Final Fantasy XIII began as the game to bring the Playstation 3 an amazing rpg by creators Square Enix. Many delays later, and the game also being announced for the Xbox 360, the game received average reviews. This was the game to stand out, to be unique, and to show the world what the next generation of games was supposed to be like. What happened? How did the leader fall to only ‘slightly better than average’ reviews? Primarily, it was a case of not being freeing enough.
When the game came out, many people felt the tension of not being able to run around the world and do whatever they chose, often a staple in the Final Fantasy franchise. The problem created such a backlash that when a sequel to XIII announced, titled Final Fantasy XIII-2, the game creators specifically said they would address the situation. The limited sense of freedom in the game crippled a title from a company that many had been rejoicing about for years, both in Japan and the world. There were some who defended Square Enix stating that the linearity allowed for focus on the story, and less on side missions that could detract rather than forward the story. On an editorial note, I enjoyed the game for what it was, taking the limitation of what to do into an opportunity to dive into the lush scenery that was provided for us (Protip: it’s a gorgeous looking game). Don’t get me wrong, I am terribly excited about the upcoming sequel to the title and hope they can improve on XIII’s limitations, and not fall into the hole of being too open after they just got out of the too linear hole.
From apps in app stores to video games, there are some who want everything to work for them, and others who want it open so they can make their software, avatar, hardware do what they want it to do. How much freedom and control can we have? And do we have?
Open world games have allowed gamers to experience a game on their own terms. The player is in control, and can choose to further the plot, or do something else, either entirely mundane or exciting. They don’t have the game creators to force their hand on the game. The player’s existence in the world is more important than the story at hand.
More linear games, sometimes termed on-rails, provide the player an experience that is less difficult to lose sight of. A great example of this apparent error is the game Borderlands. Playing through the first game there is a list of objectives, but there is no clear indication which one of the objectives is the main story, and which is just a side task to do if you want. A great example of this is the Game of the Year on many sites Borderlands. Borderlands creator’s id software has also responded to this allegation and is working to correct the problem in the upcoming sequel. Linear games don’t have that problem. In the old school NES Mario Bros, the player had to move left to right and reach the flag at the end of each level; there was no problem of how open or closed the eight worlds were. They just were and gamers enjoyed it nonetheless. (Note, the original on rails games typically had the game control the movement of the player, and the player just had to respond. This was typical in the first shooter games often seen at an arcade. It often gave the sense of being on a slow train or rollercoaster and shooting enemies as the player past by them, hence ‘on rails’.)
This can become a huge opportunity for the Christian in the world to discuss a topic that many gamers now know, feel, and understand. Freedom within games is given by the creator of the game. We can see how the creator shapes the experience for the player. How can a creator make a more pleasant, more rich, diverse, or difficult experience for the player in a way that is satisfying to both parties?
This is reminiscent of many discussions at churches. How can Christians understand this tension in freedom in similar terms? By seeing the relationship with the discussion on free-will and predestination. There will be very few Christians who have not experienced the question of free will versus predestination, so we’ll make it brief. Yes, I just threw that into the discussion, because what we are seeing within the gaming industry is the discussion that the church has wrestled with for years, and we have an opportunity to join the discussion in a way that reflects the gospel, and thought out responses from both sides of the pew.
The debate has been going on for years, but if you’re new, let me throw this up as a way to explain it. There are some who believe that since God is sovereign, then He must be in control in some capacity in regards to our salvation, and has known this since before time. This is the concept of predestination. The other side is free will, which says that the same sovereign God has given us freedom to choose, freedom to accept Him, and this is separate from his control (often said as He let us choose, instead of himself, or God has resolved to lower his control here so that the future believer can choose). There are many differing opinions on this, and it would be beneficial not to comment too much farther on it. While the discussion may seem to many as closed (because we have formed our opinion), the debate rages on, and the world seems to now understand what we have been going through on a tiny scale within the gaming industry.
Should the game creator keep the story in mind or focus on the experience of the player? It seems like an obvious question to answer both but how this plays out seems to be where greatest divide centers. And the same is for the Christian. The free-will believers still praise God for what He has done for them, in spite of themselves. The predestination believers still love him because he first loved them. And on and on the cycle goes.
In recent years there has been a small discussion on the ‘meta-narrative’ of history. Simply put, there is a grand story taking place. This has been under attack recently because of the post-modern talk that has been taking place. But for the Christian and the gamer, meta-narrative is innate. It happens. Sure some games try to avoid that, such as Noby Noby Boy, or Minecraft. But even to avoid it is to have it; they still create the game and hope that people dive in and do things inside the game. That’s the narrative; it may be shallower than a game like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or World of Warcraft, but it’s still there. The point is till to experience, and the experience is the story. The Christian may not know their Christian lineage or what have you, but the fact is they are still part of the story, because it is not finished yet. Jesus has yet to be with his Church.
Many Christians can fall prey focusing on one or the other, but our goal should be to grasp both firmly. God’s story includes our experience. And this all relates to the experience the gaming industry is facing. With the discussion of open world games like Elder’s Scrolls V: Skyrim, or Fallout 3, the tension gamers are now experiencing is how big is too big and how linear is too linear. The degree of linearity is deeply metaphorical to the degree of free will defined among Christians and we have a huge opportunity to use this as a discussion diving board in Christian circles. Here are some general discussion questions that can used to talk through some of these ideas.
1. Do you like open world games? Which ones? What makes an open world game so much fun?
2. Do you like linear (or on-rails) type games? Which ones? What makes an on rails game so much fun?
3. Open world games let you free to do whatever you want. Why is that important to you?
4. Do you think that freedom, like in open world games, exists in the world today?
5. Does that freedom apply to Christians? Why or why not?
6. If Christianity was an open world game, what would you do that your not doing now?
7. How would you see Christianity if it was a video game, open world or on rails?
Questions? Comments? Smart Remarks? If this opened up some good discussion, let us know. We want to hear from you. Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org