Context: I’m beginning to look at venues for my writing and publications that will take my work. I expect a slow start, but I’m trying to build contacts and get all the practice I can get. I’ve recently been in contact with the editor of a Christian paper focused on a reformational worldview and that immediately made me think of Bastion.
“Bastion? Hey, 2011 called! It wants its game back!” Why is it that old books become classics but old video games become forgotten? Very sad. I’ll have to fix that somehow. For now, this:
“Proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning. Ain’t so simple with this one. Now here’s a kid whose whole world got twisted, leaving him stranded on a rock in the sky. He gets up…”
These are the first words of the 2011 XBLA hit Bastion, a videogame by Supergiant Games. These words also apply greatly to you and me. Bastion is a game about a broken world. Playing as “the Kid”, you start the game by waking up on a bed lying on a rock suspended over the ruined landscape of the world below. As you get up and begin to move, terrain rises up from beneath and gives you room to move forward.
When you wake up in Bastion you aren’t sure what happened or how you got there. All you know is that there’s been a “calamity” and the world has gone horrible wrong. As the land rises up beneath you, the story of this broken world become clearer.
The world of Bastion is made up of two nations: the Caelondians and the Ura. Latin students may instantly recognize the word Caelondia shares a root with the word Caelus, meaning heaven or sky. With that in mind, Ura may very well be a reference to Uranus, the Greek equivalent of Caelus. We learn that the Caelondians and the Ura once fought a war. Worried about the war turning against them, the Caelondians built “The Bastion – where everyone agreed to go in case of trouble.”
What follows is a story about how this world broke and how to put it back together again. Obviously for Christians, this is a story we know well. Bastion evokes the Fall and Redemption themes in the narrative of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. We are born into this fallen world, “stranded on a rock in the sky,” and we have to piece together what we’re going to do about.
Of course, we know that we can’t do anything about it. The only one who can fix this world is Christ. That’s why the player character, The Kid, is the Christ-figure in this game. He’s the one that can fix the Bastion, the Bastion being a refuge from the ruined world and an in-game equivalent for the church. The Kid carries a crest, a symbol of Caelondia, that causes the fragments of the ruined world to rise so he can stand on them – fight on them, even.
Now some spoilers: In the final levels of Bastion, you are presented with two choices. The first has to do with an Ura, one of your former enemies named Zulf. Zulf sabotaged the Bastion and abandoned it only to be later betrayed by his countrymen. In the final level you fight the Ura while carrying a heavy battering ram as a weapon. When you reach Zulf, badly beaten, you have a choice to leave him for dead or abandon your weapon and carry Zulf to safety. If you choose to save Zulf, you throw the battering ram away, abandoning your weapon, and carry your enemy to safety. You’re attacked as you walk but the attackers eventually cease out of respect when they see that The Kid isn’t giving up. I can’t help but think of Christ when I see the Kid carrying the battering ram on his shoulders like the cross and then giving up his only defense to save his enemy.
The second choice is to either reset the world or carry on with your newfound friends in the Bastion. When you reset the world, the relationships you’ve built throughout the game disappear and the narrator enigmatically says “See you in the next one,” suggesting that in a reset world, the same Calamity would take place. But if you choose to carry on, what you’ve built from the broken world remains. The world is not reset, but it is redeemed. I find parallels in this with God’s choice to spare some of the creation that grieved him from destruction in the story of Noah and the Flood. He did not destroy all that he had built but chose to redeem it, culminated in the sacrifice of Christ.
What does all this mean? So much. This is just a snapshot of the biblical parallels and themes in Bastion. This is a game that asks a lot of interesting and challenging questions. It is a great lens to consider our place and our works in a broken world, but I think it also says something very specific to Christians. So often we look over the medium of videogames because we assume it to be childish or else immoral. But there are also thoughtful game designers trying to craft rich and rewarding experiences for their players. These designers are working in a broken medium and they are trying to reform it. Moreover, they are succeeding. Supergiant Games might not be trying to push a Christian perspective, but they are creating venues of dialogue in which the Christian message can be spoken.
We’ve all woken up in a twisted world, stranded on a rock in the sky. We know there’s been a calamity, but we know Christ. “They remember. That’s why this place is comin’ together. That’s why things are gonna be alright.”
I’d love to write similar material on Talos Principle, Myst, and dozens of others titles. Videogames have so much more to offer in terms of interpretation and discourse than we ever do justice to. Some like Extra Credits are putting in a solid effort. Props to them.
Anyway, I could say a hundred more things about Bastion, but bed.
But seriously, how do you concisely explain the role of Zulf to Christians who have never played Bastion? I’ll have to work on that.