Master Chief Morality...

It wasn’t until I watched Halo: The Fall of Reach that I began to understand the enormous issue that surrounded the creation of John-117 and the other Spartans. Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 was created with a purpose: to bring an end to the Insurrection, the undeclared civil war occurring between the United Nations Space Command and groups of rebels in the Outer Colonies. Over the course of 43 years, the Insurrectionists had increased the severity of their actions, moving from peaceful protests to terrorist tactics. This is the political climate of the Halo universe that spurs on the SPARTAN programs. I grew up playing through the Halo campaigns, and I thought about the history involved as much as the next person; that is to say, not very. “I’m a super human and I’m killing the bad-guy aliens.” That’s about as far as it went. What I didn’t appreciate or understand at the time was the vast moral and ethical dilemma that surrounded the game’s premise. In the face of great injustice and evil, is it ethical to suspend our own morality to protect people? In Halo: The Fall of Reach, Dr. Catherine Halsey, a young genius, has a plan that she thinks will bring about the end of the Insurrection. If one soldier could be created that could replace 100, even at a high cost, isn’t that worth it? Especially if this one soldier can’t be outgunned or outmaneuvered by any regular Insurrectionist? If this soldier could be created, strategic targets could be removed with the precision skill of a scalpel. But, what is the high cost of these super soldiers? Dr. Halsey knows what it will take to create her Spartans: children. They needed to start with children. Halsey looks far and wide...

Morality, League of Legends, and a God Who Didn’t Care...

I have never, I repeat, NEVER, found a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Oops, I mean, I have never played with a group of players with quite the level of negativity and hatred and bickering found in the League of Legends ranks. It. Is. A. Treat, ladies and gentlemen, with a capital ‘T’. If you can stomach the mental abuse via in-game chat, the game itself is very enjoyable and engaging (which stands to reason, otherwise who would put up with all the garbage that gets tossed at you by other players? Amirite?). When I first started playing League of Legends, I didn’t really have a problem with the raging, hating, unkind, unreasonable, idiotic, and any-other-negative-adjectives-you-care-to-throw-in people who found their way onto my team or the opposing team. That is to say, I was always able to stomach that side of the game relatively easily. I even found it quite amusing most times. For some people, it would bother them so much that they wouldn’t be able to play the game (and that’s fine. Not every game is for everyone). But I was able to enjoy League in spite of the negative community, especially since I had a great group of friends who I would regularly play with. If someone had asked me if I was a good person, I would have answered, “I’m not sure about ‘good,’ but I’m better than most.” However, I would also ridicule raging players, make fun of them, and insult them. Essentially, as soon as they made any kind of comment or did anything to show me they were a nincompoop, I would put in verbal shots whenever I got a chance because, after all, they deserved it, right? It’s not like they were going to...

Surviving the Crucible...

I don’t think I would be willing to sign up for any sort of training regime that would end with my demise. Granted, I don’t have a Ghost following me around to resurrect me. Why do the Guardians from Destiny put themselves through this? If you’re a Guardian, that means that you’ll die several times in just a single match! Lord Shaxx’s arena is designed to bring the absolute best out of the Guardians of the Tower. From fighting to control strategic points in a battlefield, to igniting the enemy’s rift, to straight up firefights, the Tower’s Guardians are pitted against one another in ruthless matches with live ammunition. I think if we’re to have a better understanding of why the Crucible exists, and is even encouraged, we need to understand the man behind it and his reasons for pushing the Guardians to their limits. Centuries previous, the Traveler, a large mysterious sphere, appeared in our solar system and ushered in the Golden Age. Technological advancements were occurring at rates never seen before. Humanity spread to the moon, Mars, Venus, and beyond. Humanity was at the height of its power, thanks to the knowledge it gained from the Traveler. But then the Darkness came. Humanity, even Earth, was overcome by the Darkness, a mysterious enemy of the the Traveler. The Traveler sacrificed itself to save humanity from the Darkness. Now, the humans live on in the Last City on Earth, protected by the now-silent Traveler hanging above it. We all need some sort of community that acts as a Crucible of sorts. Few remember exactly what the Darkness is, but it has returned and gives power to evil alien races, like the Fallen. These ruthless scavengers united in a desire to secure the Traveler from the hands of humanity. They...

Immortality According to Zack Fair...

I think about death. A lot. Not in a morbid, “the-end-is-near” sort of way, but with the understanding that each passing day means less time to accomplish my dreams. I’ve got half-a-dozen books to publish, a Master’s degree to complete, a world to travel, and a whole lot of video games to play (hurry up, Kingdom Hearts III!). But more than anything, I just want to be remembered for something—even just a small something. Being forgotten amidst history’s dusty pages is the proverbial “fate worse than death.” Whether I admit it out loud or not, I want to live forever, even after my heart stops beating. Thousands of years from now, I could completely “disappear” from public awareness. That thought used to make me wonder if my existence and actions even mattered in the first place. After all, only a lucky few ever become household names. The other millions of people born every year? History—if they’re lucky. Forgotten—if they aren’t. What chance do I have of ever becoming as recognizable as Stan Lee, as biographical as Tolkien, or even as quotable as Joss Whedon? Perhaps that’s why I empathize so much with Zack Fair from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. Growing up in a backwater town, Zack has dreams bigger than his small world can handle. I can’t blame him for suddenly leaving home, with only a scribbled farewell to his parents, promising that he’ll return as a hero of SOLDIER like his idol, Sephiroth. I believe anybody can be “destined for greatness,” but only when pride takes a backseat to selflessness. As rambunctious as a puppy and driven by equal parts passion and prestige, Zack quickly climbs the ranks of SOLDIER, flashing his (overly) confident smile and taking on bigger, badder beasties than...

Experiencing Emotions Like Thrall...

His name stands as a testament of the abuse he experienced throughout his youth. His orphaned past is, perhaps, an understandable reason for him to hate humanity. Of all the stories that I immersed myself in as a child and teenager, and of all the characters in those stories, Thrall was the one who taught me the most. And, now as I reflect again on the tale of him coming to be Warchief of the Horde, I can recognize what it means to experience emotion in a healthy way. Having been raised by humans, Thrall possessed the strategy and education of a human and the brute strength of an orc. By all accounts, he’s the best of both worlds, except he has no idea where he comes from. Throughout his childhood and much of his adolescence Thrall never had any sort of relationship with another orc. The human, Aedelas Blackmoore, who had “adopted” and named Thrall, had taken careful precautions to ensure that Thrall was just that: a slave gladiator. His upbringing was a nightmare of abuse, total disconnect from his own kind, and an absolute removal from his culture. One might expect Thrall to be a psychological mess, or, at the very least, to have a distinct hatred for humanity. I’m totally uncomfortable with emotions and I want to stay as far away from them as possible. But he doesn’t. After escaping and discovering the full extent of his people’s plight, he doesn’t lead his people in total war against humanity. Even in the midst of chaos, huge decisions, and mental distress, Thrall remains relatively controlled. There’s a certain beauty, I think, in how Thrall experiences and works through emotions. He’s passionate and yet collected, fierce and yet peaceful. He’s experienced more than his...

Operation: Burning Ember...

Operation: Burning Ember Date: September 20, 2015 Location: Classified It was supposed to be a routine capture mission. A scout-class UFO had been taken down in a nearby forest. Intel said to expect a handful of scouts making trouble for us, with a chance of light assault troops. We’d learned not to take any chances, though. The Skyranger was fully loaded with six squad members when we left XCOM. Nuke and I carried the heavy weapons and explosives; Warlock could hit a caterpillar off its leaf from a mile away with that new plasma sniper rifle of his; Smash and Cargo had enough gear, ammo and medkits to support us for two weeks if anything went sideways; and Wolverine was anxious to get back in the action after being cleared for duty by the medbay. We landed and began to survey the crash site. As we approached, a trio of small grey aliens burst out from behind a panel and fired their weapons at us. Wolverine was quick enough to take two of them out before diving out of sight. Cargo snuck up behind the third and knocked it out. Bringing back these specimens would shut up the boys in the lab for a while. But then we heard something new. Rule Four of XCOM: new is bad. It stood on two legs, head and shoulders above all of us. Arching its armoured back, it screamed at the empty sky above us through some sort of breathing apparatus. Its howl hit us like the heat from a blast furnace. The unidentified creature leapt from the burning wreckage, holding a gun so big it reminded me of a battleship’s turret. Before anyone could even react, the thing charged at Nuke. She was taking cover behind a fallen tree....

Journeying to Eden

Garbed in an elegant robe and trailing scarf, my delicate legs danced nimbly over the dunes. Sunlight pierced through the scarred peak of the distant mountain and blazed onto the desert sand so the expanse turned into a sea of golden embers. There, in the midst of a crumbling ruin, I saw it—another creature like myself. I froze in curiosity, watching this newcomer pirouette with a human-like intelligence that belied any possibility of an NPC. Excitement spurred me forward, and we finally came face-to-face, sunlight framing our identical silhouettes against the sky. Then, wordlessly, we continued our pilgrimage to the mountain, side-by-side. I dubbed my steadfast companion “Long Scarf.” I knew that this was not their first trek through Journey’s deserts. But that’s all I knew, and all I’d ever know. Journey doesn’t redefine online co-op play so much as it re-focuses it. Apart from the wordless chirping between cloth-covered avatars, no communication is permitted. The default avatar is genderless and species-less, as ambiguous as my companion’s true identity. There’s no customization in Journey—no way to pick my gender, height, voice, colour, or even who I partner with. However, special designs on the robes of second-and-third-time pilgrims are reserved for guides who have survived the quest and willingly return to assist new players. And yet I turn away. I stand on Eden’s edge, chirping out in hopes that perhaps Long Scarf will answer. Long Scarf was my guide. We were instantly inseparable, chirping, flying, and dashing through the sands together like lifelong friends. Perhaps the two of us could not be more unalike in the real world, but within the virtual world of Journey we shared the adversity of the great quest ahead of us. We were like Frodo and Sam, wrapped up in something much bigger than ourselves, and all the more dedicated to one another for it. Despite appearances, Journey is not exclusively a co-op game. One can trek to the mountain as easily as two. Functionally, co-op is pointless. Simplistic puzzles don’t require any complex combinations of lever-pulling or button-pushing between teammates. The only real gameplay advantage afforded is that players can boost each other’s scarf powers a bit by chirping or making contact—not game-changers by any means. Unsurprisingly, Journey’s focus on themes, emotions, and beauty makes it less concerned with traditional gameplay elements. In revolutionizing the manner in which players see one another, Journey refocuses co-op on its original intent—support. Specifically, the emotional support between pilgrims makes Journey feel less like a video game and more like an experience. At first glance, Journey appears to be an escapist game built on pure sentimentality, but it encapsulates more feelings than joy, wonder, and peace; there’s a significant portion of the trek that’s darkened by despair, fear, pain, loneliness, and even death. Long Scarf and I bonded as we sand-surfed, probed ancient ruins for power-ups, and bantered in gibberish. But we bonded most during darker times. In the midst of a punishing blizzard, hardly able to make headway against the tormenting winds, we huddled together as our scarves were ripped to shreds and chirped weak words of assurance and encouragement to each other. Within a minute, we both froze to death—I collapsing just seconds behind Long Scarf—as scripted by the game. Scripted or not, I believe Long Scarf would have willingly frozen alongside me. I’d already watched my companion dive into the searchlight of a hungry monster, taking serious damage in a vain effort to save me. Despite knowing each other for only two hours, we were already prepared to virtually die for one another. Why? The word tumbled around my mind. I’m reminded of the three criteria necessary for the universal appeal of art laid out by Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts. The book suggests that there should be a portrayal of (1) Eden in its original glory, (2) Eden that...

Life, Death, and Mario Kart...

“That’s not fair!” And with that, at the finish line I was passed by Mario, Daisy, Yoshi, and the entirety of the Mushroom Kingdom. In frustration, I tossed the controller aside. I had run the perfect race, drifted every corner, hit every question block, collected every coin and abused every item, but in that final straightaway, the dreaded blue turtle shell came. With the finish line in sight and first place victory secured, I spun out and was passed again, and again, and again. Another turtle shell, red this time, and a Bullet Bill power-up ensured that I went from first to absolute dead last. Anyone who has played Mario Kart is familiar with that reprieve. The truth is, the Nintendo racers cheat. No matter how far ahead you get, no matter how perfect your race, the A.I. will unfairly adjust the speeds of each of the other racers to ensure that every race comes right down to the wire. And nothing could be more frustrating. Life, like Mario Kart, isn’t fair. I write this as I sit at the bedside of my mother in palliative care, knowing that there are only hours left in her life. In the same hospital six months ago and five floors below, I witnessed the birth of my son. And today we try to make my mother as comfortable as possible with warm blankets and happy memories. Life was never intended to be fair. Mario Kart was never intended to be fair. Three weeks ago, the doctor had broken the news. We all knew it was coming as she had been fighting a losing battle to Stage IV cancer for a few years already. The oncologist’s were quick, like a band-aid being torn off. “We are looking at...

But Nobody Came

It was with gritted teeth and DETERMINATION that I slayed Toriel, the sweet, mother-like figure who only wanted to guide me through the ruins and keep me safe. She wasn’t difficult to destroy. It took one hit. There was no heroic fanfare upon her death, no flashing text congratulating me on my victory, no epic loot, and there shouldn’t have been. The sight of Toriel’s heart breaking in two was all the reward I got for my efforts. I wasn’t a hero. I was a murderer. Before you completely write me off as a monster, let me explain how I got there. I’d already played through Undertale’s pacifist route, going through the game without killing a single creature, talking my way out of battles and making friends with monsters. The most endearing characters in the game (i.e. all of them) became my companions in the adventure, and I grew attached to each of them; from Papyrus, the skeleton with a heart of gold who just wants to be tough enough to join the Royal Guard, to Alphys, the reptilian creature with a fondness for anime who stutters her way through conversations, to Mettaton, the robot who hosts a popular TV show in the Underground—I loved them all. “It was you who led the world to its destruction. You think you are above consequences.” And I killed them all. Because there was more story to be learned from making a genocide playthrough, and I must know ALL THE THINGS. The things that were… the things that are… and some things that have not yet come to pass. Like a serpent was offering me an apple, I was tempted. I had to know. ALL OF IT. The scenes in the game became drastically different compared to...

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone! Take This....

Mid-summer birthdays are lonely. I mean sure, they’re spaced far enough away from Christmas that the “Kyle’s temporary material happiness fund” should be well stocked, but most of my friends were off on vacation and unable to attend an appropriately large birthday bash. However, in the summer of 1986 I could not have been more thankful for the solitude. In my hands I held the iconic gold cartridge of the original Legend of Zelda. I had maps, I had snacks, and I had a stack of Nintendo Power magazines by my side; I was ready to go. But none of those provisions were necessary when I directed Link into that first cave. It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this. I explored a vast unknown world, discovered hidden dungeons, felt the tension of that last half heart, slew great beasts of legendary proportions, and ventured through seemingly infinite sequels—and it all began with my first sword. Recently, someone posted a meme featuring that phrase on my Facebook wall. The scene was the same. Same old bald man in a red suit. Same bonfires on either side. Except instead of a sword, Link was lifting up a cup of coffee. I realized the sword I want to give my little girl isn’t called education. It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this. ABSOLUTELY, I thought. The world without my coffee in the morning truly is a dangerous place. I pondered that phrase for the rest of the day. The world really is a dangerous place. What did I have in my bag of holding to deal with its dangers? More importantly, what was I equipping my four-year-old daughter with to prepare her for what she would face? It seems like every week I am re-posting a new picture of a...

Biting Bullets: LoL and Toxicity

I got yelled at the other day by a stranger. Full blown, at the top of the lungs yelled at. It was a dark and icy Winnipeg evening. I was driving home from my friend’s place and there came a point where I was yielding right onto a highway. As I waited, I saw a break in traffic and I thought I had plenty of time to merge. I misjudged the speed of an oncoming truck, though, and the driver had to slow down for me. I didn’t hear any squealing brakes or see any fishtailing, he just had to slow down a bit. We were approaching a red light so it’s not like he lost any time. But he honked and honked, drove up to the right side of my vehicle, and when he didn’t see me respond to his horn, backed up and drove around my other side, rolled down his window and let it loose. I looked over at his angry, yelling face, and I did not want to roll down my own window to fully hear whatever swears and insults he was shouting at me. “I think my anger towards you stems from your happiness with your own being.” I wanted to apologize. He was right, I had made a mistake. I had misjudged his speed. The roads were icy and maybe he had pumped his brakes or skidded a little, and that can be dangerous. But I was pretty sure if I rolled down my window in an attempt to apologize, I wouldn’t be able to get a word in before the light turned green. I would have had to shout to be heard, and “I’M SORRY!!” doesn’t sound very contrite when you’re yelling over the person you’re trying to apologize to. So I uncomfortably stared straight ahead, counting the long seconds until the light turned and I was able to drive off in relief. As I drove home, I realized the situation uncannily reminded me of League of Legends. My experiences in League are where my natural response (or lack of) came from. “Don’t feed the trolls,” the internet will tell you, and this is a habit I’ve picked up. I ignore the players who are angry at me. I call them jerks in my head for not understanding that I hadn’t meant to feed bot lane (i.e. die several times to the other team). It hadn’t been my intention to apparently ruin my jungler’s entire life by doing so. Sometimes the other player is just better, you know? It’s not always because I suck (and never because the Jinx yelling at me does, obviously. She’s Gold 2 and she never makes mistakes. She told me so herself). Ignoring the angry players doesn’t make it better, but at least it doesn’t make it worse. I can’t help turn that event with the angry driver over in my mind, though, wondering if I should have bitten the bullet, rolled down my window and attempted an apology. Maybe he had a bad day. Maybe he was just taking out other frustrations on me. Maybe if I burst out crying in front of him because he was yelling at me, he would have let me get out an “I-I-I’m sorry”? In a recent League of Legends match I played, I was jungling (running around the map killing creatures to level up while my teammates fight the enemy players) and made the mistake of starting to kill the dragon (a creature that gives the whole team gold and advantages when you kill it) at a poorly planned time. I thought only one enemy champion was nearby, but the entire opposing team was lying in wait. We were outnumbered. We died. We lost the dragon to the other team. Our Brand (Leaguers generally refer to teammates by their character names rather than their gamertags because who can keep track of those) was… well… “upset” was putting it mildly....

The Power in Link’s Silence...

In a bout of nostalgia, I re-opened the manga adaptation of my favourite video game of all time, half expecting to hear the anticipative “hidden item” fanfare as I did so. As a child, I specifically remember the hero of Ocarina of Time capturing my interest. Link was both admirable and player-impressionable, which allowed me to meld bits of myself into his narrative. His journey captivated me; I was taken on a daring quest through time into fantastical lands inhabited by exotic creatures. Mostly, though, I remember being enthralled by Link’s silence. Theses have been written on the role of silence within video game narratives, though Link’s silence in particular is an issue returned to time and again by theorists. The most technical of the bunch insist that Link’s silence is a tool used by the game developers to allow the player to “impress” themselves upon him, thus offering immersion within the game and identification with the green-clad hero. From a purely developmental standpoint, that may be true. But as a wide-eyed ten-year old venturing into the land of Hyrule for the first time, I wasn’t altogether focused on the game’s mechanics. I connected with Link’s silence because I admired it. Here was a character who never spoke a word (outside of his combative foreign language), yet ten-year-old me was convinced he was the most noble, humble, and brave individual I’d ever connected with through a gaming controller. That’s partially because his selfless and heroic actions made words meaningless, but I also admired him because of his humility—his willingness to carry the weight of Hyrule on his back, his temperance not to lash back at others who mocked him, and his determination to make good on others’ vested faith in him. I like to...

A Colossal Lie

Standing tall on the titanic body of my fallen foe, I should feel like a hero, but the victory seems hollow. There’s no majestic fanfare to accompany my achievement, just a slow, melodious dirge; it reminds me that a beautiful creature has just breathed its last. “The price you pay may be heavy indeed,” a mysterious, disembodied voice had warned me, before I set out on my quest. “It doesn’t matter,” I had answered. Suddenly, those three words seem less noble than I had originally perceived, and are flavoured by cold, hard desperation. Before I can truly process the barrage of conflicting emotions, I’m swarmed by black tendrils emanating from the colossus carcass. I fall to my knees, collapsing, unconscious, onto the giant’s body. In this moment, long before I ever slay my second, fifth, tenth, sixteenth colossus, I realize the truth: I’m slowly killing myself. Much like a Shakespearean tragedy, Shadow of the Colossus is a game about the darkness of human nature—how hopelessness leads to desperation, and desperation to self-destruction. And it all begins the way most doomed quests do: with a lie. Wander, the game’s protagonist, is bound by hopelessness—not a “there’s nothing I can do” sort of hopelessness, but something even worse: the “I have no choice” kind. Not content with allowing an innocent maiden to die, Wander chooses to go against nature and tries to restore her soul. Killing 16 colossi is the only way to achieve that goal, he’s told, so that’s what he does. In his vulnerability, he is desperate enough to play the fool and believe this colossal lie. No excuse can erase the smallest twinge of guilt I feel each time a colossus cries out in pain and bites the dust. When I play Shadow...

Don’t Forget DL-6

Two silhouettes stand in a boat  floating on a foggy lake. One of them pulls a gun on the other. “Merry Christmas,” he says, and squeezes the trigger. Appropriately enough, the final case in Capcom’s original Ace Attorney video game opens the same way it ends—with a bang. Almost fifteen years after the game’s release, the famed “DL-6 incident” still holds up as an undisputed fan favourite (and in my memory) amidst the franchise’s four dozen cases. “Don’t forget DL-6,” I am told in-game, the cryptic message laden with vengeance. And I don’t. By the time I have guided Phoenix Wright, titular character and rookie defense attorney, through three prior cases, I’ve become overly familiar with courtroom rival, Miles Edgeworth—a merciless, condescending prosecutor whose willingness to falsify evidence and witnesses alike has granted him a perfect winning streak and fitting nickname, “demon.” Ironically, when Edgeworth is found alone on the foggy lake, holding the smoking barrel of a revolver and accused of murder, Phoenix hears about the incident on TV and jumps to Edgeworth’s defense as his attorney, though I hardly know why. Perhaps it’s because the defamed prosecutor is the first of Phoenix’s clients to have a death wish; he doesn’t want to be saved from judgement any more than I want to forgive him for the untold innocents he’s sent to guilty verdicts. When Edgeworth calls himself a lost cause and refuses to speak to Phoenix about the incident, I am curious, certainly, though not particularly empathetic. That notion—that a memory is powerful enough to hold an entire day captive for the rest of our lives—is horrifying. Yet, something about Edgeworth’s plight pulls me in by the heartstrings. Over the course of the story, I witness his death glare crack under pressure. I see him start to doubt his convictions. By the time he’s literally cowering in the face of childhood trauma, reliving the long-ago December day of his father’s murder, I finally realize that Edgeworth is, in fact, human. In tackling Edgeworth’s case, Phoenix directly opens another that’s almost fifteen years-old and at the statute of limitation’s door—an unsolved case wherein Edgeworth’s own father was murdered. That’s when the truth hits me: I’m fighting for more than a “not guilty” verdict or even the mere truth—I’m fighting for that little glimmer of humanity and redemption that I know exists somewhere deep down in Edgeworth. In that sense, DL-6 is as much about character development as it is about solving the case. Unsurprisingly, Phoenix holds high stakes here. His childhood friendship with Edgeworth is revealed to be the motivation behind his entire defense career—a way to cross paths with and discover the dark truths about the estranged boy who once defended him from a false accusation in the classroom… and then disappeared without warning, returning several years later, unrecognizable, as a condemner of the accused. These interwoven histories startle me, the player, because they disrupt my identity within the game. Up until this point, I have been in Phoenix’s head, dictating his thoughts, making his decisions. With the advent of the final case, though, Phoenix betrays that identity by establishing that he has a separate consciousness from the player, expressing information I should omnisciently know about him (but don’t), even making decisions against my better judgement. But rather than alienate me, this creates a new dynamic where I become Phoenix’s intimate confidant, aiding his decisions and sweating alongside him, channeled by him without ever actually becoming him. It brings me closer to the rookie attorney’s soul and serves to make the mystery of DL-6 a narrative thrill-ride. I feel Phoenix’s desperation as he fights against the impending, three-day limitation placed on the case. Because he’s suddenly more like an old friend who needs my assistance, I want to prove him right—about the truth, about the details of the case, about the fact that Edgeworth can still be saved from...

A gamer’s guide to depression...

I am left with oddly strangled emotions as I watch Limbo revert back to the title screen. This was a dark game. As someone who has experienced depression, I am not horrified, but rather relieved that someone else can express the difficult emotions that I have felt in the past. It might sound odd, but by playing a nameless boy who runs through a dark forest solving emotionally disturbing puzzles, I feel like I am not alone. There’s something about actually playing a character myself, about walking, running, and sliding through a dark world, dying and getting up again, that is cathartic. This is different than watching someone go through numbing emotions in a book or a movie—when I play, this is me. I make the choice to go forward or stand still. Though my control is limited to where the game takes me; this ironic similarity to life does not escape me. One of the hardest things about depression is facing friends who don’t understand what it feels like. It can be exhausting trying to explain that you can’t just “cheer up,” even if there is no particular reason for your sadness. Depression can be affected by events in your life, In a game like Limbo, dark feelings are not shoved under a rug because they make people feel uncomfortable.yes, but biology can also play a part. (Recent studies suggest depression is not, contrary to popular belief, caused by a “chemical imbalance,” but other biological factors are likely involved.) Regardless, it’s not something you can kick by plastering a smile on your face and pretending you feel fine. I am encouraged by games that deal with this emotion; not only does it make me feel like other players might understand me better, it is...

Sorry, Sora

I’ll admit it: I didn’t like Riku at first. He chooses to follow the path of darkness so easily, without even a glance at the potential consequences. Perhaps I was most frustrated because I knew Riku didn’t need the darkness to become stronger. He already possessed the strength, the instinct, the looks, and the drive; he was physically tougher than Sora—Kingdom Hearts’ spiky-haired hero—and born with more natural talent than anyone else on Destiny Islands. We even learn that Riku was meant to be the Keyblade’s “chosen one” before Sora fell into the role. Yet, Riku chooses the proverbial “dark side,” throwing away his best friend, parents, homeland… even his reputation. And for what? To save Kairi, to become stronger, to protect those things that matter to him; that’s his self-proclaimed motivation, at least. But as I watched Riku desperately battle for even more other-worldly strength, turning his Keyblade against Sora time and again, and ultimately giving himself to the darkness, I realized that it’s not power that motivates him. It’s fear—something that no amount of natural talent or physical strength can overcome, because fears of inadequacy and loss can’t be physically combated. Like his fictional archetypes Anakin and Obito, Riku doesn’t see power as the motivator, but as the solution to his fear. Is it better to be born in the light, or to find the light by fighting against our own inner darkness? Unlike many of his heel-turned brethren, however, Riku escapes official villainizing with the realization that the power of a light-filled heart—something he once considered a “weak little thing”—can trump the power of darkness. It’s not until he’s physically possessed by Ansem—a wielder of darkness—that Riku comes to the conclusion that darkness can destroy his body, but it can’t destroy...

Bloodborne and the economy of art...

Bloodborne, FromSoftware’s hit PlayStation 4 game, nearly defies description. It is bleak, macabre, grisly, and haunting; it will gross you out, creep into your soul, and send shivers down your spine. In the game, townspeople driven to insanity lurk in the dim, torch-lit alleys of Yharnam, a labyrinthine, Victorian-era city. Werewolves sniff and snort as they prowl abandoned mansions and overgrown graveyards. Hideous creatures, masses of eyes, teeth, and tentacles, that literally frighten the player to death, lie in wait. And the game is as mysterious as it is menacing; as the story evolves, a black well of secrets, deeper than any could imagine, is revealed. I think the game is bloody brilliant, if you’ll forgive the pun. Though it’s not just the unnerving aesthetic that makes Bloodborne amazing; I love it because it adheres to a principle espoused by C.S. Lewis: “Whatever in a work of art is not used, is doing harm” (“On Science Fiction”). A quick word on Lewis—some readers may be surprised to learn that Clive Staples wasn’t simply an author of fantastical children’s books. Indeed, The Chronicles of Narnia came relatively late in his life, after years of distinguished work as an Oxford scholar of medieval literature. His non-fiction bibliography is voluminous, and his writings as a literary critic are particularly prolific. The Allegory of Love was, for years, a standard text in the study of medieval literature and An Experiment in Criticism is still widely read today. Agree or disagree with the man’s philosophy, when it comes to interpreting art, Lewis is a force to be reckoned with. Art, it must be remembered, is communication; it is expression, the conveying of feelings in symbolic form. By the way, Lewis allegedly disliked film; if I had to hazard a...

Age of Empires and maturity...

There are certain types of video games that I would encourage parents to let their young children play. I understand the controversy about whether video games influence children in a positive or negative way, and I openly agree that intensely violent or disturbing games should be off-limits to underage gamers. But I also argue that some genres are beneficial to play, and real-time strategy (or RTS, if you will) is one of them. Age of Empires is one of the most successful RTS franchises. Playing Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings—recently re-released in 2013 with updated graphics based on the original 1999 version—brings back childhood memories. And what I remember most is being unspeakably terrible at it. When I played a game the other day, however, I won the match in flying colours. How had I so improved without practice? Oddly enough, I think it’s because I became a very different person after I moved out of my parents’ house. Making poor, short-term decisions no longer appeals to me, and that seems to have translated into my gameplay. To excel at Age of Empires, you need to master multi-tasking and making smart, long-term decisions for the future of the army and the civilization you are building.I can still feel proud of those little achievements I succeeded at. These strategies can easily translate into real life. When I start putting money into a savings account, it grows slowly over the years until it meets a certain goal—perhaps enough money for a car, a down-payment on a house, or… I don’t know… an unopened copy of E.T. for Atari 2600. This idea of investing is paralleled at the very beginning of playing Age of Empires, where you deploy workers in gold mines, forests, and farms to begin your...

Guilt and Geostigma

Cloud Strife has had it rough. And he’s not making anything easier for himself. In addition to the deaths of his closest companions, Cloud has witnessed the burning of his hometown, undergone unethical medical experimentation, and suffered from various psychological conditions—including a nasty bout of dissociative identity disorder. By the time we’ve caught up with the unsmiling, spikey-headed hero in Final Fantasy: Advent Children, all that emotional instability has begun to take its deadly toll… and the fact that he’s contracted a cancerous, PTSD-inducing disease called Geostigma isn’t helping either. Spawned from strands of his arch-nemesis Sephiroth’s DNA, the disease literally thrives on Cloud’s guilty conscience, taking every opportunity to remind him that it’s his fault his love interest, Aerith, was brutally killed. Cloud isn’t afraid to die—in fact, he’s exiled himself to a penitent, living death while the disease eats away at his skin. In fact, he’s terrified to live with the weight of his guilt. He isolates himself, attempting to cut all social ties so that no additional failures can taint his conscience, but in doing so he builds emotional barriers that, through misunderstanding, threaten to disconnect the network of friends he considers to be his family. A long sleeve keeps Cloud’s infected arm hidden from prying eyes, metaphorically symbolizing his unwillingness to make himself vulnerable by telling others of his condition. That doesn’t stop his childhood sweetheart, Tifa, from finding out the truth, though, which leads to a heated confrontation:The grace that had ever been available to him is finally able to manifest itself because he’s made himself vulnerable to it. “So you’re just gonna give up and die. Is that it?” she accuses. “There is no cure,” he answers. Cloud is clearly talking about more than his disease here—he’s also talking about his...

Leeroy Jenkins and the C word...

Life was going well for me and my wife in the summer of 2012. I had recovered from changing jobs and was establishing myself in a new position with a new company. I was graduating seminary in a few months and we were attending a new church. My wife and I had plans for our future. “Hey, Rob? I have this lump here. Do you think I should see my doctor?” If you’ve played games online in the era after World of Warcraft, then you might know the story of the group of intrepid adventurers gathered in a room in Upper Blackrock Spire, where they strategize about a particularly difficult fight forthcoming. These heroes even go so far as to get totally geeky about it and calculate the odds of their success to a 32.333 (repeating, obviously) percent chance of success. That is, until one of their group decides to just charge ahead. “OK, times up! Let’s do this! Leerooooooy Jeeeenkins!” The stunned shock and silence that follows for that brief moment before the realization that Helena brought her handbasket and they were all in it? You know that feeling? “Hey, Rob? I have this lump here.” There is no way to “stick to the plan” because there is no plan any more. Yeah, so do I. At first, my wife and I attempted to “stick to the plan.” I mean, after all, it could be nothing. We made the appointment to see the doctor. I continued with my work testing software. We shifted our focus from one congregation to another. Neither of us was yet 40; something as outrageous as cancer doesn’t happen to people our age, right? “Well, we’re not sure what it is. It doesn’t feel quite like cancer. Let’s get some...