Intertain: Chapter 09

Within the past few months, my church went on a streak of giving birth to new life. As a result, some members would be absent from our latest Intertain session due to parental duties. Even so, we found strength in numbers with the presence of three first-timers: Ansley, Minseon, and Pastor Steve, who decided to spare the time to investigate and understand what this ministry is about.

Theme: DEATH

It is great to be able to celebrate life in witnessing additions to our community in the form of babies. Yet all of us, having been born unto this world, must think about the issue of death sooner or later.

Personally, I started to fear death from as early as five. The thought of the unknown caused many sleepless nights during my childhood. Only when I began to comprehend the enduring nature of our souls did I find some relief that death, at least, isn’t the end.

In the context of modern gaming, death is but a minor inconvenience. The screen may momentarily display “GAME OVER”, but what is there to stop the player from trying again? I will have died more than a million times in virtual worlds ahead of dying for real. Nevertheless, as a medium saturated with representations of death, videogames provide ample opportunities to discuss the topic.

For starters, we donned pilot hats and attempted Race the Sun, an endless flight platformer that tested our control of a spacecraft speeding through a treacherous landscape littered with abstract obstacles, all the while struggling to catch up to the setting sun. All of us had a go as we passed the gamepad around; none lasted more than a few minutes, while some — like poor Minseon — survived mere seconds before crashing and exploding.

Seatbelts ain’t gonna save you on this ride!

Even for gamers out there who could skilfully manoeuvre their way past multiple sections of the game, no player is able to prevent the solar-powered vessel from running out of juice at one point or another. The titular activity of racing the sun is one that will always end in failure, regardless of how far you go. Death is inevitable: if an accident doesn’t kill you, old age will.

How would you like to meet your death?

Dying isn’t just a matter of “when”, but also a matter of “how”. There is a myriad of ways to perish, both in reality and in games. To observe a few, we launched into I Expect You to Die, a puzzle title focused on getting away from precarious situations. As the first virtual reality game to ever feature during Intertain, it captured the attention of Daniel, whose technological hobbies include flying drones with FPV (first-person view) goggles. Hence we crowned him with the PSVR headset, adorned his hands with a pair of motion controllers, and thrusted him into a state of confinement within a high-tech automobile aboard a cargo aircraft mid-flight.

In the progress made toward escape, Daniel managed to kick the bucket in a variety of styles: torched by laser, poisoned by gas, blasted by bomb, etcetera. We, like the name of the game suggests, expected him to die; clearly, he didn’t disappoint. But pretty soon he figured out a working sequence that ensured survival, involving the use of a key, a screwdriver, a knife, a stick of dynamite, and pushing several red buttons in the correct order, all before driving the car out of the plane’s cargo door and deploying the vehicle’s parachute system. Smart guy!

Should’ve just called an Uber.

Afterward, the group shared about what sort of deaths they may accept. Perhaps overstimulated by the earlier excitement, Daniel said that passing in his sleep would be preferable. Angela would allow anything swift, while Kai and Ansley leaned toward a period of preparation with opportunities to talk to family and friends. The brave Minseon expressed eagerness for a heroic death through shielding others from explosion. And my wife, who has always been curious about the many mysteries in the world, quipped that she would venture out to the Bermuda Triangle merely to discover the truth before succumbing to the fate of all those who had gone before.

Have you ever felt dead living this life?

Death is most often associated with life’s end for obvious reasons. However, even as we still breathe, there are times when the weight of life drags us six feet under, metaphorically speaking.

Looking to our group for some examples: Steve mentioned raising babies as one of the most draining experiences, especially during the initial months. Daniel, who went to high school with me, recalled struggling beneath the pressures of study. For Ansley, a repetitive job would suck the life out of him… As would long office hours, May added, alluding to workplace trends of Asia.

To illustrate the feeling of a walking corpse, we checked out Manuel Samuel, a 2D adventure where the deceased protagonist is granted by the Grim Reaper a last chance to return to the land of the living for a day, but under the condition that all his bodily functions become manual in nature.

Dead on arrival.

In practicality, the game plays like an awkward zombie simulator. This was particularly true due to that we tasked Steve and Ansley to control Samuel together, assigning the buttons in a way that player one was in charge of the eyes, the spine, as well as an arm and a leg, while player two was responsible for the respiratory system plus the other limbs. Within moments after waking, Samuel was forced to endure a litany of mishaps. From forgetting to blink, his eyes burned up; from irregular breathing, he fainted. The poor guy also peed himself, choked on toothpaste, performed the splits by failing to alternate between legs when walking, and of course, fell down the stairs and snapped his spine. Steve apologised to Samuel time and again as we chuckled at the slapstick hilarity.

Moving on, Ephesians 2:1-5 offered us insight on humanity’s problem of death in a spiritual sense:

You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.

In preaching to our congregation, Steve has often emphasised that Jesus came to earth not just to help us transition from bad to good, but more importantly, to deliver us from death to life. For those finding life in the Saviour, death cannot touch our souls, both in this life and the next!

Does death come with a silver lining?

Dying was an essential step in the redeeming work of Christ, whose sacrifice showed us that there are deaths worth embracing. John 12:24-25 captures a speck of his logic:

Truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

For a series bearing “Prepare to Die” on its banner, Dark Souls has been slaying players with a distinguished difficulty since 2011. By design, these deaths possess an educational quality that works toward the betterment of teachable adventurers, as they come to grasp what it means to learn from failure. While connected online, one could also gain knowledge from the failures of other players by witnessing their final moments in the form of ghost recordings scattered around the world.

To test out if all this was actually true, we appointed Kai to enter into the fray. The tutorial section of Dark Souls III taught him the basics of movement, attack, and defence. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he was greeted by Iudex Gundyr, a giant statue brought to life for the sole purpose of killing him… And killed him, it did. Many times.

Metal versus steel.

It was hard to tell if Kai made any improvements to his game over the whole process. But one apparent thing was that he was hitting the “heal” button quicker with each subsequent run until drinking a flask became an instant reaction whenever he took damage, however minor. That wasn’t sustainable due to the limited number of healing items, and so before time ran out, we had May demonstrate how it was done. Perhaps for some, the path of learning lay elsewhere, or that it was simply a difficult game better suited for those with more skill and experience.

The ensuing discussion went anywhere from organ donors to meaningful funerals. But eventually, Angela led us to consider the contrasting views of death between this world and Christians. While people generally face death with fear and uncertainty, Christ followers have enough confidence to look forward to parting with the world, so much so that Apostle Paul was able to declare to the believers in Philippi:

To live is Christ and to die is gain.

Jesus not only died to give us life, but his bodily resurrection validated his victory over this ancient plague once and for all — like going into the belly of the beast and tearing up the creature from the inside out. Now that is a silver lining if ever I’ve seen one!

Attendance [9]: Angela Sun, Ansley Chan, Ayk Iano, Daniel Juhn, Kai Chang, May Chien, Minseon Hailey Kim, Stephen Cha, and Robin Zhang.

Giveaway: Race the Sun to Ansley Chan.