In Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (henceforth, KoA:R), the player is immediately introduced to a universe which every individual is beholden to a predestined fate, and it was common knowledge to the people that this pre-destined fate cannot be escaped. There exist a group of fortune tellers known as fate weavers who are able to reveal the destiny of those who seek to know their final fate, but fate weavers quickly become unpopular as few people are ever happy knowing the hour and the means by which they die.
Against this backdrop, the progtagonist wakes up among a pile of bodies, learning that he was once dead but have been mysteriously resurrected, and even more mysteriously, is the only character in the entire universe which does not have a fate. Hence, he becomes known as “The Fateless One”. Eventually, the protagonist discovers that not only is his fate his own to write, he can change the fate of other individuals as well, and truly, for the first time, people are free to “decide their own fate”.
I am a Calvinist, i.e. I believe that God has predestined everything to happen in this universe, including who becomes a Christian or not. [It is worth noting that this is a controversial position among Christians (the predestination-free will debate has never ever been resolved by either Christian theologians or non-Christian philosophers). For more information about the various positions, see here.] As a Calvinist, I was intrigued by KoA:R‘s treatment of predestination, and there are interesting tidbits to explore (particularly the House of Ballads faction quests) but ultimately the game was not very interested in exploring the intricacies of free will and the limitations thereof; there was just a simple dichotomy presented – free will good, anything else bad.
Which was unfortunate, because of all people, the game creators should know full well the limitations of free will, and in particular, “non-linearity” in games. KoA:R, despite being an “open-world sandbox” RPG, is noted for its linearity – there are no real morality choices in the game of any consequence, and the narrative path is fixed. For a game whose narrative hinges upon the individual who is truly able to “write his own fate”, it is ironic that the player only follows the linear path which has already been written for him by the game designers.
The irony only grows when one considers KoA:R in a real world context. Like many other gamers who like “high fantasy”, I was very excited about KoA:R when it was coming out. It was a game which had an all-star development team which included Ken Rolston (lead designer of Morrowind and Oblivion), Todd McFarlane (comic artist for Spiderman and creator of Spawn) and R.A. Salvatore (my childhood hero and author of the Icewind Dale & Dark Elf Trilogies). When demos and previews started coming out, KoA:R was described as Elder Scrolls meets God of War, the game with the best combat mechanics ever seen in an open-world RPG (still true today). How could this not be a huge success? Surely, such an excellent game was destined to be successful?
And to be fair, the game was critically well received and did enjoy moderate financial success. But it was also revealed that it didn’t sell enough to “break even”. What happened? And why was the studio laying off its staff shortly after they released its first game? For a full treatment of the issue, read this interview, but the tl;dr version is this: the founder and owner of the company, retired baseball star Curt Schilling, doesn’t really know how to make video games or run a video game company. But he thought if he had enough belief in himself, he would succeed – this was what sports had taught him. So he actually round up friends and investors and went ahead. Fast forward 6 years, the company failed without ever releasing a single game. (KoA:R doesn’t really count as it was actually developed by another studio which was subsequently bought into this company) Dozens of employees were left jobless, and some were even saddled with debt.
I am a teacher in my day job. As a teacher I come across one sentiment very regularly, which, to me, is a heinous lie:
“You can achieve anything as long as you just put your mind to it”.
We like to simplify things to kids. We want them to work hard. We want them to have aspirations and not give up on them too easily. All that is good. But we shouldn’t lie to kids and shape their worldviews so erroneously Life isn’t that simple. Many factors affect your success in life, the majority of which are outside of your control. God is not obliged to give you what you want as long as you “work hard enough” or “believe in yourself enough”. In fact, God is not obliged to give you anything. God is never obliged.
What is ironic about KoA:R the game, as well as the real life events which surround the game, is the failure of the principal characters to realize that human will alone is never quite enough. We are at the mercy of many things outside of our control, things which can only be determined by God. But our self-centered hearts insist otherwise. We must control the destines of our own lives or else life is not worth living. But that too, is a lie.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4:13-15 ESV)