"When people die they just... go away. If there's any place a soul would go, it's in our memories."
This is the opening statement of "Lost Odyssey's" start screen movie. I've been playing the classic Japanese style RPGs for almost 20 years now. Because they often take place in magical worlds and as stories become more philosophical and sophisticated, they often present spiritual philosophies that mirror ideas in the real world. I sometimes wonder if they also CONTRIBUTE to the philosophies of our modern culture.
As an aside, here's an interesting question. Do you think this game would be accepted by the mainstream gaming community if instead the opening statement was: "There is no afterlife and no God." (The original opening statement pretty much makes this assumption based on what it says, although this sounds less "pretty", huh?) Or how about the same phrase based on an alternative philosophy: "When people die, they either go to heaven or hell for all eternity." (That one probably wouldn't sell as many games, either.)
Think about the phrase "live on in our memories" for a second. You know what it refers to. Someone has died and we use this phrase to give us some level of comfort. Where did you first hear this phrase? There's a good chance you don't remember. I know I've heard it from movies, tv shows and probably from a real person, too, but I can't pin it down. This phrase just found its way into my mind.
Is this how we're developing our views of reality? By osmosis? How often do we ask ourselves where our philosophical or spiritual views come from and why do we believe that they are true? Do they have any substance or are they just nice sounding ideas that temporarily help us avoid confronting the truth?
Let's pick apart "live on in our memories". Does that really mean that when I die, I'm going to continue living, but only when people remember me? And how many people's memories will I be divided up into? Will I only exist in the form people remember me to be? It sounds like my entire, eternal existence depends on other people's memory of me. Yikes. I guess I better make a strong impression now.
But wait, I guess it can't be eternal, can it? Because eventually the people that remember me will all die. So much for living on in the memory of others.
And for fun on your own, try picking apart this one. "Follow your heart."
You might think to yourself, "you're over-thinking this, Paeter", but that's actually my point. As soon as you pick these slogans apart, you can see how meaningless and powerless they are to solve the deep issues of life, death and eternity.
So why do we even say them? I believe we say them because in the short term, they give us comfort and help us avoid thinking about things that make us nervous: Purpose, morality, death, etc.
A little mental game I like to play that you may want to try out is this:
Whenever I watch a movie, play a video game, read a book or watch a tv show, in the back of my mind I keep a radar running, watching and listening for a philosphical viewpoint to be presented, either directly or, more often, indirectly through vague terminology and sentiments like the two we've just looked at. Then I ask myself, is this idea true? What part of it is true in some sense? What parts are false?
This little mind game has another name: Discernment. And it's a skill worth developing, according to the Bible:
1st Thessalonians 5:21-22 (any blog readers/podcast listeners remember this book?)
But examine everything; hold fast to that which is good, abstain from every form of evil.
Discernment isn't about being grumpy or negative. I still really enjoy Japanese RPGs... alot. But if I play the "discernment mindgame" (much more fun than it sounds), I learn to think more clearly about what I do and don't believe, and I'm more prepared to make life choices that line up with what is really true of reality.
Anybody else catch a philosophy or worldview being presented in a game they've played recently? Let's hear it! Throw it on the table and let's see what else is out there!