How Sifu Teaches the Player That Revenge Isn't the Answer
Do you like getting angry? Not a big fan of it myself, but every now and again I’ll give a rage-inducing game a chance. Sifu is one of those games - from the premise alone I was captivated by this story from the meta. A game where you get older every time you die in the game? Fascinating concept.
However, a concept like that means that you have to die. A lot. And those of us not prone to those masochistic tendencies are not gonna have a good time. That being said - I did spend a good chunk of time with Sifu and realized the story is telling a pretty important one that should sound familiar to a Christian audience. Revenge? Probably not worth it. Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and tragic backstories. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deepdives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Matthew 18:15-20 (NRSV)
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
So first - what is Sifu?
Sifu is a new action beat-em-up game from Sloclap. In the game you play as the Martial Artist - not as Sifu, which is something it took me a while to understand.
The game is played from a third-person perspective and involves the player taking control of the Martial Artist and using a wide array of innate and unlockable skills and weapons to chain together over 150 unique different attacks to take down the myriad of baddies throughout the game.
But why are you doing all of this?
Well, at the start of the game, we actually take control of the big bad Yang, or The Leader, and storm a martial arts school, taking on and inevitably killing the Sifu. The Sifu killed at the beginning of the game is our MC’s pops and that spawns the actual game itself.
The story follows the Martial Artist taking revenge against the crew that assembled to kill his or her father.
Throughout a series of so many attempts, the Martial Artist will one-by-one invade the area where the crew members are, take down all of the henchmen, and single-handedly end the lives of each of the major underlings until finally reaching Yang and killing him.
And that’s where the story shifts a bit - so let’s go ahead and put a big ol’ spoiler warning - the rest of this video will spoil the true ending of this game. Because this isn’t the true ending.
If the Martial Artist gets complete revenge and kills everyone, they are inevitably dissatisfied. We learn that Yang had his reasons for killing the master and, whether or not they were justified in our eyes subjectively - Yang’s journey to kill the Sifu is, uh, pretty similar to our ransacking of these hideouts and seeking justice for these baddies.
There’s also something to be said about the fact that each of the baddies ends up getting defeated by the weapon that they were choosing to use during the battle. A sermon for another time perhaps.
Once the Martial Artist recognizes the error of revenge-based justice, he or she falls to their knees and then we enter into a dreamlike sequence where our Sifu daddy explains to us the concept of Wude (woo-duh) - which may sound awfully familiar to martial morality to any accustomed to the art.
The Sifu then presents the Martial Artist with the opportunity to try again and this time practice mercy on the big bads. Rather than killing them one by one, seek out revenge by besting them in battle but letting them survive.
Thus begins our second playthrough of the game - different this time.
Each time we take down one of the bosses and spare them, it’s implied that they are able to either let go of a past trauma (Kuroki) or move on to using their talents for something better (Fajar); except for when we spare Yang, he, well he doesn’t spare us actually. We die from our sustained wounds. Oops!
When we fight Yang for the final time, it’s pretty well implied that we are destined to die as Yang’s health bar is totally missing from the final installment of the fight. We end up ‘winning’ the battle, but die from the fight itself and can’t be resurrected since Yang stole the magic talisman pendant that allows us to continue to press on.
We wake up in the assumed afterlife and walk to the top of a mountain where we get to praise the sun and assumedly enter into a place of enlightenment after realizing the power of the wude and mercy.
Then after the credits, the viewer sees someone’s hand (we don’t know whose) next to the resurrection talisman. A child pops in from the side and calls out to his Sifu and the person whose hand we see gets up and walks that direction.
Is this our Martial Artist? Did Yang give him the talisman back and allow him to be res’d? Or is this Yang who has now officially turned a new leaf and is choosing to replace in the world what he took by becoming a new Sifu? I guess we’ll never know until Sifu 2: Sifu Harder comes out in Spring 2025. (that’s not a thing)
So - what’s going on here? What are we talking about? What does this have to do with the Bible? Well - it might help to first understand what a Sifu is and then take a look at our scripture for today.
Sifu 師傅 is a term that literally translates to Skilled Person, but it usually connotes a teacher. Think of the Japanese comparative of Sensei - only this is Cantonese.
What is ultimately implied here is that this is someone who has entered into a place of instruction after a lifetime of experience. It’s a term that connotes a journey.
Okay, with that in mind, what’s our scripture?
This passage is a bit of instruction from the Sifu of the Christian Tradition - Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. This also happens to contain one of the most frequently mis-quoted verses in the Bible - fun.
If you’re in the church world or maybe if you’re outside of the church world, you’ve likely at least heard the idea that ‘wherever two or three are gathered, I am there also’ being referred to as Jesus being with us when we gather.
My Christian rock band in middle school and high school was literally named after this verse - F.A.C.T. Father and Children Together
We were cute.
Anyways - to be clear we believe that Christ is with us always and in all time - not just in a group. This verse is actually talking about something pretty different.
See this whole chunk of text is about one thing - a disagreement. A brutal and bitter one. Not just a petty qualm, but one that is so violent that others need to be involved in it. Maybe.
The first step when someone sins against you, says Jesus, is to confront one on one; if that doesn’t work, then take one or two others along; if that doesn’t work, then take the matter to the church; if even that doesn’t work, Jesus essentially calls us to ostracize that obtuse person.
By this process of binding someone to their deeds or loosing them from their deeds in the face of repentance, that same action is honored in a heavenly system as well.
Then Jesus says - whenever we come to an agreement as a church over these things, then it will be done. So long as it’s done in the name of Jesus, then it is surely done with Jesus at our side.
Now I hear you - now I’m more confused than ever about what in the world this has to do with Sifu.
I promise it does - hold on a bit longer.
Jesus is a teacher and that means that the words that he is speaking and has spoken are words that we are to shape our life by. Jesus and later the apostles call us as followers of Jesus to be perfect as Jesus is perfect - that means that we our ultimate goal is to follow the footsteps of the teacher Jesus by living out the teachings in a way that leads us to perfection.
We are to become the teacher by following the teachers teachings.
Let’s replace the word teacher with Sifu.
The goal of the true ending in Sifu is for the Martial Artist to following the teachings of the Sifu so closely that they reach a place of enlightenment (perfection) in which they become the Sifu. That’s why I personally prefer the ending that the Martial Artist is the one at the end with the talisman, but Yang also is a very satisfying ending.
So do you see the downright parallel here? To walk the path of Jesus is the same as the Martial Artist walking the path of the Sifu.
And what is the teaching that I’ve drawn out in the scripture - well, it’s the teaching about revenge. When someone has sinned against us, the natural desire is to hurt them back, seek out revenge. But that doesn’t work. Instead, Jesus says we are to confront honestly. Offer up mercy. And then if they don’t accept, we take two others and we offer mercy again. And if they still don’t accept, then we take the church and we offer mercy again.
And then we treat them as if they are pagans and tax collectors - maybe this is Jesus saying to ostracize them - but fwiw - Jesus ate meals with the pagans and tax collectors.
So my money is betting that what Jesus is saying here is even if the sinner defies the entire church - offer them mercy. Again and again and again. Seventy times seven. Mercy, mercy, mercy.
That is the path of perfection and enlightenment. When we offer mercy, Jesus is right there with us. Jesus offered mercy up until the point that it killed him - cough cough Martial Artist dies - and then Jesus is resurrected - cough cough Martial Artist might be resurrected. Yeah this is just a Jesus story. But it’s so much more than that.
What does this mean for us today?
This game challenges us, Christian or not, to walk the same path that the enlightened and perfect do. To enter into a place where we might become the Sifu, the teacher, the one capable of instructing others on how to best walk the path of mercy.
We may not all have a magic talisman that allows us to res ourselves until we’re ancient, but in the end neither does the Martial Artist. He or she still chooses to make the merciful decision with or without magic. The magic isn’t the ticket - it’s the Sifu. It’s the wude. It’s the path we’re walking in the end.
And in the church we believe that this path of enlightenment and mercy is the path of Jesus Christ - maybe you aren’t and maybe you never will be, but we invite nevertheless to join our journey at Checkpoint Church as we pursue what that path of mercy might look like in the world of video games, roguelikes, and epic stories.
So, whether you’re a Sifu, Student, or mashing buttons until you win the fight, you’re always welcome at Checkpoint Church.
Thanks - now what?
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Question: What’s your favorite roguelike? I love Death’s Door.
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