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, 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 Journey (PS3 – PSN)
Jesus loves Journey because he loves people. Jesus saw potential in people who society had marginalized. He was criticized for eating with “tax collectors and sinners,” he dissuaded men from stoning an adulterous woman, his closest friends were lowly fishermen, and he reached out to prostitutes. We, on the other hand, easily come up with reasons why we won’t speak or associate with certain people whether it is because of their socioeconomic status, their reputation, interests, or background. Jesus loves Journey because it will not allow us to judge each other on any of those grounds. When playing Journey we do not know our fellow player and we cannot communicate verbally. The simplistic beauty of Journey has us thinking less about our performance and more about sharing an experience.
I have played through Journey twice. Both times, I met another traveler early in the game and managed to travel all the way to the summit with them. Journey does not require that players stick together, nor does it explicitly reward players for doing so. The reward is the journey itself and the knowledge that you and another human being shared something beautiful. -Drew Dixon
2 The Walking Dead (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, iOS)
On numerous occasions, The Walking Dead asks players to choose whom to save – a man or a woman, a boy or a man, a daughter or a father – and the game’s sadistic mechanic never gives you time to mull things over, never has the decency to allow to weigh your options rationally. Instead I found myself instinctively asking myself, which of these two deserves to live? Who can I stand to be around? Who might offer the most to our group?
And then, in the game’s final act, (spoiler alert) the protagonist, Lee Everett, realizes that the only way he can save Clementine is to die himself. The distinctiveness of these two parts of The Walking Dead, choosing who lives and dies along with dying to save another, make this game illustrative of the very kind of sacrificial love that Christ taught and enacted.
On the first point, The Walking Dead shows how radically distinct Christ’s understanding of the value of human life is from our own. Early in his ministry, he made the following astute observation: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” It was the messed up people that Christ came to call; not the beautiful, the wealthy, or the young. His love was (and is) for those who seem to least deserve it.
In the end, then, The Walking Dead points to another famous teaching of Christ’s: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” To die so that others might live: this is the conclusion that the game reaches in the end. At the very least, I hope that in The Walking Dead we see both our poverty of grace for others and the great love of Christ for us–such a work is certainly worthy of Christ’s love, as it gestures in fiction toward the love that Christ offers in fact. -Jonah Stowe
3 Papo & Yo (PS3 – PSN)
The world is a broken place, full of broken people. Few games bring this to our attention with such mastery as Papo & Yo. The game’s dark origins remind us how much a broken man can destroy his family and his children. Paradoxically, Papo & Yo‘s image of failed fatherhood highlights our craving for a love that will not let us go.
At the same time, Papo & Yo visualizes the great human capacity for imagination – a capacity that comes as a gift from God. Throughout the Bible, God’s creativity is on display. In the life and ministry of Christ we see his creativity in the parables, those short fictional stories he invented to illustrate the natures of both humanity and God.
Flannery O’Connor has written that people misunderstand dogma when they take it to be restrictive, limiting creativity. Instead, she argues that “it frees the storyteller to observe. It is not a set of rules which fixes what the storyteller sees in the world. It affects their writing primarily by guaranteeing his respect for mystery”. In many ways, Papo & Yo exercises this freedom by telling us the story of a prodigal father, an imaginative twist on Christ’s well-known story of the prodigal son. In this case, the father’s efforts and resources are expended toward fulfilling his own addictions–to the detriment of all those around him.
The boy Quico’s search for a way to navigate the harsh realities of his father’s rage and abuse also demonstrates the great power of imaginative creativity. We were given such imaginative ability both to fill the world with beauty but also to survive–just as the game’s dedication references survival. Even in Genesis, at the moment of the Fall, Adam and Eve demonstrated creativity in fashioning coverings from fig leaves; this diminished creativity shows how we still strive to emulate the imaginative nature of our creator, even when separated from him. Papo & Yo shows us how human beings can still manage to flourish even in the presence of great suffering and encourages us to anticipate a future in which humanity will find its imaginative and creative purposes fulfilled and restored. –Jonah Stowe
4 Spec Ops: The Line (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Jesus hates war. It’s not that he’s a naive peacenik who thinks World War II never should have happened. It’s just that, when war happens, he’s not super pumped about it. So why, then, would he want to play through yet another war game?
It’s simple: Spec Ops: The Line agrees with him. It’s a war game that hates war, and even more fascinating, it hates the games that celebrate war. Spec Ops: The Line says to the player what Jesus has been trying to say all along: don’t you realize that these dudes you’re shooting are the same as you? When Jesus died, he had all of these guys you are shooting in mind; not just you.
You may think of games as mere entertainment, but in Jesus’ infinite wisdom and knowledge, he knows there’s potential there for something more. He appreciates the bold steps this development team took to make sure no player could get through this game without first thinking about what they were doing.
Jesus is known for being a non-confrontational, loving dude. But that’s not the whole picture. He also had a knack for lovingly telling those he met some hard truths. He wasn’t lazily throwing around outright condemnation, but when people came in contact with him, they left with a keen sense of their own shortcomings. Jesus and Spec Ops: The Line have that much in common. Now go, play, and sin no more. -Richard Clark
5 The Desolate Hope (PC)
In The Desolate Hope you play as an artificial intelligence embodied in a robotic coffee pot that lives in an automated space colony. It’s been decades since you’ve even heard of a human. The only other inhabitants of the station are self-obsessing robots caught in their own little worlds. And their worlds are infected with viruses. You can’t help but wonder “what’s the point of moving forward?”
Jesus’ life unfolded in a setting with similar issues. For decades, the Romans insisted that Israel was less than human, and many believed it. The religious and political leaders had become self-obsessed, seeking fame and wealth. Meanwhile, the people around Jesus were caught in sickness and hopelessness. But Jesus knew that there was something on the other end of it all.
The Desolate Hope‘s boss-like viruses thrash, writhe, and blast your face as you cast them out. Afterwards, they make life more miserable by jumping into a proverbial herd of pigs and diving off the cliff. Each exorcism makes the world the viruses inhabited more volatile, tearing at the fabric of the world and trying to bring it down around your protagonist. They are threatened and want to end him.
The more Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick, the more the religious leaders conspired to trap and kill him. Eventually, they succeeded and Jesus was killed. The disciples mourned and hid in hopelessness.
Sidenote: When I was young I would draw pictures of Jesus fighting Satan. Now, that same picture illustrates my own ignorance of the greater enemy: hopelessness. That picture isn’t drawn so easily.
There is only desolation in the world of The Desolate Hope‘s artificial inhabitants. But in that completely derelict world, there’s a hint at what lies on the other side of the grave: life.
The Desolate hope itself is not so unlike the tale of Jesus’ ministry. Seemingly pointless, until you’re finally on the other side of it. -Joshua Cauller
6 The Unfinished Swan – (PS3 – PSN)
When we think of painting, we usually think of creating something from nothing. Pigment on a blank canvas. Notes on a blank staff. I assume that games that celebrate creativity make Jesus happy too. He cheers every time someone taps into their imagination while constructing something in Minecraft. After all, he’s done quite a bit of world-building himself.
But The Unfinished Swan is something altogether different. Despite the fact that the game gives the player not much more than an endless supply of paint balls as a tool, The Unfinished Swan is a game about discovery. It’s a game about stumbling around in the dark — a game about seeing the world and trying to discern it through splashes of black and white. These sound like the kind of themes Jesus could get on board with.
But The Unfinished Swan goes even deeper than that. It is a children’s tale about a young boy who is following in the footsteps of an ancient king. It’s the story of a legendary king who had the power to bring to life the things he painted. Our journeying protagonist isn’t the creator or the artist — he’s just a follower. Along with the young boy, The Unfinished Swan invites the player to discover this beautiful world that the king has created. It’s not a blatant allegory, but it is a game that has God as the artist and us as the audience. Jesus must be cheering. -Luke Larsen
7 Botanicula (PC/Mac/Linux – Steam, iOS – iPad)
“Every baby comes as evidence that God still dreams of eden.” – Calvin Miller
God still dreams of Eden, and all that he makes is innocent. Though our faults have twisted us into something he did not intend, Jesus still claims to be the one who makes “all things new.”
Many games this year have grown increasingly adept at exploring the darker side of humanity and the consequences of the fall. But few have come anywhere close to presenting as complete and hopeful (and really, really cute) a picture of creation as Botanicula, a delightful romp through the crunchy organic woodland of childhood exploration.
The game isn’t just cute. It’s a call to cuteness; to the restoration of innocence; to the restoration of all things beautiful. It’s not a naive, idyllic world. It is a world of danger and opposition, where scary spiders abound. Yet with courage, the innocent overcome the corrupt, and Jesus, who uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, approves.
What’s more, the game was initially released via a Humble Bundle that donated a portion of all proceeds to a charity dedicated to preserving natural woodland. This is no mere escapism. Botanicula is a game with a message that actually lives out its own message. -Jordan Ekeroth
8Hotline Miami – (PC – Steam)
Hotline Miami is a brutal game about murder. You’d think it would be the kind of game that Jesus would hate considering that he talked about loving our enemies rather than smashing their heads with lead pipes. However, it is also said that Jesus “did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7-8). The story of Jesus is the story of God stooping down to live with broken people and experience their brokenness.
Players must stoop to play Hotline Miami. The goal of each level is to systematically kill every person before moving on to the next area. You could argue that you are killing these people out of self defense, but the truth is that these “enemies” are protecting themselves from you. Success requires intense focus, precise movements, and pinpoint reactions. The game does not allow you to stop and think about the horrors you are enacting through your avatar on screen until you complete a level. At this point the pulsating techno dulls to a drone and you must walk back through each floor you just cleared, past every dead body left in your wake. You must acknowledge the horror of what you’ve done, and how far you stooped.
Jesus stooped in order to heal us. Hotline Miami shows us how easily we can turn off that which makes us human. It is not a game about celebrating violence, but a game about just how hopelessly broken our world is. Jesus is intimately acquainted with such brokenness, and in fact came into the world for the expressed purpose of experiencing it. -Drew Dixon
9 Dear Esther (PC – Steam)
A saint named John of the Cross once wrote about a thing called “the dark night of the soul.” This dark night he refers to is a time of fear and questioning, a time where it seems like God is not with us. Really awful stuff. But in his view, it was also a time of great spiritual maturity, for at this time, more than any other, we learn what it means to be like Jesus, the man of sorrows.
How on earth could a game be about that?
In Dear Esther, you hardly do more than wander around a beautiful island, accompanied by stirring music and the narration of letters to Esther, the lost love. Though there are glimpses of the woman, you will never actually see her. The island is filled with her absence.
Dear Esther is, perhaps, less a game that Jesus would love, and more a game that helps us understand how to love Jesus. In our often difficult lives that sometimes seem to be marked more by his absence than by his presence, this game helps us to explore the empty spaces that love can leave behind, only to hope, in the end, that love can fill them again.
As the narrator concludes, “From this infection, hope. From this island, flight. From this grief, love.”, I hear an agreement echoed in the words of Jesus “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Jordan Ekeroth
10 Sweatshop (iOS)
We’ve got enough casually focused tower defense games to last a lifetime – or, in Jesus’ case, an eternity. The last thing Jesus needs is yet another game where you click and drag towers to shoot down whatever arbitrary enemies may weaving their way through an arbitrary path. We hate to break this to you, game developers, but Jesus is tired of tower defense.
But Sweatshop proves just how important presentation and meaning are when it comes to game design. We’re not defeating armies of enemies – we’re making clothing. And we’re not building weapons – we’re hiring workers. This is all very unique, but what really gets Jesus on board is how the game draws our attention to the ways we affect lives directly through our callously using them to achieve a greater purpose. Sure, it might be nice to produce a record number of hats and shirts, but what does that do to our workers? What does it mean for the children we employ because they are cheaper? Are their lives better or worse off because of our management skills?
We cannot reiterate this enough: Jesus is so, so tired of tower defense. But this is something different. It’s not a tower defense game, as much as it is a defense of those Jesus cares for the most: the least of these. -Richard Clark