Being a True Action Hero

If there is ever a Gamers Dictionary released in the future, which I would love to help with writing, I can imagine that the word “tenacity” would be one that would fit right within the those pages like a grammatical glove. After all, if you have ever played through any of the current generation of Role Playing and Action games, then you know what it means to have to wait for the story to unravel.

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The Uncharted series is known for this type of long- drawn out, but incredibly fast paced story telling. I remember one of the commercials for the second game where a guy is sitting down playing the game complaining that his girl friend won’t leave him alone to play it because she thinks that it is a movie. At that point his girlfriend walks in with a bucket of popcorn and sits down next to him and says “Hey babe, I see that we are watching the rest of our movie.” Everything in these games scream “action, action, ACTION,” especially the main character. Nathan Drake, the wisecracking, Han Solo-esq treasure hunter (truly a man’s man) is the protagonist of these games, and his constant quips and high-octane stunts never seem to grow old. As the games progress, Drake seems to get more and more over his head, until finally he is faced with a challenge that looks like it will surely take his life, but some how, in classic action hero fashion, he makes it out at the end, with his treasure, or treasured damsel, in his arms.

Why do we play these games at all? I mean, we know that everything will be alright in the end; that the hero is going to save the day and everything will turn out alright, so why do we endure through the action just to get to an ending that we already know? Well, the answer is quite simple, we endure not because we want to know if the hero wins, we endure because we want to see how he wins.

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Sitting on the other side of this computer, tapping down these letters I can tell you that I feel as far away from being a Nathan Drake or Indiana Jones as I could possibly be right now, but that doesn’t mean that there is not some serious action going on around here. No doubt, just down the street there is a young women who has an empty needle dangling from her arm and is too high to take care of her infant son in the next room. Two blocks away a man is stumbling out of a bar because he just lost his job and also his will to live, and he is thinking about ending it all. On the other side of town a man has just finished moving funds from his aging neighbors account to his own without their consent. All of these individuals are battling for their very lives, and we have been given the chance to do something about it.

Being an action hero doesn’t mean that you have to constantly place yourself in danger or save the damsel in distress, it means that you are one to take action! This is something that followers of Christ for nearly 2000 years, and continue to do today. In fact, even prior to that men of faith were taking care of those who could not take care of themselves. Take a look at this guy:

Esther 2:7- 7 Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.

The book of Esther is an action heroes book. It may read like a Middle Eastern royal drama, but the fact remains that some great actions are taken by the character within it. Mordecai foils a plot to assassinate the king, Esther assumes the role of a foreign queen in order to save her people, and she even goes into the presence of the king in front of his subjects to inform him of Hamaan’s conspiracy, fully knowing that she could be put to death for that action. This is an action packed narrative, full of danger and intrigue, and of course, it has a happy ending.

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As believers and gamers, we are people of action. We want to save the world through the means that we have, but often we feel powerless to do so. I encourage you to put down your controller and pick up your phone and make a call to some one who needs it. Call someone who needs you to intervene for them, to tell them that you love them and that they are precious in the eyes of God. Get out of your house and go to a soup kitchen a serve people who are down and out and in need of a friend. Heck, ask your local church or pastor what you can do for the benefit of the Kingdom of God; I am sure that they can direct you down the right path. We are people of action, and when action calls we have little choice but to answer it.

 

5 Life Lessons from Pokemon

Well, as I come to my final post in my “5 Life Lessons Series,” I felt as if it was a no-brainer to feature this game series as the focus of this post. There are not too many game franchises out there that can boast that they appeal to multiple generations of gamers all the while continuing to come out with content that is new, creative, and fun. Nintendo really hit a home run by joining with the fledgling game development company Game Freak in the early 90’s to release a duo of Gameboy titles that would eventually spark a revolution in the gaming experience. I am, of course, referring to the original “Pocket Monsters,” Pokemon, and there is quite a bit that can be learned from this delightful series of games.

Lesson #1: We are all completionists at heart

If you were a kid in the 90’s, of which I was actually a teenager when this game came out, then you would be very familiar with the Pokemon catch phrase. You know you know it and love it…say it with me: “GOTTA CATCH’EM ALL!” It was this one phrase that pushed thousands upon thousands of kids to spend tireless hours in front of the monochromatic darkened screen of a Gameboy and seek to systematically catch all 150 of the original Pokemon. The funny thing is that the original title was broken up into two separate games, Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue, both of which had different Pokemon available only on that particular game. So basically you could not “catch’em all” unless you had a friend with another Gameboy and the alternate version of the game. You would need to use a link cable to hook up to your friend’s Gameboy and trade those Pokemon that either of you had the ability to capture in your own game.

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For those of you that remember the original gaming experience, you can remember that catching all of the Pokemon in the game was not just a status symbol, it was a claim to fame. It was around this time that the term “completionist” was coined, meaning someone who would go above and beyond the basic requirements of completing a game to attempting to capture and achieve everything that the game had to offer. For the Pokemon games, that meant capturing all 150 of the original creatures, not including that weird Missing No. glitch Pokemon that would break your game and erase your files.

I believe that, deep down inside, we are all completionists in one way or another. Many of us wish to complete a task or a desire, and accumulate as much success from those things as we possibly can. We “want to be the very best, like no one ever was,” in our careers, hobbies, and passions. The problem is we are aiming at the wrong things. It is good to be a completionist, but we must want to complete the right objectives and activities.

Colossians 3:23 says: 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Lesson #2: Never forget to go outside

Have you ever wondered why all of the core Pokemon games are exclusively on Nintendo’s handheld systems. Believe me, that was not an accident. The creators of Pokemon meant for the games to be epic adventures, and as such it was best for them to be played on the go. This adventure was not just something that could be taken with you to the outside world, it was also something that could be experienced within the content of the game itself. The main character of the Pokemon series is a young Pokemon trainer who leaves his home to embark on a quest to become the greatest Pokemon trainer in all of the land. Most of the Pokemon in that game can only be found in outdoor areas, so adventuring outside is also something that our “digital trainers” do as well.

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A little over a year ago both of these experiences were married together to create a free mobile game called Pokemon, Go! This game took the world by storm as thousands upon thousands of young people took to the streets to achieve their lifelong goal of becoming an actual Pokemon trainer. People walked into traffic, fell over cliffs, and even trespassed onto other people’s property in order to catch their digital “pocket monsters.” For good or ill, Pokemon, Go! brought people outside in a brand new way.

As believers, we know that God created this world and everything in it. From the green grass to the rolling blue seas, God created all types of flora and fauna to give Him glory, and one of the ways that He is gloried is through our enjoyment of these things. As a gamer I know how easy it is to just hang around the house all day and not go outside at all, but there is a great big world out there that God has graced us with, and we should enjoy it to it’s fullest. Just like Pokemon, all of the good stuff can be found outdoors.

Lesson #3: You can repackage anything to make it kid friendly

The Pokemon series is a set of games that I have absolutely no problem letting my young children play. The innocent and cartoony aesthetic of the games make the series appear to be wholesome and harmless. The truth of the matter is that the games actually contain repackaged moral landmines that would be appalling to everyone if they were actually seen for what they are.

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Think about it for a second. A young, twelve year old boy is allow by his mother to go out into the world unsupervised to forcibly capture dangerous creatures that would have no problem completely destroying the child. In order for our young trainer to do this, he must first pit one of his captured creatures against another in order to beat it into submission, thus allowing for the Pokemon to be captured and placed in a storage device that is no bigger than a tennis ball. On top of that, if the Pokemon is undesirable it will be broken down and transformed into food and items that can be consumed by the bigger, better Pokemon in your collection. Listen guys, that’s messed up.

King Solomon said that, “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), and Pokemon, as original as the game is, proves that all of the vices that we have enjoyed in the past can be repackaged to fit younger audiences. Not to worry, though, I’m sure that our kids aren’t going to become animal abusers or juvenile delinquents just because they throw a pokeball at a Growelith.

Lesson #4: People within the autism spectrum are capable of incredible things

I want to tell you about a man named Satoshi Tajiri. As a young boy growing up in a rural area of Japan, he would often be found outside brandishing a large silk net and hunting for bugs. Satoshi loved hunting for bugs, almost to the point that it had become an obsession for the boy. Other children didn’t understand him, and would often make fun of him by calling him Dr. Bug. His parents didn’t understand him either, seeing as he struggled at school and often received failing grades because he lacked the focus needed to excel. As Satoshi grew up, his love for catching bugs evolved into a love for arcade games. As a young man, Satoshi spent hours upon hours inside of arcades, studying the inner workings of the games and even helping with the repair of broken coin-op cabinets. He wrote for gaming magazines and even started his own video game production company called Game Freak. Many people had a hard time understanding his ambitions for creating a video game based off of bug hunting, and many people told him he was wasting his time. Satoshi’s ironclad desire to make the game happen regardless of what was said to him eventually brought about the creation of the Pokemon franchise.

Satoshi Tajiri, the man who created the wildly successful world of Pokemon, has autism. When he was growing up most people with the condition were never diagnosed, so most adults thought that he was simply lazy and misbehaving. His obsession with bug collecting was seen as a nuisance to most adults, and he was often chastised for talking about the activity as much as he did. Well, as the Scriptures say, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14) and as such no human life can considered being a mistake or broken. It was because of Satoshi’s autism that he was able to come up with the idea of Pokemon, and stick with that idea after it was continuously thought to be a lost cause. As someone who has a son on the autism spectrum, this story shows me that autism is not a disease, but rather a gift from God that is given to some very lucky people who have the ability to see in ways that other “normal” people are incapable of comprehending.

Lesson #5: A great friendship can get you through the toughest situations

This final lesson can be taken more from the animated series than from the games, but it is one that is worth including on this list. Over the history movies and television there have been incredible duos who have defined what friendship is. From the Dukes of Hazard to Bill and Ted to K and J from Men in Black, great duos and friendship have defined what it means to take on problems as a team. If I could add another duo on the list of the “greats,” it would be the duo of Ash Catchem and everyone’s favorite electric rodent, Pikachu. This friendship between a trainer and his Pokemon has been the hallmark of the series for many, many years. In each new installment of the series, new and unique Pokemon are introduced, but the duo of Ash and Pikachu stays the same. All of this is because a true friendship is nearly impossible to break.

This friendship is one that is purely fictional, but the concepts of the friendship are all too real. Ash doesn’t treat Pikachu as a prize for be caught or lorded over, but rather he treats him with a mutual respect and understanding, thus strengthening the bond between the two. In real friendships, both parties have to be willing to learn and grow with each other, and even though Ash and Pikachu, much like the Simpsons, will never physically age, they continue to mature as individuals.

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God gave us friendships to harden us and make us better people. It is just as it says in Proverbs 27:17 “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” When we argue or have conflicts, that creates the opportunities to compromise and learn. When we enjoy each others company, we grow in our friendship and enjoyment of each others unique personalities. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from Ash and Pikachu in that regard.

 

5 Life Lessons from Castlevania

If you are a gamer I believe that you have in innate desire to vanquish evil, in some form or fashion. There are times when grabbing ahold of your game controller feels quite a bit like grabbing ahold of the famed Excalibur, ready to strike down any evil fiend that is foolish enough to cross your path. If you are like me, then you have felt this many times, and the game that is the subject for this post’s 5 Life Lessons is definitely one of the games that harken those feelings. It is a franchise that pits a legendary hero against an even more legendary monster, as the Belmont clan fights their way through the darkest dungeons, caverns, and hallowed halls to kill the accursed Dracula. These are the five life lessons that I have learned from Castlevania.

Life Lesson #1: It’s the little things that kill

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This is probably not the case, but when Bush sang the line, “it’s the little things that kill” back in 1994, they could have very easily been talking about the Castlevania games. Throughout the years of the franchises existence, the enemies within the games have become more detailed and ghastly, but the truth remains that it is the smallest sprites in the games that cause the most damage. I am talking about those horrible floating medusa heads, the annoying jumping hunchbacks, and the ghosts; lots and lots of ghosts. The large suits of armor and columns of fire spitting skeletons are easy to defeat because their movements are predictable, but all it takes is one erratically flying medusa head to knock our vampire hunter into oblivion.

Jesus was always able to phrase concepts extremely well. One the reoccurring concepts that he introduced to his disciples time and time again was the idea of “stumbling blocks.” These little obstacles could come in the form of a compromising situation, or a small lie, or even a quick glance. There is nothing much to them, but Jesus knew that they had the power to truly trip people up. He says in Matthew 18:8-9:

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

These rather descriptive passages of Scripture don’t tell us to self-mutilate ourselves because of our sin, but rather Jesus uses an over-exaggeration (hyperbole) to express how dire the problem is, and how extreme the response must be. The little things truly can kill, so they must be kicked out of the way before they can do some real damage.

Life Lesson #2: Nothing good happens after midnight

The first Castlevania game was a classic, and is often referred to as the best, but the second title on the NES, Simon’s Quest, really stuck out as a unique gaming experience. It was one of first games to introduce an “open world” level design where players could freely go anywhere they wanted to within the game content, assuming they had the right items. This game also introduced a crude form of in-game time; there were days, and then there were nights. In the day, everything was pretty tame, especially in the town, but at night…oh, at night crap got real. Vampires, ghosts, and all sorts of horrific monsters came out to terrorize our vampire hunter as he tried to navigate his way through the hordes of evil. Honestly, this game was one of the reasons why I was afraid of the dark as a kid.

Guys, let’s be honest, does anything truly good ever happen after midnight. Every sensible person is already in bed at that time, and anyone who is not in bed is usually safe in their house. Even the Bible speaks about the fact that evil seems to come out in dark more than it does in the light. In Isaiah 29:15, the author makes this point:

15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?”

Darkness can conceal the evil deeds of others, and most of the time, without thinking, people will be more comfortable to commit a sin in the darkness rather than in the light. So next time you just want to wander around at night, keep in mind that darkness is the sinner’s color.

Life Lesson #3: Good music makes all the difference

If one is going to navigate through the halls of horror, then it definitely matters what music is being played in the background. One of Castlevania’s defining features is its amazing soundtrack. Ambient organ music can be heard in the later titles, and the action packed monster killing tunes for the original 8-bit games are pretty amazing as well. Can you imagine if Castlevania had a soundtrack like, say, Mario Bros.; no one would want to play the game. It is easy to see from the Castlevania games that good music makes all the difference.

I love all forms of music, from hip hop to heavy metal and even the classics; as long as the message is not something that makes me feel like I need to take a bath in sanitizer and wear rubber gloves, I like it. I also love church music, as many of you do, I imagine. However, have you ever been in a church and heard the praise and worship group and wondered if they have practiced for the church service that week, or ever. I cannot see this as being glorifying to God at all. You see, the Bible actually tell us that God likes good music too, especially when it is played for Him. It says in Psalm 33:2-3:

Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

The key phrase in that passage is “play skillfully,” because if God did not like good music, skillful playing would not be required. This is an important lesson to learn for anyone who is willing to serve the Lord through music; do your best, and then do better.

Life Lesson #4: There are real-life “boss” battles

Prior to the release of the Castlevania games, boss battles where quite anticlimactic. In most games, you were fighting against slightly larger versions of the normal bad guys, and they required more hits to defeat. In the Castlevania series, players entered in an open room where a larger than life enemy was ready to lay down some hurt on an unsuspecting vampire hunter. These encounters were larger than life battles that not only tested the skills of the player, but also their patience as well.

The Bible tells us that “there will be trials of many kinds,” (James 1:2) but that does not mean that all human trails are equal. Sure, there are the day-in and day-out troubles that afflict everyone, and most of those are nuisances that can easily be handled by a Believer. However, from time to time in the course a person’s life there will be troubles that appear to dwarf all other trials in the past. I am talking about sudden deaths in the family, natural disasters, and even the loss of a job. I consider these troubles to be the “boss encounters” of life’s trails, and they require every skill, ability, and friendship that a person has in order to overcome it. Just like in video games, the little enemies prepare you for the big ones.

Life Lesson #5: The Cross vanquishes all evil

One of my favorite parts of the Castlevania games are the blatant and unapologetic Christian references that are contained within the content. From Simon’s kneeling before a cross in the opening scene of Castlevania III to one of the weapons in the game being a boomerang like cross, these games are full of crosses. And why not? After all, is not the Prince of Darkness, Dracula himself, powerless against the holy power of the cross? In fact, the strongest item in all of the Castlevania games is a rosary that has a very distinctive cross at the end of it. When our whip wielding hero grabs the item, zap…every monster or enemy within the screen’s view is immediately vaporized. Talk about the power of the Cross.

Why is the Cross of Christ considered to be so powerful? People hang it around their necks, they cover gravestones with it, and even make pastries in the shape of the cross. Well, the power of the cross does not lay in how someone uses it, but rather what the original cross was used for. The cross destroyed the power of evil over the human soul. It says in Hebrew 2:14-15:

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

This passage shows us what has been defeated by the cross, both the devil and death (coincidentally those are two enemies in the Castlevania games), and those forces no longer have power over mankind through Jesus Christ. So the power of the cross is more than what the foes of God’s army can resist.

5 Life Lessons from Final Fantasy

I was four years old the first time that I picked up a video game controller, and since that time I have played thousands of titles that have spanned across many different platforms and hardware, but there is one franchise that has captured my imagination like none other. I am very excited about this newest “5 Life Lessons” post because it is based around a gaming franchise that is incredibly story driven and has captivated gamers for close to 30 years. One of these games in this franchise became a pivotal part of my life, even encouraging me to pursue a deeper relationship with God, but I will get to that later. These are the five life lessons that I have learned from the Final Fantasy series.

Life Lesson #1: “Final” is just a word.

For having the title Final Fantasy, this series of games simply does not live up to its namesake. The Final Fantasy series of games is one of the longest running gaming franchises in history, the first game coming out onto the US markets in 1990 (it was released in Japan three years earlier). What was supposed to be a “final” fantasy turned into a series of fifteen games, currently, and many, many spin offs. To date, there are now over forty different titles with Final Fantasy in either the name of the title, or various Final Fantasy characters within the content of the game, e.i the Kingdom Hearts series. Along with this, none of the sequels are even connected; all of the stories of each Final Fantasy title are unique and different in their own way. This series proves that “final” is just a word if it is not backed up with action.

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When the word “final”, or “finished” is used in the Bible, you can be sure that it means just that. When Jesus was dying on the cross, he made a very simple, but very distinctive claim; “It is finished.” (Matthew 19:30) This passage of Scripture has been thought of as Jesus’ declaration that the entire Law, the very ordinance that condemned mankind because of their sin against God, had then finished its work, and a New Covenant was being established. This “divine finality” was not simply words, it was a true statement that echoed throughout the ages, and we as Christians are the results of this phrase.

Life Lesson #2: Strategy isn’t just for generals and chess players

When I was a young boy, the first Final Fantasy title hit the U.S shores and I remember getting my parents to rent it from Blockbuster for me (remember those days!?). I played the game for a grand total of ten minutes, got bored, and gave the game back to my parents to return to the store. I was too young to truly appreciate the core of Final Fantasy’s turn based combat system; tons of strategy. When I got a little older, I got introduced to Final Fantasy III (which is the Japanese Final Fantasy VI), which I not only fell in love with, but it became a very important video game in my development as a young man as its release was very close to a rather difficult time in my life. I learned that strategy is not just something that military geniuses and chess players use, but those who play Final Fantasy games must use it in order to succeed in the games.

Strategic living and strategic gaming have something in common; both activities require thought before decisions are made. The older someone gets, the more responsibilities that they are going to have, and that means more strategic decisions must be made. The Apostle Paul can be seen making these strategic decisions while he was going from city to city during his various mission trips that he took in the book of Acts. In Acts 16:6-10, the Scriptures tell us that Paul was continually kept from going certain places by the Holy Spirit, and that God even used a dream to prompt Paul to go somewhere that he did not intend on going. When a person gives their life to Christ, they are then subject to God’s strategic placement of themselves in some area of His plan. Honestly, there is no better place to be because God is the greatest strategic mind that ever was, and ever will be.

Life Lesson #3: You can never know how far Evil will go

If you are looking for the most epic villains to ever be written into fiction, you can guarantee that the worst of the worst can be found in the Final Fantasy games. Voldemort, Molarity and the White Queen have nothing on Kefka, Sephiroth, Exdeath and Sin. Sephiroth summons a meteor to destroy the planet, Exdeath threatens to bring an age of chaos to the lands, and Sin ravenously eats entire cities for centuries. But just when you think evil has gone too far, Kefka trumps them all by not only unraveling the very fabric of the world’s being, but he shatters the world, killing millions, and leaves it as a former shadow of its lush origins. In the process, Kefka actually becomes a god and rules what’s left of the world with an iron fist in a tower that is made from the debris of the civilizations that he destroyed. In Final Fantasy VI, just when you think it gets bad, it gets much worse.

All of those villains are pieces of fiction, but a very real villain exists that is not only powerful, but is also hell bent on the destruction of everything that God has established. He has many names, Satan, Lucifer, the Devil; no matter what he is called, he is simply evil. And don’t make the mistake in thinking that he is just sitting by, not engaging in an attack on his enemies; the Bible is very clear that the devil and his armies are all about destruction. He wants to destroy every part of your life, and if you are not living your life for Jesus Christ, then he just lets you follow the course that you are traveling. After all, why would the Devil bother someone who is already on the path to destruction?

Life Lesson #4: Trials bring experience

If I have learned anything from video games, it is that if you encounter enemies on your journeys, then you are usually going the right way. In the case of Final Fantasy games, this is not only true, it is an essential lesson to learn, because in order to succeed, your party of characters must gain experience. In most JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games), Exp., or experience points, are gained when your party discovers and defeats a monster or group of monsters. This Exp. is tallied over time and the characters slowly increase in their Lvl., or levels. Basically the more scraps that you get into, the more powerful you’re going to become.

If a person lives a sheltered life where they are not given any opportunities to fight through trials of many kinds, then they are not going to develop the skills that are needed to succeed in this life. It says in Romans 5:3-4Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. The difficulties of this life, all difficulties, help us to gain experience, and in turn we gain new skills that help us to persevere throughout our entire lives. We should not think of difficulties as being undesirable events, but rather opportunities to grow.

 

Life Lesson #5: It’s OK to have bizarre friends

The reason I enjoy reading science fiction and fantasy is largely because the good books are the ones that have wonderful, multi-faceted characters with deep and interesting back stories. The Final Fantasy games are full of these types of characters, each one being different from the next, with various motives and agendas that drive their behavior. Some of these characters are odd, I mean really odd, even as far as video games are concerned. For example, in Final Fantasy VII there is a mechanical cat creature called Cait Sith who accompanies the heroes and beats enemies with dice and gambling style moves. Some other characters, like Titus from Final Fantasy X have a mysterious back story that is ultimately unlocked near the end of the game and decides the very fate of every other character that he travels with (I have a no spoiler policy, no worries). Each character is odd and has a different ways of fighting and communicating, which makes for a great gaming experience, but it also relates to life as well.

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The Bible tells us that everyone is unique in how God has made them. In Psalms 139:13-16 it says, “13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Every one of His creations is unique, and that is especially true for people. God has granted each one of us amazing skills and abilities that do not match the person in the next pew over, and that is OK. The differences are what makes the Kingdom of God so versatile, and it is one of the best lessons that a person can take away from being a part of a church.

Earlier I mentioned that one of the Final Fantasy games actually aided me in perusing a deeper relationship with the Lord, and as odd as that may sound, it is very true. The game was Final Fantasy VI (the US Final Fantasy III), and I remember being drawn to a character named Edgar. Edgar was young king who had inherited his kingdom after he won a coin toss to his twin brother, Sabin. Edgar wanted nothing more than to protect his people, but he found that he could not do so in his own kingdom; he had to leave and join other heroes to protect his lands. I was the oldest in my family, and I often felt like Edgar; the one who needed to do everything right in order to not only make his parents proud, but also be a good example to his little brother too. This amazing story encouraged me to look deeper at my own situation in my life, and I discovered that I was trying to please everyone except for the one who really mattered; God. That is why, to this day, I try to play through Final Fantasy VI once every year, because the story of Edgar and Sabin reminds me so much of my brother and I.

So, what is your favorite Final Fantasy game, and what life lessons have you taken from it? For me, my favorite is obviously the 6th installment of the series, but I don’t have to convince you that it is the best. Just watch Sabin suplex this train; there, your argument is officially invalid.

5 Life Lessons from the Legend of Zelda

I have been playing video games for as long as I can remember. I can recollect a time when I was no bigger than a goomba, that my family and I would go to such stores like Circuit City and Toys R Us, and I would be able to play samples of games that were currently on the market. Prior to me getting a NES, the only way I would be able to play these games would be to accompany my parents to these stores. I have a very vivid and early memory of a game that I played in a store for the first time that captured my imagination for many years to come. It was an 8-bit game that feature a heroic sword wielding warrior who traversed dungeons and savage lands to vanquish evil and save a princess; everything a little boy wants to do when he grows up. This game, as it turns out, would become one of Nintendo’s most enduring franchises. The game was the original Legend of Zelda.

Over the years I would play and conquer all of the Zelda titles that were released by Nintendo; A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, and Ocarina of Time, just to name a few. I spent countless hours navigating through dungeons, solving complex puzzles, and vanquishing terrifying monsters, so much so that I learned some valuable life lessons from these games. As a Christian, I have found that these lessons actually correspond quite well with what the Scriptures say. So what are we waiting for, lets dive into the life lessons that one can learn from the Legend of Zelda series.

Life Lesson #1: Life is an unexpected adventure

One of the neat aspects about the Legend of Zelda games is that they all begin with some sort of chance encounter or circumstance. In A Link to the Past, Link’s uncle goes off one stormy night and does not return, so Link get up and looks for him, only to find him mortally wounded in a corridor where he gives Link his sword and sends on a quest that will snowball into the epic journey of the game. In Windwaker, Link is exploring the woods with his sister when she is abducted by a giant bird and he goes off to find her. Other Zelda titles feature similar, normal beginnings, but they end up becoming amazing and incredible adventures.

Many of our stories begin like that. In fact, I would say for those of us who are Christians, all of our stories began like that. We were just living life, unaware of the spiritual dangers that were around us. That was, until someone gave us the message of the Cross. After that, our adventure began, and life got difficult, and exciting as we strived to live for Christ within His grace and mercy. I think of the journey of the Christian as an unexpected adventure, much like what Bilbo Baggins received from Gandalf in The Hobbit. When we take the plunge and give our lives to Christ, the real adventure, the real life begins.

Life Lesson #2: Be quick to listen

The Legend of Zelda games stood out from all other adventure type games because of one key factor that makes the games both challenging and fun; puzzles. The game is full of switches, levers, buttons, false floors, weak walls, and any other trigger that can aid Link in navigating through the franchises most sinister dungeons. One dungeon in particular which has caused more “gamer-tantrums” than any other is the infamous Water Temple of Ocarina of Time. Between the rising and lowering of the water levels, and the use of metal boots to sink to the bottom, this dungeon is simply maddening if one does not know what to do. The trick to completing this dungeon is to not lose your cool, and keep your ears open to listen for the classic “mystery chime” that rings every time Link unlocks some sort of secret. In fact, being quick to listen is essential to Link’s success in all of the Legend of Zelda games.

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A passage of Scripture that I am constantly reminded of when I am getting frustrated with a situation is James 1:19, which says: My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. It is funny to apply this passage of Scripture to the video game world, but let’s face it, how many controllers have we broken when we lost our tempers or got stuck. This passage reminds all Bible readers that the best solution is to stop and listen, and perhaps a solution will present itself.

Life Lesson #3: If you steal, you will be considered a THIEF

In the Game Boy classic, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, there is a shop in the main town where Link is able to purchase items that he will need for his journey. Now, you can raise the rupees to buy the items that Link needs, but some of the items are quite expensive. So, as an alternative, you can make Link grab the items, sneak around the store clerk, and walk right out of shop door with the item. When Link walks out the door, text appears overhead that says, “Guess what? You got it for free. Aren’t you proud of yourself?” This is all fine and dandy, but when Link needs to refill his supplies and he walks back into the store, the clerk will be standing there waiting for Link, and after saying “I wasn’t kidding when I said pay!” he zaps Link with magic until your hero is dead. From that time on, all in game characters refer to Link as THIEF, no matter what you registered his name as in the beginning of the game.

I am not sure if the developers knew the impact of the message that they were sending when they put this in the game, but I know as a ten-year-old boy playing this game that the message was heard loud and clear. If you steal, then you will be a THIEF. In that game, Link could not outrun his crime, even after the store owner snuffs him out. Sure, most everyone knows what the Bible says about stealing, it is found right in the Ten Commandments; “Thou shall not steal.” However, the Bible also talks about the lingering consequences of theft. In Proverbs 6:30-31 it says: 30 People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. 31 Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house. Even if thievery seems justified, i.e. “I don’t have enough rupees to buy this shovel,” it does not take away the fact that there will be consequences for one’s actions. You have been warned.

Life Lesson #4: It’s alright to take a break every now and then

So the world is in peril once again, the mad sorcerer Ganon has opened up an age of darkness, unleashing untold horrors across the Kingdom of Hyrul and endangering the lives of thousands. What is our hero, Link, going to do about it? He’s going to go fishing, that’s what he is going to do. In pretty much all of the Legend of Zelda games, there are side games that can be played apart from the main story line of the game. Some of these games include archery, mail sorting, strait up gambling, and yes, fishing. No matter what is going wrong in Hyrul, there is always time for a game or two.

As Christians, our main mission in this life is to deliver the Word of God to all of the people and to teach them how to follow the Lord. This mission is a matter of life and death, so naturally it is important to complete. However, the Bible stipulates that everything, including leisure activities, can be done for the glory of God. In Colossians 3:17 it says, “17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Notice that this passage of Scripture commands that all things be done for the glory of the Lord, and not just “church stuff.” So, when you go fishing, thank God for the ability to be able to do so, and use that activity as a way to witness to others. The world may be in trouble, but we can still have some fun while trying to save it.

Life Lesson #5: A good woman is worth fighting for

I find it quite humorous when people watch a game of Legend of Zelda and think that the name of the main character is Zelda. Anyone who has ever picked up a game pad will be able to tell you that Link is the name of the protagonist, Zelda is the name of the name of the motivation. Zelda is actually the beautiful princess of the Hyrul Kingdom, the land where the content of the game takes place (mostly). In any given game, Zelda is either in trouble or in need of Link’s help to save her kingdom or even the entire world. Zelda is not your average damsel in distress, however, there are many games in which she shows herself to be just as much of a warrior as Link. She is pretty, and deadly; definitely a woman worth fighting for and alongside.

Fortunately for me, I have met the Zelda to my Link, and her name is Constance. She is my wife and I have had to fight for her many times in the past and she in turn has fought alongside me through sickness, poverty, depression, and even the good times. Proverbs 31:10 starts off a wonderful description of a worthy women by saying, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” (The word “rubies” can be changed for rupees, in Link’s case) The truth that can be gained from this chapter is that a truly worthy woman is worth fighting for, just like Zelda is for Link.

 

 

5 Life Lessons I Learned from Mega Man

Being someone who has grown up on video games, it has become apparent in my life that I have taken certain truths from these games and have applied them first hand. As I grew older, I came to start reading the Bible, and found that the contents of this Holy Book provided me with life lessons for not only my physical well-being, but also for my spiritual. It was through reading the Bible that I discovered that I needed a Savior, and I could not save myself from the grave that I dug through my sins against God. As a born-again Christian, I have taken the Bible from being a mere book to recognizing it as the very Word of God. As such, all true and helpful advice must correlate with what the Scriptures say, and that includes those truths and lessons that I have taken away from video games.

Video games may not seem like they have any spiritual significance at all, but the truth remains that there are some great life lessons to be learned from some of the most famous video game franchises ever created. That is why, for the next five of blog posts, I will be posting the “5 Life Lessons” series which will spotlight some of your favorite video game characters and some insightful, Biblical lessons, which I have learned from them. We are getting started this week with one of my favorite video game franchises; Mega Man.

Lesson #1: It doesn’t matter how you start, it‘s about how you improve.

Any true “blue” gamer (see what I did there) will tell you that the best Mega Man games are both the second and third installments of the series (most will say Mega Man 2 is the best, by far). The later games were good as well, but no one will ever say that the very first Mega Man game was any good, because it really was not. Mega Man came out in 1987 featuring cheesy box art and buggy game play. The first Mega Man was known to glitch quite regularly, and it was incredibly difficult; almost to the point where it wasn’t even fun. It was Mega Man 2, which came out one year later, that saved the franchise.

The Mega Man games slowly got better, and always seemed to improve on their game play. This has led to new installments and Mega Man titles, including Mega Man X, Mega Man Legends, and the Battle Network series. Mega Man could have died out, but it kept making improvements and necessary changes.

The Bible says in Romans 8:28: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Though this might be a stretch, I believe that these “things that work together for good” include self-improvement for those who are dedicated to the cause of Christ. Staying on the right path, and staying true to our roots in Christ will lead to a better life for ourselves and even those who are fortunate enough to emulate our behavior.

Lesson #2: Violence leads to more violence

A friend of mine recently pointed out a problem with the Mega Man games. You see, for years, between 200X and 20XX, Mega Man has been fighting the insidious Dr. Wily and his robot armies to secure a better future for the world. The problem is that Mega Man fights for peace by using the exact same force that he is fighting against, the force of violence. He fights for “truth and justice” all the while using high powered weaponry to destroy his foes, many of which are incredibly outmatched by his power. This is what many people call the “cycle of violence.”

Will this cycle ever stop? If you look at the world and the fallen nature of it, you will come to see that the answer is a huge and obvious NO. However, there is a time that is coming when the cycle will finally stop, and that is when Jesus Christ returns, tosses the Enemy and his followers into the pit, and finishes establishing his Kingdom. No matter what your end-times view is, you can agree that violence will only end when Christ returns, but until then, violence will always lead to more violence.

Lesson #3: Some mistakes hurt more than others

I have never understood how Mega Man can endure being hit by a missile the size of a minivan, but if he simply scrapes a small spiked object, he explodes. The spiked obstacles of the Mega Man games have led many gamers to contemplate the immediate obliteration of their gaming consoles, and that frustration is warranted; those spikes are everywhere. I would imagine that anyone who has ever played a Mega Man game has felt the sting of the “spikes of death.”

Life is riddled with “spikes of death”; small, almost insignificant choices which can lead to incredible pain. The big, minivan sized missile mistakes, like murder and adultery, are easy to spot, and are therefore avoided by most people. It is the truly destructive choices which are most often those that do not present themselves as being dangerous at all. Something as small as a lie can grow into a massive scandal that can tear a family to pieces. The Bible says it best in James 1:14-15: but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Desires seem like small things, but if they are not brought under control, they can become deadly.

Lesson #4: It is hard to succeed without help

Have you ever tried to complete a Mega Man game without using any of the power-ups and skills that your earn throughout the game? In some of the earlier Mega Man titles, it is impossible to complete the game without using certain weapons that you received after defeating one of the eight Robot Masters, while in others it can be done, but it is about as easy as hammering nails into a wooden board using an apple. I can’t tell you how many times my robot butt has been saved by Beat the Bird.

The Bible is riddled with passages of Scripture that speak on the benefits of using tools and relationships to succeed in this life. From the example of David relying on his friend Jonathan during his run from Saul, to the passages referring to the Armor of God in Ephesians 6, it is pretty obvious that a Christian needs help in order to succeed in this life. In fact, if it was not for the help of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, none of us would be able to succeed at all, and would all inevitably fail.

Lesson #5: Our power comes from the Light

I am pretty excited about this observation because it is a connection that I do not think many people have made when playing these games. Mega Man is the creation of a man named Dr. Light, who has dedicated his skills and knowledge to creating robots that can help mankind. Dr. Wily, one of Dr. Light’s former protégées, has taken the good doctor’s creations and turned them into weapons that he can use to take control of the world with. To fight this evil, Dr. Light created Mega Man, and gave him the incredible power of the Mega Buster arm cannon to combat Wily and his robot army. Mega Man would be nothing without Light.

I think you can see where the connection is going to come in at this point. As Christians, we know that our only source of power comes from the Word of the Lord. In the beginning of the gospel bearing his name, John writes about the existence of the Word of God. He states that this word is “the light of men.” John goes on to explain that this Word became flesh and dwelt among men. This is, of course, referring to Jesus Christ, and it is through Him that Christians not only receive their name, but also their identity, purpose, and very lives. Much like Mega Man is nothing without Dr. Light, we are nothing without THE Light!

If you have been reading this and are reminded of some life lessons that you have personally learned from video games, then go ahead and let me know what they are and what game that they are from by responding via Facebook or directly on this blog. I am all about feedback, so feel free to let me know how this blog can be useful to you and even your ministry.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…Change Your Gear

Since the dawn of creation, the power of fire has been not only a consuming force, but also one that mankind has sought to control. Prehistoric man (or antediluvian, as I like to call them), probably discovered the power of fire, and over the course of many millennia this power has been harnessed to do great good, and also cause great pain. It is fire that has helped to propel civilization out of the Dark Ages and into a bright future, and it is also fire that has leveled cities, decimated great forests, and snuffed out lives. Fire is both wonderful and terrible at the same time.

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Video games can be considered to be projections of what the present day culture both values and fears. With that said, it is no wonder that the power of fire has become a reoccurring theme in both retro and brand new games. From the burning barrels in Donkey Kong to the obligatory “molten lava” levels in most every game ever made,  it is evident that fire is an important part of the fun and challenge of video games.

In one of the more recent gaming experiences that I have had, the uses of heat and fire  are multi-faceted. Usually when a hero is going through a dungeon that is filled with lava or fire, they do not appear to be effected by the heat that is being produced in those areas. It took game developers over 30 years to realize that lava produces an insane amount of residual heat, and that realization came to manifest itself in the most recent Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. 

In this survival-esq game, our hero of legend, Link, must navigate through the harsh wilderness of Hyrule, gathering enough power and weapons to face and defeat the terrible Calamity Ganon. Different areas in Hyrule have different climates and temperatures associated with them. For example, the desert is hot and dry, and can really wear Link out if he is not adequately prepared and hydrated. The volcanic “Mount Doom” of this game, which is actually called Death Mountain (I see what you did there, Miyomoto), is also hot, so hot that you will burst into flames if you get too close to it. You can not step foot near that place without the right gear or potions to keep you fireproof.

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Here’s the kicker, the gear is only optional . In fact, for any RPG or action game that allows you to equip your character with gear, you can actually choose not to give them gear that will secure for them the upper hand in the game. Take Dark Souls, one of my favorite games, for instance. Your hero can go throughout that game finding incredibly powerful weapons and armor and never once using any of them. Well, if you know Dark Souls, then you know that not putting on the right gear will spell certain death for your character, because all it would take is one stray fireball or demon claw, and “YOU DIED”. The same goes for Breath of the Wild, because walking around on frozen peaks in his starting gear will only bring Link to a frosty death.

In the Bible it talks about putting on something called the Armor of God. This sweet piece of gear is a spiritual bulwark against the Devil and his minions. This is what the Bible says about the make up of this legendary armor.

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. -Ephesians 6:13-17

Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, the fact of the matter is that this armor is absolutely optional to wear in this life. That’s right, you don’t have to wear it, and many people have made the conscious choice not to do so. You can take the truth and cast it aside, choosing to live your life anyway that you want. You can also kick the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the curb, choosing not to look at it or acknowledge it as the truth. Even salvation itself is purely optional, being something that must be placed upon us by a choice we make to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. All of this gear is completely optional, and believe me, you will get wrecked if you don’t wear it.

Have you ever heard the old saying, “if you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the fire?” Well, this whole world can feel like a fire because of all the chaos, suffering and malcontent contained within it. It seems like every week there is a new school shooting or some sort of political scandal, and each terrible event echoes the truth that we live in fallen world. Being in this world of sin, we can not hide from the hatred, but we can definitely hold our own against it. We just have to make the conscious decision to don the armor that has been given to us through Christ Jesus. This is done through “bringing every imagination and thought under the control of Christ.” Pray like you are truly warring against a foe that is hell bent on your destruction. Serve as if you alone were sent to bring peace to this land. Lead as if you hold the key to correcting all of the ills in this world, because through Jesus Christ, you do.

Listen, if you can’t handle the heat, change your gear.

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