As a boy, I was raised Catholic, despite my strenuous objection to waking up early on Sunday just to eat some tasteless crackers. Nevertheless, over that time, I had a substantial amount of the Gospel poured in my ear, much like many other Americans. And with a deep familiarity with the story of Christ, it’s easy to find allegories throughout media. This is perhaps obvious if you consider that many media makers have been similarly exposed to religion.
With its focus on the singular, salvific hero, video games are the perfect medium for Christian allegory. And while we’ve yet to see a game where you literally play as Christ (that would be dope as hell, though), there are plenty of games where you play as Jesus Christ by any other name.
Hero ≠ Christ
It might be unfashionably post-modern to say this today, but the Hero’s Journey and the story of Jesus Christ are inextricably and deeply connected. The story of Christ has endured so strongly in our popular consciousness because it is precisely tuned to hit all the expected beats. Consider the story of Christ while you examine this explanation of what makes the Hero’s Journey:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
If you were to write the Gospels as a movie, you would find that it already contains three viable acts, complete with all the beats we’ve come to expect of a motion picture: the call to adventure (preaching in Jerusalem as a boy), supernatural aid, roadblocks to the protagonist’s goal (Satan, human faithlessness, etc.), the abyss (the garden of Gethsemane) leading to character growth, the climax of self-sacrifice at atonement, and, of course, the twist ending (no spoilers!) all fit perfectly into modern dramatic structure. It’s the same with religious stories of other faiths, past and present: humans are naturally primed to enjoy stories in this format, and seek out stories in this format.
So it’s easy, as a result, to find stories that superficially resemble the story of Christ. But we can surely do better than superficial resemblance, can’t we? Let’s find out.
Perhaps the most famous of the Christ allegories, the entire Halo series is steeped in piles of pseudomythological, vaguely religious pretensions about ancient species regenerating and rings destroying them that, as a fourteen year old boy, I could not possibly have cared less about.
But never fear, because Jesus “Master Chief” Christ (a lesser known figure attested to in the Gnostic gospels) is here to set the things to right, overturning the old order through personal sacrifice, that man might find redemption from their old ways. Scriptural references abound through the games as well.
The Master Chief’s only name is John 117, a reference to John 1:17 about the role of Christ. The leader of the Flood (perhaps itself a reference to the story of Noah’s Ark, especially considering there is a literal Ark in the game) is an intrinsically corrupting, truthless, inhuman force known as Total Depravity, a reference to Satan if there ever was one.
Then there’s the Covenant, the Prophets, the aforementioned Ark, Master Chief’s final words to Cortana (“It is finished“)… once you start looking for religious allegories, you start tripping over them everywhere you turn.
The Legend of Zelda
There is but one Zelda game, repeated endlessly, changing slightly with each iteration but always maintaining the same overall narrative. It’s actually a lot like superhero comics, with the same characters but different situations. Importantly, Link is a hero chosen by supernatural means. While his knowledge of his status as a hero varies from game to game, in most games, he is surprised to discover someone as characterless as he is appointed to save the universe. But as Link gains power, it becomes clear what his final goal must be: the restitution of the Triforce, and the power it grants, into the hands of the just, personified by the saintly Princess Zelda, who might herself be something of a reference to sinless Mary, the mother of Christ.
The Triforce, of course, is a trinity of triangles but also one triangle, mirroring the duality of the Holy Trinity. The reunion of the Triforce is the primary goal of the games, elevating a simple fetch quest into the defining narrative arch of the franchise.
Most importantly, the games contain a deep and self-consistent mythology with its own pantheon of Gods and Goddess, but nevertheless implies an all-powerful Creator figure that set the world in motion. Perhaps more Abrahamic than Christian, but still sufficiently in the ballpark.
If you’re the average gamer, you don’t play sandbox games to obey the rules. You can do that in real life! You play GTA to shoot cops, crash cars into pedestrians, hijack cars, and otherwise run amok. And Infamous is very much a game that encourages you to run amok.
But if you choose the “good” path (like a crazy person), you’ll find that the protagonist, Cole, performs a variety of miracles formerly only attributed to Jesus H. Christ Esq., Nazareth, PA. He heals the sick. He raises the dead. He casts out “demons” in the form of the faceless, mindless Reapers, Dust Men and First Sons.
When he ventures in the underworld to fight these demons and save the city by restarting the electrical generators, Cole adopts a pose that must intentionally mimic Christ on the cross. This act requires great pain and energy of Cole, which fits with the theme of Christ-like self-sacrifice neatly. At the very climax of the game, Cole faces an unknowable ancient and chaotic evil in the form of “The Beast,” a reference to the “mark of the beast” in Revelations.
Of course, you can also play the game where you kill everyone with tentacle magic, so your mileage may vary.
There are plenty of other, less popular philosophically-minded games that include deep references to religious symbolism or direct allegory. If you keep your eyes peeled, you can find it everywhere.
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