We at Gamechurch are unflinchingly convinced that Jesus loves gamers. And because its really hard to love people while refusing to take interest in the stuff they are into, we also think Jesus would totally dig some of the games we play and 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.
1. Rakuen (PC, Linux)
Our story begins with a sick boy in a hospital and the theft of his cherished childhood book, Rakuen. During the adventure to find his stolen keepsake, we’re introduced to the other patients on the boy’s floor and, ultimately, a whimsical world only accessed by the book and the key that belongs to it. Through these magical doors lie a world mirroring the boy’s own within which resides the Great Guardian of the Forest, Morizora, ready to grant the wish of any who complete a determined set of trials. Thus, the boy and his mother begin a beautiful quest of self-sacrificial love to help their new friends and relieve what suffering they can.
It would be easy to overlook Rakuen amongst 2017’s rabble of polished titles with their Unreal Engine finesse and dark themes. However, behind the game’s RPG Maker graphics lies something truly valuable. Families are brought together, hearts are changed, and regrets are released as we see, story by story, the effect kindness and generosity can have on the hurting. Jesus would love this game because it demonstrates how to love and shows us that everyone is worthy of kindness. I can imagine Him sitting down to it: laughing, crying and nodding His head as Rakuen emulates one of the greatest lessons He taught the multitudes and disciples all those years: “that you love one another: just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). –Stephanie Skiles
2. Persona 5 (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3)
In a medium where problems are usually solved by taking aim at heads, Persona 5 directs our attention to the changing of hearts.
While it might feel just like another day at the office for Jesus, who has always been in the business of transforming people from the inside out, Persona 5 offers mortals an insightful and concrete look into the existential battles that transpire within the internal strongholds of man. Through a detailed cognitive Metaverse combined with a system of metaphoric gamification, we are taken on a spiritual journey that fleshes out both the failures and triumphs of a person’s heart: from the depths of temptation, distortion, and idolatry, to the wonders of conviction, humility, and renewal.
As much as the cardiac dungeon crawling dazzles with supernatural flamboyance, the physical-world aspect of the game serves to remind us of how we may also bring about change by being consistent with the simpler things in life: talking to our friends, caring for the weak, or being helpful on the internet. It shows that with the right motivation, we could all do our part in affecting even the hardest of hearts. -Ayk Iano
3. Nier Automata (PC, PlayStation 4)
***This blurb contains spoilers. You have been warned***
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
We die often in videogames, normally in a crude or violent manner. It happens so often it becomes nothing to us. Even in our most noble deaths—a heroic sacrifice for a teammate in a multiplayer match or a scripted martyrdom in a storyline sequence—our digital deaths lack gravity. Respawn. Checkpoint reload. Death, be not proud; I quick-saved. All in all, we cannot die a meaningful death in videogames.
Or can we? Nier Automata thinks so, and it’s right. At the end of its strange, emotional journey, one that requires the grace of persons unknown to carry the player to the very end, the game asks the player to lay down their digital life for the sake of others. Agree, and your digital self is irrevocably erased from your console. Erased, but added to the cloud of electric saints who aid other players around the world in their journey to the game’s end.
No game I ever played, this year or any other, has allowed me to sacrifice something of my own for the sake of others. It is a singular and transcendent experience. -C.T. Casberg
4. Pyre (PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4)
Downside is a place of exile and punishment, a land scarred by battle and sadness. And yet, the first voice that your character hears is kind, “Hello, my friend. Don’t care who you are or what you did, none of that matters anymore. All of us, we’re equal nothings down here.” Hedwyn carries your broken body into the blackwagon, nurses you back to health, and only then discovers what you truly are. You’re a reader. You possess a gift which has been outlawed for centuries: literacy. It’s a gift that makes you feared in the Commonwealth and revered in Downside, but in this moment you are all exiles that share the same fate. You are the Nightwings.
The Nightwings are one of the oldest triumvirates that take part in the rites of ascension. You’ll be joined by a varied cast from across all the races of this fantastic setting, yet there’s always the underlying thread of unity amid difference with each new arrival.
Pyre is a story of the rejects and the downtrodden. Stories of loss and hurt played out between rounds of a bizarre sport where each is an act of self-sacrifice. Not only would Jesus love a story of those lost and broken souls uplifted and reborn, but one that sees the ripples of those transformed lives change the world which they return to. It is not a tale of who they were, or what paths brought them to Downside. It’s a story of how they rose up to return, clothed in white and seeing the world from a new perspective. -Mike Perna
5. Night in the Woods (PC, Linux, Android, Mac, iOS, PlayStation 4)
Night in the Woods felt like a big “You’re going to be okay” to my generation in particular. It doesn’t matter if you have to move back in with your parents. It doesn’t matter what your mental health issues are. It doesn’t matter if your family is poor and your town is dying. You’re not fated to failure. The tagline for the game is “At the end of everything, hold on to anything,” and it not only emphasizes the hopelessness that the characters face, but also the rejection of despair. Mae and her friends reach out to and rely on each other as they each struggle through their own psychological minefield. In an attempt to rejuvenate their struggling economy, some of the townspeople give into some dark and dangerous ideals, forcing Mae and her friends to ban together against their paranoid ideology.
Jesus would love this game because it emphasizes how desperately we need each other. Through Mae and her friends, we are reminded that to close ourselves off from the needs around us and submit to fear is a terrifying place to be. Like the dark force present in the mines, fear devours and gives nothing in return. NITW also illustrates the value of friendship through interpersonal tension. Mae’s friends forgive her when she says the exact wrong thing, they value their relationships more than their pride. This moved me so much that I texted my close friends a big “thank you” when I finished my first playthrough. -Madeline Turnipseed
6. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
For forgiveness to resonate with the player, it can’t just be a story beat. It has to be tied to some sort of offense, and for forgiveness to count, revenge needs to be the easier option. That is, forgiveness needs to be a complex dance of systems, story, and player input where offense and revenge set the stage. Every act of violence and betrayal throughout the previous Dishonored campaigns leads up to this conclusion. One ally suggests the only way to solve all that’s wrong with the world is to, “strike at the heart of it all.” And yes, you can strike a death blow.
But Dishonored’s lasting contribution to video games is its broad challenge to “find another way;” to seek a more difficult solution than shedding blood. In fact, Billie Lurk’s existence as the player character in Death of the Outsider, is only possible from “finding another way” two campaigns back: when she stabbed her closest ally in the back. And so it comes full circle: where the question of making the harder (more forgiving option) is in her capable hands.
Turning a player into a vessel for forgiveness, that tries to change others through forgiveness is a very tall order. For me, I’m going to be ruminating over the way that Death of the Outsider sticks that forgiveness landing. I’ll leave you with the game’s concluding words: “Forgiveness is a rare thing in this world, Billie. You’re better than I was.” -M. Joshua Cauller
7. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch, Wii U)
The paradox of a good world with real struggle is the driving thesis of Breath of the Wild. This new installment of the Zelda franchise converts the task of taking in our large, unchangeable world from a fearful one to an awesome one, in the literal sense of that word. Zelda’s world is full of terrorists and hucksters, but it is also full of wonder and magic, and good that can be done. Even the most harrowing moments feel like opportunities for awe-inspiring surprise.
Thanks to a tumultuous election and the increasing drumbeat of violence in the real-world, we were freshly reminded that the world was terrible in 2016, and we needed games to help us grieve. In 2017, we needed games to help us live and thrive. We needed to see the world with new eyes, eyes that gave us permission to hope again.
While a ton of games have attempted to pull off a similar effect, the Breath of the Wild manages to create a new world built around core concepts that reinforce its potential: playfulness, free exploration, and personal resonance and investment. In that respect, it is not distinct because of its particular existential ambitions. But by setting the player loose in a simulacrum of our existing world with dangers and setbacks, but without real pain or sorrow, it paints a vision of what the New Earth could be. -Richard Clark
8. Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy (PC, Mac, iOS)
Bennett Foddy wants to hurt you. I know that sounds awful but there is grace in the pain. And don’t get me wrong, I wince when I hear people say silly things like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because what doesn’t kill you still hurts. And Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy wounded me more deeply than any game I played this year, more than that stupid Dark Side of the Moon level in Super Mario Odyssey. However, in doing so, Getting Over It spoke more truth than any other difficult game I have played.
Getting Over It puts players in control of a man in a pot with a hammer tasked with using said hammer to climb over an imposing mountain littered with everyday objects. While previous Foddy games have been difficult, this one is meticulously designed to punish even the smallest mistakes in the most devastating way—by sending you careening down the mountain you meticulously climbed with only yourself to blame. When players lose considerable progress, Foddy will chime in with “Oof that’s rough” and proceed to recite some stupid quote about failure he claims is from Abraham Lincoln, C.S. Lewis, or the Dalai Lama. If this sounds cruel or pedantic, you wouldn’t be the only one to take it that way, but strangely enough these voiceovers played an important role in redeeming my experience.
As Foddy philosophized about failure, I found myself thinking over my own past failures and whether or not I had sufficiently learned from them. Most video games lie to us by giving us a false sense of accomplishment. Getting Over It, however, constantly confronts us with our failures and asks us if we want to keep going. Foddy sums it up well early in the game, “Imaginary mountains build themselves from our efforts to climb them, and its our repeated attempts to reach the summit that turns those mountains into something real.” -Drew Dixon
9. Tacoma (PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One)
There are over 7.6 billion people alive today. In the year Tacoma takes place, that number will likely be close to 11 billion. Many of us don’t understand how staggering these statistics are, but we do know how dehumanizing they can be. This has been further amplified by rampant globalization and the Internet’s rise over the past few decades, contributing to people feeling out of touch with one another and their local communities. Tacoma combats this by reminding us that every individual is rich and complex despite our judgmental misgivings.
You board a space station to investigate what happened to its missing crew. The player pieces the mystery together by analyzing holographic recordings, diary logs, and objects strewn around rooms. Along the way, you become aghast at how their employer, Venturis, has devalued their humanity by treating them as expendable, commonplace husks. However, we’re prone to such outlooks when we distance ourselves from being intimately involved in the messy yet beautiful life of “the other.” Jesus did as much by choosing to live among us: a prime demonstration of how to “love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). If we come to know others with a fraction of the intimacy that Jesus knows us (Luke 12:7), we will see the infinite value and worth of a single human being like in Tacoma. -Joey Thurmond
Jesus once met a man who cut himself with stones and, with loud wailing, chased off anyone who came near him. Speaking with the man, Jesus healed him of his mental illness, which the Bible describes as “a demon”. Almost all of Jesus’ encounters with the mentally ill correspond with the presence of demons who afflict and harm their hosts. In the end, Jesus never blames the beleaguered people—but has harsh words for their oppressors.
Most of the games featured on our list take us to far off places, battling all types of monsters, tyrants, and evil doers. However, in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, you must fight the worst enemy of all: the darkness in your own mind. With the titular character staving off both demonic creatures and her own encroaching mental illness, Ninja Theory has developed a 3rd person game that puts the player at arms length from the protagonist, walking alongside Sensua as she hears voices that sooth, alarm, cheer, and criticize her. While the fight with the darkness is absolutely real, the game reminds us that “even in darkness the wonder and beauty of the world never leaves. It’s always there, just waiting to be seen again.” -Daniel Motley