Intuitiveness, Portal (Kinda), and Christianity


It’s amazing the skills, ideas, and reflexes we take for granted when we play video games.

Imagine all the different tools that games either teach or force you to learn. Controlling a character/thing, navigating in a two-dimensional/three-dimensional space with a controller or some special implement (your hand, maybe), avoiding obstacles and/or shooting them, discovering the rules of the game, understanding a tutorial written for people who already play games, hand-eye coordination required to make sense of said tutorial, etc. Frankly, to jump into the video game market turns into a daunting task for the new player. What are they to make of all these elements that, for the most part, seem assumed on the part of the developers?

Let’s take an example based on the article above. All I really need to know about Portal is the portal thing – I know how to move in a 3D space, how to manipulate objects, etc., from years of other games teaching me this. Reviews of games don’t really take this into account when they cite a game like Portal being “intuitive”. My mother’s a rather avid World of WarCraft player, but she cannot play a first person shooter, if not due to motion sickness then to the coordination required to navigate the virtual spaces and controlling the camera at the same time. She needed to quit Left 4 Dead after an hour, and we have not returned since.

I wouldn’t call myself a particularly “observant” person, so games without straightforward objectives confuse me. That doesn’t mean I cannot play them, but they require skills I have not built up nor learned. Perhaps other people feel the same way about shmups, fighting games, and JRPGs that I do about CRPGs and recent first person shooters. I think our tastes might actually derive from the skills and knowledge already in place. Going out of your comfort zone teaches you new concepts, but it requires a heck of a lot more effort to get there.

So it is that Nintendo so often succeeds in drawing both markets (casual and hardcore) into the fray without alienating either. Super Mario Bros. ingrained itself into American culture years ago, and its indelible mark means even those who were born after share a common inkling of how Mario works. It’s as if each generation passes the information to their children, and their children’s children, not even through conscious effort but purely by playing and learning.

It’s a subtle effect, one that the Bible notes well in Deutoromy 6 and 11:

4 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…

18 “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 19 You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth.

Although Deuteronomy addresses the Israel situation specifically, it is no different now. I wage that American Christians, unfortunately, forgot this duty in our modern culture. They have forgotten to teach their children about Christianity, and forgotten about the real Gospel. Jesus isn’t a one shot, “sinner’s prayer” deal; it’s a relationship, and one to foster every day. We can fail, surely, but that’s not the goal. Telling people they’re perfect, that God loves you, that He has a plan for your life – these are all good thing, but when conveying them to unbelievers, they lack the proper context to understand those other than in terms of self-love.

What is true evangelizing? Probably repentance, I would wager. So is telling people Jesus loves you a turning away from your former lifestyle, or more a gateway drug? Will that person experience a real change in their lives, or add God to their list of priorities, at least when God decides to come through on their preconceived plans? We’re not talking about Genie Jesus, and we shouldn’t give the impression that we are.

Yet, on the other hand, the Christian Gospel IS intuitive. It says you are sinful. It says that the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23), and that the only way to be saved from death is to declare Jesus Christ as Lord (Romans 10:9). That’s a simple message, isn’t it? It is such a simple message, such an intuitive truth about human nature, that selfish humanity will fight to the death to ignore it, pervert it, and twist it so that they look better – even Christians do this! What a great temptation it remains, but we must resist aggrandizing ourselves through our ministry. Jesus demands that we remain self-effacing and to glorify him while we decrease (John 3:27-30).

That’s my concern and that sort of “easy preaching” needs to stop. We need honesty to our faith, for that’s the only thing that has inspired so many martyrs and so many people to give up everything for it. Otherwise, we spit on their legacy for no reason other than to kowtow to the modern culture, one developing into a sinful one day by day.

Obviously, I fail at that often – my self-indulgence attests to the longevity of the articles at times. I need an editor who is nice to me and doesn’t get angry. But I hope my desire to NOT insert myself into every written word here comes through, because that’s the intention. The objective, more often than not, is showing theological themes or the Gospel through writing about video games. So please tell me if I’m doing bad at that! I would like some feedback.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.