The whole Gamechurch operation works under the belief that Jesus is totally cool with games and that maybe, given the opportunity to play them, he would actually enjoy them. In that spirit, we’ve come up with a list of ten games Jesus would genuinely love. Yes, we’re speculating here (none of us actually feel qualified to speak authoritatively about what Jesus would like), but we think it’s an informed kind of speculation.
These aren’t just any games. More than merely “fun,” they resonate with the life, message or values of Jesus himself. We think that’s worth celebrating.
If you are curious about how we went about choosing the games that made this list, listen to the Games Jesus Loves 2016 Podcast.
1. That Dragon, Cancer (PC, Mac, OUYA, iPad)
As a culture, we don’t do suffering particularly well. That goes for our consumption habits and frequently religion too. Our hunger for luxury goods is indicative of how we value comfort over all things difficult, including suffering. The Jesus that shows up in Church stuff today is the guy who poses for photo ops with lambs or the friendly dude with kids on his lap. That’s not wrong, but it’s only part of the picture.
The Jesus of the gospels is a pretty complicated figure. He can sound harsh and demanding at times. And he is also very, very familiar with grief and suffering. Just like the Green family, who lost their little boy Joel.
If you haven’t played That Dragon, Cancer yet, stop reading this and go do so. If you can’t, at least read about it. It is a groundbreaking experience. Not because of the mechanics—it barely has any beyond point and click. The artwork and music are top-notch, but a lot of games have that. No, this game is amazing because it uses the interactive power of games to immerse the player in the bittersweet experience of loving and suffering through grief and death.
The Jesus who suffered, who stayed faithful in the face of the apparent meaninglessness of death is the Jesus who would love playing a game that stares grief in the face and offers hope and life and peace. -Kevin Schut
2. Overwatch (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
I hadn’t thought much about Jesus’ views on Overwatch until Ray Gresko (Vice President of Production) took the stage at the Video Game Awards, “This game, and the world that we’re building, has a message and it’s a message about heroism, it’s a message about diversity, it’s a message about a . . . hopeful future.” Having played (too much) Overwatch, I immediately realized two things: I had never examined these themes, but I felt them every time I played.
Overwatch is a game about diverse individuals coming together to accomplish a greater purpose. The straightest path to victory? Join a group of people with different playstyles, pick characters with wildly different abilities, and fulfill completely different roles. Together, we become heroes. Or, to quote Zarya: “Together, we are strong.”
Now that I think about it, it’s not as surprising that I feel thrill from “unity in diversity.” Finding greater purpose in cooperative community is where humans are designed to thrive. And that kind of unity is something Jesus loves (John 17:20-26). -Steven Miller
3. Firewatch (PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One)
Firewatch captures the feel of being alone and the hunger for human connection. It immerses us in the potential purifying effects of periods of isolation as well as their toll on the human psyche.
The game puts players in the shoes of Henry, a wildfire watchman living in self-imposed exile in the remote Shoshone Wilderness of Northwest Wyoming. Henry is recently estranged from his wife due to a mixture of misfortune and his own failures to properly care for her early onset Alzheimer’s. Henry is completely alone save for a one-way radio to his boss, a seasoned forest ranger named Delilah.
The story of the Jesus is one of self-imposed exile: the God of the universe determined to leave the heavenly realm and dwell in a remote corner of his vast universe. After his baptism (where he was identified as the messiah), the spirit “immediately” drove Jesus into the “wilderness” where he was tempted by Satan for forty days.
The majority of Firewatch is lonely work: spent leading Henry to explore the Shoshone by himself. But then Delilah calls, reminding us that Henry’s not alone. Henry’s solitude was not enough to purify him and fill him with a renewed sense of purpose. Like Jesus leaned on his Father while being tempted in the desert, Henry leaned on his friend, Delilah who refused to let him retreat further into himself.
Firewatch is a subtle game about the value of self-imposed exile. It’s about cultivating small virtues. It’s about fidelity, infidelity, betrayal, and redemption. It’s about the frailty of our bodies, our longing to explore, and our even deeper longing for human connection. As the year ends and the church calendar has me thinking about the incarnation, I am reminded that Firewatch is one of the most human games of 2016. –Drew Dixon
4. Darkest Dungeon (PC, Mac, PS4)
I’m a sucker for a redemption story, but who isn’t? The redemption narrative is as old as storytelling itself. A person left in shambles rises up to right wrongs and heal wounds. What we don’t often dwell on, however, is the cost to get there. We don’t want the gory details and suffering that often pave the way to that redemption. We want to just run through it. Darkest Dungeon illumines the truth about redemption stories—often the only happy part is the ending.
The Darkest Estate has fallen into ruin. You’ve been called home by your recently deceased father in hopes that you’ll be able to seal the terrible gate he opened in the caves beneath the mansion. As a young lord, you don’t have the skills or courage to fight the horrors in the mansion and the surrounding lands. You send word far and wide for anyone who would come to your aid. Regardless of their own ambitions, brave knights and proud vestals stand with occultists and highwaymen to wage war against the darkness your family has wrought. You’ll select them, provision them, and send them to hell while you remain. When they return half mad and trembling—if they return at all—you’ll send them to lick their wounds as you ready the next team.
It’s hard to coax out any hope among screams and nightmares but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Lands are cleared. Great villains are defeated. But you don’t have the luxury to skip to the end, laughing over stories of heroics and camaraderie. You’ll stand over the gravestones of the men and women you sent to die in the pursuit of your family’s redemption. You’ll return home, and hope that your life will be worth such a terrible cost. –Mike Perna
5. SUPERHOT (PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One)
SUPERHOT is not a game about porn. Sorry everyone, that was just clickbait. Neither is it really a game about shooting malevolent reddish-orange men who break like glass when grazed by a bullet. Rather, SUPERHOT is a game about choosing whom you will serve.
The late writer David Foster Wallace noted, “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” The objects and experiences we envy and covet and treasure are not simply inanimate things or abstract ideas over which we exert control. Rather, the reverse always proves true: they gain power over us, whether we can admit or not. As Wallace said, when we worship things like money, power, and beauty, these will “eat you alive.” Our personal desires are the cruelest of gods.
SUPERHOT brings the consequences of our mindless pursuits of pleasure and control to the fore. The game forces players to recognize that they are making a conscious choice to pursue an idol that will ultimately devour them. It is an Old Testament story as told by bullet-dodging kung fu mannequins, a parable of how runaway pleasures lead to the destruction of the self.
If you were to ask me, I’d say that Jesus would love SUPERHOT for that very reason. Jesus wants us to find pleasure in our pursuits, but in their right context and to their right ends. Few games have the nerve to suggest there might be consequences to indulgence. That would be terrible for sales, after all. SUPERHOT, though, doesn’t just suggest it; it beats you over the head with it. –C.T. Casberg
6. Stardew Valley (PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One)
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ the second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 30 -31
On the surface, Stardew Valley seems like an adorable game about growing vegetables and setting up the framework of a multi-million dollar blueberry crop. And yet, it’s more than merely a game about successfully subduing the earth for financial gain. The stories weaved within Stardew Valley begin to unfold once you take the time to get to know your neighbors and invest in them. The game refuses to let players manage their farms without giving thought to their neighbors.
You as the farmer have the chance to obey the greatest commandment—to love your neighbor as yourself. Spend time building relationships with those around you. What items do they like? What do they dislike? Similar to life there are those who are hard to love (George or Shane for example), the outcast (Linus), or whose ideologies you don’t agree with. In some social interactions you can choose your response. Do you lie? Tell the truth? Be cold and uncaring or warm and inviting?
As I read through the Bible I am often struck by how Jesus genuinely loved everyone. No matter what. The woman at the well, the sick, the poor, and the downright weird. Stardew Valley encouraged me to do the same. -Kate Kadowaki
7. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday (PC, Mac, iOS, Andriod)
A Muslim pacifist invited me to pray with him in a secret revolutionary meeting inside of a movie theatre in 1979 Tehran. Meanwhile fellow revolutionaries, scoffed at this action, having swapped religion for Communism and revolting by force. After the prayer, my pacifist friend and the Communists discussed their diverging beliefs and whether or not one should ever resort to violence—even when their family members are being kidnapped by the dictator’s secret police. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday only gave me a small glance into a real event whose rippling effects we still feel today, but it expanded my appreciation for the faith and tensions of the Iranian people.
Jesus wants to heal the walls of division between cultures and tribes; and while his followers may pray differently than those who practice Islam, there are many forms of empathetic understanding and listening that we’re invited into through director Navid Khonsari’s love-letter to his home country. -M. Joshua Cauller
8. Inside (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
INSIDE starts with a familiar tension: enemies come after you and then the game design provides a helping hand, always giving you a clear out. But there’s a moment early-on where you’re forced to make a leap of faith. By faith leap number five, it’s a clear theme: somebody has engineered this—and wants you to trust them.
INSIDE’s designer wants me to trust their invisible hand, but this left me with a lingering question: how do I know that this Creator is good?
While Jesus seemed convinced that the Creator of this reality is indeed good, he invited his disciples to taste and see; to question (and test) God’s goodness themselves. He showed followers God’s character by healing the sick. When they doubted that things were as good as he said, he invited them to feel the holes in his wrists and side—to kick the tires of our reality and question whether its Designer is good. -M. Joshua Cauller
9. Kentucky Route Zero: Episode 4 (PC, Mac, Linux)
Before the plight of the working class was apparent or trendy, Cardboard Computer turned a spotlight on their predicament. Of course, that plight is ultimately universal: the need to survive by selling one’s life (if not one’s soul), the uneasy trade-off of the working man, who too often ends up owing more than he ever earned at the end of his life.
New players of the Kentucky Route Zero series will find much to take away from acts 1-3, but Act 4 provides a break from the surrealism, exploration, and hypnotic artistry of the first three acts. Instead, it focuses on the mundanity of loss, the frustrating inevitability of forgetting those things and people that are so important to us.
Act IV isn’t a slow burn as much as a dull ache. It burrows into your mind and reminds you that you, and those you love will pass away suddenly, without warning, and if they don’t they’re striving will end even so. The living will tire out, and the restless will be snuffed out.
Worst of all, their debts remain. But some of those debts are worth paying, some work worth finishing. That’s what we learn in the penultimate episode of Kentucky Route Zero: life is a continuous line, until it ends, and is passed on. -Richard Clark
10. Pokemon Go (iOS, Andriod)
At its core, one might wonder if Jesus would actually love a game about capturing monsters, training them to do your bidding, and disposing them when they are no longer useful to get more candy. Fortunately, Pokémon GO is much more than that—it’s a game about getting out into the world for the purpose of exploring and sharing—experiences we needed in the midst of a incredibly dark and divisive year.
Pokemon Go got us out to exercise, see the world, and connect with others. And it was genuinely fun. People who struggle with depression and anxiety have said it helped them feel more comfortable about getting out and interacting with others. I’ve had conversations with strangers that normally would have been awkward because of the shared language of the monsters on our phones. Most churches are also Pokéstops within the game, allowing for random people to stop by a church to collect Pokéballs, eggs, and more. How could this not be a gift from God?
Jesus might have fun catching and evolving a Magikarp into a Gyarados, but He loves Pokémon GO most of all because of the moments it allows us to share. -Steve Cullum