Oh Ancient of Games

Hegemony Gold Wars of Ancient GreeceVideo games seem to have conspired to produce and reproduce the same story in different ways over and over again and whether you think that this is a good thing or a bad thing, you have to admit that it is interesting.

The reason why games have had to go down this route?

Well, it is simply because you have to win them!

Whilst in books, films, TV programs and plays the protagonist will always come to the end that the author intends, in practically any story-driven video game, the player has so much power over the protagonist that it is almost certain that that main character will die at least a couple of times (if not a couple of hundred if I am playing) and in a plethora of ways. And because RPGs like Zelda are centred on story, the many deaths in the games become part of the story, even if they were never intended to.

Furthermore I am not the only gaming journalist on the Internet to have noticed this. In fact, prestigious gaming critics such as Ben Crowshaw have repeatedly pointed this out in their weekly columns and often call for such things as a complete removal of health bars from games and for games developers to move on to a system that is more innovative and original, which these critics often outline.


PacMan doesn't need those lives. Just make him immortal; wouldn't that would be way more fun?

Personally though, I don’t see the whole “several lives element” to gaming as lacking in immersion. In truth, it may be because I have grown up with it, but to my mind it has become part of the whole narrative of gaming and an important part at that. Further, the reason why I see it as an important part is because I refuse to take it as an element of gaming on its own, but as a component that works well within the rest of a game.

To understand just how well this works within games you have to look back to the basic plot of most video games. You see, despite the assertions of many critics and gamers that the default story line of games is boy rescues girl, it is not. In fact, the games which principally lead to this view (Zelda and Mario) are really stories that centre around a hero saving the world (in Mario’s case several worlds) and often the saving of a princess is just a means to this end.

In fact, even games like Portal, which seem so far removed from Mario and Zelda as to almost operate on a different plane of gaming existence, have plots built around this principle. After all, the world of Aperture Science is the only one which we, as the character of Chell, have known. So, despite her seeming to act only to save herself, ultimately she doesn’t have to risk her life to eliminate the evil presence of GLaDOS from the world of Aperture and liberate its denizens. After all, she could just live out her life in the huge unmonitored areas inhabited by Rat Man and explored during the events of Portal 2.

So two very key elements of nearly every game with a story turn out to be, again whether intentionally or not, someone attempting to save the world and their repeated death and resurrection.

Game Church Logo

What is it with this guy and gaming?

Yes, that is right. If you haven’t managed to see what I’m alluding to yet, it appears that almost every game is retelling the story of Easter, to some extent anyway.

In the same way that Easter is all about how Jesus “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV Bible) every video game seems to be about how a person dies for all in their world in order for them to be saved, while at the same time the one who dies is resurrected.

This is kind of odd, but also interesting.

In a world of many cultures you would assume that there would not be one single narrative thread that links pretty much all video games. We have Japanese culture with their incredibly (to us) odd myths and stories, Arab culture from the Middle East that completely rejects and shuns Christian stories and even a tribal culture left over from the ancient civilisations of Africa that were cut off from the Western world for much of their development. And yet this one story seems to dominate the plots of video games.

An explanation for this is of course the huge dominance of America in global politics as a pretty significant power with a huge Christian heritage. Consequently, you would expect games to tailor themselves to American tradition and legends.

However, this does not explain why games like Xenoblade, JRPGs originally intended only for release Japan, still contain these basic plot elements. True they are twisted and changed around a lot from the initial Easter story, the character’s death not actually saving the world, but no more so than most American games. The point still stands with this game – a hero dies and the fact that he comes back to life means that he is able to save the world (in this case the world of Bionis).

And so you can see that throughout video games across several cultures a thread of that original Easter story is maintained. Somehow in this 21st century since the protagonist of that Easter story walked the earth, something of his narrative is still ingrained into the human psyche and repeatedly and inescapably expressing itself through the medium of gaming.

God of War

Can't really see this guy as too Jesus like if I'm honest. More anti-Jesus.

Sure there are many games that subvert this pattern, either by having the hero ultimately fail, or by having them fighting to do the opposite to this storyline by destroying their world, but these games still centre around that storyline simply by acknowledging its existence.

Now this can be taken both as a brilliant master story template that video games have found to allow themselves to convey a variety of messages or a terrible blight on gaming and an intrusion of religion where it is least wanted. Personally, I see it as a good thing, but whatever your opinion you have to admit that this recurrence is intriguing.

Happy Easter all.