Question of the Week: When has a videogame intersected with religion and done it successfully?
2/14/2009 7:49:00 PM
This week we're looking at the intersection of videogames and religion. While leaving the question of religion fairly open-ended, we just wanted to see some observations/thoughts/anecdotes about religious (or 'nonbeliever,' for a lack of better words) experiences either enlightened or obscured by videogames. We aren't here to define "religion" or "religious experience" or "[whatever]." That's far beyond the scope of this question. Athiesm was equally viable, but antagonism towards others' answers was certainly not.
When has a videogame intersected with religion and done it successfully? Or disastrously? Or crucially? Or needlessly?
Sean Colleli: Deus Ex did a pretty decent job mixing faith and gaming. The plot was packed full with just about every conspiracy theory you can think of, but underneath it was a nice, non-specific open question about the nature of the divine. The plot never named any particular religion, but the main character J.C. Denton has some insightful conversations with people about what they want in a god, and how widespread surveillance might just replace the concept of a god. The basic idea was that humans have a need to be observed and judged, and in the past an imaginary invisible superbeing filled that void, while omnipresent sentient A.I. surveillance is the modern solution to that need. One of the possible endings lets J.C. merge with an all-seeing computer that has the ability to nanomechanically construct any kind of matter; essentially, you can choose to become god at the end of the game. The game ends with Voltaire's famous quote, "If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him." The other two endings--joining the conspiracy or bombing the world back to the stone age--are cool but not nearly as compelling. Pretty heavy stuff when you're playing this at 14 years old.
(Currently Playing: Left 4 Dead, World Championship Games)
Charles Husemann: While not really a formal religion, the focus of Ultima IV was about becoming a role model to become the Avatar. While not exactly a Christ figure the Avatar did have some religious overtones.
(Currently Playing: Flower, Team Fortress 2)
Randy Kalista: My first MMO was Final Fantasy XI, and I admittedly (as well as embarrassingly) was going through the gangly growing pains of interacting with people in an online roleplaying environment for the first time. What you can get away with in a tabletop RPG group, from my experience, can still be far-fetched from the oftentimes opaque social rulesets that govern MMO populations. I rolled a monk character, thinking I'd roleplay him as devout, nothing big. But to do so, I grabbed the Christian Bible and began transposing actual Biblical verses into Final Fantasy terms, merely exchanging "God" and "Jesus" for "goddess" and "Altana." I stood my monk in the marketplaces and began (mis)quoting Psalms and Proverbs. Stuff like: "The fear of the goddess is the beginning of knowledge; wisdom and instruction fools despise." Sometimes I was applauded. Most times I was derided. And I realize now, regretfully, that that was probably one of the most horrifying things I could've done to a religious text.
(Currently Playing: BattleForge beta, Afro Samurai, Fieldrunners)
Dan Keener: Man, any game that has a Necromancer is the bomb. I mean, how can you not get a charge out of raising the corpse of the dead into your own private minions to do your bidding. Hell, in Guild Wars I had a legion of those scraggly, exposed-muscle meat bags following me around and destroying everything in their path like a swarm of locusts. Oh wait, Necromancy isn't considered a religion? Sh*t…
(Currently Playing: Rock Band 2, LED Football, Grand Theft Auto IV)
Nathan Murray: Ah I finally have one. Assassin's Creed had a mix of religious undertones in it that didn't overwhelm the story's plot. After all the reason why you were hunting down crusaders and murdering them wasn't because of your character's religious convictions but because of some plot to rule the world. Honestly after all this time I still can't figure out how deep the connection between spiritual and scientific was supposed to be but all that matters is it didn't get in the way of me enjoying the game.
(Currently Playing: Call of Duty 4, Ninja Gaiden II, Rock Band 2, and wishing there was a newer FPS experience on the way)
Sean Nack: Funny story, about the Necromancy: I was working a security guard grave shift last summer, and i got home early on a Sunday morn' and wasn't quite as tired as I wanted to be, so I flipped on the TV and came across this incredibly low-rent televangelist program, which consisted of this elderly gentleman sitting behind a desk and answering the Christian quandaries of his viewers. Normally, falling more on the "antagonistic" side of atheist, I would've immediately changed the channel, but I got roped in by the first letter I heard, a plaintive cry from a confused Christian: "I play a MMORPG, and my character is a cleric who uses heretical magic and the game requires me to make offerings to false gods; is this a kind of blasphemy, or in any way interfering with my relationship with Jesus?" I spent the next 15 minutes watching the preacher first try to grasp the question itself ("I don't know anything about gaming, but a member of the clergy can't be too bad...as long as he's a member of Jesus' clergy. Is there a type of holy, non-devil-related cleric you can use?"), and then enter into a long rant against videogaming in general, Dungeons and Dragons in particular, and how a holy path in life is about loving your God and any entertainment you need is provided by the Bible. I've never noticed too many holy overtones in my games (though I don't play a lot of games that would involve holy overtones), but watching as one person's stiff notions of what constituted "holy" tried to mesh with another's notions of entertainment proved both enlightening, and hilarious.
(Currently Playing: Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty 4, Far Cry 2)
Rachel Steiner: Just out of curiosity, does anyone remember Breath of Fire 2? St. Eva to me always had some basis in real-life religion.