Bamboo Cyberdream

a panda wanders the electronic landscape

Spiritual Games

I wonder, from time to time, why there aren’t more spiritual games. To clarify right out of the gate, I’m categorically not talking about religious games. Those exist, and I’m aware of them, but even they aren’t really hitting the target I’m talking about, generally preferring game-y reenactments of biblical or rapture events.

No, the spirituality I’m talking about is the sort that appeals even to the most secular of us. Consider The Shawshank Redemption - a movie about perseverance, dignity, and a type of freedom that can never be taken away from us. The end of this movie fills you with the joy of being human, after spending several hours slowly dripping you into a state of hopeless nihilism.

I’ve never felt that from a game. Honestly, most games would be lucky to just get to the nihilism.

Lots of games tell good stories, but I worry as creators that we’re still catering to the same fantasies of the same teenage boys.

Where are the games that remind me of the sheer force of a community believing in someone ( It’s a Wonderful Life ), or how a person can change and improve themselves ( Groundhog Day )? (The last one is an interesting example, as the structure of the movie mirrors most game experiences…)

I know that we can point to things like Flower or Shadow of the Colossus as attempting to evoke higher emotions — but they haven’t really burst through to mainstream popularity. The films I’ve mentioned have all met with strong commercial success, even if it waited until the DVD with Shawshank. (Is this a sign of what the market expects or of what they’ve come to expect from us? Would it be possible to raise the emotional expectations of the market bit-by-bit?)

Really, in mainstream games, the closest we come to spiritual expression is a kind of tepid environmentalism or a vague transcendentalism that’s fairly well divorced from the mechanics — I’m thinking most of Final Fantasy VII with both of these examples, but really we tend to stick to overt power fantasies.

I guess what I’m saying is that simply conquering evil doesn’t sate me anymore. It’s not enough to destroy the Ring; I should learn the power of fellowship on the journey.

I want to play games that embody these concepts. I want to make them, too.

5 archived comments Why no more comments?
  1. Chris wrote:

    Interesting. I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head here. It would seem to me that you necessarily would have to make your players feel the distinct motivation of the character and force them to take the internal journey (change) along with them. I would argue that Hard Rain came very close in the realm of forcing me to understand what the characters wanted and why, and they did it in a way that didn’t make me feel that it was pure exposition. During play, I felt that I got less of the cut-scene story explaining why we should care. Looking back, I’m not sure I recall the decrease of exposition correctly, but I certainly felt that way, which means it did a pretty good job.

    Posted May 4, 2010 at 8:14AM
  2. Stephen wrote:

    Your mention of Groundhog Day reminded me of a text based game I played on my iPhone this past winter (or I guess the prefered term is “interactive fiction.” whatever.) called Spider and Web.

    This is only tangential to your point, since the point of the game isn’t to make you feel the things you’re talking about, but it does have a very Groundhog Day like mechanic to it which I think could very easily be used for something like what you’re talking about.

    It’s also very clever and pretty fun, I highly recommend it.*

    In fact, some of the more innovative games and ideas I’ve read about recently (though most of the games aren’t that recent, many being made in the 80’s or even mid to late 90’s) are in the text-based genre. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there are a few that might hit the mark you’re looking for that are coming out of, or have come out of, the indy text-based community. There’s one I started a while back but need to finish called A Change in the Weather that is apparently pretty interesting and is apparently at least partially about just enjoying or experiencing a day.

    If you want some inspiration I’d highly recommend checking that scene out. (The iPhone app I have is called Frotz, and it comes with and is able to download a huge number of games, most of them free and made by the community).

    • A few notes on Spider and Web if possible might recommend playing on something other than an iPhone, as typing sometimes got a little frustrating on there, since typos tend to mess up the text interpreter. Also while I suggest getting as far as you can on your own (the journey of figuring out what’s going on is A LOT of the fun of the game), if you get frustrated don’t worry about looking at an FAQ for a hint about that particular section of the game, the text interpreters aren’t perfect and sometimes you just need the right phrasing to do what you want to do (ie you were trying to do something that’s an option but you were using the wrong words to try to do it).

    I’ve also considered trying to run Spider and Web as a free-form tabletop RPG solo game with someone as I think it’d be pretty interesting and fun, and would get around a lot of the text interpreter issues.

    Posted May 4, 2010 at 10:22AM
  3. Stephen wrote:

    Wow, the formatting on my comment up there got pretty messed up. The bit after the bullet was all supposed to be part of one idea, and should all have been basically a note connected with the * listed above. Oh well. The blag was too smart with it’s formatting for me!

    Posted May 4, 2010 at 2:48PM
  4. Darius K. wrote:

    “Where are the games that remind me of the sheer force of a community believing in someone”

    The end of EarthBound comes to mind for that one. I cried, just like I did the first time I saw Shawshank Redemption.

    (YEAH GAMES THAT MAKE YOU CRY! You worked on one of those right?!?!11?)

    Posted May 12, 2010 at 12:16PM
  5. Conner wrote:

    Man, when the robot died in Planetfall, it was totally the saddest. And he sings you that song about the heroic space miners…

    THAT is a game that makes me tear up whenever I think about it. Makes that stupid heart cube look like crap. That for me was a moment all about friendship and sacrifice.

    I realize it is lame to cite ancient games I played as a kid and have probably embellished heavily in the intervening years, but that’s what lept into my mind when I read your post, so there it is.

    Posted May 13, 2010 at 6:49PM