One of the most consistent themes through XCOM: Enemy Unknown – particularly through the game mechanics – is that decisions can be very costly. The loadout of your squad members – should you bring a medikit, extra armour, or the arc thrower? How you level up your squad – should you choose the evasive ability or extra damage perk when your Assault soldier gets promoted to Sergeant? Who you bring to missions – should you bring a veteren solider (who is more powerful but if killed sets you back severely) or a rookie solider (who is less powerful but would benefit from the experience)? The missions you choose to take and thus, the missions you choose to forgo. And even, how carefully you spend your money and your research and building options. All these game decisions make a significant enough difference to determine mission success or failure; game victory or game over. Decisions are costly.
Naturally, when decisions are costly, you end up calculating things down to each meticulous detail. There is no room for naive ideology. Each decision needs to be made by cold hard pragmatism. I choose to mount a rescue mission in China instead of Canada because what China offered me was more helpful to me than what Canada offered. I chose to help Brazil and not Australia because Brazil was closer to pulling out of the XCOM project, and I really needed their funding support. It sounds cold, but it’s all for the greater cause. I need every edge to help me succeed, because if I fail, Earth fails.
Or so I thought. The point when I realized something had gone wrong with my pragmatic decision making was near the end game, where I had launched satellites to every country except France. I had already constructed the last satellite and it is ready for launch – but I held back from launching. At this point of the game, I didn’t need the income and the funding from France. But I knew if later France became “hot” because I ignored a mission there, I can launch the satellite to make France favorable to me again. Perfectly pragmatic decision. Until I stopped to think – I am intentionally exposing the people of France to alien attacks because…of my own political gain? What had I become?
Throughout the game Dr Shen and Dr Vahlen act as the angel and devil talking in your head about pragmatic decision making. Dr Vahlen is excited whenever you uncover new technology which can gain you an edge over the Aliens. Dr Shen is worried that we are losing are humanity, the more alien technology we adopt. Even the grotesque alien autopsies and the interrogations (which all result in death of the alien) whisper the question: “do the ends justify the means?” Yet, when faced with an alien threat, when your own survival seems to be at risk, was not the answer a resounding “yes?”
I’m a Singaporean. We know something about pragmatism – it’s pretty much our country’s ideology. Do whatever it takes to survive. If it works, then it’s right. It’s also what I think is a huge problem with churches in Singapore. The pragmatic church asks “How can I get more people to come to my church?” instead of “How can I build a faithful church community?” The pragmatic church says “If many people come to my church then we are doing something right” instead of asking “What does the Bible say about what church ought to be?” The pragmatic church is more concerned about making people feel comfortable than faithfully discipling believers to be more like Christ. The pragmatic church values results more than faithful obedience.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
(Galatians 1:10 ESV)
[SPOILERS] At the end of XCOM, it was revealed that the aliens you were fighting were actually victims, who were abused by a more menacing alien race. Did that make the player think twice about his previous interrogations (i.e. torture) of these poor abused aliens? Probably not – he is probably thinking about the sequel, and how he will have to defend humanity against the more menacing alien presence. The heart hardens and the justification never ends.
That’s my real fear about the pragmatic church – where will they draw the line regarding pleasing God and not pleasing man? Will the line keep shifting, will they keep justifying the means with the ends, until there is no line left at all? And if so, what would the consequence of that be? Can a church justify itself out of heaven and into hell – until it can no longer be called a church?
What kind of church will we decide to be? After all, decisions are costly.