I recently played Naughty Dog’s 2007 action-adventure game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The game is the first of four Uncharted games made exclusively for the PS4. Having picked up a used PS4 earlier this year, I was eager to dip into this famous series to see what all the fuss was about.
Essentially, the game follows the swashbuckling exploits of Nathan Drake, a modern-day Indiana Jones, who is trying to recover the lost treasure of “El Dorado.” Drake is accompanied by his cigar-toting friend and mentor, Victor Sullivan (a.k.a. “Sully”) and the eager, intrepid journalist, Elena Fisher.
Even though the game came out twelve years ago, the game still holds up for someone like me who isn’t an action-adventure connoisseur. While I could have done with less action (i.e. gun battles) and more adventure (i.e. climbing, exploring, etc.), I found myself increasingly invested in seeing the story through to the end. Would Nathan, Sully and Elena be able to unearth “El Dorado” before the greedy goons got to it first? How would their interactions and relationships develop as the game went along? Would all of them make it out alive?
In the end, the game’s story more than satisfied, and even left me a little surprised at times. However, it’s the character arc of Nathan Drake that’s giving me the most to chew on. Let me explain.
At the beginning of the game, Drake is presented as a cunning, single-minded treasure-hunter. Although Elena’s show funded the expedition to get him even closer to finding the lost treasure of “El Dorado,” Drake has no interest in helping Elena get her big story. In fact, at the encouragement of Sully, he abruptly leaves her in the dust and ventures off with Sully.
However, as the game progresses, Drake begins to change. After Sully gets shot by some ruthless thugs, Drake narrowly escapes and to his surprise, reconnects with the stubborn Elena who followed them. But the loss of Sully leaves Drake shaken. For instance, later in the game, after Drake reconnects with Elena once again after parting her in a plane crash (remember, this is an action-adventure game. There is a lot going on!), Drake argues with Elena about whether they should continue their dangerous treasure hunt. Drake says, “Elena, I don’t need your bullet-riddled corpse on my conscience. Let’s go.” Elena challenges him about quitting, and Drake in exasperation, responds, “(expletive), this is not worth dying over.”
Eventually, Drake and Elena continue their journey and find what they are looking for. Yet the treasure is not what they had hoped for. I won’t ruin the plot for you, but suffice to say, instead of giving them fabulous riches, the “El Dorado” of Uncharted only leads them to the sinister doorstep of death. However, as the story begins to wrap up, Drake rescues Elena and sends “El Dorado” to a watery grave. As they are preparing to leave the wretched island behind, Sully rides up in a motorboat with treasure nabbed from some dead goons. So, it finally looks like Nathan Drake got his treasure after all. However, the trajectory of the narrative gives this golden find a hollow tone. The real treasure isn’t pirate gold. It’s the relationships Drake, Sully and Elena have with each other. To my point, as they ride off into the calm sunset, Drake doesn’t dig his hands into the gold and fling it up into the air. No, he puts his arm around Elena. Sure, Drake is excited about getting the gold, but that almost feels like a throwaway prize after what they’ve been through. The fact that they still have each other and are on to the next adventure – that is what is feels valuable at the end of the game.
Don’t get me wrong. Uncharted 1 is not the most narratively deep or thought-provoking game. It’s a fast and furious treasure-hunting romp. Moreover, there is plenty of objectionable content (thankfully, nothing sexual) that players should be mindful as they play. However, despite all its flaws or over-used tropes, the game nevertheless offers a tidbit of truth worth remembering. In a world where it’s easy to be more focused on earthly treasure and pleasure, there are some things that are just more important. Friendship is a gift from God that should be treasured. Relationships where we give and receive love are worth more than anything that glitters or glows.
In the end, Uncharted 1 reminds me to beware of the fool’s gold of materialism. Everything we own, everything we save up for, everything on our Amazon wishlist will pass away. However, the people around us will last forever. As C.S. Lewis famously put it, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” May God help you and me to treasure the individual people He has put in our lives. Each of them was placed in our lives for a good reason. There is a way to glorify God in how we interact with each person in our lives. Most of all, may God help us to treasure the Person of Jesus Christ, who “though he was rich yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). What a peerless treasure, what a priceless good is the friendship of God in Christ!