280: The Devil Went Down to Nippon

The Devil Went Down to Nippon

Japanese developers' fondness for casting The Devil in the role of videogame villain may have its origins in a conflict that began in the fifteenth century.

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It's funny because the "battle" between God and Satan isn't really all that "epic."

If Japanese developers (or anyone for that matter) thought about it (or, God forbid, checked the source material) they would see that Satan only serves to annoy God with his constant tempting of his people. He's like a fly that God can crush easily. He just chooses not to because (in my opinion) without Satan there can be no real temptation, make free will almost a moot point. God wants people that come to Him after leaving all their temptations behind, showing that they can beat their demons.

Great article by the way. I learned a few new things about Japanese history. Not good things but still things nonetheless.

The previous poster is, essentially, correct in pointing out the limited understanding that other cultures and religions (specifically those shown in video games) have of classical, western Christianity. The sort of God VS Satan! battle that they tend to suggest is actually a heresy similar to the dualism of Manichaeism and other such splinter groups. Ultimately, the good vs impostor good which is actually evil implies more than just religion. It expresses a sense of skepticism and disillusionment typical of the 20th/21th century while also showing an equally pervasive desire for SOMETHING to believe in.

After reading that my opinions on both Nobunaga Oda and Ieyasu Tokugawa have changed, while I respect Oda for what he did, after all, anyone who abuses the church to gain power is to be commended, while not such an original idea, it's still a viable tactic. However, I think that I now find Ieyasu my favorite ruler of Japan after hearing that he banned Christianity from Japan.

I too am frequently annoyed at the stereotypical devil played out as an actual challenge to god, but the article did well to point out that the traditional story isn't the main point. It opens with the question of how western religion became so popular in the east in contrast to eastern religion in the west and continues to explain the negative impact that christian practitioners themselves have had on the japanese and how we find that impact still today in their modern media. (Besides, it's not like christians don't use the whole "devil's gonna get you" tactic 80% of the time)

I think it's a bit of a stretch to tie video games into this historical article, as many other mediums could apply even more accurately, but this was a really good read.

SaturdayS:
I too am frequently annoyed at the stereotypical devil played out as an actual challenge to god, but the article did well to point out that the traditional story isn't the main point. It opens with the question of how western religion became so popular in the east in contrast to eastern religion in the west and continues to explain the negative impact that christian practitioners themselves have had on the japanese and how we find that impact still today in their modern media. (Besides, it's not like christians don't use the whole "devil's gonna get you" tactic 80% of the time)

I think it's a bit of a stretch to tie video games into this historical article, as many other mediums could apply even more accurately, but this was a really good read.

christians need the devil to be powerful tho or else they have to realize that their god is a massive dick but he cant be too powerful or else the concept could undermine their god. I think its called the problem of evil or something.

its kind of one of those dammed if you do dammed if you dont situations

The Bible is not about good vs evil, at all. It is about God's right to rule over his own creation, "man". Satan challenged God's right to rule in the garden of Eden when he told Eve she would be "like God" if she ate from the tree from which she was told not to by God. God placed that tree there so humanity could prove it could serve God as stewards of the earth of their own free will. Satan, who used to work for God, decided he would prefer man serve him rather than God, so he lied to Eve in order to get her to convince Adam, and therefore their offspring to join in defying God. This is also where immortality of the soul got its start, as Satan told Eve "you positively will not die" which was a lie. When Satan did this, he rebelled against God's right to rule over humanity and set himself in opposition to God. He no longer works for God, but works against him constantly trying to prove that man will not willingly submit to God's right to rule. The majority of the rest of the Bible is setting up for God's son Jesus to come to earth and face the same temptations that Adam and Eve faced, and to prove that a perfect man can willingly submit to God as ruler over him, thus providing proof that Satan is wrong, and a liar. This also provides a "loop hole" so to speak, for Adam's offspring who inherited death from Adam, as a way to qualify for life after God destroys Satan and reasserts his rule over humanity. Satan's role is significant, but the misuse of Satan as the lord of "hell" is incorrect and not supported by the Bible, and Christianity in general way over estimates his power in opposition to God, as God can crush him at any time, and will once God's appointed time arrives.

Yeah, but I can see how they would use them to show ultimate/absolute good and ultimate/absolute evil. What is the worst thing you can fight? In their case, they may think it is the devil/satan. But to go up against the worst, you got to be the best opposite being.

Interesting article, and certainly a perspective I've not heard before backed up with many historical examples - always a good thing. I'm intrigued, however, as to what you think of other more mundane things, like simple fascination of the exotic play? I mean, we get people in the west fascinated with Buddhism and eastern spirituality simply because it's eastern, and I see no reason why the reverse won't hold true. I understand your article is narrowly focused (certainly not a criticism) so it was simply not in its remit to discuss that when it's not a relevant part of the historical narrative and the distinctions between Shinto, but it left me unclear as to whether you'd not considered this fascination, or you consider it negligable? Thanks for writing it! I love these kind of deeper, mature discussions on the philosophy of games, so yay. :D

Thanks for this! I learned quite a few things about Japanese history! I think the connection between their history and their video games is fairly loose, but the article did a good job showing how it may have influenced the developers, indirectly.

The ABC in Australia actually did an interesting story on Christianity in Japan, how they have to hide their faith and pretend to be Buddhist, even today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkw7UeX_p74

Huh. This explains why half of the games I have involve Christianity.

Jeff427:
The Bible is not about good vs evil, at all. It is about God's right to rule over his own creation, "man". Satan challenged God's right to rule in the garden of Eden when he told Eve she would be "like God" if she ate from the tree from which she was told not to by God. God placed that tree there so humanity could prove it could serve God as stewards of the earth of their own free will. Satan, who used to work for God, decided he would prefer man serve him rather than God, so he lied to Eve in order to get her to convince Adam, and therefore their offspring to join in defying God. This is also where immortality of the soul got its start, as Satan told Eve "you positively will not die" which was a lie. When Satan did this, he rebelled against God's right to rule over humanity and set himself in opposition to God. He no longer works for God, but works against him constantly trying to prove that man will not willingly submit to God's right to rule. The majority of the rest of the Bible is setting up for God's son Jesus to come to earth and face the same temptations that Adam and Eve faced, and to prove that a perfect man can willingly submit to God as ruler over him, thus providing proof that Satan is wrong, and a liar. This also provides a "loop hole" so to speak, for Adam's offspring who inherited death from Adam, as a way to qualify for life after God destroys Satan and reasserts his rule over humanity. Satan's role is significant, but the misuse of Satan as the lord of "hell" is incorrect and not supported by the Bible, and Christianity in general way over estimates his power in opposition to God, as God can crush him at any time, and will once God's appointed time arrives.

The man with the poor grammar speaks the truth.

I don't know, I don't see any kind of love for the devil in Japanese games and/or culture. To me, it seems they see the church and the devil as parts of one thing, a foreign concept of religion. To say there is a line separating the first games with devilish creatures as the bad guys and newer games with evil churches as the bad guys is to forget fighting Kefka in FF IV VI who turns into an angel with accompanying religious choir for no good reason other than to have the three-layered final fight have a hell-purgatory-heaven theme.

It's not uncommon for games to seek inspiration in things the society that creates them don't fully understand. What would pagans think of Too Human? (Yeah they'd probably think higher of it than gamers.) But with the exception of some titles that specifically deal with this as a theme it's as relevant as the smorgasbord of mythology that makes up your summons or however the game is calling them this time in your average Final Fantasy game, including Shivah (a god that's still widely and actively worshipped in India), Ifrit (ancient Middle Eastern myth), Siren (ancient Greek myth) and so on. It's all noise to the makers.

Alright I'm sort of confused here.

There is some truth to the idea of The Devil and Demons appearing as antagonists in Japanese games. For the most part I think this comes from the fact that their games, pop culture, and other forms of entertainment have a heavy western influance. Their fantasy, computer games, and similar things are all based on Western works where demons were stock villains. I mean if the source of your inspiration are things like the original "Wizardry" and "The Bard's Tale" and your going to be using western conventions like Knights, Barbarians, and Clerics and the like it makes sense the bestiary is going to be similar.

To be honest in most of the distinctly Japanese productions, the roles are the opposite. Typically it's The Devil, and the dark-powered heroes that are portrayed as the good guys. The whole thing about "improbably awesome, androgynous teenagers, running around on the celling in their quest to kill god" is funny because of the truth of the statement, including the last bit. If you look at games like some entries of the Shin Megami Tensei series, Bayonetta, and other works, it's god and the angels that actually represent the enemy.

The bit about "evil religions" is a good one though, I mean Japan does have a history of running inquisitions against foreign faiths in general. The connection between games like "Shin Megami Tensei" with religious figures from all over the world simply being portrayed as spirits (albiet powerful ones) among many others, with a few being paticularly uppity in some of the plot lines, and Shinto is also a noteworthy one.

A point to also consider though is that Japan has a wierd love/hate thing with the USA, and it's been going on since before the end of World War II. After all their attempts at xenophobic isolationism ended with: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_C._Perry

It makes a degree of sense that the supernatural enemies to be overcome are the ones most widely respected by what they see as both their greatest ally and their greatest enemy. It also plays in with works like "Gasaraki", "Blue Seed", and some aspects of "Ghost In The Shell" with the anti-American/western, and return-to-empire sentiments.

Truthfully though I think this is being over analyzed to some extent. Like a lot of things in Japanese pop culture I think the entire point is that they are trying to do the unexpected or what other people aren't doing specifically for that reason. I do not think a lot of the creators who make these games and concepts are doing it to make some overall point (though some doubtlessly are) but simply to be cool. I think one of the things that causes the Western Audience to take a "WTF" approach to a lot of Japanese creations is that we assume there must be some logic or reason behind everything, Japan on the other hand has a tendency to run with the most bizzare things they can come up with, where the point (as I get from some interviews with creators) is that it's Bizzare... nothing else.

To give an example there is a Japanese horror movie called "Evil Dead Trap" which has a certain fan following in the US (the sequel however blows chips). A lot of people were heavily analyzing this movie for a while, but then when I finally got a copy of a DVD release with the commentary, it was explained that the logic behind things like some colored sparks was largely because of how the brain reacted to certain colors in reaction to each other. It was an effect to illicit a certain mood/reaction, it had little or no basis on the plot no matter how much analysis someone wanted to put into it.

blakfayt:
However, I think that I now find Ieyasu my favorite ruler of Japan after hearing that he banned Christianity from Japan.

So, basically you decided you liked him because he committed genocide?

You sound like a nice person.

The Random One:

The man with the poor grammar speaks the truth.

Apologies for the poor grammar, I summed up and paraphrased in haste.

Christendom promotes so many misconceptions about the Bible, it is unreal. I just started out with the intent to show that the Bible is not about good vs evil, and it snowballed into a hastily put together summary of the primary theme. It does still get my point across though.

BrunDeign:
It's funny because the "battle" between God and Satan isn't really all that "epic."

ZelosRaine:
The sort of God VS Satan! battle that they tend to suggest is actually a heresy similar to the dualism of Manichaeism and other such splinter groups.

Worgen:
christians need the devil to be powerful tho or else they have to realize that their god is a massive dick but he cant be too powerful or else the concept could undermine their god. I think its called the problem of evil or something.

a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems, whose tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
- Book of Revelations, The War in Heaven
The Church accepts the Book of Revelations as canonical to the New Testament, obviously canonical as well.

now, I don't know about you, but I think that's some unstoppable power that really requires divine intervention or the most impressive hero the world has ever seen. the battle didn't take up many words because the books weren't made to be an adventure for the readers.

really though, I've got nothing to actually add to the main topic that hasn't already been said...

Lotet:

BrunDeign:
It's funny because the "battle" between God and Satan isn't really all that "epic."

ZelosRaine:
The sort of God VS Satan! battle that they tend to suggest is actually a heresy similar to the dualism of Manichaeism and other such splinter groups.

Worgen:
christians need the devil to be powerful tho or else they have to realize that their god is a massive dick but he cant be too powerful or else the concept could undermine their god. I think its called the problem of evil or something.

a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems, whose tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
- Book of Revelations, The War in Heaven
The Church accepts the Book of Revelations as canonical to the New Testament, obviously canonical as well.

now, I don't know about you, but I think that's some unstoppable power that really requires divine intervention or the most impressive hero the world has ever seen. the battle didn't take up many words because the books weren't made to be an adventure for the readers.

really though, I've got nothing to actually add to the main topic that hasn't already been said...

Yes, the book of Revelation does have some very entertaining imagery. However, what I was referring to was the historical philosophy of Christianity, a philosophy that says the battle wasn't "epic" because it was preordained. Satan never had a chance of winning and should not be considered, in any way, an equal to God. In this case, Satan is nothing more than another created being, struggling against his maker because of his foolish pride (a version that Milton characterizes, at times, very sympathetically in Paradise Lost). It's the idea of a "battle," of a struggle in which the devil could, if he had corrupted enough souls, either defeat God or, at least, point his finger and go "ha, ha." Such an idea has only "recently" taken hold of western culture.

BrunDeign:
It's funny because the "battle" between God and Satan isn't really all that "epic."

Paradise Lost would beg to differ.

Although you raise a good point about the whole "annoying thing". Since God is all knowing and all powerful there is nothing Satan can do, his rebellion is doomed to fail as soon as it began. Taking it that God knows this it suggests that he created Lucifer just to fall.

So really Lucifer is the prefect villain, he is designed to be beaten. He was designed to fall and to burn, video games just allow something else to throw him into the lake of fire. Every video game does the same thing in creating a villain just so they can fall. In Paradise Lost Lucifer has to more or less lie to himself and, thus, his cohort of fallen angles that they should rebel even though he knows that (in his heart of heart as it were) they are doomed to fail.

Also in Paradise Lost Satan, as he is known after his fall, is actually painted in a much more interesting light. He is shown as "majestic though in ruin" and courageous and cunning. This holds true in a lot of video games. Look at Sephiroth, a one winged angel who may as well be called Satan, I personally find him a much more interesting character then any of the protagonists, all I remember about Cloud is that he has a big sword. One final point concerning Sephiroth, the final encounter with him in FF7 is largely scripted, he has to to fall.

Lotet:

BrunDeign:
It's funny because the "battle" between God and Satan isn't really all that "epic."

ZelosRaine:
The sort of God VS Satan! battle that they tend to suggest is actually a heresy similar to the dualism of Manichaeism and other such splinter groups.

Worgen:
christians need the devil to be powerful tho or else they have to realize that their god is a massive dick but he cant be too powerful or else the concept could undermine their god. I think its called the problem of evil or something.

a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems, whose tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
- Book of Revelations, The War in Heaven
The Church accepts the Book of Revelations as canonical to the New Testament, obviously canonical as well.

now, I don't know about you, but I think that's some unstoppable power that really requires divine intervention or the most impressive hero the world has ever seen. the battle didn't take up many words because the books weren't made to be an adventure for the readers.

really though, I've got nothing to actually add to the main topic that hasn't already been said...

wow, if you go literal with that story then its very silly "swept down the stars of heaven" really you just need one star to wipe out this little planet, so half of them would just be over kill, and anything with a tail big enough to do that would already have wiped out everything just by its gravitational pull. Altho lets say its not the size of stupid, Ill bet things like this were much scarier before we had shape charges

They're should be games based on Islamic myth

The 1001 nights would make a great game

Mr Waffle:
The ABC in Australia actually did an interesting story on Christianity in Japan, how they have to hide their faith and pretend to be Buddhist, even today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkw7UeX_p74

Why was there a church like down the street when I lived there then?

A good theologian would state that Christian theology is not in NEED of a devil to be powerful or to be at all. Christian theology is about redemption which includes sin but isn't dependent on it.

I hate to do back to back posts...but in regard to your talking about the Book of Revelations. Revelations is Apocalyptic literature which is in itself a Biblical genre. The events and stories of that book though have already happened for the most part with the exception of the Second Coming. Many Christians believe that Revelations is an echo of the Olivet discourse in Matthew and Luke and point mostly to events that happened in 70AD.

This discussion is as interesting as the article preceding it.

Bravo all.

I've read the Bible but never really investigated its themes to this extent.

I wanted to give the author of the article kudos for describing his point while not condemning any side. The last time something like this was put up on the Escapist the author caught a load of backlash.

It's debatable whether or not there really is a singular "devil" in Christianity. The word "Satan" is derived from the Hebrew ha-Satan ("the accuser"), and is used in the book of Job to refer to an Angel that God allow's into his presence to play, for lack of a better term, Devil's Advocate.

Jesus uses the term figuratively in the New Testament, and refers to "many anti-christs" as opposed to just the one (1 John 2:18).

As a Christian, I believe that there exists evil in opposition to good, but that there is no one entity called "The Devil" who exists in opposition to God, but rather several parasitic entities (and evil is parasitic, it cannot exist without the good that it perverts). Saying there is one devil is like picking one mosquito out of a swarm and saying "kill that one, and it's minions will fall). Evil is chaos after all, it would be silly for it to be organized in a natural hierarchy.

I didn't the article itsef was all that great, a brief glance over Japanese history with some pretty insulting brush strokes, especially the "technological advances = more complex stories" which I thought was a poor example of cherry-picking.

Worgen:

Lotet:

BrunDeign:
It's funny because the "battle" between God and Satan isn't really all that "epic."

ZelosRaine:
The sort of God VS Satan! battle that they tend to suggest is actually a heresy similar to the dualism of Manichaeism and other such splinter groups.

Worgen:
christians need the devil to be powerful tho or else they have to realize that their god is a massive dick but he cant be too powerful or else the concept could undermine their god. I think its called the problem of evil or something.

a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems, whose tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
- Book of Revelations, The War in Heaven
The Church accepts the Book of Revelations as canonical to the New Testament, obviously canonical as well.

now, I don't know about you, but I think that's some unstoppable power that really requires divine intervention or the most impressive hero the world has ever seen. the battle didn't take up many words because the books weren't made to be an adventure for the readers.

really though, I've got nothing to actually add to the main topic that hasn't already been said...

wow, if you go literal with that story then its very silly "swept down the stars of heaven" really you just need one star to wipe out this little planet, so half of them would just be over kill, and anything with a tail big enough to do that would already have wiped out everything just by its gravitational pull. Altho lets say its not the size of stupid, Ill bet things like this were much scarier before we had shape charges

If it is to be taken as fact, then the swept down stars would most likely be what we call shooting stars, ie space junk burning up whilst decending through the atmosphere. I think the main point with Lotet's post was to show that there supposedly was an epic battle, though the outcome may have been foreordained.

Funny the article wouldn't mention Persona 4, as the entire game comes down to Izanagi and Izanami.

Also, Lucifer is the main antagonist of SMTIII, and plays a bit role in almost every main game in the series, including Raidou 2.

That....is...pretty damn interesting. Huh, thanks for that.

Insightful! Thanks for the article Robert.

Pfft. Then how come priests and nuns are so badass and usually packing heat in Japanese media?

Lotet:
a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems, whose tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.

I think the Mother Harlot rode that in SMT III.

But Christianity/Judaism is an eastern religion. The only western thing about the church is the Roman Catholic organisation. Even the Protestant set-up is way more similar to any eastern religion than any western one.

Because you know, the whole damn bible is set in the middle east or Egypt until poor ol' Jesus goes to Rome to get crucified.

cj_iwakura:
Funny the article wouldn't mention Persona 4, as the entire game comes down to Izanagi and Izanami.

Also, Lucifer is the main antagonist of SMTIII, and plays a bit role in almost every main game in the series, including Raidou 2.

In fact, if you take a look at the Shin Megami Tensei main series as a whole, it is in fact, judeo-christian mythology as a basis of the whole series. As far as I know in Shin Megami Tensei 2, you will in fact, fight the big man himself depending on your playthrough. Louis Cypher in Nocturne reappears in Strange Journey as Louisa Ferre, offering an alternative to the Angel's solution to the problem presented and it's hard to ignore the themes present in Devil Survivor in which the lockdown is God's trial for humanity. I'm actually surprised that Shin Megami Tensei was overlooked for this article, there's a lot to draw from in it.

 

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