I like choices in my video games. It is honestly a core part of the reason I play them. I appreciate the stakes involved when my in-game decisions actually influence not only individual outcomes within the game, but the ending of the game as well. But WatchDogs Legion takes the concept of choice to a whole new level… by removing the idea of being a single character in the game and instead allowing us to inhabit almost ANY character we recruit in the game . See that middle aged business man with the cheap suit? He can be your new primary character. Get tired of him and fancy yourself as an eighty year old grandmother with nothing but time on her hands and bullets to spend? Super-granny to the rescue! Or maybe you have always felt that hiding in plain sight is your preferred style? Street magician/secret agent man is on the job! But there are some challenges into leaning SO heavily into this unique concept because it runs astray of one of the primary rules in writing a successful video game… a compelling, relatable protagonist.
There are typically two schools of thought when it comes to protagonists in our video games. First, we have the classic, established hero such as Master Chief, Lara Croft, Aloy, Solid Snake, or any number of other already developed characters that we get to inhabit throughout their hero’s journey. Or secondly, we play as a user generated character such as what we see in franchises like Fallout, Elder Scrolls, and to a certain extent Mass Effect or Fable. But regardless of which style of a developer typically chooses, the connection we feel with our central character is a massive component of why we not only play the game, but truly care about the choices that are made while we play it. And many times when a company forces us to play as a character that we didn’t necessarily plan on playing as (looking at YOU Metal Gear Solid 2, Halo 2, Halo 5, Last of Us 2…), that can go ALL sorts of sideways and have long lasting negative repercussions.
Now to be fair, neither of the characters we played as in the first two games of the WatchDogs series were so interesting, nuanced, and compelling that we needed them back in this next one. But while the idea that we can literally be ANY face in the crowd is a unique and compelling concept, a large part of the reason I stick with a video game through the end credits is because the act of living vicariously through a super-soldier, a freedom fighter, or any other heroic adventurer is the barbed hook that catches me and locks itself into this fish’s mouth. Sure, fun gameplay mechanics and flashy graphics are nice bait, but if you want to land THIS fish in the boat all the way through to the end game you have to give me a reason to stay. And therein lies the problem with WatchDogs Legion… in giving me the choice to be any random person on the street, many of which I could already be in real life (with a few notable exceptions), this feeling of fulfilling an epic destiny that I enjoy in many of my games ends up feeling a little more like just being another nameless, faceless, easily replaceable cog in the machine that will just rotate to another character when I am either no longer useful or suffer a fatal injury.
When my Master Chief character in Halo dies, he comes RIGHT BACK because my incompetence has no bearing on when HIS story ends. He is going to blow up the Covenant armada with or without my help. But when my tough talking street granny finally meets her match… her story is just over, and I have to move on, choose another character, and continue on with the mission as if she never existed. And sadly… that feeling is all too familiar. Throughout life people come and go, and while there are a select group of us who get to achieve that massive feeling of being a critical part of the overarching “plan of God” here on this plane of existence… most of us are relegated to background roles, performing the more mundane tasks in life and watching as others inhabit the lives that we don’t even dare to dream of.
It can be easy to feel like we are just another nameless, faceless, unspectacular person in the crowd… even as a child of God. The book of Acts reads like an epic video game script, with larger than life characters such as Peter and Paul who boldly challenged kings, openly defied the very authorities who put Christ to death, worked mighty miracles, and changed the history of the world with the message of the Cross. But layered within the book of Acts is more than just the story of these heroic missionaries and their march towards their massive destinies. Even though the full name of the book of Acts is actually “The Acts of the Apostles”, these brief spotlights showcase a local destiny that is just as critical to the saving of souls as the ministries of the more widely known and famous followers of Christ.
Let’s take the co-op husband and wife ministry team of Aquila and Priscilla… you aren’t going to find a lot of people that consider them to be major players in the events of the early church, but in Acts 18 we find them playing a pivotal role in the development of a gifted preacher named Apollos…
Acts 18:24-27 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
Apollos was kind of a big deal… a big enough deal that when Paul was addressing the emerging sectarian division of the early church in 1 Corinthians 1, he evenly divided them between four major groups… Paul, Peter, Apollos, and Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12). Many biblical scholars are divided and consider Apollos to be a highly credible choice as the author of the uncredited book of Hebrews in the Bible. But while Aquila and Priscilla would not seem to become major “characters” throughout the rest of the book of Acts, their critical intervention during the early development of this mighty preacher influenced his messages from that point forward and their impact would be felt in his continuing ministry, even as they were relegated to the shadows.
Maybe that is a little too much name recognition for you to relate to. Don’t worry… I have MORE. How about someone who doesn’t even get NAMED despite the fact that he was RELATED to Paul? And he SAVED Paul’s LIFE? Well buckle up, because we are going to get about as nameless and faceless as you can get. There was a point in which Paul’s voice was about to be silenced before he completed many of his most critical writings and this dram is captured in Acts 23…
Acts 23:12-21 And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy. They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.” So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.” So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you.” Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside, and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him. But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.”
Paul was going to be MURDERED… long before his journeys were completed and his mission had been fulfilled. And only one man stood in the way of this murderous mob… and his name was… ummmm… hmmm. We have no idea. As a matter of fact, we don’t know ANYTHING about him except that for a brief period of time he was instrumental to the continued life and ministry of the greatest missionary of our time. This nameless, faceless wallflower in the book of Acts took action when his number was called and his bravery saved the apostle Paul’s life. Not bad for a guy who disappears as quickly as he enters the scene. We never find out what his name was, and he never appears again in any Biblical texts. But without the actions of Paul’s unnamed nephew, our New Testament is about thirteen books lighter, and the world might be a very different place as a result.
So now for us… a select few of us will experience the burden and blessing of pastoring large churches, making a global impact through missionary trips, or ministering to millions through songs, books, or messages. Paul, Peter, Apollos… these guys are the Master Chiefs and Solid Snakes of their generation. But they would never have achieved their full destiny without people like Aquila, Priscilla, and Paul’s nephew helping them and preserving along the way. Watchdogs Legion is trying to answer the question that has plagued us for thousands of years… is it the hero that makes the journey, or the journey that makes the hero? And for those of us who have chosen to follow Christ, we know the answer all too well… it is the Lord who decides who will be placed into positions of prominence, and who will do the critical labor behind the scenes that keeps the mission rolling. The sound technicians, the website developers, the encouragers, the intercessors… the nameless saints who enabled and supported the ministry of Christ without all of the accolades on THIS side of eternity.
For those of us who labor as this nameless, faceless legion… never lose sight of the reality that we are not measured by our perceived impact, but by our obedience to our calling regardless of how seemingly small and thankless that part is. You are NOT nameless, faceless, or replaceable to the One who created and formed you for your specific mission. You are not a random, expendable street granny to the Lord… you are beyond precious to Him, your mission was chosen just for you before you were even born, and your name is literally WRITTEN on the palms of His hands…
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