Spirituality in Japanese Video Games

I am grateful for the opportunity to write this post for Gospel and Gaming, with whom I did an interview! It is aso posted on their own page. Enjoy!

As a gamer, I have noticed that most of the games I enjoy playing come from Japan. I’m not just talking about Super Mario or other Shigeru Miyamoto creations, but most of them in general. It can be a scrolling shooting game like Raiden Trad or JRPGs that nobody has heard of. Visual Novels aren’t up my alley as the action just isn’t there, nor are dating sims, but these beautifully animated and story driven games always draw me in.

Ikaruga, a VERY difficult shooting game. Don’t believe me? Give it a try 🙂

Japan has been a country that has interested me for a long time, even though I have yet to visit. I believe it all started with playing JRPGs and watching anime when I was younger. Who knew that all this amazing entertainment came from a place far, far away from me! I just thought someone in the USA made these games and shows! As I learned more about the culture, language, spirituality, and overall geeky side of the Land of the Rising Sun, I felt like I understood more of why they do what they do.

Some games that I have played have had strange references, artwork, tropes, and symbols that let you know this was made for a Japanese audience. That is what I love about the Japanese: they do not try to lower the culture level when they make something. As many countries like to do, it’s fun and patriotic to put some of the essences of your nation into what you are doing. Similarly, when I write, I prefer to write with a Christian perspective because I’m a believer in Christ and my faith pours out into everything I do!

Role-playing games have the most obvious Japanese ideas going on, from the anime-style characters like the blue-haired hero from Breath of Fire to the Japanese foods that characters eat. It can also include religious references to Shintoism like in Okami or Yomawari. Finding a Christian perspective can be tricky sometimes when I go through these games since they are not portrayed from a biblical view.

Beautiful game where you star as a Shinto deity.
What I do find interesting is that God will show me a reflection of Himself as I play. It is not something I particularly look for, but just jumps out at me. In many JRPGs, to beat the game you must fight against some form of deity that represents God Himself. It doesn’t really matter what I am doing, I see God everywhere because He is the Creator of everything. My eyes and ears are open to see or hear Him in all aspects of my life. I just make sure I am listening, because God is always talking.
Humanity is made in the image of God, so whatever we create will have His fingerprints on them. A lot of times what seems “secular” or apart from God, in fact can help someone find Him. The Japanese, though not a nation with many followers of Christ, still demonstrate that hunger to know who God is.
To explain my point a little more, one theme that is showcased a lot in their games is that of the light beating back the darkness, like in Castlevania or Kingdom Hearts. Even if the game has mature themes or is rather graphic, good always triumphs over evil and usually by a lot! There is a struggle to beat that final boss, but I’ve noticed that the world remains at peace even if the main character has to sacrifice themselves. The bible says that blessed are the peacemakers, and this can be seen heavily while playing most Japanese games. Even in old school games like Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog, the good guys always win.
I believe that as people, God has placed a sense of justice in all of our hearts. If they were living their best in terms of morality, and something bad happens, they seek restitution for living upright lives. It’s the same concept that is shown in video games, like Lightning Returns, where the main character is considered the messiah that will save the world from evil. Everyone is looking for an answer from someone or something. That innate longing will spill out in different ways, even through creative forms like video games.
Ecclesiastes 3:11
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
The Japanese, just like any culture, express their want for answers in this life and the one after in various ways. The main reason I even play games is because of the experiences I go through when I do, since they have become so much more than the little pixels of the Atari days. I look forward to playing more of these carefully crafted works and explore new, digital worlds that come to life for me.

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When not conquering digital worlds in video games, he can be found reading, watching anime, listening to music writing, and just enjoying life as a geek in the city.

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