Faith & Fandom
Resident Evil: More Than Survival
I first experienced Resident evil back in 1999 while the franchise was still young. I would have played it at launch, but at that point I had never owned a non-Nintendo game system. A co-worker at Waldenbooks loaned me a PlayStation and the original resident evil. It was definitely an experience. I don't remember ever being scared by a video game before. To be fair, it was great at setting tension, but the graphics of the time severely limited the pure fear factor. It was still fierce enough to make a huge impression. I remember shortly after that staying up all night (a full 24 hours) with my friend Les playing resident evil two through each variation of the game. To this day, part 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. Mr. X, the hulking bald silent stalker of the game, literally tormented me. I remember Les and I being so glad to see the sun come up as we finished it. Probably my favorite Resident Evil memory, though, is the summer part 4 came out and camp counselors were playing it in my living room on their breaks. In the middle of the day, on a bright sunny summer afternoon, I watched the manliest man I had known rapidly crawl out of my house on his hands and knees screaming after he was attacked by a chainsaw wielding Ganado. It was glorious.
Resident Evil has been a franchise that's always mattered to me for a very long time. It's one of those "given" franchises like Legend Of Zelda that I know I will automatically buy. As I'm currently playing 7, I'm reminded of some of the lessons I've learned from the franchise. So grab your herbs and typewriter ribbons as we delve into finding lessons in the world of survival horror.
Action is Required
One of the early criticisms of the game series was that the controls were wonky. They honestly were difficult and non-organic, but they eventually would become second nature to the semi-casual Resident gamer. Part 4 made progress, but it still had some stiffness to it. It did, however, come with some pretty big surprises in terms of controller interaction. This became evidently clear to me the first time a giant Boulder began rolling towards Leon in what almost seemed like a cutscene, and you had to rapidly respond with the correct action in order to not get crushed to death. Needless to say, I died multiple times before I got the hang of this. Of course, it wasn't just limited to the crushing rock. That type of interaction became fluidly intertwined with the rest of the game.
Now reading this, you probably think that isn't that big a deal. That kind of stuff is common in games now. It wasn’t then. In fact, it's the first time I remember that, especially in an RE game. The one thing I took from this is that action is required. You have to be ready at any moment to move. You have to be ready to react, respond, and overcome at any given point, but sadly many Christians aren't and they get crushed by situational boulders over and over again. Sure, it would be nice if God gave us nice little button prompts when He wants us to move, but honestly it's on us to be attentive. This shouldn't be a surprise though, we see this same concept over and over in scripture.
"Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:18)
If we don't put action behind our love, it's just hype. I remember the first time that boulder began rolling towards me, I yelled at the screen "GO GO GO LEON MOVE!!!!!" but my words didn’t do much. It wasn't until I actually hit the buttons at the right time that he lived. If we tell people of our love and especially God's love, and we don't put action to it, it's just going to be talk that won't help any of us. Since this point, I've stopped trusting video game cutscenes. Now, regardless of how pretty or calming a cutscene may seem, I'm secretly expecting something chaotic to happen, so I never loosen my grip on my controller. The same goes for our faith. We need to always be ready to respond not only when we are sharing our hearts, but we need to be ready when others engage us. We need to be ready to not only listen, but to actually have answers.
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15)
One of the things that I also love about the Resident Evil franchise is that there are a variety of options for the endings. Who you save, who you let die, how quickly you accomplish your goal, and how many times you die can factor in to what kind of ending you receive. Odds are on your first playthrough, you have no idea what kind of ending you are shooting for. Once you go through it and you see what is available or what is required, you can usually take another run at it to accomplish a specific ending. To be honest, outside of 2, 4, and 5, I've not cared enough to run through the games just for alternative endings or bonus content (that also has to do with the fact that since then, I've had several children, and my adult life requires a lot more of me).
Sadly, in our lives, we don't get additional run throughs. We don’t have the luxury of experiencing multiple endings. What we do in this life will not only affect our current circumstances, but also the outcome of our life eternally. Moses basically gave a run through to the nation of Israel on how to obtain the ending they wanted. Check out Deuteronomy 30:15-18:
"See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.”
His guide is a little more broad and extensive than “beat the pro mode in 2 hours without taking any damage,” but it's still the simple fact that Moses gives us what is required to have a good ending. Even more than just with Moses, Jesus tells us what we need to do in regards to salvation.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." (John 3:16- 18)
Jesus tells us that faith in Him is how we receive the best ending possible, and also warns of the ending we are facing without it. I know this isn't resident evil, but in the first Dead Rising you find out in a horrible ending that you are already infected, and that if you didn’t save the one woman that could provide you with you the cure, then you die no matter what. I know people don't like hearing absolutes or being told what to do or what to believe, but if you want the best ending for your story, Jesus is the only way to obtain it. So just like with playing the game, you have to live with the ending in mind.
Don't Try To Be Something You're Not
While I deeply love this franchise, it still has it's flaws. It's gone in some really weird directions and attempted to become a lot of different things. When the series first started, I remember the ominous words on screen that we had "entered the world of Survival Horror." That phrase made me seriously apprehensive and nervous before anything had even really taken place. That's what made Resident Evil so unique and spawned countless other games. They went a bit off track with Part 3, and subsequently they felt like Jill needed to be wearing less clothing as she battled the undead (seems legit). The concept of 0 was nice, but overshadowed the actual content. Part 5 was ambitious, but basically turned Chris Redfield into Marcus Phoenix. Part 6 was a cluster bomb of concepts that felt like you ate sushi & pizza then fell asleep after watching Resident Evil, Orphan Black, and The Bourne Identity all at the same time.
All the while, there hasn't been an RE game I didn't enjoy playing, but my favorites were always the ones that truly held deeply to the concept of being "Survival Horror." Part 1, Part 2, and Revelations 2 truly embraced that feeling, but it wasn't until I started playing through 7 that I felt like the franchise had truly come back to what it was supposed to be. Part 7 is genuinely frightening. Whereas the original had poor graphics keeping us at an arms length from total immersion, 7 doesn't have that problem. Part 7 feels way too real and way too frightening, and that's what makes it great. You feel like you are in danger at any given point; I mean for crying out loud, it felt like an hour before you even got a weapon. The reason 7 is so great and a franchisesaving installment of the series is that they remembered what they were and stopped trying to be something else.
This is a huge lesson for us to take away. Too often, Christians and the Church tries to be something other than what it was meant to be. I'm all for trying to make it easier for those outside the Church to meet Jesus (that's literally my day job and the reason I write this stuff), but when we stop actually doing the things Jesus instructed us, we lose our identity. When we start trying to water down the Gospel and focus on putting on a show rather than making disciples, we might still be labeled the Church, but it is in name only. When we are focused on activities instead of actually seeking God, we become a community organization, and probably not even that great of one. Christians are meant to be salt and light, the hands and feet of God, and people who love and forgive their enemies and commune with God, study His word, and teach and disciple.
When we become something else, there is nothing that can fill that void.
Hosea 4:6 paints a grim picture of what it looks like when God's people forget who they are. It reads, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children." When we ignore who God called us to be, we in turn ignore God. Paul reminds us not only of why we are saved, but also to not forget who we are called to be.
”He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thessalonians 2:14-15)
When Resident Evil tries to be something they aren't and puts out a poor game, worst case scenario is you waste $60 and 20-something hours of your life. When the body of Christ tries to be something they aren’t, it's a much graver situation. One of the most convicting things for me in scripture is to read the description of the early Church in Acts chapter 2:42-47.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
It discourages me to read that scripture because I see what the Church should be, and it doesn’t really look like that today. I'm not giving up hope, and neither should you. Two years ago, I went on trip to California and visited a church called "Grace Point.” Their whole focus is to live out the calling of the Church the way we see in Acts 2. It's not a perfect church by any means, but I saw a glimpse of what it could be. It challenged me to live differently in my own life and changed how I saw the Church, and what I should strive for in ministry.
After Resident Evil 6 was released, I wasn't sure what the future held for the franchise. Although I had fun, I knew it wasn’t received the way they hoped. With the release of 7, we see their great return to success, not because of a gimmick or another stab at becoming something new, but because they returned to who they truly are. If we ever want to see Christianity become what God called it to be, it won't be by reinvention, clever marketing, or programs. We will truly only become great and relevant in this world when we return to what God called us to be.