The Final Philosophy of The Binding of Isaac: Christianity, Satanism, and Accepting Your Sins

At long last, Isaac’s nightmare is at a close…
Source: Steam Community

You’d think that with my history of gushing about the greatness of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth that I would have written a think piece on its final DLC, Afterbirth +, long ago. But, I wanted to get a feel for the game before I actually sat down to pontificate on it. It was a good thing I did that too because this game gave me a lot to think about.

Anyone who has played the game (or has just read the title and knows their bible stories) can tell you that Christianity is a running theme of the story. But, very few people discuss TBoI‘s associations to Satanism. Of course, one can infer that a story that praises or decries Christianity will likely be touching on Satanism by virtue of how the two are linked. But after doing some light research, I was shocked to see just how much there was to unpack.

First things first, I want to make it clear that this article takes NO OFFICIAL STANCE on either Christianity or Satanism as the superior moral practice. This is purely about comparing the two philosophies and putting them into a modern, progressive context so that everyone of any religious or non-religious background can benefit from it.

Secondly, I’d like to give a huge shout out to horror movie critic and open-practicing Satanist Jack ‘Count Jackula’ Shen for informing a lot of the research I did for this article – especially his semi-in-character rant on why he chose to convert to Satanism and his thoughtful debate on applying Satanic philosophy to social media. Even if you don’t buy into his beliefs, he’s still a funny and insightful man that I’ve supported for some time (you can actually see my name at the top of his credit rolls in his movie reviews from when I helped fund his new editing rig). I also wish to apologize to Jackula in advance if I’ve misinterpreted anything I may have gleaned from his discussions.

Getting back to TBoI, this new DLC gave us a pair of new main story endings that tie together with the previous endings and share a common theme; Isaac is found dead in his toy chest but is soon seen again walking through an empty field resembling the hills overlooking his house.

Another theme that pervades the game is Isaac’s guilt. Not only has he grown up in a VERY strict Christian household that reinforces the idea that he is evil and shames him for his sins, but the scenes that unfold suggest that he’s also from a broken home without a father and that he blames himself for his parent’s divorce. This guilt (or ‘sin’ if you will) manifests as a shadowy devil-like figure that lives inside Isaac and that he routinely becomes.

This is the core belief that both Christianity and Satanism share; all people, regardless of faith or lifestyle, are inherently flawed and ‘sinful’. The difference is that while Christianity believes that morality is to repress sinful nature and shame those who fail to do so, Satanism believes morality is to accept one’s sins as normal so that one can focus on doing right by themselves before moving on to others.

I propose the following; Isaac’s death is not a literal death. Rather, it’s the death of his ego. He’s finally grown up, come to terms with his ‘sinful’ flaws, and is ready to form a new, healthy moral code of his own rather than adopting the one he’s been force fed by family and a millennia old fable that, admittedly, is overdue for re-examination.

In short, Isaac has finally learned a lesson that is so often overlooked in both devout and non-religious lifestyles: Moral Relativism.

Now, am I preaching the virtues of Satanism over those of Christianity? Absolutely not. Firstly, Satanism eschews the idea of virtue by its definition (remember, it’s all about EMBRACING sin instead of repressing it). And secondly, I’m far too much of a free-thinking skeptic to accept any religious ideology entirely.

That said I do believe that good ideas can come from all religion; even one that embraces a figure that many consider the embodiment of evil (I guess that would make me a bit of an Agnostic Omnitheist, but I’m not one to care for labels). And I have to admit that the idea that we are all damned souls no matter what, while pessimistic, takes the painful edge off of our failures.

We can’t always be good people; it’s impossible. Eventually, you’ll be forced to do something that some will call ‘evil’ for the sake of yourself or another or that will make you question your own morality. However, you can always strive to be the best you can reasonably expect and not let yourself be deterred by your missteps.

You can’t be a good person. However, either by the virtues of God or by the sins of The Devil, you can be a decent one.

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The Agent’s Addendum to MatPat’s Binding of Isaac Theory

You have every right to be proud, Matt. But I found some things to bolster your argument.
Source: Tumblr

Yup, we’re back on this game again.

Recently, while checking up on some of my favorite entertainers online, I found that Matthew “MatPat” Patrick uploaded a new episode of his show Game Theory where he exposits his theory that not only did Isaac survive the events of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, but that his life serves as an allegory for the life and hardships of the game’s creator Edmond McMillen.

It was such a well researched theory that even I have to admit that it blew my theory out of the water. However, thinking back on it, I started to notice some elements that help to further support MatPat’s claims that he either didn’t have time to cover or failed to notice.

So then, consider this a fan-made unofficial addendum to MatPat’s theory. In order to keep things shorter and encourage you to check out his brilliant work, I’m not going to retread much of his original video and instead encourage you to watch it for yourself. Also, in the spirit of theorist camaraderie and on the off chance that MatPat actually reads this, he is free to debate, agree, or otherwise comment on this article in the media of his choice and I encourage him and anyone else to share their thoughts with me.

First, lets discuss one of the central points of MatPat’s theory; that the events of the game are essentially the vision quest of a hyper-creative and heavily abused personality trying to come to terms with his imperfect, “sinful” nature. He does a lot to support this, but leaves out a major factor that helps confirm this; most of the enemies you face in the game are variations on Isaac’s character design.

The Trites and Widow are just Isaac’s head inverted with spider legs coming out of it. Gapers resemble Isaac with blood stained tears. Mulligans and their variants all depict Isaac in various stages of decomposition. Even The Seven Deadly Sins bare a striking resemblance and McMillen himself admits that It Lives is an in-utero Isaac. If MatPat is right about this being a quest for self-acceptance, it would make sense that Isaac would see himself, not just as a monster to be slain, but as EVERY monster to be slain.

The similarities also continue into the playable characters, but of particular note is “???”, AKA; Blue Baby. This leads into the connection between the character of Isaac and Edmond McMillen. While MatPat might be technically correct in assuming that Blue Baby is a physical manifestation of Isaac literally suffocating to death in his escapist fantasy (he’s found in the toy chest where a child could be said to play out their fantasies), the connection is much deeper.

Blue Baby has existed long before this game and was McMillen’s mascot back in his early days when he was still designing flash games on Newgrounds. In fact, he still uses the moniker of Bluebaby on Newgrounds to this day. This helps to solidify the connection between Isaac’s struggle and McMillen’s.

Also, serving to bolster that connection are the characters borrowed from other McMillen games. Such characters include Stephen from Time Fcuk, Larry Jr. and C.H.A.D. From Super Meat Boy, Gish from… well… Gish, and Triachnid from (of course) Tri-achnid. If McMillen and Isaac are intended to be one and the same, it would make sense that the little boy with a wild imagination (creativity is a boon to indie game developers) would be making up the same creatures that he is.

Lastly is what I feel to be the strongest evidence of this being a fantastical dramatization of McMillen’s real life struggle to accept him self. Going back to The Seven Deadly Sins (this is about coming to terms with your sinful nature as a human, remember?), all of them have Super Sin forms. However, only one has an ultra form; Ultra Pride.

Notice how radically different Ultra Pride looks to his standard and super counterparts? That’s because he and the baby that follows him are modeled after McMillen himself and his partner on the original Binding of Isaac, Florian Himsl respectively. They did this because they both agreed that pride is “their sin” and the one they are most guilty of. McMillen is admitting and coming to terms with sin as we play.

Overall and in closing, MatPat’s video gave me a new respect for a game I already adored and he deserves major props for his research. I will however disagree with him on one point; The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is not a depressing or sad game. After all, Isaac wins his freedom in the end… and so did Mr. McMillen.

Back to the Binding: Thoughts on The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Long time readers of my gaming articles will know that I am a huge fan of The Binding of Isaac. So after roughly a month of playing the newest installment, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, I feel I’m ready to discuss it in a public forum.

The game is essentially unchanged in terms of story; you still play as Isaac attempting to escape the wrath of his insane mother who is hallucinating that God is demanding that she sacrifice him to prove her devotion. But enough gameplay and graphical elements have changed to justify making this a stand-alone game rather then a DLC.

Rebirth is shaping up to be one of my favorite games of the last decade. But I feel the important thing to ask here isn’t if Rebirth is better then the original, but how it changes from the original.

Well, there have been a lot of major changes as well as some superficial ones, Including…

New Items

Rebirth has teased a slew of new items that fans have been giddy to play around with.

My personal favorite of the new items so far is The Ludovico Technique – a reference to the film/novel A Clockwork Orange – which grants the user a single remote control shot. This is useful against larger, slower moving enemies with more health as you can float the shot over them for multiple hits.

Also new to the items are the runes, a set of magical stones that occupy the same item slot as pills and cards and provide some of the most powerful one-time-only effects in the game such as removing curses or destroying all breakable objects in the room.

And with all of these new items come new item synergies. Remember how I said I love The Ludovico Technique? Well, try pairing it up with my favorite item from the last game, Brimstone, to create a remote controlled ring of bloody, boiling death.

New Characters

All of the original cast of playable characters have returned in Rebirth, but they’ve brought four new friends with them that add new strategies to gameplay.

First is Lazarus who, despite having some of the most pitiful starting stats, is useful as a high- risk character. If he dies, he will live up to his namesake and respawn with a single heart of health. In addition, he gains the Anemic effect that leaves a trail of damaging blood on the ground.

Next is my personal favorite of the new batch, Azazel whose terrible range, luck and health stats are made up for by starting with the power of flight, a short-range Brimstone laser, and the highest starting damage output in the game.

Third up is the fascinating Eden. Eden can only be played if you have an Eden token which can only be obtained by defeating Mom’s Heart. What makes Eden so interesting is the fact that his stats and starting items are completely randomized; making for challengingly unpredictable runs.

Finally comes The Lost, arguably the most high risk/high reward character in the game. The Lost LITERALLY has no health and can’t gain more (though respawning items still work with him), meaning that he will die with one touch. However, he starts with the power of flight and can take deals in the Devil Room for free.

Oh, and while they technically don’t count as characters, it is worth noting that there is a multiplayer option where player two can control one of a multitude of “babies” to assist Isaac.

New Crew

Where as the original game was a comparatively small operation with only a handful of people working on it, Rebirth benefits from having the backing of the larger Nicalis Inc. behind it, even going so far as to get 1001 Spikes producer, writer, and designer Tyrone Rodriguez to assist creator Edmond McMillen in art and design.

As a result, the art is shockingly beautiful. Lighting effects from fire and lasers (especially in darkened rooms) add to the creepy atmosphere – assisted by Jon Evans’ and Matthias Bossi’s haunting musical score.

The cutscenes combine McMillen’s trademark darkly comedic art style with fluid animation that trumps the original in almost every way. Also, the new cutscenes get much creepier (the ‘Rubber Cement’ ending freaks me out every time).

Final Thoughts

While I normally dislike re-releasing a game like this, Rebirth does enough to change it up to justify it’s existence. It adds new strategies and tactics, reworks the original’s art and atmosphere to be truly terror inspiring and is an all-around solid performance.

The Agent Reviews (a Mod For) a Game: The Binding of Issac: Community Remix

It’s about time I did a proper review again.

The news is spreading quickly around the gaming community; The Binding of Issac: Rebirth, the sequel to Edmond McMillen’s hit game will be available on November 4th. To celebrate, he was even nice enough to endorse a 33% loyalty discount on Steam to people who bought the original. That’s dedication to your fans, folks.

However, in the meantime, hardcore fans like myself will need to find a way to scratch that itch for the next month. Leave it to some devoted fans at Code-Cast with the aid of the community on Reddit to help us out.

Community Remix, as the name implies, is a revision of the Wrath of the Lamb DLC made by and with the help of a large group of fans. It runs through another mod called SpiderMod whose primary purpose was to function as a sort of ‘survival mode’ for players that needed more of a challenge.

There are a number of changes both large and small, but the most notable differences are an indirect result of McMillen himself. Over time, he has been leaving small teasing glimpses at Rebirth in the form of small animated GIFs showcasing new items and item synergies. Community Remix has managed to incorporate these teased new items into the mod.

One new item that I found interesting was Samson’s new starting item – The Donkey’s Jawbone. In essence, it acts as a scaled down version of Mom’s Knife as it has a boomerang effect and can function as a melee weapon.

The mod also introduces new pick-ups (key rings, half-soul hearts, mixed hearts, etc.), new pill effects, new Guppy-like transformations (you can now play as Tammy and Loki if you collect their items), and has modified a few existing items (The Polaroid, for example, is now a passive collectible and won’t take up valuable trinket space).

These additions add a new level of challenge and strategy for long time players as well as give them a feel for what changes to expect in Rebirth.

But probably the most positive change in this mod is that this fixes the video resolution issues present in the original. One of my biggest complaints while playing was that there was no visually appealing screen ratio that TBoI ran at. Now, the resolution automatically adapts to your selected window/monitor size. This is amazingly valuable to ‘Let’s Play-ers’ that record their playthroughs.

There are a few minor complaints to be made with Community Remix, however. Firstly, while the adaptable resolution makes character, enemy, and item sprites look amazing with no deformation, the backgrounds still appear to look grainy and pixelated in some places.

Also, another contribution from the community were remixes of the game’s original soundtrack. These remixes are very catchy if you’re a fan of electronic music, but they don’t seem to capture the same dark, foreboding atmosphere of horror-as-comedy that Danny Baranowsky’s compositions gave. In other words, I want to like these songs more than I actually do.

Overall though, I’d say that Community Remix is a great way to tide you over until Rebirth hits the store front. It won’t replace Rebirth by any means, but It will give you a taste of what’s in store.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish a playthrough as Guppy to honor the memory of an absent friend.

Theoretically Fascinating II: Return Of The Fan Theories

“Mom! It happened again!”
Source: Sharenator.com

A while back, I made a short list of interesting fan theories on the basis that rethinking the structure and content of films, stories, and games could help us to question our own world on a deeper level.

Well, I feel it’s high time to bring the exercise back for round two. I have a brand new batch of reality bending re-interpretations to make you reevaluate your thinking. Why? Why NOT? It was a load of fun to do and I want to see if anyone out there can spark up some debate or share their own theories.

As with the last time, these theories are NOT CANONICAL and are mere speculation by those who love the work of great storytellers and want to analyze them deeper. That said, let’s have some fun and open our minds.

The Incredibles Is a Modern Retelling of Atlas Shrugged

Fighting for truth justice and objectivist philosophy.
Source: TV Tropes

As is the case with most Pixar movies, The Incredibles deals with surprisingly deep subject matter for a family animated feature. In this case, it’s the story of a man torn between his family and his struggle for usefulness in the face of a mid-life crisis.

But what if the message was much more? What if, in reality, the movie borrowed a few pages from the collective playbooks of objectivist philosophers around the world?

An article from Steve Damerell of The Free Liberal reveals several similarities between John Galt, the main protagonist of Atlas Shrugged, and the movie’s own Mr. Incredible; namely their shared rational self-interest – John and his desire to promote the individuality of productive individuals like himself on one hand, and Mr. Incredible and his desire to reclaim his glory days to better protect the world and his family on the other.

What’s more, both stories showcase how society can fall apart when the most productive members within it stop contributing in response to a lack of adequate recognition for their work. The world of The Incredibles was left defenceless without its superheroes and it’s only when they return to do their jobs and get the respect they deserve that the people are saved. The scene of Mr. Incredible holding the body of the massive Omnidroid ala Atlas lifting the globe drives the point home.

Honestly, this theory is so smart that I doubt that the writers intended it to be read that way. Still, I’ve always said that the best stories are the ones that hold up when viewed with a stronger contextual lens.

The End of Minority Report Is a Hallucinatory Dream Sequence

In the future, we will fight crime by floating psychic crack babies in a bowl of human cereal.
Source: Fliptop Blog

Before the notions of the dystopian cyberpunk future and technophobia were worn down to a stub, movies like Minority Report were considered great works. It used its setting to tackle the issues of due process and criminal intent in the justice system.

… Or it would have if many fans weren’t convinced that the ending was WAY to happy to be real.

According to many fans, the Tom Cruise’s character of former Precrime Chief Anderton suffers from hallucinogenic dreams of heroism when he is caught and placed in a containment chamber. This was more believable to fans who felt that Anderton’s wife breaking him out of jail, the villain committing suicide, and the Precogs being saved was suspiciously happy and convenient.

The theory is backed up by the fact that the warden even tells Anderton that those placed in suspension in the containment chamber “have visions” wherein “all your dreams come true.”

Again, this feels too smart to be intentional. But it adds a new layer to the story that better fits the darker themes of the rest of the film.

Isaac’s Mom Was Trying to Save Him; Not Kill Him

Isaac

… Well, crap…
(Side Note: click for a 800 x 600 desktop wallpaper made by me)

I’m not going to lie, this is the real reason I wanted to revive this topic. I was legitimately proud of myself for finding this all on my own.

The game The Binding of Isaac is a modernized, psychedelic, black comedy retelling of the classic bible story of the same name. Of course, when you realize this and consider all of the biblical imagery that the story calls on, you’re left to wonder if Issac’s Mom is right.

In game, it is suggested that an extended time left isolated with nothing but televangelist T.V. to entertain her has caused Isaac’s Mom to hallucinate that the voice of god is commanding her to sacrifice her son to free him from his corruption. Also, it’s shown that Isaac’s abuse has caused him to develop Dissociative Identity Disorder as a coping mechanism (his alter egos take the form of other playable characters).

However, the multiple bible references in game (both Isaac and his multiple identities are named for famous biblical figures and you do fight the horseman of the apocalypse, demons, and the devil himself) hint at this being a world where demons and demonic possession exist. We even see a demonic alter ego of Isaac in one cutscene.

So, Isaac seems to be clearly possessed by a demon, but not just any demon. I put it to you, readers, that each of Isaac’s identities are actually a part of a legendary demon that was known as a collective of creatures – the infamous Legion – and his mom was trying to slay him and not Isaac.

Perhaps, the creators will confirm or deny this when The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth comes out. We’ll just have to wait until then.