I lived up to Jesus’ teaching about loving my enemies. Yes, it was in a World War I themed videogame called Valiant Hearts. Yes, my actions were scripted for me. But at least I did it, right?
I’m a French grandpa struggling through the chaos of the labyrinth underneath the trenches of World War I. Somebody’s crying for help.
Conveniently, the rope he’s caught in is connected to a wheel I can turn. I gently lower him to the ground. When he’s low enough, I order my dog to bite the rope until he’s free. My Kraut opponent and I have an awkward moment; then we salute one another. The Deutschlander departs.
I soon discover that in order to escape the maze, the German and I need to work together. He uses his demolitions skill to open up our path. I use my shovel to dig our way through the next blockade. Suddenly we’re both at a rope-pulley bridge that requires two men to operate.
I get on the rope-bridge platform. He pulls the rope to get me to the other side. Once there, I pull him over. Suddenly, we face a boulder that requires guess-how-many men? Yup, two!
We find a ladder that will take me back to my French allies. To the right is an opening that leads toward the German forces. We shake hands. I head up the ladder as his comrades show up.
They raise their guns. My new BFF tells his fellow soldiers to let me go. I climb up the ladder and get back to my normal World War I responsibilities only to discover later that those responsibilities resulted in blowing up my German buddy and all of his gracious friends.
That’s right. The game made me kill my loved enemy-friend. This makes some sense in a game about the bitter obligations real people had to endure on the warfront, but maybe the real problem here is that enemy-love is just laid out for me like an outfit to just put on?
If you’re going to create a context for players to serve and affirm their enemies, that action needs to be the player’s choice. The concept of loving an enemy requires self-sacrificial vulnerability. That is, if we’re gonna go by what Jesus seemed to really mean by loving your enemies.
In an interactive context, that motivation counts: you’re taking the risk that they might not reciprocate. What if we were given the option of saving an enemy or leaving them to die? In the real world, enemies are those who are hardest to love. They’re the people who have wronged us, shamed us, hurt us. They’re not easy to deal with. A gracious act toward such a person comes at great personal cost and after weighty forgiveness. In a sea of offence, the hardest thing to do is love and forgive. If a game gives me an option to truly love my enemy, it needs to be easier and less-risky to just let them die.
The kind of enemy love Jesus talked about was dangerous. It involved the strong likelihood that the person you’re loving won’t return those feelings. Love doesn’t always instantly change people.
This extreme-risk of enemy love strikes me as a perfect fit for games. Games are all about rolling the dice against low-odds and hoping-against-hope for success: the greater the risk, the greater the reward. I just hope that somebody takes Valiant Hearts’ enemy-love mantle and goes a little bit farther.