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Turn the Other Cheek

Britton Peele | 8 Nov 2011 12:00
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Heck, if you try hard enough, you can make a lot of things seem spiritual. I mean, a great deal of fantasy is derivative of J.R.R. Tolkien at some point, who was a strong Catholic. So that makes most of the fantasy genre Catholic, right?

That's where we start to run into a problem.

A lot of people confuse Christian imagery or symbolism with being Christian. Paul Atreides is not an allegory for Jesus just because he was Dune's messiah. Same goes for Neo from The Matrix. That said, a lot of videogames aren't as cut-and-dried as you may think.

It's not hard to think that names like "The Flood," "The Covenant" and "The Ark" aren't coincidences.

Halo caught a little flack not long after the release of Halo 2 because some church youth groups were using the game's popularity to attract young people into church buildings. My own church's youth pastor did this, sweetening the deal with the promise of free pizza. The ethics of this sort of Pied Piper approach can of course be debated, but most of the controversy came from within the church itself. Halo 2 was rated "M," and the entire multiplayer was built around killing each other. Most church leaders didn't take kindly to it.

But type "Halo as Christian allegory" into Google and you get a treasure trove of speculative message board posts concerning the role of religion in the popular FPS series. It's not hard to think that names like "The Flood," "The Covenant" and "The Ark" aren't coincidences. You'll even find the occasional interview where a Bungie staffer says as much, such as when Bungie's Chris Butcher said bluntly that they saw the Halo story as Biblical allegory.

So you find a lot of Internet posts arguing for Halo as a Christian story, with John 117 being a direct reference to a Bible verse (John 1:17), putting Master Chief in Christ's shoes and having him fulfill Old Testament law. Or maybe the Covenant is an allegory for the fallen Christian (or sometimes even Muslim) church. That's actually underselling some of the fantastic write-ups gamers have done concerning the series' religious symbolism, of which there is much.

Does that make Halo a Christian story? After all, you can have a Biblical allegory without being supportive of the Bible as Holy Scripture. Does it matter either way, considering we're talking about an M-rated entertainment product?

Still, you could make a strong enough case for Halo. A much harder sell is the PlayStation classic Xenogears, which at first glance seems to take the Christian religion and villainize it in every way possible.

Spoiler alert: The game ends with you killing God. Sort of. Something that calls itself God, anyway. It's something that leads to most Christian reviews of the game being very negative, despite acknowledging the game's overall quality.

But there's enough wiggle room in the plot for gamers to theorize about the true meaning of Xenogears. They can say things like, "You didn't really kill God, you killed Satan. The Wave Existence was the real God," to which other people say, "But the Wave Existence isn't anything like the God of the Bible." This can go back and forth for a long time.

Then there are weird cases like Zelda. As in, comma, The Legend of. If you've been around the internet long enough you may have seen a picture of Link kneeling in prayer right in front of a crucifix, Jesus and all. It's an image that circulated when A Link to the Past was released in Japan, appearing in guidebooks, and it still gets brought up every now and then.

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