An industry that has a few active Christians making important work, videogames have evolved to the point that their narratives may explore deeper themes. Much like cinema, the medium is one that might prove fruitful and worthwhile for various ministries. The following list is a compilation of titles that would be worth considering for anyone looking for games that stimulate thoughtful discussion.
1. Bioshock Trilogy
A series that explores grand philosophical questions and big ideas in a horror setting, Bioshock contains a surprising amount of moral food for thought. Set in dystopian settings where man’s ideas have been given free reign only to collapse based on their weaknesses, this series is as good an exploration of the nature of sin as any. In the first title, this is Rapture in an underwater world that was designed to enact Ayn Rand’s concept of Objectivism; a world that seeks No Gods, No Kings, Only Man. In the second title, players encounter a Rapture where ultra-collectivist ideals have taken hold and nobody is valued. Finally, in Bioshock Infinite, players encounter Columbia, a twisted place where racism and American exceptionalism are promoted by a cult leader.
As well as the moral themes, Bioshock asks the player to make ethical decisions in insane settings. In the first title, this is in a blunter (and thereby less effective way) as players have the option of harvesting the souls of possessed little girls to gain power upgrades. Opting to free them instead gives less power but leads to the game’s ‘good ending’. Bioshock 2 is more effective in presenting the player with genuinely tricky ethical dilemmas. These include whether or not the player can euthanise a man who has gone mad (and requested death) and whether the player should kill the man who sold your daughter. This kind of decision making has an effect on the ending (and how the player’s story line daughter grows up, in an interesting presentation of parenthood). Bioshock Infinite’s major theological appeal holds to its concept of a city in the sky; a place where a group of fundamentalists have retreated because of their eschatological desire to escape the earth. It reminds us of the dangers of a Christianity that will not interact with the world but seeks its final destruction.
The trilogy collection was released last year for PS4, Xbox One and PC.
2. Assassin’s Creed
The Assassin’s Creed games famously start with the disclaimer that the game is a work of fiction made by a multicultural team with different cultures and beliefs. This is the first hint that the game might be antithetical, even offensive, to Christian beliefs. Indeed, the storyline of an evil order of Knights Templar against Assassins has many elements that may prove initially jarring. Among these are the concept that of the all-powerful orb, a sphere that gives its wielder untold power and is responsible for Jesus’ miracles, among other legendary events. This also goes to the titular Assassin’s Creed itself that holds that “nothing is true, everything is permitted” (although, it should be noted that this is not intended to lead the characters to be hedonistic). Assassin’s Creed offers much for Christians who persevere beyond this point.
These include stunning reconstructions of locations like the Notre Dame Cathedral (seen in Assassin’s Creed Unity) and St Paul’s Basilica (seen in several games in the franchise). More importantly, despite any disagreement players may have with the games’ story, the fact that the Assassin’s Creed games explore themes of faith and history means that they provide prompts for people to consider and discuss these themes.
The latest iteration in the series, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, released in November 2017. It is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
3. Red Dead Redemption
Released in 2010, Read Dead Redemption explores what happens to a man who cannot escape his past actions. A thoughtful exploration of sin, redemption, and whether someone can actually change, this game gives the player the ability to shape the character of John Marston. In choosing to commit crimes, the player runs afoul of the law and ends up wanted. If the player decides however to play differently, they end up despised by the game world’s criminals. Further, the game explores religion, albeit from a somewhat cynical perspective.
Much like Assassin’s Creed, Red Dead Redemption explores themes worth thinking through and talking about, which is what really makes it worth playing. It is available on PS3 and Xbox 360. A prequel title, Red Dead Redemption 2, was recently announced and will be available in 2018 on PS4 and Xbox One.
4. That Dragon, Cancer
An indie title made by a Christian team, That Dragon, Cancer explores the journey of a family whose youngest son is stricken with terminal cancer. The true story of Ryan and Amy Green, whose son Joel died aged six, That Dragon, Cancer has garnered positive reviews for being a raw, autobiographical game that does not shy away from the family’s faith.
It is available on iOS and Windows platforms.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ editor.