The video games of 2011 made a compelling case for why Christians should care about the medium. The previous 12 months saw the release of numerous meaningful and even theologically significant games. Though far from comprehensive, this list is an attempt at highlighting the 10 most meaningful games of 2011.
"Minecraft" purposefully eschews high-resolution graphics so that creating something of beauty falls squarely in the hands of the player. "Minecraft" requires time, sacrifice and attention to detail. The goal of "Minecraft" is simple - exercise your God-given creative impulses and share them with your friends. "Minecraft" presents us with an appropriately crude world and asks us a deeply theological question: will you contribute something of beauty to it?
The list of things to love about this action RPG is extensive: beautiful, hand-drawn art, a compelling soundtrack and poignant real-time narration of the player’s actions. The story mirrors the Biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption and restoration as the player is presented with a deeply scarred world and given the opportunity to restore it to its former glory. The game poses the question: if you could undo the past, would you? Given that your attempts at restoration are only human, the choices the game presents the player are appropriately difficult.
Sawaki Takeyasu’s beautifully rendered brawler centers on the Dead Sea Scrolls Book of Enoch and tells an apocryphal tale of faith, deception and the nature of God. Though made by a multi-faith team, "El Shaddai" takes on theological subject matter that Christian games have historically avoided. And though the game’s narrative lends itself to multiple interpretations, it does so in a way that says something significant about the nature of God - namely that He is holy and mysterious.
Loosely based on the Biblical story of the same name, "The Binding of Isaac" is troubling. Isaac is the child of a crazy and deeply religious mother who believes God has told her to kill her son. Isaac’s most basic game elements are laced with meaning; the items you find as you explore Isaac’s dark basement tell the story of a neglected and abused young boy. The easy response to such a game is to condemn it for its liberties with a treasured Bible story. Doing so, however, neglects an important lesson, namely one of empathy. "Isaac," after all, is not really about God so much as the horrors of child abuse and the dangers of misdirected religion.
Exploring the massive prison that is Arkham City with Batman’s various gadgets is perhaps the most satisfying experience of the year from a purely mechanical perspective. What makes "Arkham City" of note for Christians, however, is Batman’s role as a Christ figure in the game. The criminals that inhabit the prison are deeply troubled and diabolical and yet Arkham’s messiah is committed to mercy.
Player testimonies of experiences in the vast world of "Skyrim" are incredibly diverse. This is a dense world that can be explored in a myriad of ways. At times the environments of "Skyrim" will literally astound you. As a Christian, these environments demand our attention and are laced with significance thanks to the game’s lore and complex history.
I have never played a game that infused tapping and swiping with so much significance. The elegantly simple 8-bit art design and the richly orchestrated musical score encourage the player to let his imagination run wild and infuse simple actions with emotional significance. Perhaps "S&SEP" is better described as a creative audiovisual experience than a game. Whatever it is, it is an experience worth having.
Multiplayer war games often feel overly biased toward creating game experiences that inflame anger and frustration. Unless you are able to play games like "Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3" for inordinate amounts of time, you will struggle and be met with uncharitable jeering from the other side of your headset. "Battlefield 3" has subverted this tendency by giving players multiple means of contributing to the success of their team. The game often eschews skill in favor of teamwork, support and foresight. This makes for a much more pleasant and community-fostering multiplayer experience and a competent alternative to "Call of Duty."
9. "Portal 2"
The original "Portal" perfectly married gameplay and narrative and contained an existential crisis that many hail as one of the single most memorable moments in video-gaming’s short history. "Portal 2" takes a different track. It’s greatest achievement comes from managing to be simultaneously less self serious and more self aware than its predecessor. In short, "Portal 2" is a hilariously charming game.
Kinect has been a tremendous tool for building community for me and my wife. As a pastor, I'm constantly having people from our community over to our house. Once someone has danced to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” in your living room, you know a deeper, more trusting relationship is destined to follow.
What were your favorite games of 2011? Share your thoughts/lists below.
(Illustration by Schuyler Roozeboom.)