Choosing Paths: On Human Depravity and The Cave

by Christopher David Lawton

The Cave-TitleAt this point, I have written over 1,400 words about The Cave. Fourteen hundred words before I even started. See, before the text you’re about to read, I wrote a review of The Cave. The review was 1,400 words of analysis about the gameplay, and story, and humor, etc, etc. Now, it wasn’t that those 1,400 words weren’t great. They actually were. I reviewed the game in the usual way I review games, dropping in a few personal examples and observations here and there, but focusing most of the text on actual analysis of the game itself. The problem I have with most of that text is that it came across quite boring. I’m not the first person to review The Cave, and I’m not entirely sure I said anything in my review that hasn’t been said a million times before by other people. The game is funny, the story is dark, the puzzles are creative but simple, and the sections of the titular cave you have to replay on each playthrough get more and more repetitive each time. All good observations, but all observations that other people have shared.

So, I scratched out the entire review, because sometimes, in writing, you have to finish before you can even start.

The entire review wasn’t all bad, though. In fact, one particular line I wrote sticks out, and it’s what I want to talk about today. For those of you who haven’t played The Cave, the game is basically this: You take control of three of seven characters who all descend into the cave to obtain their greatest desire. You have the Hillbilly, the Knight, the Adventurer, the Monk, the Scientist, the Time Traveler, and the Twins, who, despite their name, function as a single character. As you progress through specific story sections for the characters, you see the lengths they are willing to go to obtain the object of their desire, and the dark and depraved actions they’ll take to get there. For example, the Time Traveler wants so badly to win against her rival that she steals a time machine and goes back in time to kill his ancestor thus wiping out his entire family line. The line I wrote in my review, and the one I want to explore here, argues that while the actions of each character within the game represent ultimate depravity, they also reflect the darkness that resides within us as humans, and the darkness that most of us wrestle with everyday.

The CaveTo an extent, anyway.

It’s hyperbole, mostly. I’m not claiming that you secretly intend to light your building on fire when you go to work. Or that you will throw the guy sitting next to you on a bed of spikes to achieve the next big promotion. But, who here hasn’t, even for a moment, wished the slightest ill on someone who hurt us? When some guy cuts us off in traffic, who here hasn’t hoped, even for the slightest moment, that he would get into an accident? Not enough to harm him or anyone else, but just enough to throw a wrench into whatever plans he had that day that caused him to drive so recklessly. We all have a penchant for darkness within us. It’s one of the complexities that make us human.

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down a series of state bans on gay marriage, finding them discriminatory and unconstitutional. And, they were right. You had a series of laws that literally discriminated against an entire group of people. Laws that said, “this right over here? Marriage? It’s not for you.” And that is a really, really horrible thing to do. Regardless of your opinion on the morality of gay marriage, discrimination is a terrible action in any situation, and the most un-American thing I can think of. It’s a shade of that darkness I reference in the paragraph above.

That we, as a country, had instituted legal discrimination for so long is, quite frankly, an embarrassment. But, to read half of my Facebook feed, you wouldn’t think so. Half of my Facebook feed was filled with some of the most hate-filled vitriol I had ever seen. At one point, I told my wife I was done with Facebook for the day. It was 7:30 a.m., and we hadn’t even left for work yet. I grew up in the church – still attend church every Sunday – and I have still never heard such fire and brimstone talk as I have over the past few days. To believe half of my Facebook feed, the United States was teetering on the edge of a moral abyss, and the Supreme Court just pushed us over the edge. It was only by the grace of God we went, and God would soon pull his grace from us. Into the fires of Hell we would fall. And all because gay people wanted the same rights as everyone else.

This is also a shade of that darkness mentioned above. It’s not that anyone sets out to achieve these shades. Most of us that let out these little snippets of darkness do so with moral or just intentions. We just fail to see how our actions affect people other than ourselves. As human beings, we are selfish, depraved creatures. In The Cave, we just get to explore this depravity to its conclusion. We get to see what happens when we lose the inner-struggle with that dark part of our personality that we work so hard to keep hidden. We get to see what happens when we lose control.

It can be terrifying. Of course, The Cave is a game, so it can’t be too terrifying, I guess. That’s where the sardonic wit of the cave comes into play. As the narrator, the Cave interjects humor and sarcasm into the experience that makes the onscreen actions of the characters slightly less deranged. It comes across more as slapstick than anything, and that helps us, the players, deal with the horrible actions that occur onscreen. Seeing the ultimate depravity of humankind seems slightly more bearable when accompanied by the dry wit of a talking cave.

So, you complete your journey through the cave with the three characters, and you obtain the objects of desire for each one. And I think this is where it gets really interesting. At this point, you are given the option between taking that object with you or leaving it behind. If you choose to take the object with you, you will see the dark ending for each character, the one which shows them fulfilling all of the deeds you just experienced, and the inevitable fallout (figurative in six cases, literal in one) that occurs from giving into the darkness within. If you leave the object behind, however, the exact opposite happens: you see the good ending for the character, the one that shows redemption and light. It’s as if when presented with the opportunity to descend into darkness, we have the choice between two separate paths.

The Cave2Simplistic, yes, but most morality plays are. And, I think, at its essence, The Cave is a morality play.

So, what is the lesson here, the takeaway? I would argue to find that lesson, you should look no farther than how you get each ending. If you just play the game straight, you’ll inevitably end up with the object of your desire. You can’t complete the game without finishing the appropriate puzzles to put that object in your hand. And, at that point, the exit opens, and you simply walk out.

In order to leave the object behind, though, you have to do a little extra thinking, and a little extra legwork. You have to badger the clerk at the Cave gift shop until he agrees to take the item back. Only then, can you exit the Cave and achieve the good ending. In the game, as is the case often in life, the good path, the righteous path, the just path is the one that requires the most determination and persistence.

But, it goes a step further than that. Each character in the game desires this object to stroke his or her ego. These aren’t just things the characters want, these are things that these characters feel they need to feel good about who they are. Therefore, giving up these objects of desire ultimately involves a death of ego. For example, the knight’s story involves a peasant boy who sees a brave knight die of a heart attack. Stealing his armor and his horse, the peasant boy attempts to become the knight, but only for the glory. He has none of the heart or courage required to become an actual knight. In the good ending, though, he develops it. After being asked by a king to destroy a dragon which is terrorizing the kingdom, the boy has a change of heart and confesses what he’s done. In order to achieve happiness, he has to move past his own desires and put the well-being of others before his own.

Simplistic? Maybe, but really, I think, only in theory.

In the midst of the chaos on Facebook, my wife sent me an article which opened with the line: “Those who refuse to celebrate are those who refuse to see anyone as greater victims than themselves.” And that line felt so fitting. Half of my Facebook feed was playing themselves off as the victims of the Supreme Court ruling. The Supreme Court had overstepped its bounds, and legalized gay marriage, and in doing so, they had attacked the church. The Christians in this country were the victims. Screw the fact that laws passed by our government had literally victimized an entire population of people for generations.

Christians were victims of this ruling.

If you believe this, I encourage you to check your ego. This ruling has so little to do with you in the grand scheme of things, that your self-pity feels embarrassing. Just because gay marriage has become legal doesn’t mean you have to get one. It’s not law that you now have to march in Gay Pride parades. This ruling doesn’t even hamper your rights to believe that homosexuality is morally wrong. The only way this ruling affects you at all is that you might end up with a few less Facebook friends after they read your hate-filled, acidic rants.

The Cave3Of course, at this point, people will invariably claim that they are victims, because everyone is infringing on their right to free speech. “I can’t express my opinion,” they’ll say. “Everyone just calls me a bigot!” To this, I would recommend they learn a bit more about free speech itself. No one is infringing on their right to free speech. No one is arresting them for speaking out. It would suck if they did, wouldn’t it? It would suck if the government instituted laws that infringed upon a right, discriminating against a certain group of people. It would be terrible if a bunch of states passed laws banning a group of people from accessing a basic, fundamental right.

At this point, my fictional arguer will catch my sarcasm and say, “but, but, marriage isn’t a right!” Well, about sixty years of constitutional law would disagree with them. In 1967, the Supreme Court cited the fourteenth amendment to overturn a ban on interracial marriage, claiming that “the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” They then might bring up the ever divisive concept of how God defines marriage as between a man and a woman. And while this may be true – as anyone who has studied a variety of texts can tell you, interpretation isn’t always so cut and dry – none of that really matters, because we’re talking about man’s law, not God’s law. In John 18:36, Christ makes a clear distinction between God’s law and the laws of this world by telling Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Two separate kingdoms, two separate laws. No one is infringing on anyone’s rights to believe what they believe. God’s law is still intact.

With their backs against a wall, my fictional arguer will then trot out the recent lawsuits against bakeries and florists that refused to cater gay weddings. “What about them,” they will ask. “Their rights are being infringed upon! They are victims!” Maybe, but not of this ruling. This ruling doesn’t force any business to participate in gay weddings any more than it forces straight people to get gay married. If lawsuits come up, then that’s a different issue, and one that can be addressed at that time. But, to incorporate that potential into this debate is a logical fallacy, and one that should not be condoned in healthy argument.

This ruling gives people a right that has been denied to them, and that’s something we should celebrate. Take a moment to imagine yourself in the shoes of someone who has been discriminated against for so long and try to picture what it would feel like. To have not only a person withhold from you a basic right, like getting married, but an entire government – the government of the country in which you were born and raised. The country which you have been told your entire life is a country of freedom, by the people, for the people.

That is true victimization, and that is the wrong that this ruling rights.

It’s not easy to shelve your ego like this, but there’s freedom there. And, ultimately, it’s worth it. In The Cave, the good endings for each character end in happiness and triumph, rewards for following a path of light. By letting their egos go, and putting the needs of others first, the characters all experience true freedom. In some stories, the rewards are physical. In others, the rewards are emotional. All of them, though, are positive and wonderful, and ultimately, something we should strive for.

Simplistic, yes, but again, most morality plays are. As simple as it is, though, I think it’s a good lesson for most adults to learn, and one that many of us so desperately need to.