Videogames provide the perfect tools for pure escapism or utter powerlessness. As a fully interactive media, the player can be as involved as the developer in the fate of our characters, or we can be utterly impotent in swaying our destiny, with our fated path foretold in the coding.
One technique that game producers have used to exploit this situation is to put the player in the position of beings of incredible power over their domain, compelling the player to experiment and consider the possibilities of the powers they are given, while slowly revealing what degree of choice in our destiny we are actually granted.
In 1995, Joan Osborne sang "What if God was one of us?". Let's look at some games that will help us find out: "What if one of us was a god?":
Lemmings (in which the player is a God of Benefaction/Genocide)
As a God of Benefaction, you have a set number of abilities you can bestow upon your hairy minions, such as the power to climb vertical surfaces, build stairways, or dig through the earth.
As a God of Genocide, you are also granted the power to annihilate any lemmings remaining on a level.
If you get stuck, cannot save the remainder, or feel like being a total dick, the Nuke button gives your lemmings a 5-second countdown before they pop into a thousand tiny pieces, putting little lemming-sized dents in the level for each lemming remaining. You can imagine that popping 100 of these furballs leaves a large impression on a level, giving you a little flavor of what godly tyranny can do.
You will be forced into tough choices. To complete some stages, you will have to sacrifice a few to secure the fate of the many. Not even a god can wrestle against chance and sacrifice.
The Sims (in which the player is a God of Relationships, Domestic Bliss and Bizarre Accidents)
As the God of Domestic Bliss, you have the tools to manage every aspect of your Sim's lives. By carefully managing their time and budget and improving their amenities you can start improving the rate at which you keep each Sim's needs in check.
As the God of Relationships, you are responsible for your Sim's social standing through regular interaction with other Sims. Intimate Sims can become lovers, get married, and can conceive or adopt children. Alternatively, you can focus solely on your career or personal interests, interact with no one and live alone, your echoes of gibberish haunting an empty mansion.
As for being the God of Bizarre Accidents? Well, if your Sim goes for a swim, you could delete the steps so your Sim is stuck in the pool. If you don't look after your amenities or place your furnishings next to an open fire they can catch alight. If you get a Sim into an empty room and delete the doors, the Sim will die of hunger.
Mortality's a bitch, ain't it? Well, it can be. It's all down to you.
Katamari Damacy (in which the player is a God of Collection Through Adhesion)
In Katamari Damacy, the story goes that you are the Prince of All Cosmos, sent to Earth to gather enough material to recreate the stars and constellations after they were wiped out during a drunken spree by his father, aptly titled The King of all Cosmos.
As a God of Collection Through Adhesion, you have no limit to what can be picked up in the world. You begin by picking up thumb tacks and could end up picking up entire mountains, despite your own diminutive stature.
The whole game has a childish and surreal quality to the presentation. Distinctively silly and hilarious, the soundtrack is toe-tappingly gorgeous and the whole adventure is whimsical and charming, despite the fact that you are gradually wiping out a planet to curry favor with an alcoholic.
Douglas Adams would have approved.
Sorry, mortals, but you're just getting in the way -- which is just where you want them.
Halo: Combat Evolved (in which the player is Savior of Humanity)
Halo:Combat Evolved centers on humanity's fight against The Covenant, an alliance of aliens united under the reverence of a long-extinct civilization known as the Forerunners. They believe that this race holds the key to salvation within the vast ring worlds left behind.
You are Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, or Master Chief for short, a cybernetically enhanced SPARTAN-II super soldier and one of the last of his kind. You were trained and engineered for combat from the age of six.
Your allies revere you and your enemies curse your name.
And no wonder. You have little qualm in wading into entire armies of military moon men, when either furiously punishing your foe with their own technology, or having some close encounters using humanity's finest line in brutal hot metal dispensers.
In short, you are the last hope for humanity in winning the war against The Covenant. You are altruistic, superhumanly powerful and iconic to friend and foe. To that end, you certainly get a taste of godliness, though your powers will not prevent the loss of allies. Even a super soldier must pay the levy for his war.
God of War (in which the player eventually becomes the ... er ... God of War)
Probably the most obvious game to have godly interpretations, since the title gives a subtle clue that there may be some godliness up in here, God of War places you blade-deep in the most bloody interpretations of Greek mythology.
Flesh and bone is severed and blood flies as the most visceral conveyances of classic lore attempt to savage, gouge and maim you. Your default response is to hideously mutilate with your twin blades before getting in close to deliver a twin blow directly into the eye, or to tear a demon's wings from their shoulder sockets. Kratos is rage personified, with the weight of his murderous conquests and the execution of his loved ones on his shoulders.
Kratos is relentlessly savage in his quest for redemption and will let no being, mortal or otherwise, get in his way. To that end, Kratos is the embodiment of epic vengeance, with a fury and purpose capable of toppling gods. The strength to defeat a god does not grant solace, however. Kratos may find himself wanting against foes more powerful than any god: guilt and remorse.
More than any other medium, gaming gives you the opportunity to find a feel for something. We don't all get to be soldiers, gangsters, detectives, paper-boys, superheroes, run a theme park, race formula one cars, save humanity from an alien menace, obliterate humanity as an alien menace, or become a worm of constantly increasing size in our typical daily affairs.
Our media is uniquely capable of presenting a unique personal or improvisational experience, selectively regimented so that you get the benefit of being drawn in to an understanding of your skills and the rules, before you are given the opportunity to exploit them.
As far as videogames are concerned, differences come into relief on how godliness is addressed: As a god, are you given a choice in how you can feel? Are your subjects merely your playthings on whom you have free rein, or are you shackled, by choice or consequence, to goals that no one, not even gods, could possibly avert?
With videogames that make you feel godly, it's axiomatic you get a taste of the nature of gods that have been portrayed revered throughout history, as well as a little bit of the philosophy and theology that divinity brings up. You also gain understanding of the constant that it sounds easy at the top, but that doesn't mean that it is.
Inevitably, with godly power comes a godly burden.
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