Videos: Doubt, Steam, and Hope?

Our GameCell asked a lot of brilliant questions last time we got together. But we didn’t have time to answer all of them. To preserve the value and integrity of the questions being asked, I took to video.

“I’ve recently lost hope in life, and I just don’t know. How do I get it back?”

“What if I come from a religious family, but I am doubting God?”

“Who has Steam? Is it worth getting?”

Thanks again to my GameCell crew for all the valuable questions. And don’t be afraid to keep them coming. I’m always up for this kind of stuff and more serious stuff. Also, don’t be afraid to ask other people that you trust. Sometimes, we spend too much time in silence.

Let’s Play ‘This War of Mine’

This War of Mine is a game about the victims of war. Using survival-crafting mechanics, the game casts us into the care of three survivors. Here’s my short play-through of the game:

Courtesy of GameChurch and 11 Bit Studios.

GameCell Question Night

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This time, all our serious questions came from the guys, not me.

First, we broke the ice with “What games have affected you on a deep emotional level?” Our four new guys (Johnny, Seth, Greg, and Jason) shared; as did our six veterans (Matt, Tyler, Anthony, Nick, Hively, and Carter). Vince and I passed out index cards and asked them to share any questions that had been weighing on them – anything they wanted to ask older guys who had life experience. We tossed the cards folded into a bowl and dug them out:

  • How do you deal with difficult co-worker situations?
  • Do you believe people should live-out their dreams? Even if it’s difficult? Should they push their way to the top?
  • Did anyone know that separation of church and state isn’t in the constitution (like we were taught in school)?
  • My girlfriend is Russian and her parents hate Americans, especially her dad. What do I do?
  • Why am I alive when my life has no meaning or purpose?

We took our time answering these questions. But there was one that we took some extra time with:

Why am I alive when my life has no meaning or purpose?

Firstly, to anybody who steps in my house, I want to tell you that you’re loved. Loved my me, Jess, Vince. And I know this might not carry quite the same weight for some but it’s truer than you can imagine: God loves you. I don’t know how to draw that out and make that real for anybody here, but I do have to tell you that his love goes beyond any disorientation or depression or anything. I get it, though. I wanted to end my life when I was fifteen. And telling me “God loves you” didn’t fully change that.

Maybe  a picture will help?

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Not that picture. This picture:

The Bible starts by telling us that we’re “Made in God’s Image.” Like we’re his. He sees so much of himself when he looks at us. When I was a kid and came up with drawings of violent-blob-dudes that beat the crap out of each other, you know what my dad said? “This is awesome! I’m so proud of you!” I know some of you didn’t have great dads. But this is the kind of picture God is trying to instill with us when he says “I made you in my image.” He’s excited by anything you do. Anything you create. And he wants to share in your joy.

How about another picture? Imagine this:

You are a seed. A huge, glowing, powerful seed. Full of potential. Full of life. But right now all you can see is that you’re a seed. You have no idea what kind of tree you’ll become. You might become a tall tree with normal fruit that most people like. Or you might become a wide tree with wild fruit that a smaller group of people like, but they’ll be radical in their excitement. Or you could become the kind of tree that nobody has ever seen before.

The simple matter right now, however, is that you’re presently a seed.

Most of you guys aren’t quite into your 20s yet. And that’s a whole decade of your life where your tree-like nature starts to flourish. You discover – at least a little bit – of what God’s got in-store for you.

It starts with this: “I love you. I’m with you. We’re gonna make it.” I’m confident that’s what God’s saying to you. So much so, that I feel the same way and want to know that Vince and I, we’re with you. We love you. We’re gonna make it, together.

And we’re gonna find out what kind of tree you’re gonna become.

We didn’t get to all of the questions. We still have yet to answer these:

  • I’ve recently lost hope in life, and I just don’t know. How do I get it back?
  • What if I come from a religious family, but I am doubting God?
  • Who has Steam? Is it worth getting?

I plan on getting to these questions sometime this week. I might shoot short video clips trying to give a truthful response.

Game time. Seth went first. His pick?

This War of Mine (A)

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This War Of Mine doesn’t have a release date. But it does have this deep press demo that I have to write about. It’s a very different kind of war game. Instead of being a soldier, you lead a group of homeless wartime civilians who are squatting in a bombed-out building. There’s only one option in the game: survive.

As Seth played, we discussed the scavenging mechanics, and how the game was inspired by letters from survivors of the Kosovo war of the late 90s. Seth had to make some very hard decisions like, “do we make a bed, or do we make a crude stove?” Or in other words, “Do we sleep, or do we cook our food?” This decision can be made easier if you don’t have enough food to cook (which was Seth’s group’s case).

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Our GameCell crew provided Seth with lots of suggestions on what to do and how to try to get by. But ultimately, he lost one of his survivors on the first night. The remaining survivors got a status ailment that said “sad.” But I think it put those of us watching right there with them.

(Group rating: A* single-player (others watch) *This game is not finished.)

Gang Beasts (A+)

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Greg picked Gang Beasts. The next forty-five minutes was a chorus of awkward groans  of  “Guhh,” “Buhh,” and “Eyaahh!” Meanwhile, four colorful play-dough-men proceeded to grab and push each other into harm. The result? Sustained laughter.

Controls are awkward. Sounds are barely finished. Levels are plain. The game glitched-out multiple times. And yet this may be the best multiplayer experience we’ve had this year. 
It’s hilarious. Even when you lose.

Gang Beasts is like if Goat Simulator wanted to do Super Smash Bros. And everybody got into it. We passed controllers.

A winner:


Everybody jumped in when we could give them a turn. It was a little tricky because I accidentally set the levels to alternate. Which, in this early state, doesn’t  give enough time to hand-off controllers to new players. But I’m sure all of this will get worked out in the future updates. So fun.

(Group rating: A+ 4P-multiplayer *Game is in very early Early Access)

Guacamelee (B-)

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“PUNCH ME IN THE FACE!” Jason said to Johnny on several occasions. To be honest, it was more, “punch me in the spectral bubble so I can help you beat-up Mexican skeletons.” But in the heat of the moment, these details can get lost.

A luchador and a luchadora take the screen and proceed to run, jump, and adventure through a wild Mexican cartoon world where they progressively unlock new abilities. They get all of these abilities from a goat-wizard, of course. Comedy carries this to a smaller degree. The brawling mechanics started to suck Johnny and Jason right-in at about the twenty-minute mark. I’m sure they could have kept going for hours. But some of the onlookers weren’t as into it, feeling the 10:10pm sleepy-time more than the intensity of the game.

The two guys playing loved it. But Alex Hively fell asleep. I love Guacamelee. But I think it’s better when it’s just two players and not in front of a large group.

(Group rating: B- 2P-co-op)

We kept going until 10:30, hoping to see Jason and Johnny get to the alebrije. But as they died for the first time, our hopes of sticking it out were dashed. Time to call it a night. A great night.

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Loved having you guys over! So much fun! And great conversations!

Friend Hunting Diablo on Roads Not Taken (Where No Gamers Are Allowed)

Sorry if that title is a little misleading. Four different thoughts there: friend hunting, Diablo-ing, comparing some game called Road Not Taken to my teacher, and a podcast about the ugliness of the word Gamer.

Hokey Hooha Friend Hunt: The Hohokum Review

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Hohokum is a strange game about friendship. As such, it’s a game best enjoyed with friends gathered around a couch, coming up with names for the odd characters you find.

Read Hokey Hooha Friend Hunt: Hohokum Review on Plus 10 Damage

DiabloCast

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I got the strange idea that we should do our radio show (“pod-cast” is what the kids are calling them these days) while playing a game together. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but apparently it’s a great source for super-honest conversation and memorable one-liners like, “Maybe we should just use zombie dogs to deal with internet trolls?” Also, we discuss the sucky reality of internet trolls.

So why are a bunch of Christians dudes playing Diablo? Find out!

Listen to the Diablocast at Theology Gaming. Or find us on iTunes.

Road Not Taken Is Miss Shapella (Review)

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I know. I know. Comparing a person to a videogame is a strict no-no. But I did it. Because it works. And yes, I still give the person a much higher score than the game.

Like Miss Shapella, Road Not Taken calls me to an understanding that goes beyond what my brain seems capable of.

Read Road Not Taken Is My Freshman Biology Teacher on Plus 10 Damage.

‘No “Gamers” Allowed’ on the Theology Gaming Podcast

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We talk a little about the “Being a ‘Gamer’” article, along with a ton of other things!

If you follow Jesus, any source of identity other than your relationship with Him should give you pause. Enjoy games. Just think about what “healthy play” looks like for you.

Listen to Podcast #46: “Gamers” and Their Games on Theology Gaming

Immersion GameCell

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Joey, Alex (Hively), Nick, Vince and I packed into my living room. Alex (Carter) showed up with some chips for snack. Time for the first question:

What has immersed you in it’s world?

Star Wars. Doctor Who. The Matrix. Deus Ex. DOTA 2′s competitive community.

What does immersion look like to you?

Alex Carter drew a picture of a virtuality headset world that comes from one of his favorite anime: eyes and ears covered, in a special virtualizing chair; plugged-in in every way possible.

Did you know Baptism is another word for Immersion?

Suddenly, James showed up. We brought him up to speed and then I reframed the last question: “Do you know what the biblical word is for ‘immersion?’” He looked at me funny, “Are we really talking about Baptism?”

Well, you know how people sometimes look at Baptism as a once-and-done kind of thing? But what if it’s just a symbol of a deeper immersion? Like a first dip in a deep dive? A life-long deep-dive that doesn’t have an ocean floor but just keeps getting deeper?

Let me try to bring this back down:

What do you think it would it look like to be immersed in God’s Ultimate Reality?

Blank stares.

Okay, so look at it like there’s two endless oceans. One ocean is the immersive world of videogames. The second ocean is God’s Kingdom that he’s inviting you to be a part of. You’re already dipping you’re toes in by being a part of GameCell. When you participate in our church gatherings at Wayne’s house, you’re peeking inside a portal to that Kingdom. But it’s up to you to dive in.

Ready to dive in and get immersed? If not, what’s holding you back?

~

We played a ton of games that seemed to gel super well with out crew. First up, Super Time Force.

Super Time Force Ultra (B-)

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Nick took the helm as we started on a clean save for the benefit of the tutorial mission. Nick got a verifiable crash course in time manipulation and saving his past selves from death for the added benefit of power-ups and compounding power attacks. Still, the tutorial proved a bit frustrating as Time-Paradoxes aren’t exactly easy things to deal with.

James took over for Nick as frustration set in. James are through half of his TIME-OUTS before getting stuck on the first level. To be fair, I think I did the same on my first try. James gave up due to frustration as well. But our crew wanted to see what semi-skilled play looked like, so I showed a run of the first level which still included a lot of mistakes. We all enjoyed watching the final take which showed the run realtime without time manipulation. Fun watch.

(Group rating: B- pass-n-play)

A Story About My Uncle (A+)

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“I can pick? Is that allowed?” Vince asked. “Yeah: You’re a part of this group!” Vince went straight for A Story About My Uncle because I told him it’s like playing as Spider Man. Though, I forgot to tell him Halo skills might be required. He made it trough the Uncle’s house, but when he got his power-suit on and was told to jump from one flying rock to another, he was a little overwhelmed. But everybody in the room was on the edge of their seat when they saw you could jump forty feet straight up.

Joey took the controller to show Vince how to use momentum to jump forward. It suited him so easily that he could sprint and leap eighty feet onto the next floating rock like it was nothing. “WHOAAAA!” Everybody seemed to say in unison. “This is awesome!” A couple guys said.

Then our grapple beam turned on. The excitement turned up a few notches.

We finished the first level and got to the first village. Everybody wanted to know how much the game cost and how they could play it at home.

(Group rating: A+ pass-n-play *with FPS controller competency)

Five Nights at Freddy’s (A)

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James took Five Nights At Freddy’s for a spin. He (surprisingly) lasted through the first night without being evicerated by animatronic sing-along-song farm animal robots. Second night didn’t go as well. So the game’s pretty simple: monitor the security feed for animatronic activity (watch out for the Duck – dude’s a sneaky psychopath), and just keep anybody from disturbing you in the security booth. Problem is that everything’s dark, cameras are crappy, and the sick robots can’t wait to jump out and scare the pee out of you.

James had to stop playing. He passed the controls over to Hively with just enough time for him to get freaked out, overwhelmed, and for a giant freaky bear to jump out of nowhere, shriek at our faces, and scare a little pee out of us.

(Group rating: A pass-n-play *note: this game is scary. Very scary.)

Crawl (A-)

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Crawl is a four-player action-RPG where one player is the hero and everybody else is the enemies. It’s Steam Early Access, so it’s not finished. But the core game is good enough that hooked Vince, James, Hively, and me.

A Level 1 hero starts off in a room against three colored ghosts. The ghosts can only collect vitae (tan orbs), but occult symbols turn the ghosts into monsters in the next room. Here, the ghost-filled monsters fight the hero until one of them gives up their ghost. If a monster-player kills a hero-player, the monster transforms into the hero. If the hero kills a monster, he busts loose some EXP. And leveling-up happens quickly.

What ensues is a power-struggle that looks like James being the hero one minute, me being the hero the next, and then James and the guys being the boss (and his tentacles) the next. In the end, James won: he was the hero who had slain the gross tentacle-brain monster boss and stood triumphant.

(Group rating: A- multiplayer *note: game’s not finished yet.)

It was a great night.

Playing as Oppressed, Spiritual Formation, and “NecroDancing”

Josh talks about playing as a teenage girl in an arranged marriage, how his relationship with Jesus intersects with games, and why he’s excited to dance to a roguelike videogame.

Playing as Oppressed and Oppressor in Unrest

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Unrest casts you into the plight of the poor and oppressed – from both the perspective of the poor and their oppressors. As you walk in the shoes of both, you get to witness the way your choices shape an Indian city on the cusp of a bloody revolution.

Read Playing as Oppressed and Oppressor in Unrest on Gamechurch

Spiritual Formation in Video Games Podcast

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Zach, Ted, and Josh talk about how they got into video games, and how that affected their faith, or spiritual formation. Topics include Wonderful 101, OlliOlli, and Tuffy the Corgi & the Tower of Bones.

Listen to Spiritual Formation in Video Games on the Theology Gaming Podcast. Or subscribe via iTunes.

Crypt of the NecroDancer: Why I bought a DDR Dance Pad

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I need to lose about 30 pounds. And I think I found a way to do it. Crypt of the NecroDancer is a smart, tactical roguelike that lets me control the game with dance. So I ordered a DDR Dance pad. No, I didn’t need to. And no, it’s not here yet. I just really want one. Because I’m fat, this game is fun, and I want to shed some poundage by dancing my booty off.

Read Crypt of the NecroDancer: Why I bought a DDR Dance Pad on Plus 10 Damage

Thinking About Iraqui Kurdistan

News about current events in Iraq strike me in a way I don’t know how to articulate. I know it’s there. Just don’t know what to do about it. So here I am with a ton of pictures I never shared from 2010 that tell a story of life in post-Saddam Kurdistan.

Unflattering shot of me with two of our Peshmerga escorts. Dude on the left, Mohammed, was super nice.

Two of our Peshmerga escorts.

"Typical Iraq"

“Typical Iraq”

As a bit of a pacifist, it was rather strange seeing large droves of these Kurdish soldiers who wanted to show us how rad their country is.

These Kurdish soldiers wanted to show us how rad their country is.

Me and Hamza in the pharmacy. We worked in during our mornings there.

Me and Hamza in the pharmacy we worked in during our mornings there.

Tea time is promtly at 11am. No shaking it.

Tea time is promtly at 11am. No shaking it.

Typical Kurdish-Iraqui restaurant.

Typical Kurdish-Iraqui restaurant.

Not the Iraq you see in the news.

Iraqui vacation town

That's a city in the background (for scale)

That’s a city in the background (for scale)

Inside of Duhok's Dam Park

Inside of Duhok’s Dam Park

Duhok at night.

Duhok at night.

Junior Peshmerga just before the martial arts demo they put on for us

Peshmerga soldiers just before the martial arts demo they put on for us

Chaldean church garden that overlooks the Tigris

Chaldean church garden that overlooks the Tigris

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Below the modern Chaldean church, we got to explore the original church meeting place that was founded back in the 400s.

Tigris and Syria. Coulda thrown a rock into Syria. But I got the impression that this isn't typical Middle Eastern behavior.

Tigris and Syria. Coulda thrown a rock into Syria. But I got the impression that this isn’t typical Middle Eastern behavior.

Turkish border over the Khabur river. Ezekiel had his famous wheel-within-a-wheel vision right around here.

Turkish border over the Khabur river. Ezekiel had his famous wheel-within-a-wheel vision right around here.

Ruins of one of Saddam's palaces. You can't quite see the waterfall that ran through it.

Ruins of one of Saddam’s palaces. You can’t quite see the waterfall that ran through it.

This was probably the coolest cafe I had ever been to. No joke.

This was probably the coolest cafe I had ever been to. No joke.

Best Coffee Ever.

Best Coffee Ever.

He smiled way more than this picture suggests.

He smiled way more than this picture suggests.

Loved Duhok.

Loved Duhok.

At one point, we set-up our pharmacy in a makeshift bathroom.

At one point, we set-up our pharmacy in a makeshift bathroom.

Rabban Hormizd Monastery

Rabban Hormizd Monastery

From the top of the monastery

From the top of the monastery

Overlooking Mosul.

Overlooking Mosul.

One of my few pics from when we visited the Yazidi village.

One of my few pics from when we visited the Yazidi village.

Inside Erbil's citadel. This architecture predates Jesus.

Inside Erbil’s citadel. This architecture predates Jesus.

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Gamecell Recap – Aug 15

Last week, we rallied the GameCell. We talked for a while about life and spiritual formation. Then we attacked each other with swords.

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“What are you most excited about?”

First-timer, Joey, brought his buddy Anthony. Anthony was excited to get out of McDonalds and get a more grown-up gig. Joey said he was excited to get out of old habits. Jeff was excited for a pro-league Counterstrike competition that he might get accepted to in Denmark. I told everybody I was excited about the arrival of my new DDR Dance Mat that I got for Crypt of the Necrodancer.

“What is your first memory of the church or Jesus?”

“Having to go to the confession booth,” Brian said. He elaborated and drew a picture of awkwardness and having no idea what to do. Jeff shared similar stories about semi-recent Catholic church experiences related to the loss of family members. Anthony shared a lot of his own confusing experiences related to Catholocism. And Vince did too. I shared a story of being at a Beth Yeshua Synagogue at the age of three, seeing everybody doing Davidic dance and saying, “Mommy, I wanna dance!”

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“What is the next step in your spiritual formation?”

This question had profound under-pinnings as everybody seemed to lay their cards on the table. Many of our guys shared their unfiltered agnosticism and wondered what that meant in the overall flow of conversation about “Life, God, and Games.” Some of our guys shared that they’re really not sure what’s next or what to anticipate. Vince shared about his growing understanding of being a dad and how to love his wife and kids. And one of our guys just expressed how much his family was hurting due to illness and mental health concerns. So I asked if we could pray for him. Jeff suggested we all hold hands. The rest of the guys seemed into it.

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“What would you like to play?”

I laid-out games in three categories: 8-bit Nintendo, Artsy Flying PS3 Games, and Smash-Bros-Like Multiplayer. Being our newest-most participant, Anthony got to choose. With a small amount of guiding, he landed on Abyss Odyssey. And the smashing ensued. Joey expressed that he only wanted to watch instead of picking a game and playing. Then Dakota Williams showed up for the first time since he was home from Basic Training. Since Joey passed for his turn, Dakota chose “whatever would be the most fun for everybody to play.” We translated that to “lets play some Samurai Gunn.” Garrett seemed to have a lot of fun with this even though he got the short end of the katana. Many laughs were had. After about forty minutes of play, the crowd thinned and we had just ten more minutes to pick something else to play. So I handed the controller to Vince and loaded-up Hohokum. Of course, the young men looked at the kitesnake protagonist and said, “Whoa, is it a multi-colored sperm?” I said, “No, I don’t think so, but you can make the world more colorful by smashing into things with it’s face.”

Knight-Digging, Enemy-Loving, and Abyss-Diving

Hey Kids, wanna dig for treasure with a Knight? Love Enemies as a French Grandpa? Jump into pits filled with Chilean Sea Monsters? You’re in the right place.

Dig With Me – Shovel Knight Review

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Pop opinion dictates that Shovel Knight is rad. And as much as I’d love to speak to the contrary, I can’t disagree. Though, I’d like to think I had at least a few original thoughts on the matter:

To put yourself in the minds of Shovel Knight’s creators, imagine you found a Craigslist ad that said, “DeLorean Time Machine: Free.” You showed up at a designated parking lot to make the “trade.” The Craigslister hands you the keys, says “good riddance.” Before you can think about it, you’re up to 88 mph and suddenly back in 1985. You ask yourself one simple question: how do I use my future-knowledge to improve the trajectory of videogames? Eventually you realize that none of your money works in 1985, videogames are actually much harder to make with an internet that doesn’t run any faster than 9.6kbps, and everything smells like Tom Selleck. Quickly realizing that 1985 sucks, you decide to take your Nintendo game idea back to our present day and get your funds from Kickstarter. And it works.

Read the Shovel Knight Review on Plus 10 Damage

Valiant Hearts: You Will Love Your Enemy (No Matter What)

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Valiant Hearts captures the tragedies and horrors of the Great War. But it also captures some of the silver linings. One of those is a small exchange between a French trench-digger and a German demolitionist.

I lived up to Jesus’ teaching about loving my enemies. Yes, it was in a World War I themed videogame called Valiant Hearts. Yes, my actions were scripted for me. But at least I did it, right?

I’m a French grandpa struggling through the chaos of the labyrinth underneath the trenches of World War I. Somebody’s crying for help.

Read ‘Valiant Hearts: You Will Love Your Enemy (No Matter What)’ on Gamechurch.

Smash Bros’ Tentacle Baby – Abyss Odyssey Review

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I really really like Abyss Odyssey. Describing it may require a descent into my squirmy-squishy weirdo-speak. You’ll be able to keep up if you like Smashing your Bros.

If you had a baby born with tentacles — and you were a good parent — you’d love her and make her feel at home. You would learn the best practices in tentacle care, and taunt gaping onlookers when they stare. Abyss Odyssey is that tentacle baby, and I hope you love her at least half as much as I do.

Read the Abyss Odyssey Review on Plus 10 Damage

Destiny Acts Like a Sponge, Bioshock Dies, and We Theologically Justify Videogame Time

In which, we look at articles published elsewhere about Bioshock’s conclusion and Destiny’s beginning. Oh, and that time we tried to justify videogames from a theological position (full of biases, of course).

Destiny Beta: The Bulletsponge Dilemma

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I played all that I felt I needed to play of Destiny. It was fun and had some great hooks. But the bullet sponges expose the time-suck ambition of the game’s design:

So there I am, in Destiny’s final Beta mission with some other players. We’re head-shotting and outflanking blokes. Then, all of the sudden, we slam up against this Tank-boss. We shot at this thing for twenty minutes. Twenty. Minutes. We shot, took cover, shot more, revived each other, dealt with minions, and continuing to shoot. Meanwhile, our bulletsponge boss proverbially stuck out its tongue, saying something along the lines of “Naynaya na Nyan Nya!”

Read ‘Destiny Beta: The Bulletsponge Dilemma’ at Plus 10 Damage

Burial At Sea: The Bioshock Obituary

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Did you hear that Bioshock died? I wrote the obituary. Here’s a sample:

Bioshock was a connoisseur of hot dogs and potato chips that came from the garbage. He also loved eating pineapples out of cash registers. His favorite hobby was meticulously scanning every drawer, broken gun turret, and public fountain for coins. The only things he loved more than money was using said money to finance his first loves: immolating drug addicts and decapitating law enforcement.

Read the Bioshock Obituary at Theology Gaming.

We Theologically Justify Videogame Time (in this podcast)

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Ever need to have a good Godly reason why you play videogames? Well, here you go. Just ignore the scary picture of Rutger Hauer.

Topics include natural theology, Mario Kart 8, Valiant Hearts (POSSIBLE SPOILERS ABOUT DOGS), Abyss Odyssey, Metal Gear Solid, Pikmin 3, Dark Souls, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Shovel Knight, Nintendo Land, Unrest, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Destiny of Spirits, and Ted discovering that you can play PS1 games on a PS3!

Listen to the Podcast on Theology Gaming. Or subscribe via iTunes.