Near the middle of Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling (Intervarsity, 2008), Andy Crouch considers the possibilities of the New Earth that is the culmination of the Christian story in the New Testament. Contrary to popular belief, the story of the Christian faith does not end in an ethereal, nebulous spirit world, rather it envisions the brokenness of this Earth and of humanity being redeemed and restored to their full potential and worth. The centerpiece of this renewal is a great city “filled with the ‘glory of the nations’,” and as Crouch explains it, this glory is “representative of an entire ethnos or people, the glory of a nation is simply its greatest and most distinctive cultural achievement” (168). In other words, heaven, properly understood, is a very tangible place, where bodily people and material objects are present and enjoyed to the utmost.
What does such a vision have to do with video games? Crouch points out that Christianity’s expansive vision for the future of humanity should free Christians from the misguided notion that every cultural endeavor should have an evangelistic or religiously didactic purpose; instead, “we are free to simply make the best we can of the world, in concert with our forebears and our neighbors” (171). How often do we imagine what kinds of cultural artifacts will find their way into the new Earth? Crouch’s list includes Bach’s B Minor Mass, Moby-Dick, and the iPod. It’s clear from his book that Crouch is at least a moderate technophile and an Apple fan, and the possibility of modern technology as a part of heaven got me thinking about video games.
I do believe that Christians have a cultural responsibility in their respective fields, but I also agree with Crouch that contemporary Christian culture has all too often twisted that responsibility into something trite and disingenuous. Slapping “Jesus” onto something doesn’t make it good. So what kinds of games should we be looking for? What are the games whose incredible cultural worth celebrate the best of human flourishing? I have some ideas, so here are five video games that I hope we will continue to enjoy in the life to come.
Journey (2012, Thatgamecompany)
Journey highlights some of the best qualities of the human experience: exploration, loneliness, and the need for companionship. At the same time, the game hints at the terrible consequences of human fallenness and the destruction of war. A big reason I hope to see Journey after I die is that I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, and if some freak accident cuts my time short, I’ll regret missing out on this captivating title.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006, Nintendo)
I recently wrote about Twilight Princess here, so I won’t retread this game too much. The key here, again, is the artistically rendered visual style, particularly in the Twilight areas of the game. Additionally, Link’s willingness to aid Midna, and his discovery of her true identity, make the game’s resolution truly satisfying.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002, Bethesda)
Say what you will about Oblivion and Skyrim, Morrowind still boasts some of the most creative and beautiful landscapes in the Elder Scrolls series. Hearing the soft drum beat and the opening notes of the Morrowind theme as the game begins offers a perfect blend of sight and sound that draws the player into this magical and mysterious world. The expansiveness and freedom of the game encourages us to fully consider the implications of our choices.
Final Fantasy VI (1994, Square Enix)
Lately I’ve been hankering to return to some of the classic RPGs, and Final Fantasy VI is the star RPG from the 16-bit era. Final Fantasy VI (or III, for those of us in North America who first encountered it on Super Nintendo) may not be a graphical powerhouse like many current role-playing games, but it still has an incredibly engaging story full of rich characters that we grow to care about. Additionally, the narrative is one of redemption itself, as the game’s story follows the characters’ struggle to save their world and see it restored.
Myst and Riven (1993 and 1997, Cyan Worlds)
These games are so interconnected, that I felt it wasn’t possible to include just one of them. Myst and its follow-up, Riven, had stunning visuals that were way ahead of their time, and still hold up decently well today. Everything about these games was so different from the PC gaming culture of the 1990s; they were non-violent, driven by exploration, and full of attention to detail and beauty. The puzzles challenged players to think creatively, and the Myst universe suggested the grand possibilities that the human imagination might realize.
So what games would you hope to find in heaven? What games do you think offer up the best reflections of humanity?