Everything we do at Love Thy Nerd is rooted in the core belief that Jesus loves nerds. And because loving people well requires taking an active interest in them, we believe Jesus would dig some of the games nerds are into. In fact, as our writers were playing video games this year, we started to notice some overlap between some of this year’s best video games and the life and values of Jesus. Call us crazy, but we dare say these are games Jesus would love. If you are curious how we arrived at the list of twelve games below, check out our Jesus’s Games of the Year deliberation podcast above. In this podcast, several of our writers fought tooth and nail (on behalf of Jesus!) to defend the games they believe the Son of God would dig the most.
The List: Jesus’s 12 Favorite Games of 2018
12. Red Dead Redemption 2
One of the most important things that Jesus teaches us is that everyone has merit. Everyone merely by nature of being human is worth loving. Likewise, games by Rockstar might be a little hard to swallow, with titles like Grand Theft Auto. But the first Red Dead Redemption showed something with new life in it.
The first game had us hunting down John Marston’s former gang in order to save his family. RDR2 sheds new light on this former gang by putting you in the boots of one of John’s comrades, Arthur Morgan. This prequel takes you through what leads to the events of the previous game, while showing you a new side to everyone, including John.
What Jesus loves about Red Dead Redemption 2 is how it sheds light on the good parts of these bad people. You may hear the word gang and assume the worst, yet they aren’t your “I see, I take” thieves. They (mostly) only take from those who murder. That isn’t to say that the Van der Linde Gang is all good. They still beat up debtors, cause mischief, and if you hit the wrong button it is all too easy to mistakenly send a bullet flying through a crowd of innocents. But it shows that there is some good beneath those rugged, dirty exteriors.
As you play, look for the good in people. Try and understand why they do what they do, and why they have taken up their place in the gang. Maybe take a second to consider your actions when you decide you really want a stranger’s horse or wallet. Get lost in the wilderness, but don’t forget to reflect on these strangers’ lives.
11. God of War
From the very beginning of the game it’s clear that Kratos has NO CLUE on how to be a single father. He barely knows his son, Atreus—and Atreus similarly doesn’t know how to communicate with his father.
Early in their journey, Kratos and Atreus travel to another realm to get the “Light of Alfhiem.” When they arrive at the Light, Kratos enters into it and finds himself in a dreamlike world. There he hears a memory where Atreus says he loves his father, but it’s hard because Kratos doesn’t reciprocate. At the moment Kratos seems to reach the end, he’s pulled out by Atreus—to find that he had been in the light for much longer than he thought and Atreus lashes out at him for abandoning him. Atreus accuses Kratos of not loving him or his mother. Kratos bites back that Atreus does not know his ways: that he will grieve in his own manner. Atreus realizes then that his father does care behind his stoic demeanor. What follows is the first real conversation they have with each other, laying the foundation for their reconciliation.
While the Bible is filled with dysfunctional father-and-son relationships (Abraham and Isaac, David and Absalom, Jacob and all of his 12 sons), the good news of the Bible is all about a Father trying to reconnect with His own sons and daughters, i.e. us. I think that’s what Jesus would love about God of War. Throughout the rest of their journey Kratos and Atreus grow closer in the face of many trials: their relationship strengthens into a very real bond—shown through dialogue while exploring. As Kratos grows stronger, Atreus becomes a much stronger AI companion. So by the end of the game you have your hands on a reconciled relationship between a father and son.
10. A Way Out
I played A Way Out with one of my best friends. The voice acting, writing, and plot conveniences may have been a bit much to bear at times, but what drove us forward with rapt interest is how much director Josef Fares delivered on his promise to make a co-op game unlike any before it.
The gameplay makes teamwork a constant, integral part of the experience. There’s a part where players have to stand back to back and climb a vertical shaft, but patience is demanded since either person can easily climb too fast or slow and cause both to fall. Amusing interactions like playing music, competing with exercises, and fishing are present as well, reminding players how small, more intimate moments of play can be just as important for building friendship. Both characters propose different solutions to problems that change the story. Since they see the world through different eyes, it moves players to engage in thrilling debate and learn to put aside differences because great things and positive change are possible when unlikely duos come together.
On the flip side, there’s another aspect of the game that uniquely elevates it. The sequence would strike close to Jesus’s heart since it echoes a poignant turning point in His relationship to one of the disciples. My friend and I found it easier to empathize with Jesus because our shared silence spoke for it as the credits rolled in the wake of betrayal.
9. Donut County
In Donut County, you direct a hole in the ground that gets bigger and bigger until it sucks up every little bit of the belongings, homes, and family members of various anthropomorphized animals living in the American Southwest. It’s alarmingly satisfying to grow from a hole barely large enough only to devour a blade of grass to sucking up entire mobile homes by the end of a level. What makes Donut County special, however, is the game’s refusal to let players revel in their success for very long as they are then given a window into the displaced lives of those whose homes and possessions they literally consumed.
Jesus once told this story about a man whose fields produced an abundant harvest. The man responded to this fortunate turn of events, as many of us would, by building bigger and bigger barns to store all his grain. He then put his feet up and enjoyed his newfound life of luxury. Donut County essentially puts you in control of this man, only instead of a man you are a raccoon and instead of a running a farm you run a successful Donut Shop. And instead of actually delivering donuts to people, you deliver a hole that sucks up their homes and possessions. Perhaps it’s not a perfect analogy but for those with ears to hear and eyes to see, Donut County is a parable about the collateral damage of growing a business without giving due consideration to its impact on the community around it. In Jesus’s story, the man’s life is taken from him such that his life of luxury is cut out from under him. Donut County is not nearly so dramatic, but it nonetheless warns us against greed and nudges us toward the kind of generosity Jesus consistently embodied.
8. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine weaves an American tapestry of mysterious folk tales that remind us what it means to be human.
You are an unnamed traveler, criss-crossing Depression-Era America’s landscape to collect stories in an effort to win back what you lost in a bad game of cards. As you travel, you step into cities, farmlands, and homes, listening to the stories of the people. You witness both the glorious and the strange, collecting all that you see and hear to carry with you. Campfires along the way introduce you to a wide cast of characters who, depending on your level of engagement, tell their stories either encased in careful lies or filled with enlightening truths. Like the parables of Jesus, these stories not only reveal more about the one telling, but also serve as a pinpoint of light to better understand the truth about ourselves and the world around us.
WtWTLW is a game about listening to people and acknowledging their importance, providing a lesson in the value (and the magic) of an individual’s story—that ignores the barriers of age, class or culture. It’s about the hospitality of strangers and the beauty of openness—how that each of our histories create this nation we call home. In this, we travel as Jesus traveled and we listen as Jesus listened—accepting each story and sharing our own.
“This land is built on stories. It’s one big story, this country, woven of many small ones… all the stories and songs and myths and legends start somewhere … with a seed. The more important stories are the true ones—the ones people will tell you about their own lives … (the ones that) often get lost in the weaves of the big story.” – Dire Wolf, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
7. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit
Captain Spirit is heavy. Really heavy.
The game follows 9-year-old Chris and his single father Charles on a snowy Saturday morning. Charles is introduced as a day-drinker with good intentions, but we are given hints of abuse via the bruises on Chris’s arm. They go on to talk about Chris’s mother—Charles’s wife—who is conspicuous by her absence.
We follow the perspective of Chris as we become familiar with the toll the loss of his mother has taken. Charles lounges in front of a television screen, bottle in hand, reliving the his glory days as a star athlete. Chris, by contrast, escapes into his childhood fantasies as the brave Captain Spirit. Personifying his sense of loss as the supervillain Mantroid, he transforms an otherwise debilitating grief into something that can be grappled with.
Chris and his father present two diametrically opposed means of coping with loss, illustrating both a positive and a negative escapism: as Charles dissociates from reality by dwelling on the past, Chris faces his pain by incorporating it with play. This forms a vignette of how our habits of thought either empower us to hope or paralyze us in fear. Chris’s world is enchanted with possibility and aided by a positive self-understanding. He is Captain Spirit, after all! Conversely, we find in Charles a mind that is so caught up in fear over the future that he can’t bring himself to think adequately in the morning about what he’ll do in the afternoon. A world without possibility is a world in which change, and thus hope, is no longer possible. Charles projects his low sense of self on his son: he no longer sees the point in trying.
None of us choose our own parents, much less the tragedies that befall us. Jesus taught as much. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,that he was born blind?” The cruelties of life are rarely as easily preventable as that. Our best recourse in the face of unthinkable may simply be a childlike imagination, and a belief in the promise of hope: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
6. Speed Dating For Ghosts
What can you learn about someone in 5 minutes? How much can you truly understand the way someone is? In a world with over a billion Facebook users, and 100 million daily Instagram users, we find ourselves challenged to build deeper relationships. Speed Dating for Ghosts forces us into this uncomfortable state: we have 5 minute conversations to decide who we are going out with. However, this is a postmortem tale: you’re a ghost dating other ghosts..
When you sit down with a ghost date, your first instincts may be to judge how they look. Before questions like “What are they wearing?” I went straight for, “OH GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO HIS HEAD?” During these initial conversations my initial judgments seemed correct: “Ok this guy is a football freak (with a football through his head),” or, “Ah, this dude was just brutally murdered.” Or I could barely have words for it other than, “Whoa, she is uh… eclectic.”
I found that when I spent more time with these ghosts, they carried with them very real pain and regrets. Some desired to fulfill their true dreams, while others tried giving back to the living what they missed in their own lives. One ghost that I dated had issues with self confidence that we addressed together. Another realized the very harmful truth of how they died on our date. The most moving moment for me was on a date with a ghost I initially had no interest in: we spent the night restoring her relationship with her still breathing daughter. By pure coincidence it started raining inside my room… On my face… It’s moments like this that make Speed Dating for Ghosts more than a simple game. What I love is how this forced me to look past my initial biases and judgments, and understand that there is a former living person behind every white sheet. These ghosts carry with them all the dreams, doubt, and desires of their pasts lives.
Jesus would love that it speaks to a reality beyond the ghosts on my screen: that the breathing people we meet are just as complicated—carrying just as many doubts and fears. When you truly listen to others, not only do you appreciate them more, but you also grow yourself.
5. Return of the Obra Dinn
Jesus gave us some fun instructions on how to judge people: in short, how we judge others is like a boomerang—exposing our own flaws in the process of judgement. Return of the Obra Dinn casts you into the role of such a judge—one who has the very difficult role of untangling the true fates of sixty souls.
You’re rowed to the starboard side of an 18th century cargo vessel. On deck, you find only the remains of its crew—and a lot of questions. It’s simplest to start with, “who was this person, and how did they die?” This mystery is made easier with a pocket watch that gifts you with a window into that poor soul’s last moment. You, however, have as much time as you want to walk around and take in that gunshot, stabbing, or evisceration. Yet even when shown the face of a murderer or the sight of a murder weapon, sometimes your read on the situation is misguided. That protruding knife wasn’t the death-dealer, or the name of the victim may have been an altered identity. It takes painstaking work to unravel—only somebody special is truly qualified for this.
When I leave the game I feel how ill-equipped I am to discern who people truly are. I feel like I’ve been more wrong than right in evaluating these people in death. I wonder how often I’ve been wrong in life.
In Obra Dinn, your pocketwatch never lets you look into the hearts of men—it only reminds me of how hard the task of judging others can be. I’d love to say I learned to judge others’ actions rightly. But I can only hope one day I’ll actually check my assumptions at the dock.
4. My Child Lebensborn
Who deserves mercy: a nation of angry people wronged by war, or a child born of its messy war-forged relationships? My Child Lebensborn asks you to make that choice.
You care for a child born of the Lebensborn Nazi program that is unwanted by their birth mother. I adopted Karen, a little girl, and brought into my life the most heartbreaking Tamagotchi in existence.
I make a little money working at a factory, but I’m lucky to have that job because the people in town know that Karen is fathered by a Nazi German soldier. I could keep feeding her gruel every day because it’s cheap and fast, or I could take the extra time and money to cook something that she enjoys. Many times I am faced with the choice to try to get Karen to eat—or read her the story she likes before bed. Feed her body or feed her soul?
Karen is excited to meet new friends at school, but she is abused by both fellow students and teachers. The one friend she has managed to make abandons her, submitting to peer pressure from the other children. Then Karen asks me what a Nazi is and what a bastard is and I try to explain in a way a seven-year-old would understand, but mostly I want to pick her up in my arms and hold her tight.
When Jesus taught, he welcomed children and blessed them. In Matthew 18, He says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” and, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” The way we treat the most vulnerable and innocent among us always reflects how much we really get Christ.
“Why do we fall?” Celeste wrestles with both this question and its answer, both literally and figuratively. The game tasks you with climbing the titular mountain with only your ability to double jump and to cling to walls. Making your way up is no easy task, as the path forward is hard to navigate and requires you to master some pretty tricky jumping puzzles to succeed. Beyond its cutesy graphics, Celeste tells a deep story about a young woman’s attempt to overcome deep flaws in herself—represented by her reaching the summit of Celeste.
Near the end of the game (spoilers ahead:), your character Madeline is almost to the top, but she takes a nasty fall that takes her back to the bottom of the mountain. There, she struggles with her depression, which is represented by a darker mirror image of herself (“Part of Her”) that attempts to convince Madeline that the journey was for nothing and that she should turn back. However, by this point in the story, Madeline has learned that forgiving herself and forgiving others is the only true and healing path forward. Disarming her mirror self with this revelation, and forgiving her mirror self for the torment she has caused her, both characters begin the arduous trip back up the mountain, with “Part of Her” providing major boosts to Madeline so that she can ascend much quicker than she did alone earlier in the game. The game ends with Madeline and the friends she made along the way celebrating their hard earned victory at Celeste’s summit (end of spoilers).
Celeste strikes at the center of what it means to be a person in all of our messy humanity. While Jesus wouldn’t particularly care for the saucy language that I sprinkled throughout my playthrough whenever I missed a jump again and again (and again and again…), the struggles of Madeline attempting to confront her own fallenness and seek redemption through forgiveness at her lowest certainly finds common ground with a faith that sometimes confesses “darkness is my only companion” but goes on to state “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” Celeste is a wonderful reminder that even when we fall, we are lifted up again through redemptive love, forgiveness, and grace—both for ourselves and for one another.
2. Marvel’s Spider-Man
It’s difficult to think of a superhero more centered around themes of resilience and authenticity than Spider-Man. For over 45 years, fans have watched him overcome super-villains and personal tragedies alike. For all that amazes us about Peter Parker, it is his tenacity in the face of adversity that has driven his character. Adversity in Marvel’s Spider-Man takes the form of a rogue’s gallery of villains. Most of these villains come in forms that aren’t challenging to Peter’s expectations, but two other characters play center stage.
Martin Li is introduced as the well-educated founder of an inner city homeless shelter, where Peter’s aunt works and Peter often volunteers. Peter relies on Martin’s work both as compliment to his vigilantism: to provide opportunity for him to invest in the community in a more proactive way. Then, there is Otto Octavius, for whom Peter works as an intern creating a new line of advanced prosthetics. It is clear the Peter has set his heart on becoming like Otto, who exemplifies what heroism might look like without the use of a colorful suit and alter-ego. But while Peter is in the midst of learning from both mentors what it means to be a hero in a much more far reaching and consequential way, their inner demons make themselves known.
(Spoilers ahead:) Peter witnesses a terrorist attack targeting Mayor Norman Osborn and sees Martin among the perpetrators. After investigating his involvement, Peter discovers that Martin had been plotting the attack, and more like it, for years. And after funding for their project is suspended, Dr. Octavius descends exponentially into vengeful madness. Because Martin Li and Otto Octavius represent everything that Peter Parker wants to be, Mr. Negative and Dr. Octopus stand as deep violations, not just of Peter’s hopes, but of his very sense of self (end of spoilers).
Peter is suddenly thrust into playing the hero against his own heroes. True to form, Spider-Man does the right thing, but at great personal cost. Here we may find a clarification of Jesus’s experience with authority. He “came to his own, and his own did not receive him.” His was a rejection so profound that, to the cultural elite of his own community, allowing him to live seemed to risk validating his message. That being the case, if he were to play Spider-Man, he may very well find something relatable in Peter Parker.
You have a dream that the world is about to be destroyed. You’re quickly dismissed as “not the hero” by a luminescent Rainbow Girl—a messenger to the Creator of this Universe, Eya. But before she leaves, she tells you that there could possibly be one way to maybe save the world—to collect six Overseer songs that can be found throughout the earth. Throwing you a peace symbol and a heart emoji, she vanishes, leaving you with only your singing voice and your boundless optimism.
As this optimistic bard, you traverse spiritual realms, kingdoms, and even pirate ships: collecting songs to try to save the world. Throughout, as the Rainbow Girl and townspeople continue to doubt your success—you’re left questioning your purpose. What do you do when you believe you’re the hero that no one believes you can be? Wandersong’s response: be the hero you are instead of the one people expect. Heroism isn’t measured in bulk or recognition, but in the melodic tones of compassion and kindness.
You encounter “The Hero,” Audrey, who speeds from goal to goal, slicing down everything in her path. She reaps the praise and accolades while you pass by unnoticed. But her “heroic” brashness makes her deaf to the harmonic masterpiece surrounding herself and the bard: the songs of those who are lost, broken, or in need of healing.
You may only be a “not hero” bard: inept with a sword (killing nothing but classy-hat fashionability). But you can transform the world with music: warring kingdoms unite in peace. Those once divided find hope in a shared future. And a world that was broken mends with understanding and optimism. With the heroic singing of our “not hero” bard, we see that answers aren’t always found in the mighty, but also in the small, broken and seemingly insignificant.
Through a colorful singing wheel mechanic with a variety of uses, an optimistic use of color, and a dynamically interactive soundtrack by A Shell In The Pit, Wandersong will lift your heart and remind you that even when the world is doomed, if we love one another and sing with our whole hearts, we can fill the Earth with more color than all our yesterdays.