When I finished playing Middle-earth: Shadow of War, I needed a bit of a palette cleanser. Something that wasn’t predicated on the slaughter of orcs. And rather than choosing one of the 600 unplayed games in my Steam account, I went looking for something new.
It’s ok. I don’t have a problem. I promise.
After poking around in the Steam store for a few minutes, I found a game that looked quite interesting. Kingdom: New Lands.
Kingdom: New Lands is a strategy game with a simple concept. Establish a small kingdom and defend it against the faceless evil that comes out of the darkness every night. The gameplay loop is addictively tight, the visual design and pixel art are perfect, and the sound design is strikingly sparse.
The rudiments of the gameplay are simple enough to grasp quickly, but there’s enough nuance and strategy to warrant at least a dozen hours of bliss. But three months after plumbing the depths of the Kingdom: New Lands for all of the fun that it had to offer, it is not the mechanics of the game that I continue to ponder.
Kingdom: New Lands doesn’t prominently feature a story. There are no cutscenes or dialogue. The game doesn’t have exposition of any kind. It would appear that the developers thought any attempt at storytelling would be beside the point. But that doesn’t mean that it is completely devoid of narrative. It just has to be constructed from the gameplay itself.
And that really doesn’t take much digging.
We share stories as a means of understanding the universe and our place in it. Children grow up on stories of good and evil. It helps them to orient against the malevolence that we are guaranteed to encounter in our lives.
This archetypal struggle between good and evil is the foundational of nearly every story that has been told from The Odyssey to Harry Potter to Super Mario. It’s ever-present and imminently recognizable. And no text bears more influence on Western civilization than The Bible. While it’s unlikely that the developers intended to create a biblical analogy, the parallels between Kingdom: New Lands and the gospel are readily apparent.
And this a good place for a quick disclaimer. I have no formal theological training or certifications. However, I’ve been a professing Christian for as long as I’ve understood what it means to profess anything. Along the way, I’ve picked up a working-person’s understanding of theology, and I’ve spent so much time thinking about the implications of Christian living that I can’t help but to view most things through the lens of the gospel.
I’m going to over-simplify some things, but I apologize if any of what follows is too steeped in theological language to be easily understood. (Leave comments and I’ll gladly elaborate on anything that is confusing.)
The story of The Bible consists of four major components: creation, the fall, redemption, and restoration. The creation phase of the story centers around God speaking the world and all of its inhabitants into existence. Everything is good, but not for very long. The fall occurs in the third chapter of the book… when mankind commits the first sin, and evil enters the world. The redemption begins with the death of Jesus, allows mankind to reestablish a relationship with God. The restoration refers to the future return of Jesus, which is when God will establish His eternal kingdom.
In my opinion, primary work of the Christian is to create pockets of restoration as a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom. In other words, we should seek to cultivate goodness and human flourishing in every domain of life.
So what does this have to do with a video game?
Kingdom: New Lands takes place on a group of islands that have been completely overrun by a faceless evil. The beauty of this creation has been marred by the fall. The player is tasked with restoring goodness, which involves working together to establish a kingdom. All of the people that inhabit these islands are depicted as beggars, who cower in fear when the monsters appear every night. If you employ these vagrants to expand the kingdom, they’ll build or hunt or take up guarding positions against the monsters. The more of these lost souls that join the kingdom, the further you’re able to push back the forces of darkness.
Nearly every facet of the game contains an echo of the biblical narrative and inspiration for how I should orient myself toward what is good. I pray that I continue to find myself employed in good work that allows me to push back the darkness in the world. Only by the grace of God will I find the strength to persist until the kingdom of God is truly and fully established.