I got to the end of XCOM: Enemy Unknown on Ironman mode over the weekend. For those who don’t know, Ironman saves every action to which you commit. There are no backup saves or restarting a mission if one of your soldiers die. All moves are final.
There I was, on the final mission with all six of my maxed-out soldiers, completely surrounded, wounded, some mind controlled and turned against me. Only one move remained before the enemy unleashed its Ethereal and Elite Muton fury. My last sniper lines up his shot on what appears to be the Ethereal leader. 72% chance of hitting. Those odds are a lot to risk a 20-hour campaign on. I took the shot.
I can’t stop thinking that I would have had a more interesting story to tell if that shot missed.
Imagine that I failed and one-by-one each symbol of my time investment faded from existence, followed by that haunting “Game Over” screen. Every other Game Over screen comes at less cost: often allowing a restart only a few minutes before it shows up. But in Ironman mode, it can come dozens of hours after one starts, only compounding the weight of one’s failure. And I think that if I had experienced such a thing instead of being victorious, it would have made for a better ending.
Have you ever thought of a high-cost Game Over screen as being a better ending than most games offer? I think I feel that way because sometimes it’s nice to know that not everything has a high-rate of success.
There’s always a cost; a falling away in the way of Christ and His community. Jesus lost Judas to greed and betrayal. Paul lost Mark due to discouragement (though he did come back), and God knows how many people Peter saw leave the high calling of Christ throughout his many years of apostleship.
Anybody in long-term church leadership knows that the people you invest in aren’t always the ones you have at your side years down the road.
Video games do this fascinating thing where they give you so much control to give you a can-do attitude. It’s why we instinctively cling to them when life’s controls slip away. Perhaps that’s why it’s so novel that XCOM: Enemy Unknown leaves room for an absolute failure scenario? It’s a strange reminder that things don’t always work out. As if to say: “Maybe take some time to reflect on the disappointment for a bit?”
Disappointments may be the biggest derailment to faith. But if we develop healthy responses to shipwrecks, maybe we can see the biggest opportunities God presented to us.
If Paul wasn’t shipwrecked on the coast of Malta, neither his prison guards nor the people of Malta would have had an opportunity to understand Jesus, let alone survive the shipwreck itself:
The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart.
The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn’t swim ashore and escape. But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn’t let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land. The others held on to planks or debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely to shore.
Once we were safe on shore, we learned that we were on the island of Malta. The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us.
—Acts 27:41-28:2 (NLT)