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The Interactive Nature of Video Games

One of the things I love about video games is their interactive nature. Movies are great to sit back and watch, but the level of investment isn’t the same. When you’re watching a movie, you have no say in what the characters do or how they develop.

Books are similar, with the exception of visuals. The story is there for you, but you’re free to imagine the world and action how you will within the confines of the author’s description. Or lack thereof, in which case, your imagination is even more free to fill in the blanks. Either way, the story happens as intended by the author.

On the surface, video games aren’t much different than movies and books. Keeping with the movie and book analogy, this applies specifically to story driven games. Story driven games have a bit of leeway to them that movies and books don’t. Assuming the game has an end, then there is a clearly defined beginning and end to the story, with a middle that could be mostly linear (BioShock, Final Fantasy XIII) or extremely open (any The Elder Scrolls or Might and Magic game).

The start and end of games will always tell the same story. Even if there are multiple endings, you’re getting a variation on a theme. The middle section is where the interaction really happens.

RPGs are famous for the open middle. As previously stated, any game from The Elder Scrolls or Might and Magic series has a wide open middle. Yes, there are specific quests that have to be done, but otherwise, you’re free to develop your character how you choose, explore the world and see sights that may not be part of the main story line, and do other optional stuff you want. Even the more linear games still give you some agency over how the characters are developed. Final Fantasy XIII is probably the most linear game in the series, but you are still free to develop your characters in the Crystarium system and set their roles.

BioShock, with its mostly linear world, still gives you character choices by choosing to harvest the Little Sisters or save them, and growing your powers by the plasmids you choose. The Grand Theft Auto games give you optional stunts and missions to complete, and if that’s not enough, then the Saints’ Row games take the same formula and go over the top. Dragon Quest Builders takes the open world concept of Minecraft and wraps it in a story, but still gives the player a lot of control over how the towns develop and the characters grow.

In all of these games, there’s a level of interactivity that isn’t possible in any other medium. Not only are you discovering the story, as you would in a movie or book, you’re also actively participating in it. The character doesn’t act unless you do. Unlike a movie, games require active participation to advance the story. This active participation in the story is one of the reasons I love games and prefer them over movies.

The interactive nature – the active participation – is also a great metaphor for life. Your own life requires active participation to advance the story. It requires you to interact with others and complete (or at least attempt) “quests.” It requires you to make choices about how you – your character – will grow.

Life has to be experienced – your story isn’t written yet. There is no walkthrough to say where to go at any given point in life or what the next step is. There is a definite beginning and ending to your story, but the middle is wide open. And it’s that middle section that really makes the story. It’s the middle that is truly memorable in life.

Don’t let your life be like a movie, where you’re just watching everything go by. Where the story just happens, whether you’re invested or not. You’ll miss out on so much that life has to offer.

Let your life be like a video game. One that is interactive. One that has an active participant moving the story forward, with a character that explores and interacts with the surrounding world, and is open to experiences and leveling up. Take part in the wide open middle section of life. Write the best story for your character that you can.

Gears of War 3 – Biblical Parallels of Sacrifice

While the original Gears of War trilogy primarily revolves around the post E-Day war with the Locust, there is a lot of in-depth character development and interaction. Dom Santiago always comes to mind when I think about these games. His is the story of a tragic hero. He endured losing his children on E-Day, his wife’s disappearance and eventual death, and finally gave his own life as an act of sacrifice to save his friends.

Before we dive into Dom’s final scene, let’s go over some events leading up to it (parts of Dom’s backstory are from outside the games). His children died during the emergence of the locust. His wife, Maria, spiraled into depression and lost touch with reality. Maria would often go out looking for their kids, thinking they were still alive. Four years later, Maria disappeared – Dom lost his wife for the first time.

Ten years pass, and during Gears of War 2, Dom finds out Maria is in one of the Locust slave camps. He finds her, but she’s already been “processed” by the Locust. Processing is a form of torture that ends with the victim being lobotomized. Maria is a shell of a person and doesn’t recognize Dom. Rather than let her live like that, Dom kills her, and loses his wife for a second time.

Moving on to Gears of War 3, Dom has clearly been traumatized by the events. However, that doesn’t stop him from helping Marcus and his squad. During one of the firefights with the Locust and Lambent, the squad is severely outnumbered and outmatched. Dom, seeing a way to save everyone else but knowing it would cost his life, chooses the path of sacrifice.

I can’t do the scene justice by trying to describe it, so it’s better to watch it (warning – it’s Gears of War, so there’s some language involved):

Dom saw the one and only way out. He could sacrifice his own life to save his friends or he could watch as they all die at the hands of the enemy. Let that sink in for a moment.

In John 15:13, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” The Bible talks much of humility and sacrifice. It also talks about how we were trapped in darkness with only one way out. And much like Dom giving his own life to save others, so too did Jesus, who also saw the one and only way out.

Dom had a choice. He could keep going on the path the squad was on, fighting the enemy against impossible odds, eventually leading to death for the entire squad. Or he could give his own life to save the rest of the squad.

In the same way, Jesus had a choice, as evident in the garden at Gethsemane. Jesus’ prayer of “if it is possible, let the cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” points to both the choice he had and the choice he made. His mission, so to speak, was to be the final sacrifice for humanity, to reconcile us back to God. Despite his divinity, Jesus was still human and had to make a choice. Even knowing his whole life was leading to the cross, in the end, he still chose to sacrifice himself for humanity.

Though it was painful in the moment, both for Dom and for his squad, Dom foresaw the other side of his sacrifice. The enemy was defeated and Dom’s squad lived to continue the fight. Jesus also knew this pain and foresight. Though the pain of the cross was excruciating, he foresaw the other side of his sacrifice and the freedom and hope we were given by it. And like Dom giving life to his friends by his death, Jesus gives life to us by his.

Sacrifice is never easy, otherwise it would be a simple gift. It may cost a life, as portrayed by Dom and Jesus. Other times, it doesn’t cost a life, but requires something beyond what we think we can do or give. Sacrifice is painful, but no matter the cost, it is the greatest act of love anyone can do.