The Propitiation of Asura’s Wrath and the Greatest Lie Ever Told

I do not want to do a game review, but I would like to express my commendation of Asura’s Wrath for its artistic, narrative and entertainment merit, even if it does not really qualify to be a “game”.  In my opinion, Asura’s Wrath has been largely under-appreciated because gamers were expecting Asura’s Wrath to be a combat action game instead of appreciating it to be an innovative attempt at story telling.  Kudos to the game developers for attempting this risky and innovative “game”.

Separately, I understand Asura’s Wrath naturally lends itself to comparisons with the God of War series. I am unable to comment on this as I have only played one game from the series (the original GoW).  I may do so when I complete more games from the series.

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[Major spoilers, including the contents of the unlockable bonus episode 18, and the DLC episodes 19-22.]

Like many other Japanese games which evoke religious imagery and expound on moral philosophy, Asura’s Wrath is chock full of interesting things to discuss (and perhaps one day I may give it an “Exegesis” treatment), but for now I would just want to focus on probably the most central theme of Asura’s Wrath – that life is only worth living if it is a life free from the manipulation of others, and the attainment of this ideal is worth fighting and dying for.

Chakravartin – the Creator God of Asura’s Universe.

In the DLC, it was revealed that the entire history of Asura’s world, Gaea, was manipulated by its creator God, Chakravartin. Chakravartin’s purpose for guiding history was to find the one individual worthy of being his heir, the one to rule Gaea in his stead.  Asura was the one who had passed all his tests, and was deemed worthy to be the ruling God of Gaea.  Asura, when offered this position of Godhood, rejected Chakravartin by punching him in the face, and then by continuing on to fight and to kill him, so that the universe would finally be rid of his manipulation.  Asura is aware that killing Chakravartin would also destory himself, as Asura was made of “mantra”, a substance dependent on Chakravartin’s existence.  Regardless, he proceeds to kill Chakravartin, believing that his daughter would suffer less in the world which is not ruled by a God.

The underlying reason why Asura rejected the position of Godhood was his belief that humankind is better when they are “free”, without the interference of Gods in their lives. Gods who may very well make them suffer for their own purposes, just like his daughter Mitra had suffered.  Asura believed that the only life worth living is the life of freedom, autonomy, independence; a life where man decides how best to live his life, and not one where another being decides for him.  Not only was Asura willing to turn down the lucrative offer of Godhood to defend this belief, he was willing to die for it.  In other words, Asura is the quintessential Captain America.

Asura has way cooler hair.

Asura acted out of a selfless love for his daughter – a good and noble intention worthy of our admiration and emulation.  But from a Christian point of view, Asura also acted out of a misguided belief, a lie.  In fact, to a Christian, he believed in the greatest lie ever told:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

(Genesis 3:4-5 ESV)

Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had a special relationship with God.  They were his subjects, and he was their Lord.  He decided what was right and good for them, and in their willing and joyful obedience towards God, they enjoyed life, creation and a wonderful personal relationship with God Himself.  There was truly nothing else that they need.  Yet, the crafty serpent told them a lie which would forever change the history of humanity: “You cannot trust God to decide for you how to live your life.  You must decide for yourself what you want and take it”.  In other words, the life of a subject to a master, even if the master is the most benevolent God, is not a life worth living.  Only the life where you are your own master is a life worth living.  Only the life where you do not worship God but worship yourself is the life worth living.  This was the greatest lie ever told, and is still the greatest lie being told today.

‘The Temptation of Adam and Eve’ by Michelangelo

[If there are non-Christians reading this: I know I sound a little kooky, fascist even.  There are two important clarifications I want to make.  First, this is truly and unabashedly Christianity at its core – a Christian is someone who understands that he no longer lives for himself, but he lives for the sake of increasing the glory of Christ.  This is non-negotiable for Christians to believe as true, although every Christian will admit they fail to live up to this at times.  Second, Christians do believe in the principles of justice and mercy, and Christians should always be firmly against the oppression of humans by other humans.  If we had failed to do so, it is to our shame.]

Back to the lie told by the serpent; you don’t even need to be a Christian to see how the lie is untrue.  There is no such thing as “complete unbridled freedom”.  I am not free to rob a bank.  If I shoot someone dead, he is not free to avoid my violence.  There is no such thing as “complete unbridled autonomy”.  If I am hungry, I am bound by my hunger to eat.  If I am tired, I am bound by my body to rest.  There is no such thing as “complete unbridled liberty”.  If I have a wife, I am not at liberty to sleep with another woman.  I am not at liberty to violate your rights.  The important thing to realize is that we are always bridled, we are always constrained, we are always yoked.  The question is not “how may we be free of this yoke?” but rather “what is the yoke that we choose to bind ourselves with?”

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

The yoke of man’s self-centered autonomy, self-directed freedom, and self-defined liberty is certainly a possible choice.  But it is the poorer choice, as Adam and Eve had discovered. As I had previously written,  the life of man left to his own devices is anything but a Libertarian utopia.  This has also been observed by atheist thinkers, and one of them has even suggested that though Christianity cannot be believed, it should still be emulated to escape from the suffering and pains of a self-centered society.

Asura believed in this lie.  Asura believed that self-worship is the better choice.  He believed it so strongly in fact, that his wrath could not be satisfied until the alternative to self-worship has been crushed and destroyed.  The propitiation of Asura’s wrath is the murder of God Almighty.  This is the incredulity of man’s self-idolatry – God has to die so that man can be God in his own eyes. If that cannot be attained, he will forever rage against God, His will and His purposes.

As Christians, do we realize that each time we sin, we are affirming the lie?  Do we realize that sin is us saying that we refuse to accord God his proper place in our life, but elevate ourselves to God’s place?  Do we realize that each time we sin, we murder God in our hearts?

Asura punches the God who created him.  We do the same each time we sin.

How grateful we ought to be that, unlike Asura’s wrath, God’s wrath has already been propitiated by the death of Christ on the cross (1 John 4:10).  For without this grace, we would surely perish for our insolence (Matt 10:28).

[For a different take on Theology and Asura’s Wrath, see Nick Dinicola’s article at PopMatters.com. ]

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A Confession regarding Dead or Alive 5

My original title for this article was “Should A Christian Play DoA 5?”, and my original draft was an elaborate attempt to explain why we should not play DoA 5 based on Christian principles.

I cannot, in good conscience, publish that article.  That’s because a couple of weeks ago, in a moment of weakness, I bought and played DoA 5.  And God forgive me, I really enjoyed playing it.

Self-Justification – I needed an “accessible” fighting game

Many years ago, I was an avid fighting gamer, especially on the arcade cabinets.  I remembered spending much time on games such as Street Fighter 2, Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, KOF 97-99, Dark Stalkers, Super Gem Fighter, Soul Edge, Virtual On, and the  entire Marvel-Capcom series from X-Men to the first Marvel VS Capcom.  since then, I’ve never really played any fighting games the past 10 years or so, and have been itching to re-discover the joy of fighting games. However, when I looked up recent fighting games such as the latest KOF, Soul Caliber 5, Virtual Fighter 5, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and the Blazblue series, they all seemed really difficult to break into.  Enter DoA 5, which boasted not just to be accessible to beginners, but also to have much “cinematic entertainment”, which sounded very attractive to me.  Yeah, I was aware of the sleazy reputation of the game, but the screenshots didn’t look too bad…or at least that was what I told myself.

Denial – It’s a game with many merits

And so I bought a copy of DoA 5 and played through the entire story campaign.  I was surprised – it was a much better game than I expected.  First, I enjoyed the story, cut-scenes and all  Sure, it was kinda wacky at times, but the fighting sequences made sense in the flow of the story, and by fighting game standards, this was a fantastic narrative, with genuine drama and plot twists.  Second, these were some of the most beautiful character models I have seen. You could tell much dedication and craftsmanship was put into creating and animating both the male and female characters.  Third, I appreciated the depth and ingenuity of the fighting mechanics, and how the “triangle system” is both intuitive yet challenging.  I also appreciated the way the game guides beginners to learn more and more complex fighting mechanics over time.  Lastly, the game was just really fun.  The game just felt fun, even when button mashing.  The moves (especially the complex throws) looked really awesome.  The stages were well designed and environment interactions added to the sense of tension of the battles.  The cinematics of the Power Blows felt really effective and really added to the enjoyment of the game.

I genuinely believed these were the most beautiful character models I’ve ever seen.

Doubt – Okay so maybe it is kinda creepy

After a while, two issues started to make me feel uncomfortable: first (and unsurprisingly), the animations of some of the female characters appear to serve no purpose other than to titillate, that is, to incite lust. Second, and more disturbingly, I realized that after you’ve lost your match and while your character is in his/her losing pose, you are free to rotate and pan the camera to look at your character from various angles, often while your character is still panting and groaning.  [The camera can similarly be controlled for the winning pose as well, but the allowed time window to do so is short.]  Given that many of the female characters wear revealing costumes – this really felt creepy and voyeuristic.

Temptation – Playing With Fire

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

(1 Corinthians 6:18-20 ESV)

The Bible appears to be disproportionately harsh to sexual sins compared to other sins.  As explained by Tim Challis, this is because sex is intimately tied to marriage, a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, which in turn is intimately tied to the relationship between Christ and the church.  It is for this reason that Hosea compared Israel to a prostitute who had whored herself in her unfaithfulness towards God. Thus, it should not surprise us that the Bible gives clear imperatives for us to be wary of the the temptation to sin sexually.  In particular, we are not just to resist from such temptations, but to flee from situations which might tempt us to lust (Matt 5:27-30).  Situations like playing DoA 5.

No Excuse – For the Love of Women

People are tempted differently, and it’s true some might not be tempted to lust while playing DoA 5 (e.g. female gamers).  Even so, there are two very good reasons why none of us should play DoA 5, and in particular, none of us should buy DoA 5. [I repent.]  First, we should not be willing participants, endorsing an endeavor to tempt male gamers to lust and sin (in the same way that none of us should be supporting the porn industry).  Second, we should not be encouraging or supporting Team Ninja (financially or otherwise) to continue in their objectification women as sex objects.  Given the opportunity to do so, we should be vocal about this.

We are called as Christians to love, in God glorifying ways, all people and this includes loving all women.  The objectification of women as sex objects (and prevalence of such objectification in mass media) do affect and influence the thoughts of Christen men and boys who consume such media.  As a result, they regard and treat women, including their sisters-in-Christ, in ways which are ungodly and unloving.  I know, because I used to be one of such men too.  We need to remember that all women are made in the image of God, and and reflect who God is.  They deserve better than this.  We should have done better than this.

This is an actual in-game screenshot.

I should have done better than this.

This is what an LoL advertisement looks like in Singapore

Note the money-hugging Uncle Sam

Recently, these advertisements have appeared in bus stop billboards in Singapore, and probably elsewhere.

My first thought: I’m unsure about the ethics of this advertisement campaign targeting youth given that LoL is a highly addictive micro-transactions based game.

My second thought: No way that 1 in 4 figure is correct.

After some digging around, turns out that this figure is based on the statistic of 200,000 registered Singaporean LoL users.  While it is just misleading to assume that these 200,000 are unique users, or that all of these 200,000 are even active, 200,000 is still a huge number, given’s Singapore’s small population of 5.3 million.  By comparison, there are only 523,00 local residents (excluding foreigners) between 15 to 24 years old living in Singapore (source)

Videogame addiction is an increasing common problem among youth in Singapore today, and I won’t be surprised if that’s true elsewhere as well.  Perhaps there needs to be a much more concerted effort to address this issue both in the church, as well as in civil discourse.

An Exegesis of Eternal Sonata [Part 3 – Man and Society]

[Part 1 here.  Part 2 here.]

Acknowledgements

I would like to give credit to ProfessorTofty, who transcribed the entire Eternal Sonata game into text, without whom I would have much greater difficulty writing this series of articles.  Original source here.

In my research, I came across a 2009 article written by Johansen Quijano-Cruz in the academic journal Eludamos.  Quijano-Cruz’s thesis was that computer games can be a valid form of social commentary, and Eternal Sonata was used as an exemplar.  Much of the ideas expounded below were influenced by Quijano-Cruz’s article.

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Solfege, saying way too complex stuff to a 4-year old Polka

“There are many things in this world that can charm people’s hearts, just like the moon charms the sea.  Things like wealth, vanity, status, image, and power.  People who are drawn to these things create waves and the fear in their hearts makes the waves grow bigger, and stronger.”

There is a huge amount of dialogue in Eternal Sonata commenting on the human heart and the state of society.  Most of it was not flattering.  We’ll explore a few key themes below:

Selfishness and Mistrust

Heaven’s Mirror / Death Lights

Right from the start of the game, Eternal Sonata gives rather heavy handed commentary that people are inherently selfish, and tend towards being fearful, suspicious and distrustful, even when there is no reason to be so.  This is most evidently seen by how the townsfolk treat Polka (suspecting her from having a contagious disease for being a magic user), and further reinforced with the symbol of the Heaven’s Mirror, a flower which blooms only at night.  Despite the flower’s beauty, townsfolk prefer to call the flower ‘Death Lights’ as they view the flower with suspicion, believing them to be a bad omen.  This symbolism is evoked prominently at the end of the game, when Frederic chooses to call Polka a ‘Heaven’s Mirror’, instead of a ‘Death Light’.

A cruel and striving society

When selfish and distrustful men gather, a cruel society is formed where there is much struggle to even live.  This is both commented on directly through dialogue, but also displayed through the town Ritardando, where the most vulnerable in society (orphans) are not taken care of, and need to resort to stealing bread to survive.

Ambition and the Desire to be Remembered

Unlike most games, much attention is given to the antagonist’s motives for his villainous acts, which Count Waltz justifies by his desire to be remembered by history:

“When you die you disappear, and eventually, you’re forgotten.  Nothing of you remains.  Humans are so unfeeling that way.  That’s why I must have power.  Enough absolute power to carve my existence into the very fabric of this world.  As long as I have that…”

Waltz’ exposition reveals that underpinning his militaristic ambition to gain power is his insecurity of his own mortality.  This is also a hint as to why the townspeople were so similarly distrustful and suspicious – they too were insecure about their own mortality.  Why would they fear Polka if they had come to terms with what it means to eventually perish?

The Inevitability of War

At one point in the story, Prince Crescendo, the leader of Baroque, withdrew his support for the rebel group Andantino and their mission to assassinate Waltz.  His reasoning was that history would repeat itself and another tyrant would rise in Waltz’s place. There would be no end to conflict and tension between the two nations, if peace was gained through blood.  The idea that history repeats itself and nations continue to go to war is further reinforced by the subsequent dungeon Lament (only in PS3 version), which explains the thoughts of the Baroque and Forte leaders 2 generations prior, whom also went to war.

It is worth noting that despite Crescendo’s noble intentions to find “true peace” between nations, he never succeeded in doing so.  This is perhaps the bleakest message for us: such is the nature of international politics.  Every nation seeks their benefit only, and conflict, perhaps even wars, are inevitable.

The Tragedy of Innocence Lost

This isn’t explicitly expounded, but is implied through the too-innocent remarks made by Beat and Salsa, the youngest two characters in the group.  Beat assumes the best of people even when there is contrary evidence otherwise (e.g. he assumes Count Waltz had altruistic reasons for introducing mineral powder into Ritardando), and his trusting nature is a direct contrast to how the game portrays the townsfolk.  Beat’s childish squabbles with Salsa, while endearing, is almost jarring when juxtaposed with the dire situation the rest of the party is in.

This effect can also be seen across the whole party of characters.  The youngest characters (Beat, Salsa) are naive and innocent, the older characters (Polka, Allegretto) are more disillusioned but still maintain some idealism, while the oldest (Crescendo, Jazz, Frederic, Falsetto) are those with the grimmest lines of dialogue.  It is also significant to note that Polka succeeds in gradually making Frederic more positive as time goes on, reversing this process of losing hope.

The Astra and the inherent goodness in man

While Eternal Sonata’s social commentary is largely negative, there is a hint that there is some inherent goodness in man, as shown in the concept of the ‘astra’ (or ‘trusty’ in Japanese version).  Every person has an astra, although not all shine as brightly (and Polka’s shine the brightest).  This implies that every man was born with inherent goodness, or at least the potential to do good, but that was somehow “corrupted”.  It is also significant to note that the game’s characters needed significant amount of convincing that the astra is a real thing, and not just some fairy tale.  It speaks to perhaps how society has become so caught up with self-serving concerns, that it no longer recognizes its own ability to do good.

Agogos glow in reflection of the brightness of Polka’s astra.

A Christian Response

Much of Eternal Sonata’s social commentary is similar to what I previously discussed about in my article on Tokyo Jungle – left to their own devices, mankind tends towards selfishness and cruelty, motivated the pursuit of idols (wealth, vanity, status, image, and power) in their hearts.  Quijano-Cruz, despite writing for an academic journal, could not help but describe Eternal Sonata’s society as “fallen”.

The term “fallen” is telling, because it speaks of an inner realization that we have fallen from somewhere.  When we come across instances of cruelty, exploitation of the disenfranchised, or selfish ambition, we intuitively know in our hearts that this isn’t meant to be.  There is supposed to be a better way, a better life, to live.  While for some this may be a permanent sad reality, as Christians we have the hope that we will be restored back to the place where we had fallen from (or an even a better place).

This brings us to the astra, or the inherent goodness in man.  As Christians, we also believe that there is some inherent goodness in all men, as all men are Imago Dei, made in the image of God and have the potential to reflect God’s good character (Gen 1:26-27, 1 Cor 11:7, James 3:9).  This explains why non-Christians are capable of doing great good despite not knowing the Savior.  However, without the saving knowledge of the gospel, all men are slaves to sin, and persist as corrupted images of God, presenting a distorted reflection of God (Rom 6:16).  Even as Christians, on this side of heaven, while no longer slaves to sin, we still struggle with sin in the flesh, and still fail to present a perfect reflection of God.  (Rom 7:14-20)

Only one man ever existed which was free from sin (2 Cor 5:21).  In a similar way, only one character in Eternal Sonata had a “perfect” astra.  And what was demanded from both these individuals were the same – they were to sacrifice their own lives such that the rest of the world might be saved (1 John 2:2).  We’ll explore these ideas further in Part 4.

Videogames and the Idols of Society

I’m in the midst of doing research for an article on gender issues (since every video game website must have an article on sex and gender nowadays), and while reading through various articles on gender I find myself thinking about a related side issue: how do videogames reflect the state of society?  Let’s explore this issue further.

Not too long ago, Jeremy Parish from 1Up ran an article on “perverted” Japanese games, describing how Japanese game developers, especially in harsh economic conditions, continue churning out such games because they are the most reliable source of income for them, due to the reliability of a segment of society known as the “otaku” to purchase such games.

[Quick side-note: As an Asian, and as someone who had been regularly consuming manga and anime ever since young (much more manga/anime had been translated to Chinese than English, and is much more mainstream in Chinese-speaking countries like Singapore/Taiwan/Hong Kong than in America), I have a great deal of empathy for otakus, but they also sadden me greatly.  Perhaps this is worthwhile discussion for another article.]

“Welcome to the N.H.K” is a great novel/manga/anime for learning more about the tragic side of the Otaku and their culture.

Videogames, like any other economic product, is based on supply and demand, and if there were no demand for “perverted” games, there would be no supply.  But why exactly do otakus demand such products?  The sad truth is that as socially isolated people, these games are often the otaku’s only source of various felt needs: being in power, having a sense of achievement, belonging to a community, being loved and respected, and the feeling of being intimate (emotionally and sexually) with another.  All of which they have difficulty getting access to, outside of videogames.  But even beneath the surface sin of lust is the idol of pleasure: the point of my life is to enjoy myself.  Deep down inside, otaku are unfulfilled hedonists, and as a recovering hedonist myself, I can understanding their urges and the desire for quick fixes available to them through videogames (and over the last decade or so, the internet).

I’m no expert on Japanese culture, but it appears to me that for Japanese there are largely two main philosophies for finding meaning in life: either you find it within the context of emotionally fulfilling relationships (in particular the family) or you find it in sheer out-and-out hedonism.  This, I believe, is why Japanese games tend to have a greater focus on relationships between characters, and strong narratives which develop these relationships.  This is also why I think some Japanese games tend to appeal to our basest (and in western eyes, uncivilized) instincts. Dead or Alive is the obvious example here.

It’s hard to find a DoA image which isn’t objectionable in some way.

But this isn’t really unique to “sexual perverted” games and otaku.  Games everywhere shed light on what that particular segment of society want from their games (again, supply and demand).  For the longest time, I had no idea why the Modern Warfare series sell like they do, until I saw the Extra Creditz episode on ‘the gun‘, which explained how FPSes appeal to the western gamer’s deep desire for empowerment.  I guess this desire for empowerment is somewhat universal amongst all teenagers, but it must be particularly so for Americans and those influenced by the American ideals of freedom, autonomy and independence. (Culturally, we Asians aren’t so big on this, although we’ve no doubt been influenced by western ideals over the past few decades).  But this desire for empowerment, to my Christian understanding, is but a clever disguise for the sins of pride, discontent and rebelliousness – the refusal to be obedient to any authority, even the authority which you should be obedient to (i.e. God).

I have no idea why you Americans spend so much money on these.

Finally, let us briefly consider the use of gender and sex in western games, in particular how relationships work in Bioware franchises like Dragon Age and Mass Effect.  As explained by Tom Dawson, sex with a romantic partner in these games are treated as a reward for courtship, a personal achievement for overcoming a series of obstacles.  Such perceptions towards sex are not restricted to games alone (see also: The Game, American Pie), and perhaps, it is already the global contemporary zeitgeist towards sex.  That said, from the Christian perspective, this view is fundamentally untrue and an extremely harmful attitude. Instead of being a beautiful expression of intimacy between two individuals whom have covenanted with each other, it becomes a individual-centred conquest for pleasure and/or fulfilment.  Fundamentally, this is the idolatry of the self – even in our deepest most fulfilling relationships, we are primarily seeking self-benefit, and not the selfless love towards the other which we were supposed to display.

The mysterious Morrigan of Dragon Age: Origins, fulfilling fantasies for gamers everywhere who wish to sleep with demonspawn-birthing witches (all you need is to give her a few gifts and choose the correct dialogue options).

Honestly, we should not be surprised that society reveals such idols in what they desire in their videogames, because that is exactly what a fallen humankind is expected to look like.  If we don’t worship God, we worship ourselves, and whatever else we feel we need to make ourselves feel “fulfilled”.  Videogames, perhaps more so than any other kind of medium, are the most susceptible to the pandering of our idolatry (due to both it’s interactive nature as well as its relatively young history as an art medium).  It is also important to remember that we are called to show grace and humility to all who are sinful and fallen, because we too were once sinful and fallen as well (and in many ways, still are). The only difference between us and them is that we have been rescued by the grace of God (and not by of our own works).

An Exegesis of Eternal Sonata [Part 2 – Metaphysics]

[Part 1 here.  Read Part 1 first if you are unfamiliar with the story of Eternal Sonata. ]

For ease of understanding, let us adopt the use of the following terminology for this article only:

World-ES’ refers to the world which Polka and co. lived in.  World-ES originally begins as a dream of Frederic Chopin, but its metaphysical status changes at the end of the game.

World-R’ refers to the “real world” where Chopin is a famous pianist and composer, and where places like Poland and Paris exists.

Metaphysical Status’ refers to how “real” that world is.  A world with high metaphysical status is considered to be more “real” than a world with low metaphysical status.

***

[Spoilers alert]

Origin of World-ES

Though not explicitly explored by the game, we can assume that Frederic has had the same dream of World-ES for perhaps several hundred nights.  It is possible that Frederic had been having the dream since the death of his Emilia sister when he was age 17, but the dream more likely started later in his life, after the Polish rebellion (themes of rebellion and war were quite prominent in World-ES) and maybe even as late as after his relationship with George Sand has ended (i.e. the last 2 years of his life), as Falsetto was likely to be a manifestation of George Sand.

Metaphysical Status of World-ES

As explained in Part 1, at the ending of Eternal Sonata, Frederic decided to consider World-ES to be of equal metaphysical status as World-R.  Both were equally real to him.  It is worth noting that this is in contrast to something like The Matrix, which clearly considered “real life” to be of higher metaphysical status than “life within the matrix”.

What is particularly bewildering is not just the fact that both worlds have the same metaphysical status, but rather, high metaphysical status was only conferred to World-ES only after Frederic decided to consider it as “real”.  (This conferring of metaphysical status is also what allowed for Polka to live beyond 14 years old, apparently the main reason why the world had to repeat itself, and thus breaking the never-ending 10 year loop.)  Prior to this conscious decision by Frederic, World-ES remains a dream with low metaphysical status.  In other words, the metaphysical status of the world is directly determined by Frederic’s perception of that world.  This is “reality is what you make of it” taken absolutely literally.

Yeah Beat, you’re not the only one confused.

This may seem preposterous, but there are at least two schools of thought which say similar things.  Idealist philosophers claim that reality is fundamentally made up of ideas, and not made up of material stuff which exists outside of us.  This may sound nutty, but their key observation is quite true: we cannot perceive of the material world directly, but can only perceive them through our senses, which is hard to separate from our minds.

Also, one also detects elements of postmodernist thinking here, although it may be too difficult for me to attempt to construct a postmodern metaphysical model. (Read this if you are keen to explore these difficult ideas further).  “Life is what you make of it” is a common postmodern mantra after all.

Also a quote attributed to Marilyn Monroe, expert on postmodern metaphysics and all-around good role model.

Metaphysical Status of World-R

This is not directly explored in the game, but could be implied by the game’s philosophy of metaphysics.  There was also a very interesting scene at the ending credits where Frederic’s “spirit” rose up from his body and started to play the piano, with Delfina Potocka (in real life Paris) singing along to his music.  We can assume that this is not really Frederic’s ghost (if so, Potocka should really be screaming instead of singing), but some kind of “extended reality”, probably created in Potocka’s mind, just like World-ES was created in Frederic’s mind.

What does Eternal Sonata comment about the metaphysics of World-R, our real world then?  If it is to be considered “equally real” as World-ES, and since World-ES is a dream, perhaps this implies that all of life is a dream (again, possible postmodern influences here).  Recall the famous lullaby “Row, row, row your boat” which ended in “life is but a dream”.  What did that last line of the lullaby mean? Paul Schumann understands it to have somewhat idealist connotations: i.e. we make up reality as we continue to experience it, no different from how we experience a dream.

Alternatively, the lullaby could be about 4 animals sitting on the moon rowing across the clouds.  [Painting by Sundara Fawn]

Death and Immortality

Frederic’s monologue at the end of the first credits sequence gives us a hint about how Frederic breaks the never-ending 10 year loop:

Death is a reality which is far too real.  But I’ve walked this dream-like journey within a dream, so that once-and-for-all, I could accept it.  And now the time has come.  Everything shall come to its finale!

Frederic’s “far too real” acceptance of his impending death was what prevented him for accepting World-ES as “real”.  In the ‘finale’, he could somehow accept World-ES as real, and perhaps it could be deduced that he thus denies the reality of his death (in Paris).  For Frederic’s case, if indeed reality is what you think it to be, then if you don’t think you are really dying, then you really are not dying.  It is as though the reason why we die is because we think we would die.  If we would stop thinking so, we would live forever.

Themes of immortality are also prevalent throughout the whole game.  Polka jumps off a cliff but never really dies.  Waltz has a preoccupation with leaving an immortal legacy even if he cannot physically live forever.  And even in World-R, we are reminded about the immortal legacy of Frederic Chopin in the form of his piano works, some of the enduring pieces of music in the world.  Finally, the never-ending loop itself, and the hint provided in the title, that this sonata was meant to be eternal.

Pretty hard not to be immortal when you have a whole museum dedicated to you [Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina in Warsaw, Poland]

A Christian Response

As Christians, it is obvious that we have to dismiss Eternal Sonata‘s ridiculous metaphysical claims as hogwash.  The Christian understanding of reality is neither idealist nor postmodern; we believe that there really is a physical material world, and it was created by God (Gen 1-2, Job 38:1-7).  When Jesus comes again, there will be a new Earth as well as a new heaven, indicating that even in future glory, there will be a physical material world, albeit a glorified version (Rev 21).  Similarly, Christians have to dismiss the audacious claims about death and the cause of death.  The bible is clear that the origin of death is sin, not the failure of our imagination (Rom 6:23).

That said, I believe that there are at least 2 small truths hidden in Eternal Sonata’s complex metaphysical philosophy which point us towards the Christian God.  First is the concept of creatio ex nihilo, i.e.   the creator creates a complete universe out of nothing (Rom 4:17).  Frederic is somewhat a God-figure (though a rather confused one), being able to not just create a new universe out of nothing, but also having the ability to bestow metaphysical status of the said universe.  As Christians we believe such immense power does exist and was exercised when God created the world, with nothing but the power of His word.

Second is Eternal Sonata’s preoccupation with immortality.  This is perhaps best explained by this verse:

… he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end

(Ecclesiastes 3:11b ESV)

God has “put eternity into man’s heart”.  Which is why humans have an intuitive sense that something is deeply disturbing and wrong about the concept of death.  This is also why practically all cultures in the world have myths and stories of life after death.  Even today, an expression of this are the many works of fiction (including Eternal Sonata) which explore different ways and means to obtain immortality.  But God’s real intention is to point us towards what ought to be, both before the Fall, and also what will be restored by Christ.  We were meant to live eternal lives.  Eternal Sonata has got this completely right.

The Two Leviathans of Tokyo Jungle

Tokyo Jungle is a rather quirky game.  For those who have not heard, you play as an animal (you start with a choice of 2, but can unlock up to 50 different animals) in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo where humans have suddenly vanished and the animals learn to fend for themselves.  As an animal, you do what animals do – explore to find food, catch and eat prey, flee from predators, mark your territories and mate to pass on your genes.  The objective of the game is just to survive as long as possible, and in the process fulfill certain challenges to unlock new animals, stat upgrades, costumes to wear.

Although striving to stay alive long enough to meet the next challenge can be quite entertaining, it soon became apparent that no matter which animal you choose, you were doing the same thing.  Eat, fight, flee, mate and, (as emphasized by Richard Clark), you eventually die, either from starvation, poison, or (most likely) being killed and eaten by a predator.  Of course, such is to be expected from the life of an animal driven by nothing else but their base impulses to survive.  Which soon lead me to ask: is the human life any different?

The First Leviathan – The Tedium of a Darwinistic Existence

These are a group of atheists who believe the answer is no – there is no greater meaning to life than biological survival and the passing on of genes.  For lack of a better term, let us call these group of atheists ‘Darwinists’ [I am aware the term ‘Darwinists’ can refer to different things.  ‘Darwinists’ are contrasted to ‘Humanists‘, who are atheists who believe that the meaning of life is to better humanity].  I have no intention to argue against Darwinism as a philosophy of life, but it does appear to me a Darwinist must live his life no differently from an animal in Tokyo Jungle – we just do what it takes to survive, and fulfill our basest desires (like sex).  I guess I can see the how this philosophy can appear liberating; cultural and societal norms don’t necessarily have to shackle you, and well, sex is can pretty darn awesome.

But living in a society filled with Darwinists could be anything but “liberating”.  As gamers we know this – we’ve seen and played through plenty of post-apocalyptic games where the only philosophy is to survive at all means.  Drew Dixon observed this in his review for DayZ, and similar sentiments arose from 1UP’s preview of War Z.  When thrown together without societal or cultural norms, instead of co-operating with each other, we distrust, kill and loot from each other.  It’s a world filled with fear, suspicion, constantly on the fight or flight.  Just like an animal in Tokyo Jungle.  400 years ago, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes realized this and he wrote these famous words in his book, Leviathan:

In such condition…the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

What Tokyo Jungle made me realize was that while you can get better and better at surviving and mating, ultimately living a Darwinist life feels pointless, tedious and hopeless.  After all, at the end you always die.

The Second Leviathan – God is Sovereign

<<Minor spoilers alert>>

This brings us to the humans of Tokyo Jungle – who became extinct before the start of the game.  As you advance through the story mode of Tokyo Jungle, gathering clues regarding mankind’s disappearance, it becomes apparent that a small group of humans were responsible for the extinction of mankind.  Nevertheless, for the mass majority of humankind, they had their extinction forced upon them, helpless against it.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that sometimes, life is like that.  Bad stuff happens to humans to which they are helpless against.  Libya, for example. Or most recently, Hurricane Sandy.  Good humans suffer helplessly.  Many of them Christians.  Why did God allow this to happen?

In the book of Job, Job similarly went through suffering which he was helpless against and he asked similar questions.  The answer he got was somewhat surprising – God is sovereign.  You do not question Him, His purposes, or His methods. Period. He is God, and…you are not.

The sea creature ‘leviathan’ is described in much detail in the Job 41. At this point, God was rebuking Job for questioning God’s sovereignty – if Job cannot tame the mighty Leviathan how could he doubt the greatness of the One who created the Leviathan?

Lest you think that all this talk about suffering and sovereignty is too heavy for a blog about gaming, I have an anecdote to share:  a few months ago, my best friend, a good Christian man and PS3 gamer like myself, found out that he was suffering from nerve damage in his fingers, a chronic form of ‘gamer’s thumb’. He shared with me that while he knows it to be true, he hasn’t quite come to terms with the fact that he will probably never be able to play video games again for the rest of his life.

If something similar (or worse) happens to us, will we be able to sing this song by Matt Redman?

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your Name from Central Films on Vimeo.

***

At the end of one of the story missions of Tokyo Jungle, the following words flashed across the screen:

“The fighting never ends in Tokyo Jungle. Blood is washed away with more blood.”

Tokyo Jungle offers us a glimpse of the tedium, hopelessness and meaninglessness of a life lived devoid of Christ.  As Christians, even in our darkest days, in our days of our most helpless suffering, we can boast in the eternal security we have in Christ.  For the stains of our sins have been washed away by blood – the blood of the Lamb.