Intertain: Chapter 06

My wife and I recently moved on from our home church, a family that we had been part of for a combined total of 35 years. It was a big decision for us in this season of change. To find balance, however, we are grateful to be able to host an event like Intertain, which is the perfect opportunity to bring together new and old friends alike from various communities.

Our group was thirteen strong, hitting double digits for the first time in Intertain history. Six newcomers were present: Clement, KJ, Kenny, Eric, David, and Jean (who also happens to be my mum). Everyone shared how they got into games. Some recalled the Intel 486, while others credited their smartphones. It was fascinating to think about how gaming has changed over the decades.

Theme: CHANGE

Apart from being a first-timer, Clement was the only teenager among us. With youthful enthusiasm, he performed a few magic tricks using playing cards and a couple of Rubik’s Cubes. Everyone was thoroughly dazzled by his deft delivery. It was also a perfect way to illustrate that change can happen in an instant — blink and you shall miss it!

Q: Has your life ever been changed by other people?

Kenny took point as we peeked into the life of Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, with particular focus on how he was influenced by two people pulling him in opposite directions.

The first scene began in the attic, where Nathan claimed as his man cave. Evidence of previous adventures in the form of diaries, photographs, and artefacts lay scattered among boxes and shelves. He browsed the collections, reminisced about the spectacular places and crazy things that defined his intrepid nature. We got the sense that he was no longer the man he used to be.

Nevertheless, all that thinking led Nathan to behave as only a grown man would. Tense battle music ensued as he pulled out a toy gun and began firing plastic pellets at cardboard targets hung from the roof, all the while darting between tables and cabinets for cover. For Kenny, this was an easy-going introduction to third-person shooters.

The spontaneous, whimsical combat was cut short when we heard a woman’s voice calling from below: “Hey Nate! Are you coming down to eat?” It dawned on everyone that Nathan had put treacherous expeditions behind in favour of a quiet family life. Showing husbandly potential, Kenny knew to never keep a wife waiting. He put the toy gun back and guided Nathan downstairs without hesitation, where he joined Elena in a night of food and videogames (including an actual playable level of the original Crash Bandicoot). And even though Nathan’s mind drifted off at times during conversations, he displayed contentment in his current situation, one of security and loving companionship. Being married to Elena had undoubtedly influenced his desires and purposes.

Happy wife, happy life.

Next morning, as he rustled through paperwork at a desk job, Nathan received a much-unexpected visitor. It turned out to be none other than Samuel, his own brother whom he thought to have died years ago during one of their perilous exploits. Samuel explained how he survived being shot and thrown into a Panamanian prison, and with the help of a notorious cellmate and his goons, made their eventual escape from the facility. Kenny fought through this flashback as Samuel, who got down to business by shooting guards with a real pistol — a step up from Nathan’s imaginary attic battle, to say the least. The increase in difficulty and intensity also confounded Kenny, but he stuck with it and managed in the end.

Returning to the conversation, Samuel revealed to Nathan that they must now resume work as treasure hunters in order to repay the dangerous men that made their reunion possible. It was either that or Nathan could count his brother dead again. The dilemma taught us that a single person is sometimes enough to flip our world upside down. We reflected on the thought and shared how our lives have been changed by others in the past, for better or for worse.

Q: Has your outlook ever been changed by situations?

Some changes aren’t brought upon by individuals, but rather by the unstable world within which we dwell. On this point, The Yawhg is a group narrative experience that examines how people get caught up in situations beyond anyone’s control, and how they may respond.

We organised three teams, each with a leader plus an additional member or two:

  • Team KJ, accompanied by Clement.
  • Team Eric, accompanied by Joseph and David.
  • Team Jimmy, accompanied by Kenny.

Once we were ready, the game began with this mysterious statement:

The Yawhg will be here in six weeks, and no one expects it. Not one of us. We just keep on living our lives week by week, unaware…

Having read that, I guess we weren’t totally unaware. But left with no clues as to what the titular Yawhg actually was, we continued on in blissful ignorance.

The rules of play are simple. Six weeks translates into six turns in the game. With every turn, a player picks one of eight places to visit in the city, and makes decisions regarding activities and events encountered at the selected location. All these choices impact character stats.

In the earlier weeks, KJ focused on building up his physique by going to the forest to chop wood, as well as competing in the local arena. Meanwhile, Eric visited the slums, where he attempted to bring about order and justice through crime-fighting. His heroics almost got him killed, however, when a group of thugs ambushed him in a dark alley. Jimmy, on the other hand, chose the path of a luxurious life. He invited himself to a fancy ball held in the palace, learning to indulge in the entertainment and delicacies of the upper class. It added charisma to his character.

I’m so posh!

KJ thought to try something a little less physical in the second half of the game by volunteering at the hospital. Yet instead of tending to the sick, he happened upon an apparition that was causing a disturbance. Muscles weren’t of use here, but as he managed to reason with the ghost, his mental capacity grew. Wary of the dangers of the slums, Eric stuck to quieter pursuits. Taking up bartending in the tavern and cleaning duties in the alchemy lab improved his finesse in dealing with finer details. Dipped in swagger, Jimmy sought to solidify his place among high society during a day of exotic hunting. Things took an unexpected turn when a prey revealed itself to be a werewolf. The beast overpowered and infected its hunter with the lycanthropy virus, rendering our friend a hairy, uncivilised half-animal bereft of charm, but imbued with raw strength.

And so it was time. The Yawhg came to town at the end of six weeks:

The storm arrives in the night. By the morning it still rages. For three full days the tempest puts us through a grinder — drowns us, crushes us, ruins us… But then it ends. We see the graveyard our home has become. Our home. Does anything yet live? Is it, are we, past saving?

In the aftermath, everyone was given one final choice to make. The city had been transformed, destroyed. The locations previously available were now replaced with job roles that, depending on the suitability of the players, could give hope to the restoration of their home.

The robust and competent KJ put on a hard hat and proved effective in helping repair key infrastructures for the populace. Eric’s trained eyes and fingers compelled him to become a tailor, and a good one at that. His efforts contributed to restocking the city with essential supplies. Last but not least, Jimmy wanted to use his newfound strength and ruggedness for some manly work, and therefore he tried his hand at smelting. One problem with that: he barely had any wealth left, so there was very little material that he could utilise. Unfortunately, this oversight hindered progress; with the group moving two steps forward, one step back, the rebuilding of the city failed, and everyone was doomed to suffer for the rest of their lives. Game over!

The ending was harsh, but the entire experience taught us a lesson or two about facing life’s uncertainties. Eric emphasised the importance of taking every opportunity to equip ourselves and grow, so that we may be ready when confronted with situations beyond our control. Joseph spoke against the selfishness that often inhibits our ability to work together in unity. Jimmy lamented the fact that some changes are simply inevitable.

We were satisfied, nonetheless, after reading Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, verses that acknowledge the abundant variety found in human existence.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

In all of this, we concluded upon the understanding and perspective that, through the ups and the downs of our lives, God remains at the helm. No changes occur beyond his sovereign will.

Q: How do we persevere in a changing world?

If anyone told me that a puzzle platformer could one day cause me to become watery, I would find it hard to believe. But such has been the case with Unravel, which I happily shared with the group as an expression of unwavering love amid shifting seasons and tides.

Director Martin Sahlin based the project on his Swedish hometown of Umeå. Through photo frames in a house, the player explores memories of a granny who has spent her days in this beautiful neighbourhood, wherein joy, disappointment, peace, and sadness all come together to paint a picture of a weathered journey.

The photographs are initially blurred out by fading relationships between the granny and her distanced children as they move away from their place of birth. This was something heartfelt for our group, since leaving people behind has always been part of the deal when we (or our parents) decided to immigrate to Sydney. The game captures this notion in its diminutive character of Yarny. With a body of twine, he unravels during movement, while also leaving a continuous trail of yarn behind him. According to Sahlin, this yarn represents love — something that was, for us, better grasped after seeing Yarny in action.

Heading out with strings attached.

We nominated the skilful Clement to do the honours in the level, “Mountain Trek”. Before long, he learned how to use Yarny’s thread to span overpasses, create trampolines, and to pull on preceding segments as a method for retracing his steps or climbing back up out of a ditch when necessary. The symbolism started to play out: love covers gaps, lifts us up; it even gets us back to our roots and out of trouble. In addition, Clement discovered a capacity limit to how far Yarny could extend. So every once in a while, he replenished yarn at a checkpoint, delineating our love as requiring continual recharging if we were to persevere onward. In the end, when Yarny succeeded in restoring clarity to the granny’s memories and relationships, Unravel left us with a lasting message:

Love forms bonds, like strands of yarn. Those bonds can be fragile or get all tangled. But when they’re kept and cared for, they can bridge any distance.

Indeed, it is ever important to hold on to those we love in all manner of adversities that shake up our lives. And there is nothing as grounded as God’s steadfast love, the unchanging pillar that stands by us and endures forevermore; the unfailing constant within a universe of variables.

Let Romans 8:35-39 seal in this truth, as it did our fruitful Intertain evening.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Attendance [13]: Angela Sun, Ayk Iano, Clement Kwok, David Huang, Eric Yang, Jean Chen, Jimmy Wong, Joseph Chiang, Kai Chang, Kenny Ke, KJ Jang, May Chien, and Robin Zhang.

Giveaway: The Yawhg to KJ Jang.