2011-08-10

From Dust – Creating God from the Dust

by Yo Snyder

From Dust is a unique little title now available on the Xbox
Live Arcade. It’s one of those rare titles that not only offers
compelling gameplay, but also gives you something to think about as
well. It looks beautiful and it also challenges you to ponder some
deeper issues of real life. It intrigues as it entertains, and while the
premise and difficulty of the game may not be for everyone, those who
are willing to at least give it a try will find something that’s fairly
different from the usual gaming fare.

The game itself is a fairly straight-forward real-time strategy/god
game. You are a spiritual entity of some sort whose goal is to protect
and help the villagers that brought you into being. You do this by
helping them get to where they’re going, helping them establish
villages, and by protecting them from various natural disasters. You
accomplish this by manipulating the elements. For instance, you might
gather up some sand and create a land bridge across the water, or gather
up some water to douse a wild-fire. At times you’ll be in a race
against the clock to protect your village or equip it with what it needs
to fend of an impending disaster. Let your villagers die, and it’s game
over. In many ways, the game play reminded me of when I was kid and
discovered a trickle of water running down our street. I’d often try to
build dams or in other ways redirect the water’s flow. Or, it reminded
me of playing in my sand box as I created mountains and lakes and then
destroyed them and recreated them all over again.

The reason From Dust felt so much like those childhood
memories of playing in the sand is because of the beautiful graphics and
the wonderful physics engine. Water flows and sloshes in a very
realistic fashion. Reshaping the landscape looks very much like moving
sand around in a sandbox. The overall aesthetic of the game almost looks
like a painting, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. While the path
finding of the A.I. can be a bit frustrating at times (those little
villagers don’t always like to take the path of least resistance
sometimes), my time with trial version didn’t reveal too many issues
with the game aside from that A.I. issue and an occasion or two where it
was hard to be as precise as necessary.

As I said, what makes From Dust so compelling isn’t just that
it looks great and is fun to play, but also that it can get you to think
about things. For instance, the game starts with the villagers you
eventually spend the rest of the game protecting calling into being The
Breath. The Breath is the divine entity that you use to help reshape the
world to assist the villagers. In essence, the game starts with man
creating god. Now it may seem like a simple gameplay element, but such a
concept carries with it some serious implications. If man created god,
then who is greater; man or god? Further, if god is a creation of man,
than there is no higher standard for us to live up to and no external
absolutes to measure ourselves by. More than that, there is no reason
for salvation from sin since a god created by man would suggest that man
is perfectly capable of producing its own salvation.

The fact is the game’s set-up is the exact opposite of how the Bible
says things came into being. God wasn’t created from the dust by man,
but rather man was created out of the dust by God. God was not created
to serve us, but rather we were created to have a relationship with a
loving, personal God. Moreover, man absolutely needs a savior because we
are powerless to break free from the grasp of sin on our own. Since the
standard for goodness is set by a pre-existent God and not by man, we
can never hope to measure up to that standard on our own. In truth, it
might be easier for some if god were created by man, as some have
suggested, because that would remove any sense of responsibility or
accountability we have before a God who is our creator and not our
creation. Well, the fact is we are the creation and not the creator, and
like or it not, we do have a accountability before our Creator. Then
again, is that really so bad when he so loving took care of our sin
problem himself, not holding us to account for that which we couldn’t
pay, and all he asks in return is our love and devotion?

All
existential questions aside, the real question is whether or not this
XBLA game is worth the 1200 Microsoft points (about fifteen bucks) that
it costs. Again, I’ve only play the trial version, but what I’ve played
is very intriguing. It looks beautiful, it has some fun ideas in it, the
physics are a lot fun to play with, and the game introduces some
interesting ideas to ponder. $15 seems a little steep, but not
outrageously so. If you’re looking for something different and something
that may just get you thinking about bigger issues, From Dust is worth checking out.