This is Faith in Play #8: Redemption Story, for July 2018.
Years ago I wrote Faith and Gaming: Redemption, which was republished last spring. In it I made the distinction between the “Prodigal Stories” that we sometimes call stories of redemption and the real “Redemption Story”, the story of how the price was paid, how we were saved. I then addressed whether prodigal stories were inherently and specifically Christian, although I admit that the answer was a bit inconclusive—after all, even its creator says that Star Wars is about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader—you knew that, forget I mentioned it), but he would never claim it to be a Christian story.
Yet it never occurred to me to consider the other side of that, the actual redemption story, and whether that might be included in our games and stories. Further, I’m embarrassed to say, I find that it has been included in a number of stories with which I am familiar, so apparently it can be done.
The glaringly obvious example is the one I mentioned in that other article: the death and resurrection of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe of The Chronicles of Narnia. The redemption in that particular telling is very individual: Aslan dies to save Edmund, although there is a hint of more in the statement that when the innocent dies for the guilty, the ancient magic would cause death to work backwards. It is one of the best pictures of the Redemption Story in fiction.
It is not alone, though. J. K. Rowling ultimately explained that she never wanted to tell anyone that the Harry Potter series was a Christian story because she believed that one fact would be the spoiler that gave away the ending. In the end, Harry voluntarily sacrifices his own life to save everyone at Hogwarts—and because of magic Voldemort never realized he had cast, Harry’s death becomes Voldemort’s defeat, and Harry returns to life to finish the dark wizard. We thus have the chosen one defeating evil by dying and returning to life.
I was further reminded, by the piece we wrote decades ago on The Problem with Pokémon, that in the Pokémon movie Ash also gives his life to save his friends, and is brought back to life. It has been a long time since I saw that movie, but it again appears that the self-sacrifice of a lead character was a redemptive act.
I don’t want to stretch this too far. Many stories include the hero sacrificing his own life; not all of them are redemption stories, and I’m not even completely certain all of these necessarily are. Yet they suggest that a redemption story is possible in a fictional setting. It is something that can be done in a book—I won’t say easily, but with care and skill successfully.
The much more difficult question is whether it can be done in a game, and if so how it would be done.
The critical problem is, who plays the redeemer? When Mel Gibson directed The Passion of Christ he cast himself in one on-screen role: his hands drove the nails. If I am the referee in such a game, is the most important character in the story, the central character who pays the redemptive price, one of my non-player characters? Or if it is one of the player characters, how do I make that work? I am all in favor of player characters making dramatic sacrificial deaths—Multiverser encourages them, because the death of a player character becomes the tool that moves him to another world, another story, so the player can both let the character die and and have him survive. However, how do I arrange the sacrificial death that leads to the redemptive resurrection? Does the player have to be in cahoots with me on that, or do I have to keep it a secret, hope he will make the sacrifice, and surprise him with the outcome? What if he balks at the sacrifice?
And after all that, would it be a necessarily Christian story?
That is a difficult question to answer. I don’t know whether the Pokémon movie was intended as a Christian story, or how many people recognized it as such, despite the fact that Pikachu won the big fight by repeatedly turning the other cheek until his attacker collapsed from exhaustion just before Ash made his sacrificial move. I do know that there are people who have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and probably more who have seen the movie, who do not know it is a Christian story by a Christian author. It may again be one of those stories that you can tell, but without someone to call attention to it some will never recognize.
If any of you know of a game in which it was done, I would love to hear the story.