“Sea of Stars” and the Liturgy of Stories

How an indie RPG reminded me that there's always time for storytelling

Sabotage Studios’ Sea of Stars came out of nowhere to become my game of the year for 2023, even though I’m not someone who often plays role-playing games. With both Tears of the Kingdom and the Ghost Trick remake also coming out last year, that spot would have been hard for any game to take, but Sea of Stars charmed me to my core. Recently, I finally finished the true ending after finding everything in the game, and as I sat watching the credits roll, I felt something. Yes, I was satisfied with the ending, especially after all the effort it took, but there was something else there. Something not as pleasant.

I told my wife, Michaela, about it, and she immediately ran over to our coffee table to pick up the book I’d gotten her for Christmas: Every Moment Holy: Volume 1. I’t’s a liturgy book for everyday moments. You can read our own Tyler Hummel’s interview with the author, Douglas Kaine McKelvey, here. My comment had reminded her of one of the entries. She grabbed the book, opened it, and read the “Lament Upon the Finishing of a Beloved Book.” (And yeah, I know it’s a video game, but stay with me.)

I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, but a couple of the passages spoke to that ache I felt as I watched these characters I’d grown to love go off on their lives after the game: 

“I am stirred and saddened, O Lord,

in coming to this tale’s end, 

to bid farewell and return now 

from my sojourn in that storied place

where longings for something

more than the life I lead

were wakened.

“What I feel is, at its heart, a homesick hope

for a place of unbroken communion

with my Creator, and with his people,

and with all of his creation.

What I most desire

is to open my eyes and find that,

for the first time in my life,

I am home and breathing

the wild winds of my native land.”

– Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Every Moment Holy, Vol. 1

While that might sound dramatic for a game that involves magical sewing projects and sentient clouds of mist, Sea of Stars deserves this kind of liturgy. I think a better title for this poem would be “Lament Upon the Finishing of a Beloved Story,” (I’ll forgive the book bias this time, Mr. McKelvey.) The community Zale, Valere, and Garl are able to build over the course of the game awakened a longing for that day when, finally, all believers around the world will be brought into community under the glory of God. Their bravery in the face of evil reminded me that evil does exist, and that we are anticipating when it will all be set right by the Lamb at the end of days. Their laughter and mourning reminded me that life has rhythms of ups and downs, jokes and tears, and it feels so remarkably human. Finishing the game and leaving that all behind felt like leaving behind friends, and it deserved a small lament.

And the funny thing is that, as you’re playing the game, you don’t notice it. It’s easy to get caught up in the cheesy lines, the sometimes less-than-stellar grammar and spelling mistakes, and the ridiculous nature of some of the situations the game presents. But once you reach the end and realize everything these characters have been through, and how they have grown and built each other up throughout, you find that you’ve been on the journey with them, and if you let yourself, you might end up a bit changed too.

Stories are important. Not just books, but stories, however you experience them. Whether that’s video games, audiobooks, D&D campaigns, movies, or what have you, humans need stories. They are reflections of the greatest Story, and we need them as we venture through these shadowlands. It’s easy to shove aside fiction as purely recreational, but there is a spiritual element to storytelling, which is why it’s so important for Christians to be telling our stories under the unction of the Holy Spirit. Apologetics are important, yes, but sometimes you need something more than pure facts and logic. Sometimes you need to get to their heart with a story, and if that story contains a grain of spiritual truth within it, you’ve had an impact for the Kingdom.

I think there’s also a lesson to be learned that even secular sources can lead us to a greater understanding of our Creator. Even though Sea of Stars takes place in a different world with different gods and goddesses, it awakened that “homesick hope” in me, and I was sad when my time with it was over. It reminded me that communion with God is the ultimate joy, and that I am still awaiting the fullness of that communion. It reminded me that all is not quite as it should be, and it’s easy to miss that when living a wealthy, comfortable life in a Western country. 

Take some time to experience a story soon. And when I say “experience,” I mean let yourself lean into it and get lost. Let it move you. Cry, laugh, gasp. We’re so insulated from authentic emotional experience by a constant barrage of information that it’s hard to let our guard down long enough for something to hit us, but do it. But it’s only when we are vulnerable that the Holy Spirit is able to get it through our heads how much God loves us, the privilege it is to be a citizen of His Kingdom, and the beauty and weight of our calling to spread the Gospel. For some, that may be preaching, and for others, it’s making indie video games. And it’s only after realizing that that we are able to fulfill that calling with the strength of the Holy Spirit at our backs. 

Wesley Lantz

Wesley's first memory of video games is playing through Super Mario World with his mom when he was 3 years old. Since then, he's been a classic Nintendo kid, but has branched out to the far lands of PlayStation in recent years. He enjoys the worlds that video games create and share with their audiences, and the way video games bring together collaborators from so many different disciplines like music, visual art, literature, and even philosophy. He is an advocate for excellency in all things, but isn't immune to a few guilty pleasure games, which may or may not include Disney's Party for the GameCube.

5 Comments

  1. Justin on January 15, 2024 at 5:01 pm

    Love this article. Something that has always been misunderstood about video games to me from people who don’t appreciate the appeal of them is how compelling it is to be an active participant in a story. Yes, the actual gameplay aspect matters a whole lot too, but the pull of a good game and the connection we develop to the games we love has always been a depth of participation in the story that other mediums don’t offer.

    • Wesley Lantz on January 16, 2024 at 8:32 am

      Glad you enjoyed it! One of the thing about video games that’s really special to me is the power they gain from putting the player in the driver’s seat. You’re not just passively intaking a story, you’re making it happen. I think it gets people to let their guard down in a unique way and allows games to make an impact they otherwise couldn’t. It had been a long time since I let a game get to me like SoS did, and it was a refreshing experience.

      • Justin on January 18, 2024 at 2:10 pm

        Very well said! I’m almost finished with Dredge and then SOS is next. Definitely looking forward to the experience.

  2. Arik on January 15, 2024 at 11:32 am

    I’m sorry, but Sea of Stars was a mess. The game was so in love with Garl that it was practically gratuitous. If they had paced him better it wouldn’t have been so bad, but everyone doted on him. Nobody would shut up about him. It was, “Garl this! Garl that!” no matter where you turned in this game. Garl was like an inescapable void.

    It reached a point where I wanted to smash Garl over the head with a chair. The game was so in love with Garl that it made the overall experience insufferable. That’s not even touching on the lackluster combat and how the game feels completely derivative of Chrono Trigger.

    I wish people would stop praising Sea of Stars. It did nothing that other games didn’t already do better. And most of those games weren’t gratuitously infatuated with their own in-universe characters.

    • Mickey on February 4, 2024 at 7:57 am

      Garl fills the same void in this game that Sokka does in ATLA, providing a space for the player to feel part of the universe by means of a character that doesn’t rely solely on magic. In addition, the celebration of supportive friendship, between three people without creating the oft-overdone love triangle was refreshing.

      I’m trying to imagine a game where the designers DIDN’T like their own in-universe characters….kinda seems like a weird take on making a game.

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