The Creed

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
~Assassin’s Creed

Everything is permissible…but not everything is beneficial.
~Letter from Paul to the Corinthians

Great fiction has a tendency to draw us into its world. Games, books, and films captivate us with their imaginary universes with such strength that we find ourselves wishing, if only for a moment, that we could leave the real world to inhabit theirs. And when fictions overlap with reality in part, we sometimes wish they overlapped in full.

For me, Assassin’s Creed is one such fiction. After hours spent filling the shoes of Ezio and Altair through Desmond Miles, peeling back a conspiratorial veneer to reveal the true machinations behind so much of history, it’s almost disheartening to realize that there is no actual ongoing power struggle between the vast Templar and Assassin brotherhoods. Like many of the NPCs one recruits throughout the last two games, we are bored by a life driven merely by personal needs and desires; we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

A couple weeks ago I sent an email to my friend Jonathan regarding the opening of the epistle of James. “I just spent the majority of the last several days playing through Assassin’s Creed Revelations,” I told him.

One of the things I’ve always found really cool about the game is the idea of a brotherhood, an order of people all over the world who subscribe to a core set of beliefs about the world and live every day in an effort to make the world a little bit more like they believe it ought to be. And then I read this verse (N.b. James 1:1-2), addressing the letter to brothers scattered throughout the world, and I realize that’s exactly what my faith could be like (if less secretive). That said, “nothing is true, everything is permitted” is a lot easier to memorize than the apostle’s creed.

Candidly, he replied, “You could memorize 1 Corinthians 10:23 instead.”

Christianity is pretty complicated, but that verse from Paul speaks volumes to the overarching task we are faced with each day. Given freedom, it is up to us to determine which actions are best, which will make us and the world better, which will draw us closer to God and one another. Our end goal is the good of others (see verse 24), but we pursue this goal within the confines of liberty. As Altair says, “Our Creed does not command us to be free. It commands us to be wise.”

Ironically the “Christians” within the Assassin’s Creed universe — the Knights Templar — function in opposition to both the “Muslim” Assassins’ creed and the words of their own saint.  If the true Christian and the Assassin seek wisdom through freedom, the Templars seek freedom through wisdom. The conflict between the two views comes to a head about two-thirds of the way through the main story of Revelations, when Ezio is confronted by an antagonist who tells him “We both strive for the same end, Ezio. Only our methods differ.”

Ezio responds, “Liberty can be messy…but it is priceless.”

The misguided Templars of the AC universe provide a wonderful cautionary tale for modern believers. In our efforts to spread the gospel and reshape society to reflect God’s kingdom, we must never try to force our beliefs on the unwilling. Free will is part of our imago Dei; to suppress or deny it is to deny the face of God.

Indeed, despite the initial disclaimer that has appeared before every Assassin’s Creed title screen that the game is the product of a tapestry of religious cultures and faiths, the titular creed and those who have carried it down through the generations are extraordinarily Christian. Desmond comes to realize that who he is and what he can do are a direct result of the great lineage he is a part of. His greatness is quite literally in his DNA. Without that inheritance his life is meaningless and empty — a fact driven home in the Desmond sequences of Revelations.

Moreover Desmond’s ancestors, while productive in their own age, come to realize that they are merely conduits for a power and a story bigger than themselves; vessels for transmission of a message and a responsibility older than time. Such is the message of the gospel: a creed of love and liberation established before the foundations of the world and transmitted from God via Adam down through the generations to Christ.

It’s rather incredible, I think, that a franchise which could be summed up as “a Muslim terrorist killing Christian leaders in various holy lands” carries beneath all the violence and intrigue a deeply enriching message that affirms, rather than dismisses, a godly worldview. And given the new context, it’s rather thrilling to know we’re invited to be part of the brotherhood.

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
Everything is permitted. Not everything is beneficial.

What a creed.

gitg.archive

Nb. Evidently 3 years ago I considered starting a blog like this and registered “godinthegame” on wordpress. If you go there, you’ll find only one post, but I’ll save you the trouble by posting it here. Not really the best introduction, thematically, to what I’d like this all to be about, but it’s some of the most fun reading I’ve ever offered. I say that as one who forgot it existed and was genuinely entertained by what I recovered.

~~~

Invisible hands juggle scraps of newspaper through the dusty city square under the watch of a concrete monument, the last remaining testament to a society that has long since faded into the musky gray of the past. Debris tells a story better left untold, one of hate, of war, of death. Thick, heavy air rises from the streets. What was once a metropolis is now a putrid mausoleum.

Glowing eyes stare unblinkingly from the shadows of the empty buildings as creatures of the dark, reclaimers of the city, lie in wait. Wind whistles through the cracked asphalt, rattling colorless weeds that have broken through.

A small pile of pebbles begins to rattle. At first, the movement is subtle, but as he gets closer, they begin to slide away from one another, bouncing on the concrete in time with the pounding of his boots. At first he cannot be seen. Then, glances through the swirling yellow air. Finally he is visible: wrapped tightly in militant garb, dusty combat boots, ammunition belts crossed over his shoulders and circling his waist. Yet he carries no bullets–his holster contains no guns.

He needs but one weapon, which he retrieves from its resting place behind his ear. It is a shiny silver pen.

He has come to this wasteland in search of life.
And where he finds it, he will write.

He is the recorder of hope.
He is the author of light.
He is the empyreal wordsmith, and he has come to the game in search of his Lord.

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.