El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, while far from 2011’s most popular game, was one of last year’s most important games. I say this because it was one of the first games that took seriously the idea of a holy God (a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing). Consequently, I was encouraged to see our very own Richard Clark starting a series of articles on the game.
In the first of four articles, Richard begins by discussing the lack of spiritual games from Western developers:
Religious games have struggled in the past to make their mark. Back in the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, religious folk with an affinity toward the pedantic would make bad Bible-themed re-skins of existing games and sell them in Christian book stores without the Nintendo Seal of Approval. The result produced neither a fun videogame nor insight into religious truth.
Japanese developers, on the other hand, has never been one to shy away from religion. In fact, while Noah’s Ark led a string of failed games that attempted to convey the principles and teachings of western religion, eastern spirituality bursts from the seams of most Japanese RPGs, often conveyed with genuine sincerity. The result for western gamers was an awareness of and empathy for an otherwise unknown set of beliefs.
In the meantime, most western developers made games that were largely agnostic, if not atheistic, in their treatment of spirituality and belief. In games like Assassin’s Creed, Red Dead Redemption, Dead Space and others, priests and pastors are often portrayed as evil or cowardly, and followers as misguided or insane. Genuine faith is, for the most part, absent from western games.
Also, how El Shaddai broke new ground by posing serious questions about life, sin, and redemption:
The balance between Enoch’s humanity and near-perfect godliness adds a distinctly Christian aspect to the story. Because Enoch is human, he has both the ability to disobey as well as a unique kinship with the rest of humanity. And yet, his mission to rid the world of the specific kind of humanist evil that it faces requires Enoch to be in virtual lockstep with The Lord – a commitment that wavers during the climax of the game, particularly when he sees what his mission means for his best friend, Amaros. Ultimately, though, Enoch must sacrifice both himself and his own will for the sake of the world and its relationship to God.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because Enoch is an extremely close analog to Jesus, the one the Christian religion refers to as the Messiah of the world and the Son of God. Philippians describes Jesus in a way that very much articulates the ongoing struggle of Enoch as well: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
They say that Satan, or Lucifer, often tells as much truth as he can get away with, but never the whole truth. In this case, Lucifel was holding back when he introduced El Shaddai as the story of “a man.” It’s more than that: it’s the story of a Savior.