March 1, 2013 by jenniferashiru
The Shivah and Morality
The Shivah is a point-and-click mystery adventure game developed by Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games. The player navigates the game in third person as a Jewish Rabbi named Russell Stone, who at the beginning of the game is struggling to keep his synagogue open and his membership up due to cynical sermons and lack of funds, respectively. The player must ultimately solve a murder mystery linked to Rabbi Stone’s troubled past, and uncover disturbing secrets. The player character’s personality, actions, and dialogue in point-and-click adventure games are typically simplistic. However, The Shivah manages to develop a complex player character, Rabbi Stone, through depicting his struggles with the issues of morality and faith throughout the course of the game. Overall, although Rabbi Stone’s wavering moral and faith could hinder him, they actually give him a strong sense of identity.
Morality in The Shivah has a religious basis in that this game deals with complexities of the morality of religious leaders. Rabbi Stone, the protagonist of the game, truly believed at one point that his morals and ethics were the most important things to uphold. However his faith and moral waver after he is forced to confront a decision from his past: “Sometimes the line between salvation and damnation is a mighty fine one. I no longer knew which side I stood on”. This suggests that Rabbi Stone is flawed, attributing a human characteristic to him. Religious leaders are typically viewed as earthly examples of good moral and faith. It is a bit ironic that Rabbi Stone is in such a high position, yet questions his own faith even though his congregation should look to him for guidance. In the opening scene of The Shivah, Rabbi Stone opts to deliver a sermon on suffering where he asks very sarcastic and cynical rhetorical questions: “How could God let this happen? Is God as good as we think? Can he in fact do evil? Maybe, on occasion, he even enjoys inflicting pain?” The Shivah depicts the idea that the congregation is a reflection of its leader. Because Rabbi Stone has become quite cynical and bleak, as revealed through his sermons, his congregation has severely diminished. Rabbi Stone’s faith should be strong and fervent, so that he can lead a strong and fervent congregation.
Rabbi Stone actually feels guilty about a major decision from his past based on Jewish moral and ethics: he refused to conduct an interfaith marriage between his friend and congregation member, Jack Lauder, and his soon-to-be non-Jewish Indian wife, Rajshree Sharming. Although, Rabbi Stone did the morally right thing by upholding his Jewish tradition, he feels guilty for making such a harsh decision towards Jack because as a man he wanted to conduct the ceremony, but as a rabbi he could not. When Jack is murdered, in order to make amends for his past decision, Rabbi Stone decides to perform a shivah, a seven day mourning period, in which the grieving of the deceased are consoled. Typically, a shivah is performed for grieving Jewish families. The fact that Rabbi Stone has decided to perform such a tradition in regards to the Lauder family, reveals a very important attribute about his character: although he questions his faith, he still considers himself quite religious. Rabbi Stone has developed his own sense of identity as a rabbi because he believes the morally right thing to do is to find Jack’s wife, Rajshree, and perform a shivah despite Jewish tradition. Before, Rabbi Stone’s morality was based on a religious ethical system, but now his morality seems to be based on humanity, or rather a human system of morality; he seems to be doing what feels right as a man, rather than what he knows is right as a rabbi.
The morality of Rabbi Stone is also challenged when he encounters an assassin named Joe Demarco. The two prepare to fight each other in a train station, and Demarco asks “You think your God’s going to help you out of this?” to which Rabbi Stone responds, “Perhaps. Perhaps not. But my four years on the B’nai Birth Yesheva High School Boxing Team will even the odds!” Rabbi Stone’s response illustrates his sense of identity: faith in God may or may not help him out of this bind, but hard work and perseverance from his past experiences will. Rabbi Stone gets Demarco in a rather comprising position—he holds Demarco by the neck, preparing to throw him into the railroad tracks with an oncoming train—and gives him two choices: answer questions or get thrown onto the tracks. After Demarco, answers Rabbi Stone’s questions, the player is given a moral choice: “Show mercy” or “Don’t show mercy”. These choices are so significant because they determine the outcome of the game, and also reveal that Rabbi Stone questions whether he should actually proceed to kill a man—after all he is a rabbi.
At the conclusion of The Shivah, Rabbi Stone returns to the synagogue to answer his initial rhetorical questions:
“God might not seem fair. We may not always feel connected to Him. That is, we may feel lonely, and often do. Yet, the underlying reality of our lives is that we are ALWAYS connected, whether we feel it or not. Whether we accept it or deny it, the connection is there. And since we are connected, we are responsible. Battling for goodness is how we give our lives meaning. Maybe there are no answers. Ultimately we may never find the elusive truth. Yet, ultimately, we may find something else: meaning, significance, and fulfillment. If so that may be enough. Dear God, I hope that’s enough”.
Rabbi Stone’s journey of moral self-rediscovery has resulted in his re-declaration of faith on his terms. He has come to terms with himself that the connection to God is the most important thing because it is always there and because of this it is the responsibility of people to fight, and even sacrifice, for good. He still does not fully detail what he believes is good, but rather suggests that what people find meaning and fulfillment in is worth fighting for. Overall, the complex nature of Rabbi Stone’s inner conflict about his faith and morality reveal that although as a religious leader he is expected to be nearly perfect, he is a flawed individual who eventually discovers his own sense of identity as rabbi. Throughout the course of the game, Rabbi Stone’s struggle arises because what he believes is morally right as a man conflicts with what he knows is morally right as a religious leader. At the end of The Shivah, Rabbi Stone seems to abide by his own ethical code while still adhering to Jewish ethical code.
Watch The Shivah Trailer