GameCell – ‘Empathy for Others’ Night
by M. Joshua
“Who comes to mind when you hear the word, ‘enemy?’”
James and Alex offered their answers: “Satanists,” “Muslims” (half joking), and “the guy who used to beat me up every day.”
“Who were enemies of the Jews in Jesus’ day?” I asked.
“Everyone? Just like the rest of history?”
“Not a bad answer.” I said. “But ever hear of the Samaritans?”
I was leading them to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman in John 4. After we finished the story, I asked a couple questions to reflect on the story itself.
“Think videogames can ever make us care about ‘Samaritans’ in our world?”
That was the theme for the night. The games to pick from: Journey, Knytt Underground, Papo & Yo, Thomas Was Alone, Cart Life, Kentucky Route Zero, and To the Moon (the first game to make me cry).
James picked Journey.
As James walked into a new area and saw somebody who looked just like him in the distance, his curiosity piqued. Alex looked on with amazement as the other character seemed to respond to everything James did. They stayed close together. They chirped to empower one another get to higher heights. The other character patiently waited for James as he tried to get to a peak where a scarf-extension laid. And then I spoiled the surprise by telling James to hurry up and catch up to the other player.
“What do you mean other player? That’s not somebody else. That’s just a character in the game.” James said. “No. It’s another person on another PS3 playing this game. Go catch up or you’ll lose her.” I said. “You’re blowing my mind right now.” He said. “I feel like I need to stick with her.”
Alex picked Papo & Yo.
There’s a lot to take note of in this game. But for James and Alex, the first thing they noticed was that the main character was not Caucasian. “You’re black. Or South American or whatever.” James noticed. “Well, I’m black in real life, so…”
That “so…” was a big deal in my mind: instead of being a super-powered white guy, Alex played a game that was more representative of being an ethnic minority like him.
Alex spent Papo & Yo’s first 45 minutes chasing some girl through magical chalk doorways in a favela. He discovered that he could move buildings with chalk pulleys and giant hand-drawn keys. Then he finally met Monster, the metaphorical representation of protagonist Quico’s alcoholic father. There was just enough time to discover how Quico’s co-dependent relationship with his ‘Monster’ worked, when James couldn’t stay awake any longer.
Papo & Yo lacked a lot of tension and it didn’t help that James had been up since 5 AM. So we switched games.
I picked Thomas Was Alone.
“You guys get to figure out what makes this an ‘others game,’ too.” I said and put the controller in James’ hands.
The game’s narrator introduced the tall red rectangle on screen as James made him move. “Thomas was alone. Whoa, that’s an odd first thought to have…” James learned how to make Thomas move, and jump as we learned more about Thomas’ intimate thought life and what the game’s environment made him feel. By the second set of levels, we met somebody who made Thomas feel less alone, an orange square named Chris who seemed to have a negative attitude. James learned how to switch between controlling Thomas and Chris. He made Chris jump (which was significantly shorter a jump than Thomas). “Haha. Chris sounds fat,” said Alex.
Several short stages later, we met a tall yellow rectangle named John and a much larger blue square named Claire. It led to Alex saying things like, “Put Claire on John’s head and have him walk over there.” Through all the stages, one theme remained consistent: no level could be completed without making all these rectangular characters with different personalities and abilities work together. As James got sleepy again, I encouraged him to keep going until he met Claire, the wide pink rectangle who showed us even “fat” Chris can find love.
“They’re just blocks, but it’s like so freaking… personal.”
As Alex and James closed up shop and headed home, I handed James Journey (collector’s edition) and told him to enjoy being kind to another stranger online.