Deus Ex Ludus

Simply put, I intend for Deus Ex Ludus to be a home for intellectual discussion gaming and of the intersection of games and faith (posts leaning exclusively in the faith direction are likely to remain rooted in my personal blog). Typically, when embarking on a new blog (I have, due to failure, a great deal of experience with starting blogs) I will use the first blog merely as a test pattern for formatting. But in this particular case, I am going to one-up myself and include the text of a blog written years ago from which both the general aim and the name of this one are derived.

I think it’s worth mentioning the obvious: times change. This was published four and a half years ago. I was just beginning my collegiate journey, one which would radically reshape my mind, my writing, my faith, and — most pertinently — my ideas of gaming. Nevertheless the clarity I had as a first-semester freshman is striking; striking to me and, perhaps, striking to you too.

Deus Ex Ludus

Every time Square-Enix releases a new game, i’m sure, friends and family members of gamers alike silently curse the gods. Four hours of the child’s absence lead the anxious mother to check in on the whereabouts of her son. He sits with eyes starting to glaze as he stares intently at the glowing screen, plastic device in hand. “What are you playing?” she asks. It takes a moment for him to know he’s been asked a question, another moment to pause. He begs her repeat the inquiry; she acquiesces. “Final Fantasy.”

For a little under a week now i’ve been enraptured by the twelfth installment of said series, much to the chagrin of roommates and peers alike. In what i’d approximate to four days i’ve clocked in over twenty-two hours of gameplay with no sign of stopping in the near future. I’ve heard that simply completing the game takes over forty and that’s if you don’t try to completely level up and get every ultimate weapon and complete all the side quests etcetera etcetera. All told it’s not inconceivable for one to spend one hundred and fifty of those precious sixty-minute blocks before reaching the absolute pinnacle of performance.

At first such a stretch seems absurd–and i’ll allow that such a classification isn’t too shy of truth–and an explanation is in order. How on earth could something even remain interesting for so long? Isn’t it just a lot of running around and killing monsters to level up? Well, yes and no. To be sure, much of the actual gameplay consists of just that, a seemingly endless cycle of killing fiends, restoring health, and killing more fiends. The substance of a game like Final Fantasy, however, lies not in the gameplay necessarily but moreso in the story. If stories can be woven and spun then Square is an artisan without peer. Each game finds a new world, a new plot, and most importantly, new characters. Musical elements and various character types and spell names serve as the only unifying factor between the FF games; for the most part, each game is an entirely new universe to lose oneself in.

And lose myself i have, in much the same was as i did in Final Fantasy X. The land of Ivalice with its warring factions, the young orphans living in the city of Rabanastre which finds itself besieged by the powerful Archadian armies, the deposed princess who finds herself obligated to reclaim the throne but unable to do so by her own devices, the deserts and dungeons of the Ester and Westersands, the plains of Giza and the jungles beyond; in a word enthralling. Every beautiful CG episode has me on the edge of my seat (quite literally, seeing as the other day my chair literally broke beneath me as i played on) wondering anxiously how Vaan and Ashe and Balthier (my favorite) and the rest will make it through these exceptionally dark times in their lives.

People often joke about the paradox of having twelve (and others they don’t know about) “final” fantasies. The answer is relatively simple: the man responsible for the first game was on the brink of ending his career in a company that itself was standing on a last leg. Were the game to fail as miserably as it very well stood to do, Final Fantasy would indeed have been a final thing. When it instead turned the company’s luck in a new direction and saved Squaresoft from an early trip to the crypt, it became the company flagship. Every new installment would thus bear the name Final Fantasy for, theoretically, in a market as ever-changing as ours, every new game could be Square’s last.

It’s been proven that men are, in general, more object-driven than women. This would explain why so many guys play video games in which the target is to beat the game, to solve the problems, to win. We are far less likely to dabble in the sandbox, i would guess, because when there ceases to be any actual end to the game it becomes, to some extent, futile to participate. It just feels good to attain new levels, unlock new spells, be able to afford better equipment. Over time you become an increasingly formidable foe, a force to be reckoned with to use the cliche. And who among us doesn’t want to be a force to be reckoned with?

If you are a Latin scholar, or use google, you may have already deciphered the title of this entry. The idea of “God from the game” or “God in the game” probably strikes you as humorous. “Come on now Adam,” you say, “even you have to admit that you’re reaching when you start trying to prove that video games are good because they can bring you closer to God.”

Do i have to make such a concession? I think not.

The fact is that any and all art is a form of expression. It means something to the creator, and it means something (even if that something is nothing) to those that in one way or another consume the art. Thus, while Squaresoft may not have made Final Fantasy games to exhibit facets of the Christian walk, and while there are sure to be many people who play the games and never have an epiphany, i feel confident nevertheless in saying that the game is fairly good at producing such results.

As i sat under the lights at the fine arts building next to my dorm last night, trying with futility to avoid the rain and the cold, i reflected on the pilgrimage mentality toward life. Much as the FF games that i’ve played represent, life is truly a series of conflicts and characters that take us from place to place as we are hurled by time toward whatever ends we choose to meet. We can choose to improve ourselves in various ways–guarding our minds and our hearts, seeking out and uprooting falseness around us with Truth, witnessing to others in the hope that they will join us in our pilgrimage–and yet in the end we must all face the final Boss, whoever that may be. If you, like me, have the strategy guide, then you can find out ahead of time who that Boss is. You know what He likes, you know what He hates, and you spend your game trying to strengthen yourself accordingly. The last thing anyone wants to do is end up in the Boss’s chamber inadquately equipped to succeed.

There is one difference worth noting though: unlike Squaresoft, there’s not a chance that success in this game will give us an opportunity to make new ones. Indeed, it is appointed unto man to live once, to die once, and then to face the Boss. And so, accordingly, it’s time that i started to level up. It’s time that i start learning the scriptures.

This is my life.
This is my final fantasy.


3 thoughts on “Deus Ex Ludus

  1. This is a fascinating concept for a blog, and exactly the kind of high level discussion about gaming that I think the medium needs. While I do not share your religious affiliation, I’m incredibly interested to see where you take this, and what your viewpoint brings that mine does not. I recently began a blog about gaming as a storytelling art, and the concept that you can come away from a game with such a personal understanding is something I’m always going on at length about. Keep writing, I’m very interested in reading.

    1. I’ll admit I was surprised when I received notification that this blog was already getting activity, since I haven’t officially “launched” it yet. But I’m very happy you found your way here and that you’re interested in what I have to say. That we come at this from different philosophical worldviews is, as you said, a great opportunity for diversified perspectives which themselves may lead to richer conversation.

      I just took a glance at your blog and know I have to spend some time there because as I was playing Assassin’s Creed Revelations last week I kept thinking “I really want to address how cleverly the animus framework provides a non-intrusive explanation for limiting player exploration and behavior.” That your invisible walls blog is tagged with AC suggest we’re on a common wavelength.


      1. Yeah, you showed up in the WordPress blogs list for “video games” and I noticed you were just getting started. I popped in to read the article and both your subject matter and mastery of the language caught my attention. Yours is the first blog I’ve seen that I’m actually interested in following. Looking forward to more!

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