment of their family. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a short, fun, and highly-replayable platformer.

Best Family / Party Game
Rocket League

Rocket League has helped Bryan learn patience in playing with his six-year-old. During those times where he felt like he was carrying the entire game because his son is off “driving”, he learned to take a deep breath and chill. Rocket League combines cars, soccer, and rocket boosters. It’s as fun and simple as it sounds. We enjoyed playing this one online, but the local multiplayer is where this game proves that four-player split-screen isn’t dead.

rocketleagueWe were amazed to find how easily our gaming-illiterate friends and family could pick up the controllers and instantly know how to play. Josh’s pastor, Wayne, even won a few matches on his first try (and this guy’s last game was Pac Man). Rocket League is just so easy for people to pick up and play that it wins in a year full of great family party games.

Runner Ups: Duck Game, Paperbound, Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings, Assault Android Cactus, Regular Human Basketball, RocketsRocketsRockets, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, ClusterPuck 99, Quiplash

There’s too many awesome family party games that came out this year to count. But we wanted to provided a list if you’re looking for other ones that are just great ways to connect with those you love while you’re all together.

Most Biblical Game Not Made By Bible-Believers
Undertale, Grow Home, Sunset, BADBLOOD, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, The Talos Principle, Ninja Pizza Girl (7-way Tie)

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We don’t know for sure what any of these games’ creators believe, but we want to give them props anyway for being so willing to deal with redemptive and positive Biblical themes in games. Obviously more can be said than that, but that’s why we broke out specific awards for each.

Best Christian Game of 2015
Dropsy, Neon Struct, Lemma, Citizens of Earth, G-Prime, FIVE: Guardians of David, Master Spy, Super Mega Bob (8-way Tie)

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This is a little tongue-in-cheek as these games aren’t all trying to be “Christian” games. But their creators are pretty transparent about their love for Jesus. So we figured it might be nice to address some of the brilliant stuff they’re doing. Since some of us on staff are a little too close to these projects, we couldn’t give an unbiased award so we just want to give a platform for all of them. That’s why they’ll all get their own specific award now.

Best Illustration of Bring God’s Kingdom to Earth
Dropsy: A Point and Click Hugventure

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Dropsy looks like a creepy game about a terrifying clown, but please look beyond the first impression. This game goes beyond the initial themes of rejection and disorientation to focus on being somebody who brings light and joy and love to a world full of hurt, fear, and darkness. The subtitle of being a point-and-click Hugventure accurately describes the game and its ambitions. Dropsy wants to make the world a better place and give everybody a hug. That’s the goal: to fill the world with joy. Bravo!

Most Generative / Creative Action Game
Lemma

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In Lemma you start to run on walls in first-person, much like Mirror’s Edge, but when you run out of wall you generate new walls. When you roll off of ledges, you generate bridges below your body. These creative abilities create a world of possible routes and paths where there only seems to be abstract voxels. Violence isn’t really an option in Lemma. The only way to overcome things is to creatively think of new ways to create. The game also supports Oculus Rift and VR headsets, so if you’re looking for a game to make you weak in the knees, this did that for us.

Best Diversity
Citizens of Earth

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Citizens of Earth is the first game we know of where you can play as a pregnant yoga instructor. It should get a medal for that alone, but it also lets you recruit a homeless man, a sushi chef, a wheelchair-bound superfan, a cat lady, and about thirty more kinds of people of various backgrounds. There’s not a huge ton of personalization for each character beyond what they do. But the heart of the game’s theme is clear: everybody has something powerful to add and contribute to the restoration of a broken world.

Best Literal Biblical Video Game
FIVE: Guardians of David

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We haven’t gotten a chance to play FIVE yet, but we’re very confident that it’s faithful to the sections of 2 Samuel in the Bible that talks about David’s Mighty men. Also If you’re looking for a game like Diablo that’s about Biblical figures, this certainly serves that purpose.

Most Sadistic Game Made by a Christian
Master Spy

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Seriously, just watch the trailer on the Steam page for Master Spy. The level of precision and patience required for this game is off-the-charts.

Only the most dedicated bunch will make it through this sort of game. But for “masocore” junkies, this is absolute gold.

 

Scariest Bullet Hell Made by a Christian
Super Mega Bob

Despite the cheery tone and style, there’s more chaos and destruction in this game than all of the other games in the list combined. That’s probably an exaggeration. Still, Super Mega Bob captures the allure and triumph of successful dodging, shooting, and desperation.

 

Best Game For Revealing How Terrible Your Christian Friends Really Are  
Subterfuge, Quiplash (Tie)

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Subterfuge is the most fun Josh had systematically betraying seven pastor friends in a week-long game of strategy and survival. This brilliant iOS game persists while you sleep and threatens to take over your thought life. But that’s only because it’s so fun to plot and plan how and when you’re going to stab your wonderful “godly” friends in the back. But that’s okay. They’re doing the same to you.

quiplashQuiplash is the most fun we had coming up with the worst possible things to say in a group setting. It’s really quite embarrassing how bad the things are that Josh’s wife, Jessica, says when she plays the game. But that’s also the charm behind it. You only play this game around people you’re willing to let see the real honest side of you. And that’s why it’s the top of Josh’s list for the year.

Best Video Game About Eternal Things
Pillars of Eternity

This is a super cheap answer as we’ve only got about three hours into the game, and it’s clearly about a fantasy setting with many gods. But hey, Eternity, amirite?

Best Game About Knowing a Creator
The Beginner’s Guide

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The Beginner’s Guide takes us through the work of a game designer. We explore the designer’s short games as guided by The Stanley Parable’s lead designer, Davey Wreden. It seems straight-forward at first, but as you dive further into the mind of a game creator you find something else is at play. This is a short 90-minute game that dives deep into what it means to try to know the author of a creative work.

Most Challenging Moral Conundrum
Fallout 4 — Which faction do you side with once you learn what happened to your family?

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Your adventure starts after your spouse is killed and your infant son is taken from you. Towards the end of the game, you get answers on what happened to your son and who killed your spouse. But it’s what comes next that’s the most taxing choice in the game. Every path requires the alliance between one of the four major players in the Commonwealth. The decision isn’t arbitrary, and it’s a difficult one to make.

Best Exploration of Colonialism, Subjugation, Race, & Revolution
Sunset, MGSV (Tie)

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sunsetSunset casts us into the role of a black American engineer forced into the role of housekeeper in a pre-revolutionary Latin American country.

Most of your required tasks in the game are housekeeping oriented, but options show up to engage with discussion around art, religion, race, and gender. It’s a truly meditative game different from the norm.

Metal Gear Solid V forces players to engage with child soldiers, the consequences of colonial occupation, and the fallout of forced-language. It doesn’t force players to do anything with these subjects and most of them are left having because of the “Phantom Pain” of the missing plot points. But it leaves you with themes that linger in the back of your mind about how we wield our influence around the world.

Best Exploration of Grief & Loss
Life is Strange

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Maxine discovers her ability to rewind time just at the moment that her former best friend is killed. Time control is a convenient power considering anybody who’s ever lost a loved one has wished for this ability to go back, fix things, and repair that broken relationship in any way they can. This five-episode game trumps any other story-rich game we’ve played purely by how it circulates the central mechanic of time control. You can rewind at almost any time, playing out how things might go differently if you could preserve the life of your loved one just a bit longer, and maybe go on a few adventures and solve a greater mystery along the way.

Runner Up: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

We had to mention how MGSV explores its central theme of the endured loss of life and limb, and the subsequent pains of absence. It’s solid. But Life is Strange blows this one out of the park with its exploration of loss and young adulthood.

Best Exploration of The Soul
Soma

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The word Soma means “body” in Greek. It’s the word that shows up in the Bible when Paul talks about how we’re all a part of one “soma” in Christ. While this game is a very dark and grim world that largely exists after most of humanity is destroyed, the game explores what one’s soul really consists of and how much of ourselves defines who we are. It veers pretty far into sci-fi theory that’s been well-trodden in other media. But it finds its home in a first person video game: a medium so preoccupied with embodiment.

Best Game About Seeking Religious Truth
The Talos Principle

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God may speak to you in The Talos Principle, but what if this God doesn’t seem like Jesus? Do you still blindly obey, or press-into the truth of the matter? Josh explored this notion more fully at Geeks Under Grace, so check that out. Simultaneously, this game of solving puzzles, constantly explores the nature of seeking the greater design and reality of the experience and what the truth really is — at least in this world. The Talos Principle’s writer’s are transparent about their secular humanist slant on things, but the spirit and nature of the game is exactly why it’s so worth investigating.

Best Mirror Of Our Faith Journey
Destiny: Taken King

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Sin. Repentance. Redemption. Destiny mirrors the faith journey of the Christian. Made in the console shooter creator’s image, this 2014 title launched with solid mechanics and an uneven tale. Broken from a story perspective, mired in sin, Destiny was yet embraced by the gaming populace. The Dark Below and House of Wolves expansions launched the game into an orbit of repentance. Redemption found in the Taken King. Sin, downfall, always but a step away. Developer Bungie continues the journey through the valleys and mountain-top experiences of game development.

Best Theology Game (Overall)
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

We couldn’t stop giving MGSV awards this year, and it’s clear that the game has so much to say. There may not be any overt exploration of God and faith in this game. But the way that the game empowers a redemptive and self-sacrificial approach to warfare is remarkable. Plus, the game deserves massive props for encouraging players to question their role in war, and Colonial / Empirical power, and the way that all of these factors affect the outcome of the world.

The game flounders at times when it deals with Quiet’s character and how she’s treated at times (especially that awful torture scene). But even her character expresses a unique and self-sacrificial redemption that leaves you with a sense of goodness.

We don’t want to spoil all of the great and redemptive qualities of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, so we’ll sacrifice our own sense of satisfying conclusions so that you might be able to enjoy the game’s fullness. It’s truly worth experiencing for yourself.

That’s it for us, but you might think of some games that deserve a place on this list that we missed. We have no way of catching every game that came out this year. So hash it out in the comments below. Share your favorite game, and give it a redemptive award!

We look forward to seeing what you come up with!

About Bryan Hall

Transplanted from the land of sun and surf to a place filled with pine trees and sweet tea, Bryan Hall is a man who has experienced God's grace. Wanting to influence the digital landscape with the love of Christ, Bryan writes from the junction point of faith, life, and video games. You can read more of his writing at his blog, johnnybgamer.com.
  • Thanks so much for talking about us, guys! If anyone is wanting to help us, we just launched G Prime on Steam Greenlight: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=535791747

  • Marieke Westerterp

    Renowned Explorers is worth mentioning. It is a game where you can win the turnbased combat with a disarming smile, a festive attitude or enthusiasm. When you convince your enemy that you’re cause is right, he runs away. Also you can build up those character – elements. Very different, but well balanced combats system.

    • Yess! I have that one on my to-play list! Sad I didn’t get to get my hands on it. Great recommendation!

      • Marieke Westerterp

        It is difficult to know them all. This one is from a Dutch Game developer Abbey Games.

        • Cool. Yeah, I didn’t realize they were Dutch. They make really interesting stuff. I’ve been following them since Reus.

  • Mightfo

    Hi, minor correction: Frisk(the main character of undertale) isn’t confirmed to be a girl or boy, so I guess you should just say “child” instead. The creator left their gender ambiguous on purpose.

    Have a lovely week!