The Binding of Isaac [GO]
October 7th, 2011 by Dan

The Binding of Isaac

Christian imagery is pretty fucked up, isn't it? (Picture by psygeist)

Despite my adult-onset atheism, I’m actually glad that I grew up with a religious background, but not for the reasons you might think. See, I’m a sucker for mythology and literature and I think that I would notice fewer allusions to the dominant religion of the Western world if I didn’t have that religious education. The weirdest part about growing up religious, though, is trying to reconcile the weird, sometimes incompatible things that Jesus said with the things that God (same dude, right?) said back in the Old Testament. Aside from a temper tantrum or two, Jesus tended to be a peace and love kind of guy. Then you have that vengeful Old Testament God (remember, it’s the same dude) who smote all who wronged him and did weird, fucked up things like asking Jacob to sacrifice his son.

Human sacrifice! I mean, it was all a test, they like to tell us kids. In fact, the spin is pretty good because they say that Yahweh would never have allowed Jacob to actually do it. This, mind you, being the same dude who destroyed two cities and flooded the entire planet because he thought people kind of sucked. As a kid that story is terrifying. It’s like, so if god wants my dad to sacrifice me then I’m supposed to do it without questioning it?

The Binding of Isaac, by Edmund McMillen of Super Meat Boy fame, starts with a similar enough premise. Isaac’s mother watches Christian television all day and seems a bit unhinged. She begins hearing the voice of god asking her to do things, like take away Isaac’s toys and lock him up. Then things get weird because god asks Isaac’s mother to sacrifice him.

This is a disturbing game. You play as Isaac, a scared, abused little boy whose only weapon when the game begins is his tears. That’s right, Isaac uses his tears to fight off the various monstrosities that live in his basement and in the subterranean horrors below that. Along the way Isaac can pick up items to modify or improve his abilities. Some of them are less horrifying than others, but some of them downright disfigure Isaac. The very act of defending himself from the monster that is his mother turns him into a monster. Poetic, but not deep.

In fact, the lack of thematic depth is my only real complaint with the game. I haven’t finished it yet, but I think it would be cooler if the game was a little more religious in its execution. As funny as it is to fight a boss named Larry, Jr., wouldn’t fighting Hosea be more cohesive? Then again, the game is trying to be quasi-lighthearted about the horrors Isaac is facing. Enemies are gross and disgusting, but not terrifying in a way that makes them quasi-funny, but definitely not. It’s just a weird aesthetic.

For a cheap, $5 game this guy has really got me thinking and having fun. It might be worth you checking it out too.

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