Practicing the Presence of God in ‘Thumper’

Blast-off at 600 MPH on a rickety roller coaster — where you have to manually prepare for each turn — while wearing a pair of blinders. That’s what it feels like to play Thumper. A […]

Written by M. Joshua Cauller / Published on November 29, 2016

Blast-off at 600 MPH on a rickety roller coaster — where you have to manually prepare for each turn — while wearing a pair of blinders. That’s what it feels like to play Thumper. A quarter-second is all the warning you get before each curve. As such, it’s not unreasonable to cease blinking.

Or breathing.

To say that the game is intense is an understatement. This fierce eyes-wide-open intensity gets me into the zone—a trance-like state of hyper-focus. It’s in this lightning-rod-like state of condensed clarity (flying beyond terminal velocity) that I can engage in an ancient Christian practice called “practicing the presence of God.”

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In The Practice of the Presence of God Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite monk, argues that God wants to be involved in our lives. Lawrence says we can achieve what the Apostle Paul meant when he said “pray without ceasing.” As I see it, there’s this spiritual-engagement with the creator of the universe that can happen in when we’re not in a “religious” situation. Often, it makes us better. While videogames were not included in Lawrence’s original thesis, I can’t help but find my heart, mind, and spirit refreshed and renewed as I pray while playing Thumper.

Here is what my approach looks like practically: I may speak out loud, “King Daddy, hi!” And I ask him to make me more aware of Him as I play. Often next, I kinda just go into prayer in unknown languages, where my spirit prays for what I can’t yet materialize in words. I keep my voice at a whisper. Meanwhile, my heart and mind are turned towards God, even while I’m overwhelmed with the sensory overload thumping in my face. Almost subconsciously, scripture comes to mind like Proverbs 24:16, “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” Similar verses on perseverance and engagement come to mind. Actually, all kinds of scripture comes to mind—yes, this is all while demonic-techno-hell spawn gush toward me in a torrent of calamity.

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Single green bars spring-forth from the boss’s unholy orifice. I hit each one, leading up to a glowing super-note. “BOMMM!” The first phase of the boss fight complete, it turns to a harder pattern: I miss a green bar; the loop resets until I hit each one without missing. I miss a turn and lose my shell. Another failure and I’m joining the loose particles as a spray of metal confetti.

I can’t play Thumper for much more than an hour at a time. My eyes can’t handle not-blinking for that many successive seconds. At these limited intervals, the spiritual room afforded by Thumper’s brain-freeing gameplay makes for semi-brief sessions; and not binging—a design consideration I appreciate for short getaways.

My own approach aside, I can’t help but wonder if others of other faith traditions can find similar parallels while playing Thumper. After all, this one-button-control scheme affords more brainspace than one might expect—leaving a lot of room for one’s spiritual practices and other thoughts. Fellow indie developer, Andy Schatz, once explained that he limited Monaco’s controls to just two buttons to afford the player more mental-bandwidth: more capacity to think about the higher-level things than just basic interactions. In this same way, Thumper’s simplified controls free your mind for some advanced-level thoughts and considerations—in my case, room to bring God into my awareness while playing.