Goodbye & Hello

This is to everyone who subscribes, via email or WP reader, or RSS (people still use that?) or whatever. This site is officially out of commission. But don’t fret, because I will now be posting everything at adambogert.com.

So PLEASE subscribe to me over there, and switch your bookmarks, or whatever you need to do, because some of you have been really great to interact with over the years and I’d hate for a domain name change to terminate that relationship.

See you on the other side ^_^

-Adam K. Bogert, April 1st, 2013

P.S. – No, this is not an April Fool’s Joke

VGA 10: One Step Forward, One Step Back

Despite being a general improvement over last year’s show, Spike & GTTV’s annual Video Game Awards cling tightly to juvenile and damaging stereotypes about gamers and their industry. Continue reading

Hurts So Good

“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

If you’ve ever listened to “The Dragonborn Comes,” it’s hard not to get excited when the Dovahkiin chant begins. I enjoyed it before ever even setting foot in Tamriel, and now that I’ve been there the music is deeply imbued with memories of battles hard fought, enemies conquered, friendships forged. I loved playing Skyrim. And yet, it is by far the messiest gaming experience I have had this generation.

When I finally broke down and purchased my PS3 last summer, I did so with what proved to be an ill-founded assumption: equating superior hardware with superior performance, I believed multi-platform games would look and run better on my PS3 than on my 360. Though due to the premium I place on multiplayer experience, I’d still likely end up buying most games for the 360, the few single-player games I would buy would definitely be running on Sony’s box.

Initially, this worked out well enough. I played through a handful of Ratchet & Clank titles, and attributed their goodness to the hardware rather than to their Sony development. My first multi-platform game, Arkham City, did little to belie that impression.

Skyrim changed everything. For the first time in my life, I had my console freeze and require a manual reset… three times in one afternoon. Something as mundane as stepping into knee-deep water literally crashed the game, and the first couple times it happened (before I realized that was the cause) I lost an unreasonable amount of progress (thus driving me to compulsive quick-saving, a rather time-consuming process in the game). Eventually patches came along which fixed some of the problems (water ceased to be fatal!), but the game still proves to be rife with bugs, some of which are just as “game-breaking” or obnoxious.

But every time the console froze, I willingly reset and kept playing. And that’s worth noting, because there are plenty of games I would have given up on, either for the day or for good. Assassin’s Creed 3, sadly, fits in such a category, usurping Skyrim for position of “most broken game I’ve played in a decade.”

I loved my time with Skyrim — and I even hesitate to use the past tense here, because there is still so much to do in it I haven’t even attempted — but my experience with it and, thereby, with Bethesda has been anything but pleasant. Adding insult to the injury of Skyrim‘s bugginess is the documented fact that other versions of the game aren’t nearly as bad (and have been more readily patched). And over the past several months, I’ve cringed time and again as DLC extensions of the game have been announced, released, and praised with the footnote caveat: “Four for you Xbox, you go Xbox! And none for PS3.”

As a consumer, there are plenty of things that trouble me about the situation. In the back of my mind, I curse myself for having chosen the PS3 version when I own a perfectly good 360 on which I could be enjoying all the perks of Skyrim without all the headaches. But that’s a straw man, really. Because I paid precisely the same as I would have for the Xbox version, but got far less for my money. And as each month passes, it becomes increasingly clear to me that I am, for Bethesda, a second-rate customer, not worth the time and money it would take to fix the situation. The fact that they have found the time to produce three new DLC packages this year but still haven’t found the time to fix even the main game for the PS3 blows my mind. That they have issued little more than a say-nothing apology that the DLC “might not ever get to PS3″ has me nonplussed.

This is my first Bethesda game. I preordered it well before release despite having no prior experience to suggest doing so was wise. This really could have set the stage for a lifelong devotion to the company; had my Skyrim experience been smoother, I wouldn’t have hesitated to go back and buy some of their other games.  I’d have bought all the DLC with joy. I’d have preordered Dishonored and probably started playing it on day one. Instead I find myself incredibly wary of the old “fool me once, fool me twice.” I don’t want to be a fool.

But I want to play Dishonored. And if Bethesda released Dawnguard on the PS3 tomorrow, I might seriously consider buying it. And therein lies the rub.

I want to give money to people who are treating me like I’m worthless (or at least, worth less). I have entered an abusive relationship and I don’t really want to get out of it. Some part of me truly believes I’ll be better off putting up with the treatment than simply saying “no” and walking away. If it weren’t so trivial, it’d be tragic.

And the more I think about that, the more I realize it’s not just Bethesda who’s hurting me, and gamers in general, because they can get away with it. It’s most of the industry. And the beatings are becoming commoner and commoner, it seems.

I made a pretty big stink about Gamestop a while back, and for over a year I’ve stuck to those guns: I’ve refused to buy anything from them, and I’ve dissuaded my mother and grandmother from shopping there as well. I consider the way they handled the Deux Ex situation deplorable, and besides that I’ve never been a fan of their parasitic business model.

But, you know, Game Informer is actually a decent magazine. And by subscribing to it, I’m still attached to the company that runs it. Moreover, Gamestop almost unequivocally has the best bonuses of all retailers, and it galls me every time I pick up my copy somewhere else that I’m missing out on those bonuses. Here’s a relationship I did try to walk out on, and I’ve been unable to stop looking back at it through rose-tinted glasses. The other day I almost actually walked into a Gamestop for sheer nostalgia’s sake. If they were hiring, I might have applied.

The preorder bonuses aren’t just a Gamestop thing, of course. Many games now have actual listing pages on their websites that tell you which bonuses apply to which retailers; often there are a half-dozen options. Coupled with console exclusives (like the four missions I missed out on in Assassin’s Creed 3 for buying the 360 version), buying new games becomes a game in itself, albeit an un-fun one. As the situation continues to escalate, winning moves become scarcer, and it becomes increasingly attractive “not to play” at all.

At first, not playing manifests itself in a cutback on preorders, and shortly thereafter a cutback on day or even week one purchases. A profusion of overpriced “special editions” robs them of their specialness and they are the next to go. Expensive, predictable DLC will be bundled with GOTY-style editions in six months, and the prospect of that value stretches the calendar and makes playing the “it” game during launch window far less attractive or meaningful. If you have a few friends who will be playing that far out (either because they’re addicts or because they too are waiting), then the scales tip permanently in favor of delay.

And this, of course, is the path of the devoted gamer, the one who has grown up obsessed with the industry and is unwilling to move on to other things. Anyone less committed will likely drop out entirely in the wake of online passes, DRM abuse, or lack of access to “day one” patches that fix game-breaking issues in the copy they brought home to an Internet-less house or college. These are the ones who see the abuse and decide to terminate the relationship. They are the lucky ones.

Meanwhile, the industry will continue to abuse its faithful, and I can’t say with any real certainty how to change that reality. The most effective path is also the least likely: a mass divorce, a boycott, a banding together that says “we won’t buy online pass games,” or “we won’t buy your DLC until you fix every version of the main game.” But of course that isn’t going to happen. Xbox owners have no empathy for “Sony fanboys” or vice-versa. Those who lack connection problems can’t be bothered by the cries of those who have them.

It’s a shame, honestly, that we’re all so cavalier. Gamers, as the collective partner of the industry, are a house divided, and whenever some of us call out game-makers as selfish others raise a mirror to the term. In one breath I attack buyers of used games for cutting into company profits; in the next I attack the company for profiteering. This doesn’t make me a hypocrite, mind you; it simply underscores the fact that we’re all selfish in our own way. And I guess that’s capitalism at its heart: a race to see whose selfishness pays the highest dividends.

In the end it comes back to the abuse paradigm. Bethesda can look to my desire to play its games and lord it over me as an excuse to behave however it wishes. And if I am lost, ten others won’t be. It may be arrogant, but they can honestly say “I gave you more than most would have. Go elsewhere if you wish but you won’t find anyone who can do what I do for you.” And when a new trailer releases we’ll look past the bruises in our wallets, the crashed consoles, the lost hours, and we’ll say “take me back.” And with a smile every time, the industry will.

Borderlands: Four the Win

Last night, during a very brief breathing period between spats of absurd firefighting, I explained to our Xbox Live party that this was the first time I’d played Borderlands with four people. To which one member replied, “Wow. I’m honored to be a part.” It was a quirky and seemingly grandiose reply, but hinted at a deeper truth: last night really was a unique and exhilarating experience for me, one I suppose many Vault Hunters take for granted that everyone has tried.

I hadn’t.

I caught onto the first Borderlands far too late to ride the hype wave, only a few months before number two launched. Though many of my friends had a similar idea — we wanted to get the sequel, so best play the original now — our schedules rarely aligned, and so I spent most of the first game soloing or playing with a single partner. I enjoyed it, but my main critique of the experience was that, sans a friend, the landscape was pretty barren, and to that end Borderlands 2 made soloing a far more enjoyable experience. But it wasn’t until last night’s session that I got a glimpse into what made people truly love the first game, and how much I’d been missing while meandering through Pandora alone.

Borderland‘s leveling system is extremely complex. Player level, enemy level, weapon level, Badass Rank, and other factors make straightforward encounters anything but. Whereas in other games the notion of a level 30 character tackling a level 32 enemy wouldn’t seem terribly intimidating, in Borderlands a single level usually determines whether the enemy drops or drops you. This makes even modest progression a challenge, particularly in the “True Vault Hunter Mode” that is Borderlands 2‘s New Game +, wherein enemies and loot scale to your level and entirely new enemies and AI tactics force a far greater tenacity and proactivity than the first run ever did.

Then you add co-op.

When a player joins your “struggle,” all the enemies in the game “become stronger.” Their level remains the same, but the invisible stats behind that number have changed. An enemy a few levels lower than you, which would have been a pushover were you playing alone, now becomes much stronger. The same pushover status applies only if both players are targeting him simultaneously; good luck if you’re trying to split the workload with your friend because this low-level enemy now greatly overpowers you.

And so on, as a third and fourth player are added. The result is a battlefield in which a slew of enemies, even enemies several levels beneath any individual player’s level, are now monstrously difficult to take down, and every other moment finds one or more comrades down for the count and fighting for their lives as they bleed out. It’s a rare moment indeed when at least one person isn’t calling out to be revived, baiting others to a similar fate as they, while trying to save a friend, are downed by the same ruthless enemy.

Our party tackled the “Wildlife Exploitation Preserve” area last night, and after a brutal encounter in the loading docks with a barrage of Hyperion bots, I grimly noted “this isn’t even supposed to be the hard part.” Indeed, with such difficult minor encounters, the thought of facing a boss becomes hysterical. You think back to how much trouble you had on your normal playthrough, alone, and wonder what new attacks Gearbox saved just for TVHM, and how much worse they’ll be when buffed by the four-player multiplier.

Yet despite the absurd difficulty and the countless, costly deaths I incurred over the course of several hours’ plodding, I was enjoying Borderlands 2 last night more than ever before. Perhaps it was because of the mayhem, the ridiculousness of so many explosions coming from everywhere at once. Maybe it was the thrill of seeing Zer0 cloak and initiate a surprise attack on an enemy who, before he could counter, was hurled into the air by Maya’s phaselock and became target practice for Gaige’s devastatingly strong DT.

Or perhaps it was simply the camaraderie, the shared experience of facing a challenge and overcoming it. For that’s what last night felt like: an accomplishment, complete with the face-flushed breath-catching moment in which someone says “Guys, guys, that just happened. We survived that” and, without words, you all marvel at how awesomely true that is.

Borderlands 2: No Rest for the Wicked

Ah, Pandora. A world of wonder, of beauty, of majesty and riches beyond your imagination. And also, just a little bit, a world of midgets and murder.

The first Borderlands introduced players to this crazy, dangerous world through the eyes of one of four Vault Hunters — mercenaries cut from the same cloth but dyed different colors, united (or alone) in their quest to open the fabled Vault and bask in its glorious booty. And as anyone who finished the game knows, that didn’t exactly end as planned.

Borderlands 2 picks up several years after the events of the first game. The Hyperion organization — whose “Angel” served as guide, friend, and sometimes seeming turncoat in the last game — has taken over Pandora under the iron grip and masked watch of a man named “Handsome Jack,” who in his path to the annals of ostentatious heroic history has killed anyone he considered “savage” and driven those lucky enough to escape him to take refuge in a shielded city appropriately called Sanctuary. This bastion is the player’s first destination, as he or she steps into the shoes of a new generation of Vault Hunters, in search of a new (and hopefully less lethal) Vault.

Knowledge of the first Borderlands is hardly a prerequisite for play, though certainly not a hindrance either. Most important NPCs are holdovers from the prequel, including its four Vault Hunters — Lilith, Roland, Mordecai, and Brick — whose liberation from player control and interpretation affords a wonderful (and mostly realized) opportunity for truly fleshing their personalities and skill sets out. All the people you love (or love to hate) are back, including Scooter, Dr. Zed, Marcus, Moxxi, and of course your good friend Claptrap (whose newfound affinity for dubstep is forgivable in the wake of a nigh constant supply of hilarity).

Thankfully, Borderlands 2 is far more than a rehash. In addition to the smattering of familiar faces we meet a very colorful and memorable new cast, with noteworthy standouts like Scooter’s sister Ellie, the rambunctious but lethal Tiny Tina, and the hilariously evil Handsome Jack himself. The new Vault Hunters, too, are far more compelling, due both to a wider variety of callouts (things said when reloading, sorting inventory, getting kills, etc.) and to the inclusion of in-game audio diaries which give insight into the histories of each character and what led them to Pandora.

These four (five, if you preordered or have since purchased Gaige, the Mechromancer) avatars are far more than the husks you occupied in the first game. Hundreds of customization options can be won, earned, or found throughout the game and then applied to your character (namely color schemes and face/hair/head modifications), allowing a far deeper level of visual expression than before.

More importantly, the leveling system has been vastly improved, and each character has three distinct skill trees to be explored. Each tree provides very specific advantages which promote specialization in play style and guide the player in deciding where best to spend the precious points they earn over the course of the game; for example, Zer0, the robotic ninja assassin, has one skill tree which emphasizes stealth and close-quarters combat and another which emphasizes sniping and long-distance attacks. The sparseness of points requires the player to choose one route or the other to avoid having a character with mediocre abilities, as the most beneficial skills must be accessed by pouring points into the specific skill tree of which they are a part.

The result of this set-up is that the path you choose feels far more important, and you must play to your chosen skill-set. Thus two people may play through the game as Zer0 and have radically different experiences, for one may be constantly weaving in and out of enemies on the battlefield while the other remains completely out of the danger zone. Situations which prove challenging for one may be a pushover for the other.

Moreover, in a stroke of brilliance, Gearbox offers players the chance (at a negligible in-game fee) to reset their skill points at will and redistribute them elsewhere, meaning that a player who regrets going the sniping route halfway through the game can instantly become a melee powerhouse and, in a word, begin playing as an entirely different character. To that end there are more like 12 Vault Hunters than 4, and the desire to experience all those permutations keeps the game feeling fresh regardless of how many times you revisit a storyline or begin a new game.

As such, reviewing a game like Borderlands 2 is a bit of a fool’s errand. It’s a vast, sprawling experience with so many avenues for deviance that hundreds of hours of play leave you feeling like you’ve only scratched the surface. That proves to be the game’s only real problem: you’ll never have enough time to play it all the ways in which you’d like. It seems there really is no rest for the wicked.

That Game With the Crazy Guns…

A decade ago a company I loved released the first in a series I would come to adore. A sprawling universe filled with exotic locales, a few zany heroes, and an absurd arsenal, baptized in hilarity with a fart joke or two on the side, Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank games became synonymous for me with the PlayStation — indeed, the gaming — experience. They were about exploration and discovery, about friendship and betrayal, and about destroying a lot of stuff to collect a lot of stuff so you could afford to destroy more stuff more efficiently. I spent a great deal of effort in each entry striving to unlock the promise to “rip you a new one” with a weapon more ludicrous than most other guns in the game combined, and the aim was always one of two extremes: awe or amusement. Rain fire from heaven or turn enemies into chickens, and let the 1812 Overture play on.

It’s been ten years since I first strapped a robot on my back and used his propellers to glide safely from one hilarious encounter to the next, and my memories of the franchise will always be golden as the hidden bolts I slaved away to acquire. But I’ve gotten older, I’ve matured (though some may beg to differ), and while the franchise survives it has done so as a perennial family affair — perfect for the twelve and thirteen-year-olds of today, but not so much for young adults like me. Sadly, for quite some time that “maturity” translated to the mundane, and years ago I traded the R.Y.N.O. for an M4A1 Carbine, the colorful worlds for gritty deserts, the boisterous protagonists for silent, faceless soldiers.

To clarify: I don’t consider the Ratchet & Clank series “kiddie games.” I played three of the PS3 entries last year and enjoyed them well enough. But when it comes to Insomniac, there’s a very clear divide between family-oriented material and adult-oriented material. And sadly, that sterile divide I alluded to earlier is most clearly seen within Insomniac’s own games: in its attempt to provide a “serious” experience in the first Resistance, Insomniac stripped almost all of its signature personality out of the game. Weapons felt uninteresting, and no one was cracking jokes. For the first time in my life, I felt compelled to call one of their games generic. I didn’t even have the heart to push through the whole campaign.

Insomniac’s heart is in making entertainment that everyone can enjoy, and while they excel at this goal, they do so at the cost that comes with eschewing specialization in any field: by being good at everything, they fail to be great at some things. As the most recent entries in the series demonstrate, Insomniac has decided to stop trying to please everyone and instead focus its future R&C games on younger players and their parents, on cooperative groups instead of “hardcore” soloists. And good for them: may they continue to thrive.

As for me, I’ve moved on. I’ve wanted a game that has inventive weapons that made each new acquisition feel exciting and new. I’ve missed in-game challenges, the signature Insomniac “skill point” checklist that functioned on a deeper and more engaging level than any achievement or trophy could hope to. I’ve longed to laugh out loud at character quips, to just listen to radio chatter or the recorded voice on a loudspeaker because everything is too brilliantly-scripted to ignore. I’ve wanted all of these things, but without the chains of childhood reigning them in. I’ve wanted a game that knows exactly what it is and has a blast being just that, and nothing else.

In short, I’ve wanted Borderlands 2.

Now, a “review” proper of this game will have to wait until I’ve finished the main storyline, but suffice to say the similarities between BL2 and the Insomniac games I once loved are uncanny:

  • To begin, the challenges list is the first time I have seen anything like the skill point system implemented in a mainstream shooter, and it is (dare I say) better-implemented than the skill points ever were, contributing directly to player strength and ability through the “Badass Points” system rather than merely unlocking easter eggs.
  • Vault symbols hidden in hard-to reach places are the golden bolts of Pandora, often requiring a great deal of time off the beaten path to locate and affording a similar sense of accomplishment when all in an area have been found.
  • While the weapons themselves never quite accomplish the cartoonish extremes of R&C, their names and effects are more creative than any I’ve seen elsewhere, to say nothing of the oddball unique weapons that some lucky players have been known to encounter. Grenade mods prove particularly compelling, between singularity bombs that create temporary miniature black holes to suck enemies towards them and the many varieties of child-bomb spawning ordinance.
  • Of course, no discussion of Borderlands 2 would be complete without mention of the humor, a point so ubiquitous that it notoriously ruined one prominent reviewer’s experience with its omnipresence. That’s not to say the game plays like a gag reel, of course. A few surprisingly poignant moments pepper the landscape, but the general feel is extremely laissez-faire, with supporting characters I’ve come to love as deeply as ever I loved Captain Quark and an antagonist as dreadfully endearing as any that ever threatened a lombax. Hyperion’s propaganda (especially at the Eridium mining facility), spouting with great pleasantness the expendability and worthlessness of its employees and citizens, brings me right back to the malls, factories, and cityscapes of years past, albeit with a more malicious edge surpassed only by that of a certain Aperture AI.

New, modern, and mature as it is, Borderlands 2 has been for me a game ripe with nostalgia, reminder of why I first loved games and why, despite years of ennui, I never truly lost that love. It proves that even if there is truly “nothing new under the sun,” there are endless, exciting ways to reconfigure the past.

Chronos & Kairos

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know. Saint Augustine, Confessions, XI.14

This time travel crap just…fries your brain like an egg. Looper

Chronos

The trouble with time travel is, it doesn’t work. It never has. It never will. And so long as you accept that, there’s great fun to be had with the concept.

Or perhaps I should say that messing with the timeline doesn’t work. Because a timeline implies a single, fixed path. And whenever some story comes along in which someone has to fix history, the same problem impedes it: if the fix is successful, there will never have been a problem to go back and fix, and thus the fix would never have happened.

A man goes back in time to prevent another man from rising to power. If he succeeds, then he never had a reason to come back — in fact, success of his mission should preclude his existence in the past entirely. But that, of course, precludes the prevention of the rise to power, and necessitates his presence in the past. And so on, ad infinitum.

The best a time travel story can hope for is to provide a look at an eternal present, the place in between actual time where the things causing time to run as it does are happening, perdurably. Anything else is destined to fail, for we have the paradox of two concurrent, impossible, yet inevitable realities: the one in which the problem is eternal, and the one in which the fix is eternal. And so like a hair the timeline splits, and this for every possible variation in what we call history.

It’s fun, if not taken to unhealthy extreme, to consider how our lives would be different had we done certain things differently. But for even basic changes, the potential consequences are staggering. Pluck the wings from a butterfly and chaos ensues.

I recently saw Looper, and (as with Rian Johnson’s previous films) I quite enjoyed it. Looper provides a great deal of entertainment, a refreshingly cool scenario, and stellar acting performances all around. Moreover, Looper happily avoids most of the pitfalls of the time travel genre. Like the concept of loops on which it’s based, the movie nicely wraps things up in a mostly satisfying way. It fails to close the ultimate paradoxical loop, but then I suppose it couldn’t have been expected to.

Movies are pretty brief in the grand scheme of the entertainment spectrum. Even were Looper more ambitious in scope, to the point of pursuing the alternate reality side of the time travel equation, it would likely have lacked the time or the resources to do that pursuit justice. To truly achieve a satisfying grapple with time travel, I think other media are required. Something long-form, like a novel, a television mini-series. Perhaps a game.

I’ve spent a decent amount of time playing Final Fantasy XIII-2 (henceforth 13-2) over the past month. As a sequel, it shines, correcting (if occasionally overcompensating) for every complaint the first game generated. The battle system is more compelling (put another way, it’s a lot easier to die when just relying on auto-battle), the dialogue less stilted, the music more memorable.

More germanely, the story is no longer linear. At all.

Final Fantasy XIII was an ultra-linear experience, one to which the subtitle “The Longest Hallway” would have been aptly applied. It is a perfect illustration of the way we tend to look at time: one line, stretching from start to finish (let’s leave eternity out of this for the moment), unwavering and unchangeable. Aside from the form-enforced exception whereby saved files can be overwritten and failures replaced with victories, there is no alternative to the one path.

One might even argue that the save/load feature enforces the concept of inevitability, for death in battle precludes continuation of the story, a story in which the characters did not die in that battle, and thus you must repeat that piece of history indefinitely until victory — the “true past” — has been achieved.

The sequel, which plays as an apology for its predecessor, obsesses over the consequences and implications of choice and change. Its inciting incident transpires at the end of the world: a protagonist hurled back through time to prevent this reality from happening. And so the red flag is raised: if I prevent the disaster, I’ll never have been sent back to prevent it.

But perhaps not. For it doesn’t take very long for you to realize that in 13-2 the resolution of temporal irregularity results in the generation of a new timeline; or, more accurately, a new branch of the time web.

Early on, you meet a group of people at whose behest you enter a paradox to destroy a time-straddling threat from the space-time out of which it is operating. You then “return” to the time period whence you came, but no one recognizes you; the threat you saved them from never existed. Elsewhere — or, really, elsewhen — the original versions of these people are still waiting for you to destroy that monster. And they always will be — until, perhaps, it destroys them — because for you to destroy it would, in that timeline, preclude your impetus for doing so.

The ramifications of this discovery for the protagonists are staggering. They have undergone a sort of apotheosis, alone (or, at least, quite rare) in their capacity to see and (for lack of a better word) remember every version of history they encounter, and alone in their capacity to change time without obviating themselves.

Or so it seems. I am not terribly far into the game, and already I get a sense that my actions could lead to terrible paradox. I may at some point act in such a way as to generate the aforementioned impossible loop, solving not the problem of others but my own, thereby liberating myself of temporal agency and creating an impossibility  both conceptual and, more importantly, playable.

Meanwhile, changes to the past and future are irrevocably tied to one another. There is a very real possibility that successfully eradicating the apocalyptic future from which Noel was sent will also eradicate Noel. And while that would be extremely problematic for a film (for how, absent Noel, would Serah have embarked on her journey?), it may work in the game, for he would still have existed in the other branches of the timeline wherein his presence was necessary.

The ultimate goal is simply to unlock a good future for Serah and Lightning, in which their past never went so wrong, away from which Lightning was never whisked. Even if memory of the journey taken to achieving such a timeline is lost to its participants, the journey itself is for the player that eternal present to which I earlier alluded. As such, while it’s too soon to guarantee, I think 13-2 is the most successful experiment in time travel as a plot device I’ve ever encountered.

Successful or not, experiences like 13-2 and Looper have had me thinking quite a bit about time lately, and particularly about an encounter, an epiphany of sorts, I had a couple weeks ago while praying rather more urgently than usual.

Kairos

I’d been pressing in for a while, disheartened by a feeling of disconnect, that I was engaged in mere parody of prayer, speaking aloud to an empty room because that was the role I should be playing, not because there was an eternal deity with which I was presently conversing. I wanted to understand God as He really was, not as some character or distant “thing.”

And then a moment of true revelation, the vastness of God, transcending space and time. I don’t know how else to put it. I saw, for a moment, the implications of true omnipresence, of a being unbound by time or space. I could only think of it in terms of the very time that reality defied. At that moment, God is.

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

God’s presence. His state of being present. Not just in what we understand to be the present, but also in our past and our future. Wherever He is, He is present, and He is everywhere.

I have never felt as small as I did just then, or as empowered. For I realized that at that moment, the only moment, God was in that room, with me, speaking to me. He was also parting the Red Sea as Israel crossed. He was causing Jericho’s walls to fall. He was guiding the stone from David’s sling. He was freeing Paul from prison. He was watching Augustine steal a piece of fruit. He was witnessing my birth. He was witnessing my death. He was riding triumphantly on a white horse. He was reigning forever.

He was bleeding on a cross.
He is bleeding on a cross.

“Crucifixion,” 1954. Salvador Dali.

Everything that God was doing in that room He is doing right now, and always will be. That is what it is to say that God is unchanging. It is to say that all things are happening at once, which is to say nothing “happens,” for everything simply is. To happen implies a past and future which are merely experienced by us, limited and temporal beings. The concept of changing past or future is therefore preposterous, because while the repercussions are unknown to us they have been, will be, are known to God.

The Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos is the timeline, the past, present, and future as we tend to think of it. Chronos does not allow for interference. It is inevitable and sequential. Things which do not align with chronos are antithetical to time — anachronisms.

Looper, despite the good it may offer, is bound by chronos and its laws, and judged thereby. It seeks but ultimately fails to introduce kairos into the picture. Kairos is the moment of importance, the thing that matters, perhaps the thing that intrudes on or supersedes chronos. Kairos doesn’t so much change the timeline as define it.

A story in which a person goes into the past to change time but, by her actions, causes the very thing she sought to change — that moment would be kairos. Yet though it cannot be predicted or pinpointed with the exactness of chronoskairos still occurs within chronos‘ confines — and so there is no kairos that does not already have its fixed place along the path of chronos; we cannot expunge these moments from the record or add new ones to it. What changes is simply our awareness of the moments that truly mattered. We see kairos only after it happens, never during or prior, but for one unbound by time, the kairos is there all along, speaking for itself.

In that moment, the absurdity of speaking of God’s fore-anything had me dumbstruck. All the arguments against His “doing things knowing x would happen” felt silly. And of course that’s the point, the reason for his response to Job. His prerogative, yes, but more than that: Job’s questions were framed from a position of temporality and were therefore fundamentally flawed.

I recently discussed Job with an atheist (perhaps agnostic?) who condemned God on the basis of his treatment of Job, acerbically saying “because of course children are fungible” in his denouncement of the supposed consolation for Job’s faithfulness. And admittedly, the whole ordeal still troubles me, for reasons just such as this.

But after that night, it troubled me less. Because I realized that any explanation for the existence of such terrible things in our world as the death and sickness and misery and poverty of people would be beyond my comprehension, and the futility of my understanding might well preclude any attempts at explaining. It is frightening to encounter the reality of one’s limitations, but comforting as well. Boundaries are not inherently bad; they can guide us towards more worthwhile pursuits.

I’m not a universalist. Maybe someday I will be. But playing through 13-2 and watching Looper and having this breakthrough in prayer have all made me think more about alternates, about the very fabric of reality. In 13-2 there is a “true” timeline, the one in which all things end well, in which the bad is not merely corrected but made never to have happened at all.

There are some Christians whose greatest objection to such thinking is that without eternal consequences for sin, the whole exercise was meaningless. But I’d disagree, just as I’d disagree with those who, if 13-2 concludes with Noel never existing and the journey — in the true timeline — never having taken place, would argue that with such ends the means lacked all meaning.

No, so long as we are aware that things could have been different, and are able to appreciate why they aren’t; so long as we can know the extent of evil, and relish in its full and lasting extirpation, then I don’t think an end in which everyone “lives happily ever after” is pointless. I don’t think it’s antithetical to God’s nature either. Paul says that as sin entered all humanity through one man, so shall salvation. The only way that metaphor works is if the salvation is as irresistible and ubiquitous and indifferent to individual volition as was the sin nature it replaces.

But like I said, I’m not a universalist.

What I am is a person bound by chronos, seeking a serendipitous glance at kairos as it unfolds, appreciating the power of a story in which an outside force enters the flow of time and, dying, brings life.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 487 other followers