Sunday, January 26, 2014

History of Trunks and the End Times

This world will come to an end. That’s a fact. Scientifically, all matter is decaying, and the universe itself will keep expanding until heat death occurs. Simply put, everything’s going to be like the penultimate scene in the NeverEnding Story, with the cold vacuum of empty space standing as our final legacy. But hey, that’s okay! Before that happens, our sun will expand into a red giant and turn our blue orb into a charred cinder. Or we could just get hit by an asteroid. Either way, we’re just as dead.

And then there’s the spiritual side of things. From a Christian perspective, God created the world to have a beginning (Genesis) and an end (Revelation). In Genesis, God fashioned the cosmos from nothing, and then lovingly crafted humanity in His image. You know the story; we disobeyed and were left with sin. Mankind suffered. A lot. Finally, after thousands of years, Jesus Christ, the son of God, was born in Bethlehem. According to the historic Gospel accounts, Jesus then died for all our sins and rose again. The Bible ends with the hope of Jesus returning: The Second Coming.

Well, what in the good Lord’s name has this to do with Dragon Ball Z? I know it sounds silly to most people, but at a time in my childhood when I knew almost nothing about Christianity, Goku presented himself as a kind of proto-Christ. As I’ve related before, there are many similarities between the two. Goku fights evil with a gentle heart, converts several “bad guys,” and even sacrifices himself to save the Earth.

So, that brings us to the History of Trunks. Basically, during a time of peace, Goku contracts a radical heart virus... and dies. Six months later, a new menace appears: two artificial humans with strength beyond conception. Coming to the defense of the people of Earth are the remainder of Goku’s team… they all perish, except for Goku’s young son, Gohan. Years pass, and much of the planet has been reduced to rubble. In this hell, Gohan is now a man. He takes Trunks, a powerful teenager, under his wing, and together they challenge the androids.

This is easily the darkest of all the sagas in Dragon Ball Z. People die, and they don’t come back. I always show this movie to people who are skeptical of the series, as it usually shatters their preconceptions. It also showcases lightening quick martial arts and a sick soundtrack featuring Dream Theater.

Well, despite Gohan’s noble attempt, he fails and passes from this life. Trunks, now alone, is forced to take drastic measures. He takes a time machine and travels back, to find Goku.

The segue I want to make is this: without a savior, our world is going to go to shit. History of Trunks shows that, despite Gohan and Trunks’ best efforts, they couldn’t set things right. They needed Goku.

My favorite scene has to be when Gohan, after just losing his arm in an explosion, gives his last bit of medicine to Trunks. He wonders aloud, “Now what would your father do?” Hmm… What Would Goku Do?  Or maybe, What Would Jesus Do?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Silent Hill 2 and thoughts on Hell

"In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill. You promised you'd take me there again someday. But you never did. Well, I'm alone there now... In our 'special place'... Waiting for you..."

I’ve already written a short review of Silent Hill 2, but after consideration, I believe that the game deserves more analysis. Many people seem to think that video games cannot fundamentally be art, that they’re just children’s playthings. Put simply, this is not true and is slander to the hardworking developers of this 40 year industry. Direct proof of this is Silent Hill 2 alone. As I’ve said, this is the only game to ever make me cry.

SH2 begins with James Sunderland getting a letter from his wife. There’s just one problem: his wife died of a sickness years ago. It must be a trick, right? But it was in her handwriting… It said to meet her in their special place, Silent Hill.

When James arrives, everything is filled with fog, but more sinister than that are the monsters that hide in it. Pyramid Head, a creature wrought out of hellfire itself stalks James with a giant cleaver. What’s going on in this town? It’s not a nightmare, though it should be.

After narrowly escaping death on numerous occasions, James finds himself in a hotel… the same hotel that he and Mary stayed in. It’s here that he finds a videotape with his name on it… so he plays it. James watches the screen in horror as he sees himself strangling his own wife in a hospital bed. Finally, he realizes what he’s repressed subconsciously: That he murdered Mary.

Soon after, he accepts what he’s done, and he also realizes what Pyramid Head’s true symbolism is: James’ punishment of himself. James then speaks to Pyramid Head, saying “I was weak… that's why I needed you… I needed someone to punish me for my sins… but that's all over now. I know the truth. Now it's time to end this.” Silent Hill was James’ personal Hell.

After conquering his demons, James is then briefly reunited with his beloved Mary. James, in tears, tells Mary that he killed her because he wanted his life back. Mary lovingly says to him, “James, if that were true, then why do you look so sad?” She forgives him, and tells James to go on with his life. This scene profoundly touched me.

Honestly, SH2 is not merely a fantastic story, it also touches on many spiritual questions. The central ones being salvation and Hell. Let me preface what I’m about to talk about with this: I am not a theologian, pastor, or an expert of any kind. That being said, I do wonder about Heaven and Hell quite a bit as a Christian.

What I’ve neglected to mention so far is that there were actually two other people that Silent Hill beckoned. One was a man who was badly bullied named Eddie. The other was a young woman named Angela, who was raped by both her father and brother as a child. The two of them later committed sins against their abusers. Eddie shot a football player who made fun of him, while Angela stabbed her father and brother to death. James encounters both of them, and they sadly choose damnation over salvation. James rescues Angela in one part of the game, but it proves to be in vain as she chooses to walk up a burning staircase. Her last words to James show her acceptance of being in Silent Hill, “Or maybe, you think you can save me. Will you love me? Take care of me? Heal all my pain? ...[Hmph]...That's what I thought."

I bring all this up to highlight our understanding of Hell. I just sincerely doubt that most people truly understand what it’s like to be in absolute agony. I can attest, as someone who struggles daily with severe, suicidal depression, that it is Hell. I do believe that a literal, physical Hell does exist. I also believe that some will not be saved. However, I just don’t accept that Christendom’s traditional understanding of the Inferno is accurate.

I believe the Bible reveals that God’s central attribute, above all else, is love. Above sovereignty, holiness, wrath, and whatever else you can think of. A predominantly wrathful God would not save a sinful humanity from what we deserve… only an overwhelming love would do that. As John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

So, I view with skepticism this centrally Calvinist soteriology that permeates the church. At bottom, I do think that we as Christians can make progress. Clearly, this is true from social justice standards by abolishing slavery. It is also true scientifically, by shedding light on how the Earth orbits the Sun and not vice-versa. It’s even shown to be true theologically, by Martin Luther splitting from the historic Catholic Church.

When I play Silent Hill 2, and weep at the sight of such grace offered by Mary, a video game character, I can only imagine how much more God delights in loving His children. Does God’s love really stop at the grave? Is it possible that some of those who die in sin can be redeemed even in Hell? I don’t know… but it’s worth thinking about.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A partial defense of the Sega CD

“Hey! You still don’t have a Sega CD? What are you waiting for, Nintendo to make one? You have seen the games, right?” Thus goes the “angry black guy” ad from Sega. Sadly, the games he proceeds to “show off” are all horrendous FMV (full motion video) games. Don’t know what an FMV game consists of? Well, imagine that instead of playing a game, I smash your controller with a brick and you’re forced to watch a movie made by Satan and Pauly Shore. That’s about the gist of it. Live-action video does not belong in video games… unless it's Wing Commander (Hey, Mark Hamill’s in it!).

So, rewind to 1992. CDs were cutting edge, to the point that even a full year later, the girl in Jurassic Park had her mind blown when she saw them, “It’s an interactive CD-ROM!” During this time, the Sega Genesis had, with the help of brilliant, in your face marketing, usurped Nintendo in 16-bit sales. Sega must have been pretty sure of themselves, to the point that they decided to make a radical new expansion… by creating a CD add on for the Genesis.

The main problem for the lazily titled Sega CD was this: It really wasn’t needed. Not only did Sega not need to push it financially, but consumers didn’t want to spend an insanity inducing 300 dollars on something that wasn’t even a stand-alone console. To make things worse, the pack-in game, Sewer Shark, was literally as much fun as playing in a real sewer. The death-knell for the Sega CD came quickly. People realized that, above all, the Sega CD did not provide a next generation experience and couldn’t produce 3D visuals. Later, Sega shot themselves in the foot again by releasing yet another Genesis add on, the Sega 32X.
Well, things sound pretty bad here, huh? Yes, the Sega CD never should have been released at such an early stage, but since it was, there are quite a number of great things about it. See, Sega marketed the thing completely wrong. Quite simply, you were not going to get a computer experience with this product… However, you were going to get super improved versions of Genesis games, with Redbook quality music and, if done in moderation, cutscenes and voice acting that accentuate the story.

It’s really unfortunate that folks are unaware of so many hidden gems on the Sega CD. Sonic CD is one of the best Sonic games, with a jazz and funk inspired soundtrack (Sonic Boom is sick). Snatcher is a cyberpunk, Blade Runneresque adventure game that lets you pick different branching paths. Lunar: Silver Star is an RPG with anime influences and copious amounts of legitimately decent voice acting. Heart of the Alien combines the highly acclaimed cinematic platformer, Another World, with an entirely new chapter. Finally, Final Fight CD offers a sort of director’s cut to the arcade classic, optimized for the CD format.

While the Sega CD may be a historical curiosity, the real reason to pick one up now is the games… and isn’t that how a system’s legacy should end?