How Journey Showed Me Not Everyone Is A Jerk Online

JourneyAfter 15 minutes of playing Journey I met with my first ever journey companion. He/she didn’t seem to acknowledge my presence, and I didn’t want him/her to slow me down, so I went on ahead of him/her.  Shortly after, I got bored and stopped playing the game. It wasn’t until a few days ago, when the folks at Theology Gaming decided that we would discuss Journey in the upcoming podcast did I play Journey again, starting a new game.

It was a much different experience the second time round, when I finished the game in one setting. In an earlier level there was a scarf power-up which was difficult to reach. I managed to reach it before my companion did, and I encouraged my companion to get it by repeatedly showing him/her how I managed to jump high enough to reach the power-up. When my companion was finally successful, I let out several quick “chirps” to congratulate him/her, and he/she chirped several times in return.  This was a stranger, whom I have never played with before, and who I will likely never meet or play with again ever again.  Yet, for that brief moment, we shared a genuine moment of camaraderie – or at least I felt that we did.  I find it absolutely amazing that a videogame can accomplish this – get two strangers who have no incentive to help or encourage each other to willingly do so.

We are all familiar with how gamers can be jerks online. We’ve seen it in the comments section of gaming websites, in online forums, on twitter and facebook, and what we hear over our headphones in multiplayer games.  If you’re still not convinced, read Fat, Ugly or Slutty [warning: explicit language].  And this happens not just in the gaming circle, but in other websites and forums as well (e.g. sports, politics, etc).  There are just so many jerks online.  A good question to ask is: how did such behavior come about? In real life, we don’t have people hurling vulgarities and insults at strangers as we cross the street right?

Certainly, this is sin. In particular, I think, this is the sin of pride. We all have the tendency to put others down, because doing so makes as feel superior to those we have put down. We want to glorify ourselves by reducing the glory of others and by comparison, we look better. In typical human society, we emplace rules and norms to minimize such behavior – it’s uncivilized to behave in such a way, and transgressors will be shamed by collective society.  But in the online space, such rules and norms take no effect, and the anonymity of the internet grants the perpetrator safety.  There is also safety in numbers – when one sees a large number of jerk behaviors online, they are emboldened to be a jerk themselves.

jenova-chenSo I was more than a bit skeptical when I heard Jenova Chen’s interview with IGN, where he said that he designed Journey to be a game where multi-player is not about killing (competitively or cooperatively), but about players actually helping each other in non-violent ways. In another interview with Eurogamer (a highly recommended read), Chen expresses optimism that “gamers aren’t born ***holes, but games which make gamers into ***holes” – and Journey was the game which would prove that.

After playing through Journey, I must admit that Chen was right.  It did restore my faith in the humanity of gamers. When I was at the underground level, thinking I would face the giant flying monsters alone, a companion appeared who showed me how to hide from the monsters – when he/she had no incentive to do so.  When I was at the snowy mountain, a companion showed me how to hide behind stone tablets to shield myself from the wind, and even used his chirps to indicate to me when we should rush and when we should hide. He/she too had no incentive to do so. These companions were truly a comfort, and I could only imagine how much more I would have to struggle if I were to go through Journey alone, solo.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

(1 Thessalonians 5:11-15 ESV)

It did not escape me that Journey could be seen as a metaphor for the journey of the human life, or even the Christian life. But for me, it was most poignant as a metaphor for what it means to support one another in Christian fellowship. Like the companions I’ve met on my journey, a good brother or sister-in-Christ warns me when I head down the wrong path into danger, encourages me when I am weak, is patient with me when I fail, is invested in me and is eager to see me succeed, even though they have no incentive to do so. Indeed, is this not called love?

Because two is better than one.

Because two is better than one. (Eccl 4:9-11)

Journey has showed me that yes, gamers are indeed capable of being selfless humane individuals who would help another in need.  Gamers too are made in the image of God, and reflect some of God’s good nature, no matter how corrupted by sin and pride we can be.  But more importantly, Journey has reminded me of the importance of mutual encouragement among Christian brothers and sisters-in-Christ.  For the Christian life is not a race we run alone, but a race we run, locking arms with each other, pulling each other up when one is down, persevering together onward towards the goal.  Such is the nature of Christian fellowship.  Such is the nature of the Christian life.

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An Exegesis of To The Moon – Part 2: Love and Romance

[Part 1 here.]

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[Spoilers] A typical love story with a happy ending usually goes like this:boy meets girl.  They fall in love. They encounter obstacles. They overcome obstacles. They finally get together.  Happily ever after.  To The Moon tells a love story – but hardly a typical one.  Yes boy met girl. Yes they fell in love (at least the girl did). They encountered obstacles (like the boy forgetting the girl). They finally got together (and got married). But it wasn’t happily ever after. In fact, they never really overcame the initial obstacle, and the girl died with this obstacle unresolved.

Yet, To The Moon has a happy ending. An ending so moving that many have confessed to crying when they experienced it. What gives? What about the ending makes it so moving – and so romantic – when deep down inside we know that what we’re seeing is but an illusion, and the real River had already passed away never finding her fulfillment?

Certainly the science-fiction nature of the narrative has something to do with it.  I had come across similar science-fiction romantic stories where the science-fiction elements had messed with the usual romantic narrative, e.g. the Japanese films Love Letter and Be With You, the Korean film Il Mare (later re-made into The Lake House starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves), as well as the 1980 Christopher Reeve film, Somewhere in Time. [The Time Traveller’s Wife may qualify, but I haven’t seen the film or read the book].

I know I’m a little under-qualified to talk about romance, but I want to offer a counter-proposition: perhaps what makes a story romantic and moving is not necessarily the final outcome of the story, but rather how the beauty of a relationship between two individuals is revealed to the audience.  It is both the substance (i.e. the nature of the relationship) as well as the form (i.e. how masterfully it is revealed to the audience).  If this is true, then “happily ever after” is not what really makes for romance, but rather the realization of how beautiful a relationship is (or was) which makes for romance.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

(Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)

Momentary MarriageMy views of Christian romance, dating and marriage have been largely shaped by 4 books: I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Boy Meets Girl (both by Joshua Harris), What Did You Expect? (by Paul Tripp) and John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage (click here for free pdf).  From this tradition, we understand romance as part of (or working towards) marriage, and our earthly marriage as a symbol, a reminder, and a foretaste of the final and ultimate glorious marriage we would take part in – as the bride of Christ.

Perhaps this is the reason why our hearts are moved when we see a beautiful and intimate relationship revealed through a film, a book or a videogame.  At the end of To The Moon, when we see Johnny reach out and hold River’s hand as the moon comes into view, our hearts resonated with that scene, because when God created us, he designed us for romance.  We were all designed for the loving and intimate relationship – with Christ as our groom.

Previously, I have suggested that “happily ever after” isn’t what makes a narrative moving and romantic.  This has to be true in some sense, after all, surely all romantic couples know that eventually one day they must part – till death or divorce.  But yet, that is not true in another sense – our marriage to Christ is eternal. And that is truly happily ever after.