Religion in Games – I: Mechanics, Lore, and Heart – Extra Credits

Religion in Games – I: Mechanics, Lore, and Heart – Extra Credits


Alright folks this one has been a long time coming It’s one of the first episodes we’ve thought about doing, but we kept getting thwarted by the lack of material on this subject So it just kind of sat on the back burner for a little while That is until last year, when we auctioned off the ability to chose an episode topic at the childs play charity auction And ofcourse it’s winner: Rob Requested religion in games So Without question this has been been one of the hardest episodes to write in terms of research We’ve spend this entire year looking for a modern game that can really serve as an exemplar for religion in games And we just couldn’t find one But we didn’t come up empty handed by any means In fact doing this caused us to realize Perhaps we were framing the question wrong it opened our eyes and let us to looking at the topic in a whole new way So let’s finally do this thing Religion simply isn’t a single monolithic idea Like sexuality Like issues of gender or race, like any grand idea Moral, philosophical, scientific It has many facets and many levels on which it can be explored The problem with how discussions of how religion in games usually takes shape And even how we were thinking discussing the topic originally Is in concidering religion as one indivisible, irreducible concept Doing so often leads to conversations on religion in games becoming scattered We try to sweep up too many despaired into one generalized whole Or equally disastrous we each use the term “Religion in Games” To talk about completely different specific aspects of the larger concept of religion Resulting in a tangled frusterating mess of a conversation So after a year of prep Here is how we came to break it down This isn’t exhaustive or by any means the only way to view the approaches games take to religion But it’s the one we found the most useful Games seem to explore religion on three different levels They can explore at the mechanics of religion The lore of religion Or faith, the heart of religion To date we’ve each seen explored within games to varying degrees And with varying degrees of success So rather than trying to tackle how games adress religion as a whole We are going to look at each of these approaches in concidering how religion is adressed in games And what value it provides to us as players First let’s talk about how video games use the lore or trappings of religion As this is by far the most common way that games utilize religious concepts Just ask yourself: How many times have you encountered Shiva in a video game Or Beelzebub, Odin or Abaddon, Amaterasu or Zeus It happens so often we don’t even really register it anymore But why do we see it so often? What benefit does this provide us? Now how do video games use the mythology behind religion in order to improve the experience How do they use it to create more meaningful play unfortunately outside the tangential learning opportunities That such inclusion clearly provides Most of the examples we can sight seem to only use the lore of religion because it’s cool They rarely use more than the surface elements of the religious mythos Opting instead to mostly stick to borrowing names and character designs So why is that done? What does using religious figures provides the designer or the player if we’re only gonna take their most surface aspects It’s because these figures have stood the test of time There is something resident, something compelling about them There is something about each of these figures that has attracted millions of people over generations And speaks to us on a very innate human level Wether or not we actually believe in them So it’s just easier to grab these characters than to try and create your own and hope they have the same appeal There is also something in us, most of us anyway That is intrigued by these ancient traditions that perks up when a call out to them was made Calling a monster Cerberus rather than three-headed dog beasty is to many of us simply more engaging These figures have a certain cache A certain intellectual property value In the same way Master Chief or Solid Snake does So we use them The problem is that this approach misses out on so much These figures are resident, because they have extreme symbolic value They exemplify aspects of human nature or represent parts of our psychics So it’s a shame we rarely see games attempt to explore the meaning in this symbolism It’s a huge loss, because game narrative is compressed as it is We need every tool available to us to convey meaning And here is one we simply letting fall by the wayside on a regular basis Even if you don’t believe in these things Even if you haven’t grown up with tradition that some of these symbols are drawn from The genius of these myths is that they’re simple to convey, but provides us with lots to explore Take for example The tower of babel, used so well in xenogears There is plenty of meaning for all of us regardless of belief In the story of a man trying to become godlike through his technology and his industry Or the arc myth in Halo I mean Halo is chock full judeo christian references Right down to it’s name And the name of it’s character John one seventeen These myths, this religious lore can provide us with so much more than cool critters and neat names if we’re simply consistence about it But alright, so that’s how games seem to utilize the lore of religion Now let’s talk about how they play with the mechanics of religion And when I talk about the mechanics of religion, I’m talking about how religion functions on a practical real world level What it’s results are and it’s here where we perhaps succeed the best From games like Crusader Kings 2 to Civilization V Gods and kings expansion We’ve explored how religion effects us on a grand scale How it pushes us as societies towards specific attitude and approaches to daily life How it shapes our cultural world view And determinants what intellectual avenues we explore How it helps us understand our place in the world as peoples And defines how we see others How it drives us into conflict And brings us together The large social ramifications of religion and the mechanics of how religion spreads Are something I say we’ve done some justice to We looked at it’s goods and it’s ills We even got them to ask some tough questions in games about the effects of organized religion And the role of religion in a state We haven’t shied away here from an honest exploration And in doing so it’s added a great deal to a great number of games But we also do a decent job at exploring the practical effects of religion on a more immediate level Games like The Witcher and Dragon Age discuss how religion can make us the most selfless Or be preverded to justify the most henis ills Games allow us to explore how religion can change us as individuals And how it can effect how we respond to the world So here at least when dealing with the pratical side of religion religion devorced from spirituality or religion as in effects society or in the choices we make Games are on the right path We’re using religion to both more engaging and to explore ideas that stay relevant as the machine gets turned off We don’t do enough and too often the meaning behind these exploration gets subsumed in the fact that they surve as game systems to be exploided But here at least we take are taking the right steps Which leaves us with the hardest question The question of faith And we’ll be tackeling that one next week See ya then

8 Replies to “Religion in Games – I: Mechanics, Lore, and Heart – Extra Credits”

  1. The Healing Church in Bloodborne are more like a bunch of mad scientists than an actual religion, but the Catholic imagery with them is through the roof.

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