High above the mist atop the sacred mountain of Hrothgar, the fate of the free world rests in my sweaty, blood stained palms. As the Dragonborn, only my soul and blood can access the mystical power of an ancient tongue, calling down lightning from heaven to smite Alduin, the destroyer of worlds. Uttering the ancient banishing words of power, I bring the heaving monster, this death defying dragon, to the ground. I pummel him with flaming swords and enchanted daggers until his life force begins to dim. His doom is near, victory is almost at hand when the TV goes dark. “Time to save” my wife says, waving the remote in her hand. Saving the world will have to wait, she tells me, the neighbours are coming over for dinner and I need to sweep the floor.
“A clean floor won’t save Skyrim,” I grumble to myself as she hands me a broom.
It can be difficult to transition from saviour back to sweeping the floor when you know, in one of these two worlds, you could be the only hero they have. The small stories we live out at work or school just can’t compare with our cosmic achievements in games. It leaves me wondering if becoming friends and investing in my neighbours’ lives really more important and fulfilling than killing dragons? If so, why doesn’t it feel like it?
Sometimes it feels like I’m stuck in a side-quest, forever collecting bear pelts for inn keepers when I should be hunting dragons. I feel like that town guard left baby-sitting drunks, thanks to a knee related injury, when he really longed to be fighting off bandits. Perhaps to tap into this need for fulfillment, Final Fantasy XIII tried create a purer strain of “main story” by axing some of the mundane distractions like towns, monster hunting and general exploration. The result was by no means a disaster, but it didn’t manage to connect with gamers. FF XIII was actually a weaker game without these less significant moments, whether it’s helping farmers deliver supplies, aiding deities in cleansing their temples or scouring endless caves for rare items, these quiet moments provide a much more personal investment into the world you’re saving.
Consequently, when game designers use mainly a world-ending apocalypse as player motivation, like in Final Fantasy XIII, it eventually boils down to an obligation; you’re acting out of duty because it’s the right thing to do. Obligations can suck the passion right out of you, leaving a player burnt out without a personal investment in the story. That’s why I love side-quests; they are personal stories that evoke compassion, like the plight of a young woman looking for her missing daughter in Mass Effect 2. I remember the mother’s distress and despair at losing her daughter so much more clearly than my high priority mission. There is a galaxy at stake here, but it was compassion that flooded my heart and drove me to any lengths to help this woman. That’s why I choose to take time out of my cosmic-world-saving schedule to accomplish side-quests.
It’s moments like these, not saving humanity as a whole (leave that to Jesus) but loving another human being, that make us heroes. It’s the small self-sacrificial acts like doing the dishes without complaining or sweeping the floor before my wife asks that makes a difference.Though they may seem less potent, actions like Listening to a neighbour in an attempt to understand their heart and speaking a prayer into their life–those are true words of power.
Christ has done the saving, He has defeated the world destroyer so we don’t have to. That doesn’t mean becoming a hero is impossible, only the main mission cannot be completed yet. In the mean time, there’s some side-quests at hand, a neighbour in need, some rats that need killing, some caves that need exploring, some driveways that need shoveling. Yes, sometimes it’s grinding, but we know all grinds are necessary to become the hero we are called to be.