172: Heathens by Design

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Short and simple, When we play Mario games we're God. when we make him run through the level we take away his free will by controlling Mario. What would you think if someone controlled you the way we control mario or even if you were controlled the way Psycho Mantis controlled Meryl?

It was a rebuttal to the article which claimed that Mario by design doesn't know god exists and may be happier for it, but I believe it's the opposite. Mario knows and hates it but knows that he can't fight it.

I don't actually think games are anti-theistic in general. D&D based games have gods by necessity. These gods are both benevolent and malevolent. Many most RPGs have "gods". Even Ocarina of Time has gods (the goddesses)
I think the author's gone out on a limb a bit here...

ZeroMachine:
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

QFT

mnimmny:
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.

That's pretty much the sum of my take on this article. Mr. Burch seems to take a great deal of liberty in extrapolation- non-theist designs are suddenly anti-theist, absence of direct visible intervention is proof of the absence of God, etc. And this is coming from a serious fence-straddling agnostic. This article seems to ascribe a lot of philosophical depth to a portly but athletically gifted plumber from Brooklyn... probably much more than it should.

Buy a gun. Kill God.

thisbymaster:
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.

oh if only all of religion listened to you my hate for it would not be so profound. but keep in mind this is coming from someone that is going to hell for not believing in the big metal hand in the sky.

ha ha .
please someone tell me that you have played age of mythology.
that was a true god game.

Does that fact that games start you off with more than one life/give you checkpoints mean games are actually Hindu, and neither Christian NOR Atheist?

Is the 1UP Green Mushroom an example of Instant Karma?

Maybe a little bit of a stretch, but an interesting comment on game design (and game designers :P)
Flip it the other way around; what if there were a game made to tailor to the faith side of the argument? You're in the middle of a bossfight, getting your ass kicked. Ten minutes ago, you watched a cutscene where a character talked about 'having faith' and 'not fighting', and you're wondering if it might have been a hint. Meanwhile the boss is chipping away at your life bar and you're out of lives (or phoenix downs, what have you). Do you keep fighting and pursue the story in that direction? Or do you put down the controller and trust that the world (THIS world, anyway) is as orderly and poetic as you'd like to think?
Food for thought at least.
While I'm at it, the assertation that games are anti-theistic by nature might not be accurate. You have your choices, but you're always headed in one direction. The nature of the world (sandbox and a few other genres not included) is ultimately linear; doesn't this raise questions of predetermination and destiny?
Maybe the player isn't god simply because he directs Mario. After all, if the player were god, Mario could be whatever the player willed him to be; or, more succinctly, mario wouldn't be necessary to save the princess at all.
Instead of being all-powerful or even free of will, however, you can only will mario to do what is reasonably expected of mario to do in a given situation: namely jump, twirl, and go 'yahoo'. As the unreachable omnipotent force that created the world, maybe the DESIGNERS are god, and mario is humanity, in control of his own destiny.
Therefore as the intermediary, maybe the player represents nothing more or less than causality; the pieces have been put into play, each subject to their own rules, and the player is only the necessary catalyst to propel each into action.
Of COURSE mario will jump on the heads of things and save the Princes; that's what Mario does. But he needs to be turned on (so to speak). As the player, you are what allows the universe to function as a dynamic environment, ie causality.

Or entropy? o_O
(bit-by-bit, causing the universe to end?)

Have faith! Miyamoto has a plan!

I just wanted to applaud the Escapist for daring to enter the troubled waters of religious discussion, and poking at games with the religion stick. As a game designer of many years, I can emphatically state that publishers deliberately stay away from something this touchy and controversial. And yet a quick glance at any news source shows the effect of religion on our daily lives. Games are a medium of expression, and in a perfect world game devs would be free to explore religion as well as any other topic. But the real world of corporate funded game development is governed by fear of litigation and negative publicity, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Frankly this week's topic has worked as an artistic endeavor already, as I had NEVER thought about standard religion and games in any combined fashion prior to this. I don't know how games would incorporate religion into them, but it seems inconceivable that games would be the only artistic medium that did not.

Mario is anti-theist?

The last game had rosalina, a woman who raises baby planets and stars as her children.
She is easily a creator god, she's just perhaps not omnipotent, her awesome power is in making the universe not in smiting the infidels.

So yeah, mario is clearly in a universe with a divine creator. She just doesn't happen to do much other than create.

ZeroMachine:
I'm not saying it definitely did, I'm saying it could.

And anything 'can' happen. An ape can be born with the ability to learn and speak any language on the planet. A big pile of poop could appear above your head and cover you in it. Just because its possible doesn't mean it's plausible.

Anyway, article seemed to grasp at straws from the very beginning.

Perhaps it is the unofficial and often unmentioned God of the Mushroom Kingdom who controls exactly when one of those mother pluckers riding a cloud will (or won't) chuck out a spiky red guy just as you're trying to jump on him.

And maybe it's the unnofficial and similarly unmentioned God of the Pokemon world that decides when you get that desperately needed critical-hit or miss.

Maybe it's not and we're all getting a bit too deep...

gametaku5:
Short and simple, When we play Mario games we're God. when we make him run through the level we take away his free will by controlling Mario. What would you think if someone controlled you the way we control mario or even if you were controlled the way Psycho Mantis controlled Meryl?

If we were God, couldn't we just control Bowser and make him run into the water or stand under a Spike?

So in order to not be anti-theist, games have to directly quote bible/quran verses and have a "God" character do random nonscripted things?

What next, the gaming industry is actually a covert operation to destroy religious institutions?

oh man. Actually scratch that, OH MY FUCKING GOD. What a terrible article, get this crap outta here.

If anything, this travesty of an article highlights for me that if there is a god figure in games, it is the developer. They set the rules, the enviroments that live by those rules, and change it to their will. If anything games are more of a proof for the existence of god, a being that sets (and tweaks with bug fixes, patches, and expansions) the rules a universe lives by. How much choice a player's character has is set down by the developer.

Sheesh, even then, this article is an exercise in, as others put it, "grasping at straws". FFS, these are games we are discussing, not your eternal soul or lack there of.

I think the biggest problem with your theist/anti-theist argument is that you assume a certain type of god: ominpresent, omnipotent, all-powerful. You also assume this god would directly interact with the day-to-day lives of the characters. I'm not aware of any god in any religion that fits this bill.

The Christian god is all-powerful and all-knowing, but he specifically stands back until somebody asks him for help. Incidentally, this is exactly what happens in many games -- try playing a fantasy game as a paladin or priest. God's might is exercised through the character when they ask through prayer. This seems quite theist to me.

On the other hand, the Norse and Greek gods were quite hands-on, but only when they wished to be. They had strong personalities and would argue and fight with each other by manipulating the people in the world. Usually, they didn't have so much control as to just make somebody drop dead -- their power was limited to influencing people's decisions and the external world. This certainly echoes in games like Black & White where two gods fight each other through influencing people in the world.

Given your assumption of the role of a god, I can see where you make your argument, but I'm afraid your argument doesn't make sense when other interpretations of "gods" from common religions are considered.

PS: I'm Athiest myself. Of course, that doesn't mean I think all games are and must be anti-theist. Besides, game mechanics can always be designed to match how some people believe the world works, even if that isn't how our world works (and I'm not saying it isn't).

I'd also like to echo what others have said: just because a game doesn't mention God, doesn't mean they are anti-theist.

Games are based around a set of mechanics and a story, which is supposed to convey a certain message. This isn't much different from a book or a movie. They are worlds in-and-of themselves, but they aren't complete descriptions of an entire world -- they are a window into that world. Just because that view doesn't show God as being front-and-center to the message, doesn't mean the world doesn't have or couldn't have a God of its own; it just means the message isn't about the presence or absence of a God.

This is no different than not seeing characters use the washroom, eat, or sleep. We assume these things happen, we just don't focus on them because they aren't part of the message. Games can be and are the same way -- just because we don't see the influence or presence of a God in the game world doesn't mean it can't and doesn't exist.

I just don't get where the author gets the idea that games are antitheist. In particular his argument about games like Metal Gear. Though agreeably, the idea of a game without an all powerful influence controlling the fate of the players and NPCs is very appealing, I yet to find one where this happens. Anyone with the most basic programing knowledge can see the hand of the creator (be the designer, in this context) at any turn.

There is little to no free will in today games. There might be a million ways (or just one) to kill the antagonist, but rarely there is another option (being those: finish the game, or stop playing). Here, the influence of a faith controlling "god" is indisputable.

Take Valve's Left 4 Dead new "director" feature. There it is a game deity right there on the marketing campaign.

I believe that the author is basing his thesis on an idea of a benevolent god that "should do miracles" for the player, and not the idea of a god that is there "for the drama" (which is what a benevolent god should do in the context of interactive fiction: giving the player what he needs, instead of what he wants.).

And in the topic of miracles, I can remember a few moments playing half-life (among other games), where I was pushed against an unbeatable enemy, and then, some scripted sequence dropped out of the blue, and an NPC came to the rescue. You know, something that from the avatar's point of view should look like, well...

I don't think these sorts of games imply that they have no god, just that that god is a non-interference god.

It could be argued that the programmer is God. He dictates what the game is, what it will do and, ultimately, how it will end, even in games like Spore. But the programmer is a non-interference god and, once He has made His world, doesn't muck about with it any further because He has given you the free will to choose what you do and how you do it by yourself. (I know some games have greater degrees of freedom than others but in the end there are always choices to be made.)

Actually, the only two perfect, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent beings I know of are: God ,from Christianity, cuz the mere mention of His name would likely cause your head to explode (too awesome to comprehend) and Allah. Take Odin and Zeus for instance. They were the principal gods of their people, but they are in no way perfect, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Odin can't fend off the end of the world (Ragnarok) and Zeus more often than not succumbs to worldly desires (which explains why he has so many children).

I remember reading the tale of creation on my own with my new-found deductive logic (I think I was 14 then). It said that God created man in "our image". Does that mean that God wasn't the only being at the time of creation? Because in the rest of the Bible, He seems to appear only as light whenever he shows himself or gives a sign to a prophet.I think I just derailed this thread... Please don't hurt me.

WhitemageofDOOM:
Mario is anti-theist?

The last game had rosalina, a woman who raises baby planets and stars as her children.
She is easily a creator god, she's just perhaps not omnipotent, her awesome power is in making the universe not in smiting the infidels.

So yeah, mario is clearly in a universe with a divine creator. She just doesn't happen to do much other than create.

and i remember that in the first paper mario, he went on a journey to save the 7 star spirits that grant the wishes of the toads and/or good people (or something like that, i dont know how to say it)

Why do we have to bring religion into gaming? -_-

... I'm not even going to read this article because I fear the stupid will eat my brain.

Mario disproves god? Cracka' please (I'm white so I can use that word don't judge). Poor form for a magazine to try and address god or religeon. Going to have to give you a pass.

Are you serious? Mario believes in some sort of god! How else could he even exist in a mushroom kingdom? This was stupid and pointless. And yes, I did read it before I wrote this, so don't say that I didn't read it.

ZeroMachine:
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.

So true.

I think the author started with a deterministic understanding of godly intervention, and applied it to videogames, such as Mario, Metal Gear, etc. Clearly, there are religious people who accept the absence of divine intervention. The absence of divine intervention does not dictate the absence of divinity. The absence of explicit theism does not dictate atheism.
Even accepting this unspoken presence, one could consider the continue/save features as divine support. This is certainly one explanation for the hero that keeps getting up.
In reality most games are made without an intended statement one way or another regarding divinity. The fact that these worlds are programmed and created, means that literally, Mario has a creator. Miyamoto thankfully does not call himself God, but he is certainly a master of Mario's fate.
This kind of conversation doesn't get us anywhere in regards to God or videogames. It's just a sort of self pleasing thought process, a masturbatory kind of reasoning.

mnimmny is clearly onto something. There are two distinct comparisons in this article: the amount of power the player is given, and the presence/absense of gods in games. While both are appropriate for discussing god games, the later comparison falls apart when we talk about Mario. Does having a god in a game make it a better game or a worse game? Well, unless we're talking about power dynamics, I'm not sure it makes much of a difference.

Also, if the author is trying to make the argument that Mario's universe is atheistic, he is overlooking the question of how that universe came to be. The intelligent (level) design of Miyamoto is too distractingly obvious to the player for him to suspended his disbelief long enough to see an atheistic Mushroom Kingdom. I mean, would nature really create a series of synchronized floating platforms that lead out to an extra life?

Why does it MATTER? You are discussing video games. They are made for entertainment. This is the same type of BS which people dig for in classic novels. If this is what you think about when you play a video game, you are missing the point entirely. This is all a load of irrelevant crap; the comments have more substance than the article itself, which reads like a crappy 10th grade essay. The verb this most brings to mind is "reaching." More Zero Punctuation, less baseless tripe.

barrinmb:
Why does it MATTER? You are discussing video games...

hmm... I'd have thought that this site being what it is and what it stands for that we were exploring the potential of video games as an artistic medium. Its clear that every other artistic medium has gradations of what people like that range from merely entertaining to profoundly moving. Example: movies: summer blockbusters to The Shawshank Redemption, music: "Love Me Do" by the Beatles or "I kissed a Girl" to "Atlantic City" by Springsteen or "Raglan Road" by Luke Kelly, or porn or Saturday morning cartoon stills to Guernica. The same in fact is true with video games: Halo to Planescape:Torment.

Like you said people search for this stuff in classic novels because it is part of what can make something more than simply entertaining it can make it profound and worthwhile. When a medium is used to profoundly address human condition it makes the experience more rewarding and in many ways more entertaining and engaging. This is why classics are classics: they endure the test of time because they intelligently engage the timeless questions.

No one will argue that religion is not a major part of human existence, further most people (including atheists( accept that the questions that religion tries to address are questions that are central to the human condition (i.e. why am i here? what should i do? what does life mean?). Being able to address and explore some set of these questions in or through a video game makes the video game more entertaining engaging by making video games more relevant to us as humans, individuals, and societies. Take Turano's editorial on scary video games (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/op-ed/5400-The-Only-Thing-We-Have-to-Fear) as an example. When you can use the videogame medium to explore what scares you the videogame medium becomes a useful tool for personal introspection and growth.

An experience is valuable when its intrinsic value transcends mere endurance and entertains. But experiences are most valuable when they help you grow. I think that's why art is so valuable and why we should want video games that can be true classics and not simply nostalgic.

I just wish that this article hadn't oversimplified its observations about freewill in games and overstated the implications.

I'm going to try and avoid argument and just point out that Xenogears could've been a better example for the "game in which you fight to destroy God" motif

Arg. You're totally right. Xenogears would be a perfect example, AceDiamond.

Also, I'd like to recommend Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne as a good study of god defiance in games. In Nocturne, the player can choose to align himself with or against God and ultimately must confront the fundamental forces of his rapidly changing universe.

Sadly this article didn't deploy a quirky angle which revealed a different perspective. It was simply and purposely grasping at air for a pay check.

EVERYONE is painfully aware of the common "God exists" arguments. He works in mysterious ways, perhaps this curse is a blessing, your life may be just part of a bigger plan, his help is subtle, ect. This is the primary belief otherwise it'd be nae impossible to prove his benevolent existence when Timmy dies at 2 from misc birth defects and all the other horrific matters which happen daily.

So arguing that God doesn't exist because he doesn't chuck power ups at Mario every minute or wipe Bowser off the face of the earth to make things easier is ridiculous and unfounded if you bat 1/2 an eye lid at the consensus of belief. For Mario to actually promote anti-theism it'd take one hell of a plot change unless your part of some amazing minority that believes God actually fixes everything directly post haste in which case you should have sited it. Now please refer back to the first paragraph for the conclusion, please try harder this is as sloppy as it gets.

Perhaps the author was pulling a ZP, and was using a crappy argument just to get the fanboystheists in an uproar?

Funny, it even fails at that, as even atheists can see the flaws in the arguments. But at least the above hypothesis gives me a reason to actually read one of the author's articles again.

Hey, interesting read. And although I don't think games like Mario or MGS are necessarily anti-theistic (or 'pro-theistic') I do think the author made some valid arguments regarding God-games, Portal and Bioshock.

I mean, if you think about it, an anti-theistic interpretation definately holds up to scrutiny concerning Portal. You might say this is reading into things much too deeply but literary circles do a similar thing to novels. Why shouldn't we - as gamers - interpret our games in a way that isn't immediately obvious?

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