Game Over: A Crusader Kings 2 Tale

By Josh Ortiz

It’s the 1150’s. The place is medieval Ireland. And I should have seen it coming.

King Conall of Mumu has spent a good bit of his 25 year reign expanding his realm and filling his coffers. County after Irish county have been grafted into the budding greatness that is the Petty Kingdom of Mumu. Soon, the kingdom of Ireland will become a reality.

And then King Conall dies. There is nothing particularly suspicious about the death: just a 50+ year old man succumbing to the rigors of his position and the medieval world. Thankfully, he has an heir, one Suibne mac Conall. A gregarious young fellow with some interest in managing money, Suibne looks to be an adequate heir with plenty of room to stretch his kingly wings. He has a strong Irish army. He has wealth. And he has a wife; a genius of a wife, in fact. Emer nic Aed is a scholarly, zealous woman. She is even known to be charitable. But she is also deceitful, an expert schemer. No matter; she will make an excellent spymaster. Suibne is in need of someone he can trust with all matters of royal intrigue and skullduggery. Emer, his wife, seems to be just the one.

And so the reign of the great King Suibne mac Conall blissfully begins. Three months in, a new council has been assembled around Suibne. And Emer is indeed the spymaster. Hand in hand, they will leave their mark on history. And so, with a skip to his stride, King Suibne decides one day to make his way out to his terrace to look over his kingdom. What a beautiful sight: the rolling, green hills of medieval Ireland; the sheep dotting the landscape; perhaps even a rainbow shimmering on the horizon after a recent rain. This whole kingdom is under his control, to be shaped by his will and used for his glory. And hopefully passed one day to his heir - a son he doesn’t have at present, but one he hopes to have. Yes, the House Ua Briain, Suibne's family dynasty, is alive and well indeed.

But then – something happens. A threatening cracking sound is heard followed by a frightful crumbling. All of the sudden, the ground begins to shake – and move! Suibne frantically tries to catch his balance, but it's too late; the whole terrace crumbles off the side of the castle and the gregarious King Suibne mac Conall plummets screaming to his death. Someone has sabotaged the terrace! And that someone, waiting in the shadows, observes it all with grim satisfaction. She is now the widow of Suibne mac Conall and spymaster par excellence of the Kingdom of Mumu. She is Emer Nic Aed.

That is how my first game of Crusader Kings 2 (CK2) ended. Before I could realize what was happening, the “Game Over” screen popped up and my 70+ year dynasty was over. Four generations of planning and plotting and ruling and conquering. Gone. And I should have seen it coming.

If you’re not familiar with CK2, it is a 2012 medieval grand strategy game developed by Paradox Interactive. The game allows you to role-play as a medieval lord seeking to expand their territory, grow their prestige and pass on their kingdom to the next generation. Once your lord dies, if you have a legitimate dynastic heir, then you as the player assume control of that character and continue your journey through the ages. However, if you do not have a legitimate dynastic heir – and your spymaster wife plots your untimely demise, for example – then no matter how much time and effort and care you’ve placed into building up your kingdom, the game is over.

And yet even though I knew this, I was kicking myself at the “Game Over” screen. I knew I shouldn’t have had King Conall so aggressively gobble up neighboring counties. In the midst of gearing up for battle and fighting wars, I had become sloppy. Irresponsibly, I had married my son off to a dangerous woman. I had put the whole kingdom and dynasty in jeopardy for the sake of a few measly counties. And now I had to live with consequences. I really, really should have seen it coming.

And yet, oddly enough, I’m thankful. I’m thankful because this jarring experience of having all of my efforts swiftly crumble to dust is a helpful reminder of what life is really like. Even if we don’t spend our days in the cut-throat world of medieval nobility, all of us spends our days investing in some sort of kingdom. Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or businessmen or pastors or students or whatever, all of us find ourselves working day after day after day to build something of our lives. Maybe it’s our report card. Maybe it’s our garden. Maybe it’s our bank account. Maybe it’s our reputation among our peers. Whatever it is, we plan and toil to make something of our lives.

But as my recent experience with CK2 has reminded me, all of our planning and toiling will come to an end one day. Perhaps for some the end will come suddenly: you will be diagnosed with cancer and then a month later, you will be gone. Or perhaps for others, the end will come slowly. You will live your life. You will raise your kids and see your grandchildren. Your hair will gray and your body will weaken and crumble under the weight of decades. And then one fateful day, you will be gone.

I’m sure that all of us would prefer the slower end to the sudden end, but the point is still the same: There is an end for each of us. There is a “Game Over” screen for all of our lives. And at that point, the question of whose kingdom we invested in will be the only question worth answering.

In Luke 12, Jesus tells us a parable about rich man who had a bumper crop. But that caused a big problem: what should he do with the gobs of extra produce? He had nowhere to store it. So, Jesus tells us that this enterprising man decided to tear down the barns he already had and build bigger ones. And then after he had done so, he kicks back and says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” The rich man had arrived. His investments were paying off. And now he could relax and enjoy the view.

And yet, just like Suibne mac Conall, everything comes crashing down for him, for that very night, God says to the man, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ And then Jesus finishes with the clincher: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

The rich man invested in his own kingdom. He thought his life consisted in the abundance of his possessions. But like me in CK2, he had made a huge tactical error. He had forgotten, or chose to ignore, that this life, what you can have now, is not all there is. There is an eternity waiting for each one of us. Like me in CK2, he should have seen it coming. And yet he didn’t. And it cost him dearly.

Thankfully, though, this doesn’t have to be our story. Even though Satan prowls around like Emer nic Aed, seeking someone to devour, Jesus Christ has made a way to be rich with God. And amazingly it doesn’t come through our work, but through His. Through His life, death and resurrection, Jesus has made a way for each person who turns from his sinful barn-building and trust in Him to gain access to an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:4). In fact, the Bible goes so far as to say that we will be in the same dynasty with Christ. We will be “heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:17). In the end, for those who invest their lives in the kingdom of God, who submit to the loving reign of Jesus, the end is not really the end. No, far from it. The “Game Over” screen of this life is but the dark gateway into the luminous halls of true, unending life.

Josh Ortiz is a volunteer with Gospel & Gaming.