172: Heathens by Design

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Heathens by Design

"Super Mario doesn't believe in God."

"For all his magical items, heroic deeds and self-sacrifice, Mario knows - simply knows - that there is no external, mystical force shaping events and willing to intervene on his behalf. There's the player, of course, but he boots up the system and grabs the controller, the player and Mario are one and the same. Mario, and Mario alone, is the only person who can save the Princess, defeat Bowser and restore order to the land. No invisible, benevolent overlord. No God. And he likes it that way."

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Eh... as intelligent as this was, and althought it brought up some interesting thoughts, I think you're digging to deep. And trust me, I LOVE to dig deep.

Yes, the Mario games never acknowledge that there is some god controlling them. But does it deny the idea of a god at all? No. In fact, it makes it seem more like my personal view on whatever created us. Some powerful being put one thing in motion and then sat back, got some popcorn, and watched the show.

As for your insight on GLaDOS and the guy from BioShock (still haven't played that, sadly, so I don't know exactly what you were talking about), that doesn't scream "you're being controlled by a god, and therefore god is bad" at all like you made it sound. The story wasn't about fighting against a "god" at all. It was about fighting for freedom from someone with power. That doesn't mean god. Of course, you were right about God of War ;) but that's a given.

So like I said, interesting, but felt a bit like you were grasping at straws to me.

"grasping at straws to me."

That was my inital reaction as well. To me, it just screamed "people who belive in God are moronic and games prove it".

Seeing as how I am of the Christian faith, I won't say that I'm offended (I'm not really, I felt more perturbed than anything), but I will say that it made me seriously consider what the Escapist represents, because this week seemed to be all about creationsism or religion in some way shape or form, mostly the negative. I've always been a pretty avid reader of the articles, because I find them interesting. And the Editor's Note did make me feel better, because I see that the point was supposed to be about God games. However, I think the correspondants really took it in a totally wrong direction.

I digress. This post will be more than likely overlooked and ignored, and probably flamed at one point or another.

I think you're digging way too deep man.

Someone get the author some decaf and maybe take him out for a walk. Take it easy dude.

I wouldn't say the Mario universe is atheist.
I would neither say it is theist.

I believe the Mario universe is apathetic to the idea of a god.
No-one in that universe have simply ever even heard of a god, they wouldn't know what god was if we asked them.

While this was an interesting read, I think that the writer's view of God seems to be coming from an interesting standpoint. He claims that Metal Gear, Mario and, later in the article, ALL games are anti-theist, simply for the fact that God doesn't swoop in to save the day at a moment of peril, or 'save the day' with a snap of his fingers.

I wonder where this idea of a 'divine super hero' comes from. People seem to think, first, that the SEEMING inaction of God is a proof of his non-existence. Secondly, they seem to think that if God DOES do something, it must be in the realm of the supernatural (With a bolt of lightning, crack of thunder, and an earthquake).

So I would say half the of the article is way off. The non-mention of God in a game where God doesn't 'swoop in to save the day' isn't anti-theist in the same way that movies or fictional books that don't reference God aren't anti-theist. They are all (Games, books, movies, etc) simply stories, and the non-mention of God, or the protagonist being 'the only one' who can save the day, doesn't an anti-theist statement make.

The other part of this article is odd, considering the writers description of God (The one who would end wars with a snap of the fingers). The 'anti-god' games. These games put the same limitations on the antagonist that the writer put on the player in the 'god games'. For instance, if Kratos REALLY was trying to kill God, then God could just will Kratos to die, or be non-existent. End of story. But since they have to battle and fight and the 'god' can actually die, then they aren't God at all. Perhaps a 'demi-god', to use the writer's words. The same goes with the Bioshock analogy.

ZeroMachine:

So like I said, interesting, but felt a bit like you were grasping at straws to me.

Ditto.

Sigh, way to go over thinking everything. It sounds like you had already come to your conclusions before even started this piece. It also seemed horribly one sided, you can't produce a convincing argument without showing the other side and their supporting evidence.
+C

Grasping at straws might even be a stretch. I'm seriously sick of The Escapist green lighting articles like this. It seems every issue has at least one article that's "Christians are dumb" or "Guys like boobs and sex". I would pay good money to see mario bitch slap this guy with a bible.

I wouldn't say Black & White is anti-theist either.
The old Norse and Greek religions had flawed gods for example.
Several gods with limited power who where able to make mistakes, and sometimes compete over power.

It was ofcourse not very supportive of the Christian religion, and for that I'm thankful.
I hate that religion, Greeks and Scandinavians knew how to make religion interesting.

I doubt a world filled with conveniently placed coins, mushrooms, and power stars is entirely devoid of some omniscient force.

I concur with everyone else that this just seemed to be grasping at straws. The whole case of games being anti-theistic due to there not being a 'swooping' in of a god doesn't mean much since games like Mario are not concerned with matters of religion. Those games which are, like Black and White, lay out the rules for your actions as a god-being, and so are sufficient in how they address the concept.

Other games such as Bioshock or Portal with their omniscient and possibly omnipotent controlling character does not address the god question as it is merely how the plot/game has been formulated. If Fontaine from Bioshock is analagous to god then so is Dr Kleinman from the original Half-Life. For a short period of time at the beginning he guides Gordon through the ill-fated experiment, this is a similar role (for a short time) to that of Fontaine or GlaDOS and can hardly be considered a concept of god.

Does the author have any ideas on how games may address and allow the concept of a god? (beyond the Bioshock and Portal concept)

raemiel:
Does the author have any ideas on how games may address and allow the concept of a god? (beyond the Bioshock and Portal concept)

Bible games could be a start.
(although I am obviously not the author)

First, just want to say:

Lvl 64 Klutz:
I doubt a world filled with conveniently placed coins, mushrooms, and power stars is entirely devoid of some omniscient force.

Priceless XD

Second, I thought of something else as a counter argument to the "all games are anti-theistic" just for the sake of seeing what others thought. Now, from what I've seen, Halo is pretty bashed on these forums, so bear with me. To anyone who read the books (or even just played the Halo 3 single player and watched the opening cut scene) they would know that Cortana chose to work with John-117 not because he was the strongest, fastest, or smartest, but because he was the luckiest. And even though in game it doesn't seem this way because of the player, I can't help but think that in the story that "luck" is a bit of divine intervention. I mean the crap that MC does, come on, that has to at least make you give it a thought. And although I won't go into detail, the same concept can be given for games like Half Life, Mario, Zelda, Metroid, even GTA. For those characters to realistically be able to do any of the things they do, they've got to be pretty damn lucky, and therefore, again, some people would say "someone is looking out for them".

Anyone else see my point?

CodeChrono:
I will say that it made me seriously consider what the Escapist represents

Free-speech

Simski:
I wouldn't say Black & White is anti-theist either.
The old Norse and Greek religions had flawed gods for example.
Several gods with limited power who where able to make mistakes, and sometimes compete over power.

It was ofcourse not very supportive of the Christian religion, and for that I'm thankful.
I hate that religion, Greeks and Scandinavians knew how to make religion interesting.

Yup, Pagan gods were much cooler, and alot more likely if you think about it.

ZeroMachine:

So like I said, interesting, but felt a bit like you were grasping at straws to me.

this.

Was there a point to this article other than, "lol, religion"? I thought this site was about video games.

LOOY:
Free-speech

Really? They seem to do a lot of banning for that around here (especially if you say anything bad about the moderating team).

Simski:
I wouldn't say the Mario universe is atheist.
I would neither say it is theist.

I believe the Mario universe is apathetic to the idea of a god.
No-one in that universe have simply ever even heard of a god, they wouldn't know what god was if we asked them.

A universe apathetic to the existence of gods is an atheistic universe. I know, I'm an atheist and totally apathetic to the existence of gods.

I can't say the reaction from Christians is surprising, but I have to admit that the writer took the content a tad too far. First off; I consider this to be common knowledge that games aren't about divine intervention (unless you count cheat codes, mods, and game hacks) but literally attempting to go against the idea of divine creation is self-refuting...considering that video games are created by a "higher power" who carefully crafts each minute detail to perfection, or more often lack-thereof. Granted certain games, like Spore, merely show elements of intelligent design that are expanded upon by the player itself who is a limited deistic entity only capable of impotently intervene in the design of the creature in certain points. But I guess that's a better idea than Wright's initial theistic evolution sim. Step 1: Kick-start big bang. Step 2: wait over ten billion years for life to start. Step 3: Wait 4 billion years for life to evolve. Step 4: Reveal thyself ambiguously. Step 5: ????. Step six: Profit!

Come to think of it, certain video games may utterly refute the concept of intelligent design. I dare one person to look me in the eye and tell me that Superman 64 proves an intelligent designer is necessary. Or if you want to get in about it maybe someone can look me in the eye and tell me that Bible Adventures doesn't prove the Riddle of Epicurus.

ZeroMachine:
...[snip]...
Anyone else see my point?

No. Luck doesn't imply divine intervention, divine intervention doesn't imply luck.

Bionic_Fhtagn:

Simski:

[quote=ZeroMachine post=6.74602.840399]...[snip]...
Anyone else see my point?

No. Luck doesn't imply divine intervention, divine intervention doesn't imply luck.

I'm not saying it definitely did, I'm saying it could. I can still see you're points, but I just wanted to make it clear that I didn't mean it definitely meant that. I personally don't even believe in "luck". Some people might feel that way though. Although I'm not religious myself, I grew up around a lot of religious people and have a few religious friends, so I know that some people take luck as the guiding hand of god.

SHODAN from the System Shock games would seem a more logical choice for a game where you are fighting against something which resembles a god. By the end of System Shock, she has created life, and by the end of System Shock 2, she is in possession of a hyperspace drive which could completely rewrite the rules of the universe.

Not only that, but in the second game, she alters the player character in her own image - making him an avatar, a human representative which will perform the duties that she requires to reach the stage of becoming a goddess. Sounds to me like a fight against a god if I ever heard of one.

I seriously doubt that just because there is no God present in the happenings of a game, that makes the game take place in an aetheistic world, much less an anti-theistic one. Who's to say that the god in the game world just chooses not to interact with the player's character? How many times in present day reality does a giant hand reach out of the sky and pluck a person out of the way of a car? Just because God does not directly intervene doesn't mean he does not exist.

Plus, the fact that god games limit your powers is true, but again, it does not mean you are not a god, per se. Maybe God wanted to have fun, so he limited his own power before interacting with his world. There's an old paradox: "If God can do anything and make anything, can he make a rock so heavy that he could not lift it?" If God is considered to have unlimited power, then he could easily limit his own power temporarily. It's an abstract and confusing concept, but it makes sense.

A good way to reconcile the article's claims that because God does not intervene, he does not exist is to assume that every games is a god game, in that you the player are assuming the role of god. The difference between games is how God chooses to manifest himself in the game world, be it as an Italian plumber in a fungus monarchy, or as himself with a somewhat limited sphere of influence.

As to the god-as-villain idea, I think the article's opening claims that if god was really in a game he would be all-powerful defeats the idea that the only way god can exist in a game is as a villain. If he was the same omniscient God the article claims does not exist in games, the villain wold be unbeatable. Instead, he is a god-like entity, not a god. So even if a god-villain exists, unless the player character is a god as well, then it still does not mean that a god is present in a game.

I don't see why it really matters, The game designers, artists, etc. made the game. So to answer your question "Who made the world" Well the game designers of course.

This article badly conflates demigods / pagan gods with the Judeo-Christian God, and ends up a total mess.

God games put you in the role of a demigod, who has near-total control over the environment, but also has to follow certain rules and belong to a certain faction. Other games like System Shock, Portal or God of War pit you against a demigod, who appears to have total control over your environment - but also turns out to be limited and factional in the end.

No game that I know of has cast you in the role of an omniscient, omnipotent God - except insofar as that applies to the developer. Similarly, I don't know of any game that pits you against God, without applying some sort of disclaimer to make him less omnipotent than he seems. No conclusions can be drawn about theism/anti-theism in this regard from games, because games don't ask that question.

As far as Mario is concerned, Mario doesn't expect God to save the princess for him - which is exactly what Mario would expect if he were Christian. (Do you see God ending wars with a wave of his hand? No. So why would you expect it to happen to Mario?) So again, there's really no conclusion that can be gleaned from this.

Even God of War reveals the bankruptcy of your plan to kill a god - but that would be spoiler territory.

Well I just want to clarify an opposing position to it. And further clarify my own position regarding luck, I don't believe in "luck" as a force either but rather just a term used for a favorable coincidence.

I'm an atheist/agnostic, but I'd argue that a game world by its very nature is theistic. I don't think many would be monotheistic, but rather presided over by a pantheon of gods, i.e; the game designers. Whilst they might not be omniscient, they limit the player's choices to a preset selection of interactions they can perform in a structured arena of their choosing.
Portal and God of War display the role of designer-as-god more than many in their linearity of goals and plot. Sandbox games and MMOs might provide more freedom, but it is still tightly structured to provide a cohesive gaming experience. And MMOs have GMs, who are the closest thing games have to the personal gods of Greek mythology; they get involved in the game world, take notes and then make amendments. And lo! upon the 2nd year, the gods released an expansion pack!
Whilst arguments for intelligent design don't really hold water in the real world, no one could really argue against it in a videogame.

Bionic_Fhtagn:

A universe apathetic to the existence of gods is an atheistic universe. I know, I'm an atheist and totally apathetic to the existence of gods.

I think a common mistake made here and in the article is not knowing the difference between atheism and agnosticism.

Atheists say there is no god. Agnostics say we can't know whether there is a god or not, and so we shouldn't bother worrying about it--just get on with your lives.

Seems like an argument could be made that games like Mario are agnostic in that Mario never prays and he relies on himself to win his battles. He doesn't worry about whether a god is involved or not. He also doesn't thank god for his victories, the way NFL players and Grammy-award winning rappers do. If the Mario world was truly atheist, it would outright tell us that no gods exist.

There are plenty of role-playing games where gods do play a big role and we see prayer and worship having an effect. Off the top of my head, the old Final Fantasy games resurrected your fallen players at a church. The Elder Scrolls games give you powers based on which gods you worship (or am I remembering that wrong?) Those games are surely theistic ones, just not based on any Earth religions...

...wow
hey, author guy? yeah, why not think about what you write first before actually writing it.

alot of video games dont mention about a divine being, so dont just lable if an antitheistic game. And Bioshock, yeah, if you paid attention to the beginging, it did mention a divine being *cough*vaticangod*cough*... excuse me... anyways, alot of this made me think 'hey, just shut up.'

srsly

arrr_matey:
I think a common mistake made here and in the article is not knowing the difference between atheism and agnosticism.

Atheists say there is no god. Agnostics say we can't know whether there is a god or not, and so we shouldn't bother worrying about it--just get on with your lives.

Atheism, in the most narrow sense, could express the affirmation of the absolute belief that gods do not exist. However, in my opinion using that definition is so narrow as to make the term atheist useless as am unaware of any atheist who claims absolute certainty that gods do not exist. In a broader, and in my opinion more accurate, definition of atheism would simply indicate a lack of belief in deities or a rejection of theism.

Great article, and yet another reason to love Portal, didn't think there were any more ways I could love that game.

Thanks for showing me another one!

Bionic_Fhtagn:

Atheism, in the most narrow sense, could express the affirmation of the absolute belief that gods do not exist. However, in my opinion using that definition is so narrow as to make the term atheist useless as am unaware of any atheist who claims absolute certainty that gods do not exist. In a broader, and in my opinion more accurate, definition of atheism would simply indicate a lack of belief in deities or a rejection of theism.

You've possibly nicked most of that from the first paragraph of Wikipedia's atheism article...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism and I don't disagree with the definition because it's the same as mine. If you say you don't believe in god, then you're saying there is no god. It doesn't make the term atheist useless... it defines it as something different from agnosticism, which is precisely the point.

I know plenty of atheists who believe that no gods exist with the same amount of certainty that religious people believe god(s) exist. As an example, here's a book called "God: The Failed Hypothesis" written by one, with a forward by the Christopher Hitchens who's mentioned in the Escapist article:

http://www.prometheusbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1847
(not promoting the book... haven't read it, just saying it exists along with others like it)

The only thing I can say is...wow. We try to get off the subject of religion, and the writers throw a religion week in our face. Sadface.

Maybe God isn't a liar, when gave free will he really did give it. That means we have the freedom to be good or evil. You take away free will and humans are no longer human, we either become animals or puppets. Most video games show off this fact when the player takes control, who says Mario doesn't believe in a God? He's scared as heck of God because he takes control of body to carry out his will, which at first seems to be for good purposes. To him at least but for us it's simply for fun.

Honestly, why would a fat plumber stay in Mushroom Kingdom or keep fighting Bowser? Mario may be able to fight him by why bother when Mario can establish his own kingdom? Bowser would never attack, you notice how Bowser's only gone directly after Mario 2 times if I'm correct. The first time he was too afraid to flat out fight with Luigi so he sent him on a knowledge challenge, the second time he sent Koopa Troopa's to tie him up at a smart moment, but Peach beat him.

The main characters of the Mario games are the only ones who know God exists, the others are thankfully ignorant of his existence, otherwise we'd have Sim style games about Toads.

Fixed part of this, words disappear when I type because I skip over them without knowing it. I looked at it from the games stand point a bit more literally because when we play games we literaaly do take control of the characters. In RTS's we command them, but in a platformer we hijack their body and go on a ride.

While I agree that these new God games do not necessarily simulate in any faithful way the feeling of being a God, I would point out that I dare anyone to find a game that faithfully simulates the feeling of being anything. There will never be a game that gives the player a feeling of 100% immersion. Force Unleashed was lauded as practically the closest you could get to ever actually using the force yourself, but that wasn't true. What the designers were promoting was the scope of force usage in the game, and while it was an impressive amount of powers and advancement and combos, I came away from the game wishing I could've done more with the powers. The problem of placing Gods in games is that we have yet to find that perfect medium. Either they're there and they're playing a significant character role in the story, or they're not there at all. There needs to be a mid-ground, some role in the game that God's can fit into that will effect the way we as gamers play the game in both positive and negative ways, but also act as a transparent prescence. Most importantly, the player must be involved emotionally with these God's, otherwise, we find ourselves in a situation where the gods act for or against characters who just don't care about their existence. Then everything just gets chalked up to the invisible wheel of fate and gods lose their meaning in a game. The closest I've seen a game get to this is in Oblivion, after the Divine Crusader download. But once again, its not perfect mid-ground and I didn't care about the 9 Divine before the download, even though the Gods were there before it. There is a place for Gods in gaming, but as of yet, that perfect placement has yet to be found.

The premise of this article sounds a lot like the kind of weird insights I get at about 5am after spending the entire day taking in too much information. Just because the player character does not profess fealty to a particular deity, does not mean the entire game universe is devoid of divine interventions.

I would say the argument of games being anti-theistic based on the behavior of the player characters is flawed because you don't take into account the fact that someone designed the game outside of its execution, and therefore would be the allegory of God in that situation. The game designer is tasked with the secret placement of power-ups and health for the character to use to maintain their ability to reach their goal. Just because the player character does not stop to thank God for giving them these things does not deny a benevolent omnipresence watching over the player character's quest, in fact it damn near refutes it.

I don't think it necessary to try and find a "does God exist or not" argument within game worlds because if that's what you're looking for, then you've missed the point of why the game was made. Much like my distaste for listening to film students critique films for their metaphoric meanings, I find trying to define a game as religious based on the actions of the player character in comparison to the rituals performed by religious followers in the real world.

Then there's the whole pantheon/monotheistic debacle when trying to clarify what divine influence is being exercised. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic God/YHWH/Allah is the omniscient, omnipresent, benevolent father figure (unless you do something bad, then he hates you for the rest of eternity) where as the pantheonic Gods of Greece and Scandinavia were more human in their abilities and flaws; they did not know everything, nor see everything, they were constantly fighting with one another or, for example in the case of Zeus, busy impregnating human girls from time to time. They did not watch over every one of their believers and help them toward achieving whatever "plan" was set for them. No, the pantheonic Gods were more an explanation for the occurrences of natural phenomena, the meaning of which was initiated by their actions. You prayed to one of them for a safe journey as you were passing through their domain.

But I think I lost my point, I'm writing a lecture on Gods of the pantheon.

Ah, right.

Because the actions of the player character in game do not mimic the rituals of religious followers in the real world does not forge a good argument for the lack of divine intervention, and therefore the existence of God, in the in-game universe.

This was more interesting as a study in power dynamics within games rather than an argument that games are atheistic or antitheistic.

The author's claim that "most games must take place in atheistic universes and thus are antitheistic by nature. It is clearly better to play a videogame taking place in a world without a god than a world with one" is far too broad. It conflates atheism with antitheism when really all that is implied is that the game allow some free will.

First, the author didn't address games with disinterested gods, most notably the Diablo series or best shown Planscape:Torment's Lady of Pain (who mazes you a few times and then kills you if you keep pissing her off but otherwise leaves you alone).

Second, the author hasn't addressed the idea of a kind of god who has people earn his favor/assitance rather do everything itself. The idea of Mario proving he is worthy of another life by donating 100 gold coins to the charity of his choice is about as far-fetched and valid a frame as is the idea that Mario is atheistic. A more traditional and proper example would be the power progression of clerics in DND games like Baldur's Gate where divine power is granted based on the experience has earned (i.e. the deeds the character has done).

In short, the author forgets "just because you're hung like a moose doesn't mean you gotta do porn"-Kumar. Omnipotence doesn't mean God needs to do everything and giving the player some "free-will"/control doesn't outright contradict the existence of an omnipotent God (really anymore than it does in our daily lives).

The author makes a somewhat better point in terms of god games. Yes, in a god game you have limitations as to what you can create and do, however you made the choice to stick to those limitations. In civiliation the idea isn't to be God without a context, its to be God to a certain civilization in conditions roughly simulating our world and its history. Another farfetched argument here is that these do not necessarily need to be taken as theoretical limitations on god. They can just as easily be taken as self-imposed limitations chosen by god that the game designer has derived from historical and worldly contexts.

Finally, the author, in explaining games which thematically have rebellion against a higher power, conflates power with godhood. A totalitarian government is not god. A tyrant is not a god. Neither should Gladdos or whoever is the foozle in bioshock or any other game be necessarily considered God.

Holes in the author's individual examples aside, I still fail to see how the absence of God or gods in games might make them all better.

gametaku5:
Maybe God isn't a liar and when gave free will, he really did give it. That means the freedom to be good or evil, you take away free will and huiman beings are no longer humans, we either become animals or puppets. Most video games show off this fact when the player takes control, who says mario doesn't believe in God? He's scared as heck of God because he takes control of body to carry out his will, which seems to be for good purposes to him, but for us it's simply for fun. Honestly, why would a fat plumber stay in Mushroom Kingdom or keep fighting Bowser? mario may be able to fight him by why bother when Mario can establish his own kingdom? Bowser would never attack, you notice how Bowser's only gone directly after Mario 2 times if I'm correct. The first time he was too afraid to flat out fight with Luigi so he sent him on a knowledge challenge, the second time he sent Koopa Troopa's to tie him up at a smart moment, but Peach beat him.

The main characters of the Mario games are the only ones who know God exists, the others are thankfully ignorant of his existence, otherwise we'd have Sim style games about Toads.

Please tell me you're trying to be confusing on purpose.
I read that 3 times and I still have no bloody idea how you think that makes sense.

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