Extra Credits: Religion in Games (Part 1)

This week, we start discussing religion in games. Finally.

Show Notes:

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Recent Comments:

  • There's three ways I've noticed religion in games. The first two are the way I've seen it done in the vast majority of games though.

    1) Being used as an easy reference point. People already know the basics of these gods/religious figures. So when we use them, people already recognize aspects of them. When you name a character "Thor" your first thought as a player is generally "Oh, they are the God of Thunder." (Depending on the game/setting. Contextually they might just be someone who shoots lightning or whatever). For example, God of War. We already knew the relationship between a lot of the Gods/characters etc. without having to spend a lot of time saying things. There was also chances for them to give nods to aspects etc. (I'm mostly talking about the first God of War).

    1.5) Ok, so I'm sort of cheating, but this isn't really a point on it's own. It really is more halfway between 1 and 2.
    Where you take some aspects of the religion, but are primarily just using it as a name/stepping stone to doing whatever you really wanted. In part it's being creative, but I think it's also in part lazy because you aren't able to come up with new names/creations of your own fully.
    Final Fantasy is probably guilty of this the most. How many references to ancient religions etc. are there in their designs? There are names... the design is sort of similar but they modify it to fit what they want...

    2) The names are used... but that's it.
    For example, "I need to find a name for this giant space corporation... Cerberus!" - Mass Effect.

    3) Genuine religion.
    Where they actually touch on religion in a serious way. Where they take the subject matter and say "Well, this is something that matters. We will put in characters that genuinely believe in this religion and it is something that guides their actions."
    Final Fantasy again... Does this a lot. Religions of their own creation still count sort of, however in every game I've seen (or can remember) of theirs, religion = bad.

  • Final Fantasy again... Does this a lot. Religions of their own creation still count sort of, however in every game I've seen (or can remember) of theirs, religion = bad.

    I disagree. In FF X, the main religion isn't necessarily "bad", but it is made clear that it isn't the be-all and end-all and it has its downsides as well as its merits (being the straw of hope in a tormented world) and X-2 briefly explored what happens when a major belief is lost/abandoned.
    Beyond that... there weren't many religious topics tackled, with maybe the exception of FF VII where religion/spirituality is a positive attribute in comparison to the mad science conducted by Shinra Inc.

  • Thank you for the responses regarding paganism in the lore of games.

    Good point. The paganism of most modern games is from the western world and - in particular - the Greco-Roman pantheons.

    I believe one of the reasons we use (and tend to overlook) pagan lore is that it's so common in our society - probably more common than most of the aspects of monotheism, although most of us are taught to try to fit the pagan stuff into a monotheistic cosmos. Most of us have grown up with stories and customs - and games - that present pagan themes. I think there is a historical precedent for this, actually. There was a time - typified by events like the Council of Nicea and ideas like the Arian heresy - when many pagan ideals and archetypes were necessary but vilified. Instead of being lost entirely, they were encoded in things like fairy tales or holiday trappings. They hid as things so ludicrous that no serious (monotheistic) person took them as a threat.

    It's hard to tell with angels in video games. The word is only applied within the Judeo-Christian mythos, so far as I'm aware, but there are plenty of winged humanoids in world mythology. Whether the angel is one in name only or in terms of the Judeo-Christian myths seems to differ from game to game.

    I also see - possibly as a trend of monotheism or just linear thought in general - a tendency for aspects of nature to be handily (sometimes too handily) personified in games. A deity isn't so much an initiator into the mysteries of the forest as a means to find the hidden cache of treasure there. And that's how an archetype such as, for instance, Thor changes from a rich, complex person into merely the guy who gives us a thunder spell or menaces our hitpoints with colorful flashes.

  • Umm, i don't know if this series was mentioned but... Shin Megami Tensei. The original series, the first on the Nintendo up into post SNES was a very religion heavy game. I mean, in number 2 you can actually fight to defeat Yahweh(Hebrew name for God). It has the other dieties of religions and explains them as demons who choose to oppose the will of an all oppressive godlike being who tries to decide the fate of others.

    In fact quite interestingly, it takes the role of Satan, the betrayer and instead puts him in the perspective as agent of Yahweh, working to be the most evil and cruel thing possible to get people to be drawn TO Yahweh.

  • There was no mention of the Binding of Isaac in this forum (unless it is mentioned in a future discussion, then my apologies), since it has SO many religious references.

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