Study Says Videogames "Problematize" Religion as Violent

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Study Says Videogames "Problematize" Religion as Violent

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A University of Missouri doctoral student says many modern videogames "problematize" organized religion by equating it with violence in their stories.

As improving technology has allowed videogames to evolve over the years, their narratives have become more detailed and nuanced as well, according to Greg Perreault, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. That increased sophistication has led to a growing incorporation of religion into various storylines, and that in turn has led religion to be "problematized" in videogames by way of strong narrative connections with violence.

Perreault looked at Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy 13, Assassin's Creed, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in his research and found that all of them tied religion to violence. "In most of these games there was a heavy emphasis on a 'Knights Templar' and crusader motifs," he said. "Not only was the violent side of religion emphasized, but in each of these games religion created a problem that the main character must overcome, whether it is a direct confrontation with religious zealots or being haunted by religious guilt."

But he also stated that despite the common presence of those themes, he doesn't believe game makers are trying to "purposefully bash" religion. "I believe they are only using religion to create stimulating plot points in their story lines. If you look at videogames across the board, most of them involve violence in some fashion because violence is conflict and conflict is exciting," he continued. "Religion appears to get tied in with violence because that makes for a compelling narrative."

This is where I'd normally make a crack about being thankful that organized religion has never been responsible for any real-world violence, but I don't want to offend any sensibilities so I'll simply note that Perreault presented the results of his research at the Center for Media Religion and Culture Conference on Digital Religion and leave it at that.

Source: University of Missouri

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Andy Chalk:
A University of Missouri doctoral student says many modern videogames "problematize" organized religion by equating it with violence in their stories.

Nevermind the centuries of warfare, racism, intolerance, and bigotry spurred on by religious leaders. Videogames are the real problem.

I can kinda get where this guy is coming from, but his theory doesn't just pertain to games. All forms of media (comics, film, novels, tall tales, whatever) have themes of violence that take inspiration from historical conflicts. And it just so happens that faith and religion played a huge role in some of the biggest (the Crusades, the Catholic/Protestant War).

There's some pretty fucked up stuff in history. That's what makes these stories compelling.

/sigh the comebacks are hanging from the tree...

im sure said student had a lot of fun investigating all these video games as part of his research project.

now he's done maybe he can go get a real job.

I'm pretty sure movies and books have been doing this for a long time as well...

I mean, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard weren't exactly rooting for the church.

besides the use of "problematize", what he's quoted as saying is all pretty legit.

GrandmaFunk:
besides the use of "problematize", what he's quoted as saying is all pretty legit.

Yeah, I don't get the impression that that he actually believes this is a problem. Lol.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problematization

Problematization is a critical thinking and pedagogical dialogue or process and may be considered demythicisation.

I wonder did they REALLY mean to use that term, or did they just make up that term think it meant "oh, they're just MAKING problems".

I'm not sure.

I will say the central tenement of Christianity (at least) is based on violence; that is you don't follow their dogma then you will be horribly tortured for all eternity. And much violence has stemmed from that.

He forgot SMT2 where you try to kill God. He'd have a field day with it.

That's not entirely wrong, but with at least three of those given examples, they were set in a timeframe where religion was more of a violent hotbed or theoretically could be. Assassin's Creed 1 specifically is set during the Crusades, so obviously religiously guided violence is present in that game.

Although I think religion gets tied up with violence, not because it's compelling but because it's a really easy way to explain why a character does what they do, which could be a sign of lazy story writing if handled poorly.
Though it's important to note that many of the "evil" religions in some games are more often presented as cults (insert snarky comments equating all religion to cults here) or small factions of a certain religion. And also that in games, the particular god that the crazy cult worships may in fact be a real tangible being.

But yeah, it's still a present force driving a lot of game stories because, well it's easy. "Why is this army marching to war against this group of people?" "Because their god told them to."
There, I summed up the storylines of probably a dozen different games.

Treblaine:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problematization

Problematization is a critical thinking and pedagogical dialogue or process and may be considered demythicisation.

I wonder did they REALLY mean to use that term, or did they just make up that term think it meant "oh, they're just MAKING problems".

I'm not sure.

I will say the central tenement of Christianity (at least) is based on violence; that is you don't follow their dogma then you will be horribly tortured for all eternity. And much violence has stemmed from that.

I'm pretty sure a doctoral student knows what problematization means.

RatRace123:

Although I think religion gets tied up with violence, not because it's compelling but because it's a really easy way to explain why a character does what they do, which could be a sign of lazy story writing if handled poorly.

Bingo. Whackjob religions or political movements are usually just a lazy way to give a large group of characters motivation to do ridiculously evil things. It makes sense that it gets abused, since pretty much every single player action game needs to explain why there are thousands of people trying to kill the player character.

Ummm, well I'm wondering how this is even "newsworthy" even in the gaming media. I mean video games generally involve action and violence, and religion of one sort or another has been involved in games almost from the beginning. Roguelikes, MUDS, and other early computer RPGs tended to involve clerics and even the intervention of various deities for good or ill. As your hacking through a dungeon typically your doing violence in the name of some deity (generic, real, or imagined) and fighting followers of evil religions (much like Conan's rogues gallery, or the events of Michael Moorcock's books). I mean it kind of follows the "duh" path.

Now, to be honest there IS a trend for games to want to increasingly use real religions or those that form analogies to real religious groups (like scientologists) and portray them negatively. The more disturbing counterpoint is when you look at attempts to say portray Christianity fighting it's enemies in a good light such as in the "Left Behind" games it tends to receive a lot of backlash from the gaming community, where if your say killing off corrupt goobers in the Catholic Church or seeing it portrayed as doing bad things, that's generally viewed positively. I tend to think there is a problem with how one sided things have gotten, and not just because I'm a Christian myself (albiet not a deeply spiritual one).

I think a lot of the problem is that you simply have too many left wingers writing and developing games, and that has left to those with a more right wing or pro-religious viewpoint remaining quiet in the communities, especially if they don't mind taking fantasy
as fantasy, even if they would like to see some differant trends. The few right wingers who tend to do games tend to be morons, I mean while I think it was unfairly criticized for simply having a religious basis, there is no getting around "Left Behind" being a crap game, that had little behind it other than "look, a religious war game". It seems like it's an all or nothing presentation to be honest, and we need people who can present messages like that without being complete morons about it. Perhaps taking some keys from those producing anti-religious games, and pacing themselves the same way, to make the point/message obvious without beating you over the head about it.

Before people misunderstand, think of one of Robert E. Howard's OTHER creations besides Conan... Soloman Kane. Soloman Kane was a Puritan (yes, that kind of Puritan) who looked like what many would consider a quntessential bad guy nowadays, with gaunt features, and a wide brimmed hat, who adventured around on what amounted to a religious pilgrimage fighting monsters, bandits, black magic and other things. His great faith was one of his weapons, allowing him at times to say injure monsters that could not be hurt by anyone else (even if this was pointed out subtly). Today people would freak out about this, especially with some of the "morals" and analogies involved (as far as they went, even with his relative tolerance towards certain forms of shamanism (the story of his staff alone is fairly interesting). You could make a really rocking action/horror game based around a character like this and a lot of those thematic elements.

"Cults" do not always have to be evil either, a lot can be done with the idea of a small group of faithful who happen to be right, persecuted by everyone, but still doing the right thing and savving everyone. You DO see some stories like this, but increasingly cultists and small groups of faithful are typicall presented as the bad guys, especially if in any way connected to a real religion.

In terms of pure fantasy, there are fantasy novels and such where priests and their faith play a HUGE role. Camber, Sparhawk, or heck for D&D/Dragonlance Fans even Goldmoon... there was FAR more to Goldmoon and what she did/symbolized than just whacking people with a blue crystal staff and tossing off the occasional healing spell. People tend to forget that she was arguably the lynchpin of the entire Dragonlance stories, even characters like Raistlin were arguably supporting cast and their equally popular follow up series sidestories to the overall point of her bringing faith back after the Cataclysm which was the motivator for the warfare.

Basically people would probably freak out if you started portraying spreading faith and religious conversion as a good thing, yet there is plenty of fantasy exactly about that and some good stories can be told from that perspective.

To be honest (for those who have read this far) one of the reasons why it irks me is that in a lot of fantasy, especially video games, there seems to be no real problems with fighting demons that are running around killing everyone. Especially if your playing a dark anti-hero. That can be fun, but I think we need more in the way of traditionaal heroes, and at some point when we have the forces of absolute darkness show up it would be nice if the good guys made an apperance instead of sitting on their hands. you know Angels to fight the demons who don't just sit on their hands, and aren't presented as being tainted threats in of themselves to represent the other side of the equasion. A hero who isn't some kind of grim anti-emo with a dark past and powers arguably as evil as the things he's fighting would be nice too... I see that so often especially in video games that it almost puts me to sleep nowadays honestly. "Oh my character is half demon himself... <yawn>... oh wait I'm still interested... really.. <yawn>... oh okay I lied, time for bed".

Have these people never been to a movie?

This isn't just in video games, there are evil churches in all forms of media.

It's a great writer's excuse for writing villains. Why bother coming up with a big, complex backstory or serious motivations for a character when you can just have them say "MY GOD DEMANDS IT!"? Or if there's actual talent behind the writing, there actually can be genuine motivation behind the baddie's zealousness.

And it's effective. It's compelling to the player because... well, just look at real-life villains of today. Or hell, throughout history.

edit: AAAAAND someone beat me to it. Well done.

RaNDM G:

Andy Chalk:
A University of Missouri doctoral student says many modern videogames "problematize" organized religion by equating it with violence in their stories.

Nevermind the centuries of warfare, racism, intolerance, and bigotry spurred on by religious leaders. Videogames are the real problem.

Shit, I was basically going to say this. People seem to enjoy overlooking the fact that religion has done some pretty bad things in history.

Brad Shepard:
Have these people never been to a movie?

Have you actually read what he said?

""problematize" organized religion by equating it with violence in their stories."

Yeaaaaah...... Hate to break it to you, but i can name half a dozen verses off the top of my head that are nothing but violence, rape and mass murder.

Lets just go with Psalm 137 :D
"Joyful is the one who takes, and dashes his children against the stone."
See, i was raised christian, and forced to read the bible several times. Of course, i quickly learned the bible is more fucked up then ripping a dudes spine out in Mortal Kombat, and refused to go to Brainwash Scho-..... I mean Sunday School. :3 Honest.

Maybe when a real Doctor of something says something, it will be worth listening to. Not a Doctoral Student, who says something which was probably PURPOSELY controversial with so little truth to it.

"OHHHH! Forgive video gaming and its sins for PROPERLY showing what religion is, and has been capable of." - Me :D Just now.

ShadowKirby:

Treblaine:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problematization

Problematization is a critical thinking and pedagogical dialogue or process and may be considered demythicisation.

I wonder did they REALLY mean to use that term, or did they just make up that term think it meant "oh, they're just MAKING problems".

I'm not sure.

I will say the central tenement of Christianity (at least) is based on violence; that is you don't follow their dogma then you will be horribly tortured for all eternity. And much violence has stemmed from that.

I'm pretty sure a doctoral student knows what problematization means.

When religion is involved you can never be sure.

I've seen Phd professors claim the earth is less than ten thousand years old and every word in the (latest English translation of) the bible is the absolute literal truth.

Nothing like an irrational fear of hell to make people stupid.

ResonanceGames:

RatRace123:

Although I think religion gets tied up with violence, not because it's compelling but because it's a really easy way to explain why a character does what they do, which could be a sign of lazy story writing if handled poorly.

Bingo. Whackjob religions or political movements are usually just a lazy way to give a large group of characters motivation to do ridiculously evil things. It makes sense that it gets abused, since pretty much every single player action game needs to explain why there are thousands of people trying to kill the player character.

Hmmm, well I think the article is also sort of pointing a finger at the simple fact that you rarely see religion portrayed as a good thing. What's more analogies to real religious groups are generally negative. While I won't say it hasn't happened, when is the last time you played a game where say The Catholic Church was portrayed as a good guy? When was the last time you saw a major mention of Christianity that wasn't a prelude to something realy F@cked up about to happen?

I'm probably forgetting something, but really the last time I remember seeing a real-world religiously themed christian character who WASN'T a bad guy was probably Koudelka for the PS-1. He might even be the only playable Catholic priest hero in video gaming... and that's bloody wierd when you look at how many games out there draw on Christianity, demons, and other things.

The picture tied to the article of Dead Space makes me think back on how I thought the Unitologists were actually going to be the good guys/salvation of the entire situation in some way, but in reality it just turned into another "Scientologists are nuts" thing. I'm not a huge fan of scientology... but the point is that in video game the cultists are ALWAYS the bad/wrong guys... and if you never caught it, not only is the name similar, but both groups are religious based around extraterrestrials, it wasn't even especially subtle I don't think.

I don't think the article is paticularly newsworthy, or even explains itself very well, but it does raise some interesting points.

kouriichi:

Maybe when a real Doctor of something says something, it will be worth listening to. Not a Doctoral Student, who says something which was probably PURPOSELY controversial with so little truth to it.

it's pretty funny how ppl jumped to auto-rage and totally missed the point of what he was saying.

He didn't say anything that's controversial, anti-gaming or pro-religion.

The writer has a point, religion is explored as a plot line more than most. I hate organised religion but still, it is getting pretty stale in alot of them.

RaikuFA:
He forgot SMT2 where you try to kill God. He'd have a field day with it.

or the OTHER SMT games where god is the last boss .......

other wise ... sounds like he doesn't think its much of an issue so, points for him having a brain that works

RaNDM G:

Andy Chalk:
A University of Missouri doctoral student says many modern videogames "problematize" organized religion by equating it with violence in their stories.

Nevermind the centuries of warfare, racism, intolerance, and bigotry spurred on by religious leaders. Videogames are the real problem.

Yeah religion doesn't need the help.

First off, that's a paltry selection of games to base a study off of, both being small in number and narrow in category, being primarily adventure games and RPGs.

Second, I'm sure that people would be even more upset if and when the player is acting on behalf of religion, because the designer(s) could:

A: Use a real-world religion and be criticized for promoting one over the other, or
B: Make up a fake religion and be criticized for either mocking real religions or making thinly-veiled attacks at them.

Not to say that religion can't be touched upon in games. I think Skyrim got it right (one way, at least), where the deity you follow is of little consequence outside of stat-boosts.

Considering that 50% of wars are fought over religious beliefs, this is a moot statement.
Funny considering that murder is the most deplorable act according to the bible and people are more than happy to spill buckets of blood in his name.

Also they have never played a Shin Megami Tensei game where god (YHVH) is depicted as he was in the old testament. In other words a complete bastard. Hell in SMT 2 you kick gods ass (no really, for every path he is the final boss) and in most other games he is an antagonistic figure.

I'd discount Assassin's Creed as it was based on real life religion wars. religion has always gone hand in hand with war, can't convert the masses? Crusade Time!

I guess that's true. But tbh we've got a long way to go to catch up to all the evil scientists in movies as well as games who played god and unleashed unspeakable horrors.

Halo's also a good example.

"Religion appears to get tied in with violence because that makes for a compelling narrative."

Yes all for the sake of compelling narrative, it has nothing to do with creating a realistic narrative by fictionalizing shit that has actually happened.

Religion provides a means to influence very large numbers of people, for better or worse it's the truth. No other influence can project the opinions of so few key people into the way so many different people of different nations live their lives. To use religion as a social construct that impedes the progress of an individual is logical and real.

Especially considering religion is founded on faith not logic. Who would believe Shin-Ra would knowingly destroy the planet to turn a profit, they have to live here too. But if the impeding doom of the world goes against a core belief then no faithful person would listen to the heresy.

For some reason I'm reminded of the Peter Cotton Tail episode of South Park right now...

Well, he looked at two games of Japanese design (FF and CV), and it's probably well-known by now to anyone who grew up with Japanese games that the Shinto-majority culture of Japan tends not to look very highly on organised religion in general. (How many Shin Megami Tensei games have God as the final boss? Saga, Breath of Fire, and so on...) I wonder if the Japanese origin of so much of modern (i.e. post-Great-Crash) videogaming has to do with that tendency? (Probably not at all, but the question came to mind anyway.)

And I suspect it's not so much religion, but any organised group that gets targetted in videogames. By their nature, video gaming tends to adopt a one-against-the-world mentality - it only makes sense when most games are naturally designed to involve controlling a single, central character. In that sort of narrative environment, a large, shadowy organisation with questionable motives makes an ideal adversary. Whether it's a religion, a cult (and the line can be fine between those two), a government, a supra-governmental entity, an alien race, or what have you, they all fit the bill as a source of antagonism. I don't think it's specific to religion. Which I think is pretty much what he's saying.

Who is the violent religious sect in Mass Effect 2???

Also, the Protoss in Starcraft would be another good example.

How about Devil May Cry 4 :-P

Huh, never really noticed all that before, suppose it's slightly realistic in most cases, Dragon Age is a excellent example, with the templar mage war, which isn't even a case of conflicting religion, the equivalent of a Church going to war with gays (admittedly gay people can't shoot lightning so it might be slightly more one-sided)

TheFPSisDead:
Who is the violent religious sect in Mass Effect 2???

The closest I can think of is Samara. "Find peace in the embrace of the Goddess *bust head open like a melon*"

That's about all I can think of. Oh, and "Dead Gods still dream" (something like that).

GrandmaFunk:

kouriichi:

Maybe when a real Doctor of something says something, it will be worth listening to. Not a Doctoral Student, who says something which was probably PURPOSELY controversial with so little truth to it.

it's pretty funny how ppl jumped to auto-rage and totally missed the point of what he was saying.

He didn't say anything that's controversial, anti-gaming or pro-religion.

Nah, im not raging. Quite the opposite. Im rofling like a school girl getting tickled by her first boyfriend who shes going to date and marry for the rest of her life :D

"I believe they are only using religion to create stimulating plot points in their story lines"
Which, is almost a completely wrong statement, because almost every game that revolves around religion, has its entire STORY wrapped around it. Not just "plot points".

And other then the fact that religion itself is known to be violent, brainwashing, people sacrificing or any combination of those, id say that video games are just stating the obvious.

Honestly, his statement itself is rather redundant >.>; "Games are tying video games to violence, and the violence is emphasized." Thats because most religions that have existed openly flaunted their violence, passed out books that involved rape, slavery and slaughter of the innocent, and murder those who dont believe in them word for word.

Sure he says that he doesnt believe its trying to bash religion or anything. But then his entire theory as a whole is just, "Theres violence in video games because its part of a story." Gee, thanks random student who is unnamed for some reason that probably isnt, "my study was a waste of time, and was a good excuse to just play video games for a month"! :D

I'm not fan of religion, I recognize it as probably the greatest catalyst for violence in human history. That being said I have to give this guy props for being reasonable with his ctiticism. He wasn't all 'VIDEO GAMES ARE TEACHIN THE CHILDRUNS THAT RELIGION IS BAD. ALL VIDEYA GAMES IS SATAN!'. He was pretty fair in his reasoning.

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