(All Scripture is taken from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition.)
The roguelite/like genre is a weird one. Besides having one of the most confusing naming conventions in gaming history, rogue games occupy a space no other game really hits. Other games may have permadeath, hack-and-slash gameplay, or resource management, but there’s something about a rogue game that combines these elements to create an addictive gameplay loop unmatched by any other genre. It hits on an innate desire to get better and better, and with roguelites generally allowing for improvements to your character between runs, it’s easy to tell yourself to give it “just one more go.”
My first real rogue game was Supermassive’s Hades. It’s a brilliant game, and even won a Hugo award for its storytelling, the first video game to do so. Its seamless use of Greek mythology to tie the gameplay together is one of the best examples of game direction and design I’ve seen. And yes, it can be absolutely infuriating, as rogue games are wont to be.
Getting to the end of a run of Hades just to die at the very last second is awful. It feels like a complete waste of a run, and I’ve had a couple controller-snapping moments in my time with the game. But those moments of frustration can feel oddly familiar, and I think I’ve realized why.
Life is full of obstacles and struggles. For me personally, my mental health feels like riding the world’s worst roller coaster. Some weeks, I’m high on life, and other times, it feels like there, quite literally, is no reason to keep going. It’s confusing, and every time it feels like I’m “getting better,” I dread the inevitability of tripping and falling at the very end, leading me back into the same mental spiral that I just escaped from.
It doesn’t just have to be mental health. As believers, our spiritual walk can be pretty unpredictable. Sometimes we feel as if God is right with us, guiding our every step, and it really feels like we can move mountains. Other times, it feels like He’s a universe away, and, just like that death at the end of a Hades run, we’re left asking ourselves “what did I do wrong?”
Of course, it’s not that God literally leaves us on our own. Chris E. W. Green writes in Surprised by God: How and Why What We Think About the Divine Matters,
“…God’s presence does not come and go. Certainly not in response to our desire for it. God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, closer than our own consciousness, nearer than our very being…All of us can sing, as St. Augustine did, in the realization that God is with and within us even though we are without him. We are the ones who come and go from the presence.”
But that doesn’t change the fact that the currents of life sometimes leave us stranded on a reef, starving to death for a word from God, and we’re feeling nothing. Whether it’s a mental health spiral, the “dark night of the soul,” or just plain misfortune, these low places of life feel like failures, and if you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how you personally failed. We are like Jesus’ disciples in John 9, who, when they see a man born blind, ask Jesus “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) Clearly someone is to blame for what happened, right?
The truth is, sometimes crap just happens. The world is broken, and seems to be getting moreso every day. We see the consequences of sin piling up like unpaid student loan debt, and we feel its effects. Truly, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-24).
And yet in all this brokenness, we have hope. As Paul writes to the Philippians, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). That isn’t to say that everything will be rosy and comfortable. In fact, Scripture promises us time and time again that we’ll face the exact opposite. But we are also promised that, through every downfall and heartbreak, our God will walk with us to the other side.
And this is why that last-minute rogue run failure feels so familiar. Because even though that run may be over, the experience I gained from it isn’t. And, in the case of a roguelite like Hades, I’ve gained resources that I can use to improve myself so that, the next time I’m in a tough spot, I’m equipped to handle it. The first time I did a run of Hades, I didn’t even make it out of the first area, Hades itself. It took me a few runs, but I eventually made it to the second area, Asphodel. Then, after a couple more runs, I made it further. Each time, I gained experience, and each time, I made sure to put those resources to good use so that I was better equipped to handle the threats I was facing.
It’s easy to despair when I find myself falling down the same mental spiral I’ve already been down before. But whenever I do, I carry my past experiences fighting off those same unhealthy patterns, and I can put those to good use. I’ll never completely insulate myself from failure or despair, but I will get stronger. Whenever you find yourself feeling like you’re in the same place you’ve always been, think back. You’ve been here before, and guess what? You made it out, and you gained some experience along the way. So put it to good use, and have faith that the work of the Holy Spirit will make good of every evil. And one day, when Jesus returns, all tears will be wiped away, and everything, finally, will be made right.