Playing God in Oneshot

By Michael Mendis

When I first heard about the video game Oneshot, a small indie game available on PC, I was intrigued to find out that it made the player into a god.  Now, this wasn’t the first time I’d heard of such a concept; in video games, there is a certain genre called God games, which typically give you control over a game’s environment or maybe a few creatures here or there, and your task is to protect and provide for the hordes of AI characters that populate the game world and worship you.  In those kinds of games, your relationship with your subjects is rather distant; there’s no sense of closeness to them, and you have no involvement with the minutiae of their day-to-day lives.

The savior, Niko

The savior, Niko

But Oneshot is radically different. Here, you are directly involved with one particular character: a small, cat-like child named Niko.  Niko has been dropped into a world that is unfamiliar to him, but he is its savior, and you are its god.  You control Niko’s movements and his actions, but you are not, in fact, him; he talks to you, the player, addressing you with the name you’ve given to your Steam account (which in my case is my real name Michael).  It was quite surreal to see him literally praying to me, calling me by name, and asking me questions (many of which I had to answer).  At times, the solution to different puzzles in the game required me to look outside of the game world itself (opening files that the game had secretly placed in my computer, for example), and thus I exercised what to Niko were legitimately god-like, supernatural powers.  Oneshot is the closest I’ve ever seen a game simulate what it is like to have a personal relationship with a living deity.  As a Christian, someone who believes in a God who seeks personal relationships with people, this resonated with me greatly.

Prophet Bot delivers a message to Niko

Prophet Bot delivers a message to Niko

At the same time, when I look at my role in the game, as well as Niko’s, some clear differences between the game world and my beliefs on the real world immediately come to the forefront.  The God I believe in is all-knowing and all-powerful; he exists outside of time and has a plan going into every moment, a plan that will be carried out.  And the savior of this world is in fact God himself, who purposefully came into the world and took the form of those he sought to save.  I, as the god of the Oneshot game world, know remarkably little about the world I am trying to save; in fact, I don’t know all that much more than Niko, the savior in a strange land whose inhabitants he has never met.

A cryptic message from a file related to the game

A cryptic message from a file related to the game

Nonetheless, Niko repeatedly proclaimed his trust in me to guide him through his quest, a quest he had never asked to be a part of.  He trusted me to know where to go, and to intervene with my unique abilities when it was necessary.  I had opportunities to decide how much to tell him about myself, my own world, and in some cases my limitations.  One time, telling Niko the truth about how I had solved a problem meant admitting that I had gotten help from another source, and thus that I wasn’t all-knowing.  Regardless, his faith didn’t waver.

Altogether, Oneshot was a fascinating experience that caused me to reflect on the real God and my dependence on him.  Do I trust him when I find I don’t have all the answers I’m looking for?  Do I trust him to take care of me, to always lead me along the paths that are best for myself and those around me?  Am I willing to make sacrifices when he requires it of me?  Far too often, the answer is no.  But I do know that the God who leads me is far bigger, stronger, and wiser than the one leading young Niko.