The End of the Story

Note: Thanks are in order to my cousin Guy, whose quote further below on Facebook inspired this article.

You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

– 1 John 4

I am surprised to find my gaming tastes haven’t evolved all that much from when I was a child. Can I appreciate certain genres better, given an increased knowledge base? Absolutely. Has that extra knowledge fundamentally changed why I like games? Not really.

See, I hate playing the villain. That might not seem particularly significant, but many game today allow you to play as a horrible, repugnant person who only wishes death and destruction. This comes in a variety of ways, from Grand Theft Auto’s open world of carnage to being a person of little moral character in any game by BioWare. Each has their own specific definitions of “evil” action, and while most of them don’t place a component of judgement into the proceedings, you can’t help but see that there’s specific characterizations of each side. Like, for example, good people being naive and dumb.

If you got the reference, good for you! If not, good’s got a bad reputation in modern games.

Interestingly, even when you’re allowed to play evil, there’s always limitations. Like in Bethesda games, you can’t kill children – not that modifications to the game’s code don’t make this possible. I guess it makes people feel bad or something? That’s why I never understand the “moral choice” idea in video games. By all rights, you’re still bound to how far a particular developer is willing to take their product. If you’re going to “go there”, I say, go all the way. Why make it gray when you can easily make it black and white? Make your character reprehensible, the worst possible kind of person on earth – but, of course, we can’t because there’s still some lines, even in imaginary interactive entertainment, that we can’t cross.

Why? Aside from marketing reason (“child killing simulator” probably isn’t something you want on Fox News, or as a blurb on your box), I think there’s a deeper reason. Almost every video game depicts a hero overcoming incredible odds. Pong, obviously, doesn’t have this flavor, but many of my favorite video games present the one good guy versus the many bad guys. Same goes for the movies I watch, and for most everything else. Most people would, in our era, call such notions of “good” and “evil” in stark relief a fantasy of religion, a device meant to prevent us from fulfilling our complete potential, or somesuch other lines that wouldn’t be out of place in a Richard Dawkins seminar. Yet, there’s still some acts, on a gut level, that just aren’t right. How many people like child molestors? Anyone? Isn’t it interesting how, subconsciously, even our increasingly permissable society sees these persons as the lowest of the low?

Those people are the emoticon on the right.

From a Christian perspective, there’s a good reason other than by the Law being written on men’s hearts. If Christianity primarily teaches of salvation, it also holds an eschatological viewpoint in mind. That is, things are not meant to descend into entropy; rather, everything will be restored and reborn in the end to its original state. What we experience now, and Christ’s resurrection, are only a prelude to the fundamental reshaping of reality that will occur at some unknown point in the future. Meant as a source of hope and inspiration for Christians, it is difficult to say that those outside of our circle also feels this way. However, they do feel the residual affects of Christianity’s influence on modern culture – subconscious negative actions about certain feelings included.

In a roundabout way, it also appears in every action movie ever made where the ending is entirely predictable: the good guy faces incredible odds, yet still succeeds in the end. Even though the movie promotes an unbearable amount of tension and drama, you still already know how the movie will end. Still, you watch it with bated breath, still excited at the prospect that good will triumph over evil in the end and that all will get their just desserts. Isn’t that a strange feeling to have, even as we proclaim that we don’t think that way? My cousin put it this way:

Ever watched an amazing movie you have seen before, perhaps many years ago? Maybe you can only remember shadows, glimpses, little pieces of the movie. But you remember the ending. You know how it all turns out, and the good guy wins (usually). While sitting through all the drama and suspense the film brings, the whole time you KNOW the final outcome, you kind of have a peace about, even though your emotions get captivated and tossed all around. That’s exactly what the Christian life is like. We know the end of the story and we win. We may lose a battle here an there, but we win. This is our UNMOVABLE hope.

And so it is in video games. The only thing standing between you and the evil is the player. However, most games have a definitive, ultimate end with you as a victor. That’s why I can’t play evil: because I want to be good. It’s the end of the story that I already know, yet I keep playing because I want to see the task to its end. A “Game Over” doesn’t spell the end; it makes a new beginning, the loss of one battle amidst a war that has already been won. I imagine that’s why Christians play video games, even if they don’t quite understand why. They’re primarily eschatological in character, and I’m grateful that they still continue in this vein (even if the aesthetic coating isn’t what we would like) As 1 Corinthians 15 says:

 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man camedeath, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comesthe end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

 

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.
  • I’m currently finishing up my “bad guy” playthrough of Dishonored. After playing as a good guy on both the first two playthroughs, it comes much less naturally, and spiritually isn’t terribly ‘worshipful’ to say the least. And while I, like you, always prefer the good guy. I can’t help but feel fascinated by the design of another option. If a game doesn’t provide the option, is there something lost? I’m particularly intrigued by games that completely and utterly change the game when you play as one other the other. This is most notable in Dishonored, where the last mission is all but butterflies and faery dust if you played the game as a good guy. I literally finished it in just under ten minutes as Ghandi Corvo. But as Manson Corvo, the place is a festering fortress. At the very least, this is a testimony to replayability.
     
    Oh, and by the way, this might be one of your very best posts ever.

    • @Mjoshua Thanks for the compliments! Who knows where this stuff comes from, sometimes.
       
      Sounds like Dishonored does this better than most games – so it actually dynamically changes the game according to your decisions? I like that. Making it more difficult’s a nice touch.
       
      Not sure if I want to play Hotline Miami – I suppose if I wanted to be a serial killer/hitman, I’ll do it in real life (don’t take that as an admission or desire of some kind!). It’s a little too dark for me, I guess. There’s a difference between watching Drive and playing Drive, is what I mean.

      • @Zachery Oliver If Hotline didn’t have amazing neo 80’s music, neon colors, and Amiga-style graphics, I’d completely agree with you. If it looked more like Kane and Lynch? No. Just no.
         
        I’m not sure if it’s the charm that wins me over to the dark side, or if it’s that it’s just all around fascinating. I had the same dilemma with Binding of Isaac.  Curiosity won.
         
        Hotline’s gameplay is pretty tough. One hit kills and all that. Also, I feel like it’s more of an art piece than a serial killer sim like Manhunt. Though they certainly sound similar on paper. I’m afraid I might be deluded.

  • Also, my previous comment might be my worst-written comment ever. The first half, in particular. Just saying “Does playing as a good guy matter if you can’t play as the bad?” Also, any game that forces you to play as a bad guy? I generally loathe. Can’t deny liking Hotline Miami, though. Seriously curious about your thoughts on that game.

  • Frankly, I don’t have an issue with being the villain. I don’t have the religious impetus you do, but beyond that I don’t care for narrative much. I care for what’s more interesting. I always play nonlethal in games that offer me the choice because that’s generally the most interesting way to play, except dishonored which had me tremendously disappointed on that and numerous other points.

    My issue is that modern villains, player controlled or otherwise, are not typically interesting. Great villains are heroes in their own story. Great villains give us a reason to root for them as much as the good guys. Great villains are people we never want to see die. Sometimes the villain is someone we root for defeating the hero. Great villains have complex motivations that sometimes are things we can relate to and which bring us to a greater understanding of ourselves.

    I mean, watch American Psycho. Patrick Bateman is a nutjob who no one should emulate, but as a character, he is entrancing.

    I don’t care much for whether we have the player play as a hero or villain in future games. I care about whether these games are actually fun. If we do play as a villain in the future though, considerations need to be made for making that villain a charismatic character that we can enjoy dealing with.