Friday, February 7, 2014

3 days of...The Binding of Isaac!

Crying in the basement was never this fun.

I would cry too if this were my basement.
I’ve been playing the Binding of Isaac made by Edmund McMillen over the last 3 days and I’ve greatly enjoyed every moment. The game mashes up a Legend of Zelda screen moving, dungeon crawling experience with a two stick shooter style combat. Throw in a bit of rogue-like randomly generated levels and dozens of bosses and enemies and you’ve got yourself a great game that is easy to pick up but difficult to master. You begin as a naked boy living through his nightmares in the basement of his house, crying on his enemies until they smear the ground red with blood; eventually to reach the finale and face body parts of your crazed radical Christian mother attempting to kill you in the name of voices she hears in her head.  That was a mouthful of crazy wasn’t it?
We've all had this dream...right? Guys?

The controls are smooth, though if you want to use a controller you’ll have to pick up Joy-to-Key software. The sounds are pretty well done, though nothing unique popped out at me. The controls, graphics, and sound all serve the function of the game, which is to give you a brand new experience every time you sit down. And The Binding of Isaac accomplishes this wonderfully.

Every level you conquer grants you at least 1 new upgrade or ability, so the better you get the more interesting your games become. I can honestly say that I never came across the same level design twice, and I never got the same combination of upgrades at any time. Every single game I played was unique. If that isn’t enough there are 10 challenges that make the game many times harder and plenty of characters with starting abilities to unlock. And everyone loves challenges and unlockable content right? 

Subjecting yourself to this maze may
leave YOU with nightmares too.
The best part about this is that each game only extends to a maximum of 45 minutes, to beat the final boss. It’s never easy unless you get ridiculously lucky. This natural timing of each session makes it a great game to pick up knowing that you’re going to be done within an hour. Though there are plenty of times you’ll play for 10 minutes and die frustratingly, only to restart immediately. That is what makes the game so addicting; there are challenges abound and each new life happens so fast that it’s easy to continue to try to get better items and beat the game better.



Christian Mythos and Gaming, are they compatible?  


This all makes for a wonderful rogue-like and I’m glad I had the chance to play it, but there’s something else that needs to be pointed out here. The game takes advantage of the Christian mythos in a way that I’ve rarely seen in other games.  I was raised in my younger years with religion constantly in our home, so I understand that any threat to marginalize Christianity is taken very seriously. Growing up now and taking a look into the entertainment industry, especially gaming, I see that every OTHER religion is treated in this way. However only on rare opportunities do I see Christianity as a centerpiece in Video-Games. Fortunately, Japanese Video Game studios have been doing it for a VERY long time.

Looking at many JRPGs you can see hints of Viking polytheism, Christian archetypes, Pagan Fae, and Greek Demi-gods come to life.  The Shin Megami Tensei series takes lots of religious themed characters and puts them into a mish-mash of RPG and monster collecting and calls them all Demons. Despite the possibility of causing riots in religious centers everywhere it also happens to be one of the most popular and long running JRPG series to date. Xenosaga is a great example that had a plethora of wonderfully subtle references that filled me with giddy laughter and surprisingly got me to commit to some off controller research time. And every game using classical magic is basing it on religious myths based in the Wicca Religion.

Becoming a headless Demon is
commonplace in the Binding of Isaac
Like these games previously mentioned, The Binding of Isaac takes many familiar legends and common Judeo/Chrisian concepts and makes them into power-ups, baddies, and bosses. The game is BASED around the psychosis induced on young children by overbearing and radicalized parents inducted into the Christian cycle in the same way. And it’s WONDERFULLY fun and charming. So why don’t we see Christianity featured in more games? The mythos would make for a very interesting central pillar for a theme. Even if it is flushed out a little with a splash of imaginative fiction. I love seeing religious influence in games, especially when it falls into the category of fantasy and anything can happen. Possibly it’s not used often thematically because it is a hostile environment for making lighthearted entertainment about religion. I don't think it's quite fair to have such an imbalanced market, for fear some people may not like the themes in your game, but I wasn't raised with much tact or business sense.

Unfortunately in this case majority rules. And since Christianity is so widespread there isn’t a chance that many games will include their mythos for fear of being outcast and losing sales. It’s smart business sense. Don’t marginalize the most popular Religion in the region of sales and you won’t lose as many customers. Personally though, I’d like to see more Judeo/Christian Influence in modern games. I like recognizing themes and seeing new and interesting interpretations on millennium-old ideas. It makes for a fresh perspective that many games these days lack.

So what do you think? Should religion be more prevalent in Video Games to be used as a thematic element? Or should we leave it alone as to not incite controversy?

Let me know what you think and if you have a suggestion for a game I should play let me know!

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