**Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for Ori and the Blind Forest.**
“Violence in Video Games” is a headline we see more often now than perhaps we ever have. Every year the forges of the debate fire up again over some new crisis or bit of research that draws a loose correlation here or there. Such critique may be somewhat valid: after all, most AAA games marketed to a wide audience are realistic military shooters, sci-fi shooters, or sword-fighting role playing games; or at least offer incredibly photorealistic depictions of one of the most violent sports on earth, American Football.
[T]he forest of Nibel gives us something else entirely: not a violent struggle of uniforms, but the calm persistence of being kind in the face of overwhelming anger.It is true that even amongst the violence some games have begun to ask themselves hard questions. Spec Ops: The Line is a horrifying tale of the hypnotic effects of violence on soldiers in uniform that begs us to ask ourselves where we draw the line with what we ask our soldiers to do. The Division and Division 2 paint a picture of how quickly civilized people turn on each other in moments of colossal crisis. But it remains largely true that mass-marketed games often don’t try to hold an ethical mirror up to us and teach us something about ourselves. They offer an experience more than they offer a journey.
But what if games could teach us the meaning of kindness and grace? What if a game could show us the corrupting influence of anger and hate? Enter Moon Studios and the great Forest of Nibel.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a 2D platforming game that is a love letter to platforming games of old such as Metroid and Rayman. The player controls Ori, a small forest spirit who lives in the forest of Nibel, and Ori’s spirit companion, Sein. Ori is knocked loose from the Great Spirit Tree, where he is found by a kind creature called Naru and raised as her own.
Desperate to locate his lost child, the Spirit Tree fills the forest with light, but this angers a great owl named Kuro. Kuro steals the Tree’s core (which is later revealed to be Sein) and tosses it to the wind, which throws the elements of Nibel out of balance. Nibel gradually begins to decay and die, and the player watches as Naru and Ori slowly starve. Naru gives the last fruits she can find to Ori and dies. Ori, orphaned once more, stumbles into the forest and nearly dies herself before she is found by Sein, who uses most of the power she has left to revive Ori.
Ori and Sein then set out to gather the lights of the three elements of Nibel and restore the Spirit Tree. First seeking out the Water element, they run across a creature named Gumo who steals the element for himself. Chasing him down, they soon find that he has been pinned under a rock. Instead of taking the element and leaving him to his fate, Ori removes the rock and frees Gumo. Gumo returns the element to Ori and disappears into the forest. Ori returns the water element to the Ginso tree, cleansing it and the water of Nibel of corruption. They are then attacked by Kuro and are only saved by the timely intervention of Gumo.
Ori and Sein then restore the Wind element after another encounter with Kuro. This leads Gumo to discover their purpose and to do his part to help: he uses a store of light in his clan’s treasure hold to revive Naru and bring her to the Spirit Tree. After restoring the final element of Warmth, Kuro captures Ori and Sein, starting a wildfire in the process. The Spirit Tree reveals to the player that Kuro stole Sein after all of her children were killed by the flash of light the Spirit Tree emitted while searching for Ori. In her anger, she had roamed the forest, ensuring any perceived threat to her remaining egg was eliminated (including the majority of Gumo’s clan).
Before Kuro can finish off Ori, Naru picks up her lost adopted child and shields her from Kuro. This softens the heart of Kuro, who is reminded of her own children. Realizing now that her anger and hate have caused the very wildfire that now threatens her last egg, Kuro takes Sein to the Spirit Tree who reawakens. The Spirit Tree emits a final blast of light, killing Kuro, but saving the forest and her last egg from the firestorm. Nibel is restored, and the game ends as Ori watches new spirits being born and Naru returns home to watch over the last egg of Kuro.
From beginning to end, Ori and the Blind Forest is ultimately a story of kindness. And not just the kindness that makes us hold open the door for the person behind us, but the kind of kindness that makes Naru give Ori the last of her food to try and save Ori’s life at the cost of her own life. This same kindness is ultimately what softens the heart of Kuro, staying her hand from slaying Ori. It’s the same sort of kindness that we see throughout the Gospel accounts of Christ’s ministry: from his healing of the paralytic, to his casting out of demons, all the way to his crucifixion and resurrection. It’s the same kindness that Ori shows to Gumo, giving him the grace of her help instead of the coldness of her back; paralleling neatly with the kindness of the Good Samaritan in the parable of Christ.
Kindness is the redemptive force behind the Gospel narrative: a God who in his kindness sends his son to walk among his people and ultimately die for them. Kindness also is a redemptive force in Nibel. Kuro’s anger and hatred over the loss of her chicks spread its cruel tendrils over the entire forest. Its creatures were turned into malevolent beings of violence and hate, its waters were tainted and befouled, and its winds were harsh and unforgiving. Even Gumo, a creature who we learn has a kind heart, is forced to steal and horde to survive as his clan is decimated.
But this is all washed clean by the kindness that Ori demonstrates to every being she comes across. Though she regrettably finds herself often having to fight the creatures of the forest, many others can be bypassed. When given the chance, Ori extends grace to Gumo, who is reminded of what it is like to have a friend. When confronted by a mother’s love for a child, Kuro’s heart is cleansed and she gives her life to deliver Nibel and her last chick from the fires of her anger.
The most stunning sequence is the cleansing of the Ginso tree. When Ori first arrives, its very core is full of jagged spikes and festering boils, but after freeing Gumo and retrieving the Water Element, we see a spectacular display of the newly freshened water literally washing away the rot of Kuro’s corrupting influence.
This highlights the point the game is trying to make. Ori could easily have just taken the Water Element and left Gumo. “You reap what you sow,” after all. But without Gumo to revive Naru, Kuro would have killed Ori and all would have been lost. The game asks us not only what the immediate consequences of our choices might be, but what it is that ultimately saves us in the end. In a world of anger and “take what you need however you need to take it,” only the cleansing power of kindness and grace saves Nibel and its inhabitants.
What is left is a forest full of light and love. It is a place where Kuro’s last chick can hatch and grow knowing the love of a surrogate mother and the love that purified the heart of her birth mother.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a game that gives us pause. In a world that bombards us every day with news, social media, and transmedia narratives of fear, hatred, and division, the forest of Nibel gives us something else entirely: not a violent struggle of uniforms, but the calm persistence of being kind in the face of overwhelming anger. It is difficult to accomplish, and there will be confrontations and hardships along the way, but in the end the love and kindness taught to us by Christ and illustrated by Ori can purify even the darkest of places.