The Pragmatic Decisions of XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM Enemy UnknownOne 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.

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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?

Dr Shen and Dr Vahlen

Dr Shen and Dr Vahlen – not the best of buddies.

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.

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The real victim – abused by other aliens, tortured and killed by humans.

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.

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An Exegesis of To The Moon [Part 1 – Memories and Forgetfulness]

To_the_Moon-launch-poster-medIf you have not yet played To The Moon – why haven’t you? It’s easily available on either Steam or GOG.com, it only takes about 4 hours to complete, runs pretty much on any computer, it’s inexpensive and worth every penny.  Trust me (and every critic who has reviewed the game) – go play it; it’s worth your time.  But in case you still don’t want to do so, be warned – MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

My original intention was to do a single article on To The Moon, but despite its short length, the themes touched upon by the game were so deep and rich, I felt that it deserved a more detailed treatment.  Lord willing, we will discuss the following in Parts 2 to 4:

Part 2 – Love & Romance
Part 3 – Death & Mortality
Part 4 – Happiness & A Life Well Lived

***

I just got posted to a new high school this year and I’m still learning my new colleagues’ names. This morning I walked into class with a colleague as my co-teacher, and I said to the class: “Could you please greet Ms Melissa Goh and then greet me?”.  Ms Goh very gently turned to me and said, “erm…actually, my name is Michelle”.

It is embarrassing to forget things, particularly important things such as names.  Ever since I entered my 20s, my short term memory started to degenerate, and nowadays I can hardly remember any task which I do not ask my phone to remind me (Thank God for technology!).  I sometimes wondered if one day I would get married and consistently forget about my (hypothetical) wife’s birthday, our anniversary, or how we first met.  That would be more than just embarrassing – that would be heartbreaking.

[FINAL WARNING – MASSIVE SPOILERS ALERT]

In To The Moon, Johnny Wyles forgot a very precious memory.  It wasn’t his fault – his memory loss was induced upon him by drugs administered to him.  But the fact remains that Johnny Wyles forgot how he first met River, the woman he would later marry.  This tragedy was further compounded by River’s condition (some form of autism or Asperger’s), as she never realized that he had forgotten until they had been married for several years (maybe decades).  This must present the uncomfortable question to River – who was this man that she married, if the various things she held dear (such as the platypus and the lighthouse) never held the same significance to Johnny?  If she did not marry the man she thought she had married – does this not make the marriage void?  Later on (chronologically), River was dying, but she refused treatment in order that the house next to the lighthouse could be built – if her husband would not remember, she would rather not live (more about this in Part 4).

River asks Johnny if he remembers a rabbit with a yellow belly - he doesn't.

River asks Johnny if he remembers a rabbit with a yellow belly. He doesn’t.

Much in the same way, is our relationship with God.  Our relationship with God is built upon what God had done for us.  Most of us had experienced how God had delivered us from points of downfall in our lives – perhaps some of these experiences are precisely why we are Christian today.  Aside from our experiences, there is also knowledge of what God had done in order to secure our salvation and our blessings – the work of Christ on the cross.  Yet all too easily, we fail to remember.  We fail to remember when we get preoccupied with the daily grind.  We fail to remember when we get preoccupied with our current obstacles and conflicts.  We fail to remember when other people sin against us and we feel the need to vent.  We fail to remember how much God had done for us.  We fail to remember our infinite indebtedness  to God.  We fail to remember to be grateful.  We fail to remember that our purpose is to live for God.  We fail to remember the cross.  We fail to remember Christ.

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed” – Samuel Johnson

It is not too far a stretch to say that forgetfulness is the primary reason why we as Christians continue to struggle with sin.  We have already tasted the goodness of Christ.  We have already obtained salvation by faith.  We already have the hope of future glory. Yet our flesh continues to tempt us with worldly desires and self-preoccupation.  So tempted are we, that we forget what we have tasted, what we have obtained, what we have to hope for.  How amazing then is the grace of God, that time and time again He would draw us back to Him when we forget Him, instead of just letting us get what we deserve for deserting Him.

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Memories and mementos are the central motif of To The Moon; this is emphasized even in the game mechanics – a memento needs to be “activated” each time before the game can advance to the next “level”.  In the same way, our remembrance of God, particularly what had been done for us at the cross, should be the central motif of our lives. But to push aside the self-centered clutter of our daily lives, we will need to daily “activate” our memory of what God had done.  We need to preach the gospel to ourselves each and everyday of our lives, so that Christ be kept the the center of our lives.

Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.