Hiding and Surprising – How World Building in Games Reminds Me of God

I love surprises. More than I like getting what I truly want, I like being surprised. I can’t explain why this is the case; it feels like something innate in me.

But even more than I love being surprised, I love surprising other people. Not in the mean, “jump out from behind a door and scare someone” kind of way, but in a thoughtful, loving, “there’s no way you could have expected this, but I planned a whole elaborate thing for you” kind of way.

I’m the first to admit that since having a million children, I very rarely have the energy to plan out surprises for anyone anymore. Maybe when a few of my gaggle move out of my house, I’ll go back to elaborate, secretive, event planning for friends and family.

But this week, I have fully resurrected my sneaky, surprise creating strategies. We finally announced a video game that we’ve been working on for a while. Creating it has been so much fun, and I can’t wait for people to play it, but in the meantime, I’m building out the world of the video game in other ways, hiding story snippets for people to discover.

I’ve started secret social media accounts for characters in my game. I’m writing news stories on a website for a radio station that only exists in virtual reality. It’s a creative storytelling dream. I’ve loved creating all the bits and pieces of this story that I’ve been hiding and planning where the story goes next. It’s so fun to brainstorm how to engage with our fans. But the best part, by far, is watching them hunt for the story that I’m telling them and seeing the surprise play out.

And I’m sharing all of this with you because I think God is a lot like this. Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” This has always been a favorite verse of mine because it feels like an invitation.

God wants me to search for the things He has hidden. He hasn’t made everything obvious. There isn’t a set of straight forward rules that lay out what it is to have a relationship with Him. It’s more like a scavenger hunt. He gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us, and the Bible to set the general boundaries of the search, but then He says, “Follow Me!” and we’re invited to take off, chasing after God in an honest-to-goodness adventure.

I don’t always think of my faith as an adventure. Sometimes I get frustrated that there is so much I don’t understand. I often want it to be clear, and wonder why God didn’t lay it all out for us. But if I remember that it should feel like an adventure, all the mystery becomes exciting.

When I watch people engage with the ARG (alternate reality game) I’ve been building out to lead up to the launch of our VR game, it keeps reminding me what Christianity should look like. It should be a group of people hungry for more of God, searching for Him everywhere. When we have a new revelation, we should be so excited to share it with each other. We should joyfully collaborate together, bringing to each other the little pieces of God we think we understand, to see if we can piece them together in new ways, using the Bible to illuminate more of the truth God has hidden.

In my ARG, people are already coming together and sharing clues with each other. They’re over-analyzing every typo and finding clues I didn’t mean to hide, but you know what? When they discover something that really isn’t part of the story, I’m so honored by their search that I adjust to them. I jot down what they “found” and think of a way to incorporate it into what I’m doing.

God has hidden the truth precisely so we can have the joy of discovering it, and so He can have the joy of watching us search, following Him with passion, in community. As I watch this community of gamers search for my story, there are no mistakes. They go off on weird tangents sometimes and focus on the wrong things, but since I’m living and active, creating as I go, I either find a creative way to re-direct them, or I meet them where they’re at and see where the tangent takes all of us, hiding new things on the unintended path, because I know where my story is going, so I’m okay with them taking the story in new directions because I’ll find new ways to point to the ending, wherever they go.

A friend of mine shared a vision with me once that I will never forget. Years ago, she was preparing for a women’s retreat. A few hours before the first session, she stood in the sanctuary and prayed for the women who would be attending and for the retreat that hadn’t begun yet.

As she was praying, she saw a vision of the room filled with women. In the front of the room, on the stage, was a woman with a microphone, prophesying. She saw Jesus on the far right side of the room ministering to women there. The woman on the microphone said to the crowd. “I see Jesus over here, healing a woman who has been struggling with…” but she saw the woman point to the other side of the room. In the vision, the woman up front was totally wrong about where Jesus was and what he was doing. But then, Jesus looked up at her, smiled with joy, and walked over to where she had gestured. He began to minister there also.

I loved this vision my friend shared with me because it is a picture of grace extended joyfully by a living God who can respond to us. Jesus knows we will get things wrong as we are searching for Him. We may boldly declare some things that He never meant for us to declare, but He loves us! He’s not surprised when we miss things, but because He is actively engaging with us in this adventure, He can adapt to our search.

As I continue to hide surprises for my players, I will think of God, hiding surprises for me, choosing to adapt to me. Although my search for God will be full of mystery and anything but straightforward, I will trust that there is no way I can really mess this thing up, because He’s actively in it with me, restoring and redeeming as we go.

The video game referred to in this blog is AREA MAN LIVES. If you want to join in the search, watch this trailer for a clue, (but careful of the comments if you don’t want anyone spelling it out for you.) https://youtu.be/29AkKW3r4So

Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game “That Dragon, Cancer.” The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.

She is the author of the upcoming book, “Dear God, How Could You?” (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.

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