In response to “Designing Religion” from The Escapist Forum: What I love most about religion in Civilization IV is:
1) It’s effective. Whether you use it to gain money, tactical advantages, political friends or to wage war (or even to, I dunno, let me pick an example at random, win the game), religion is incredibly useful. Even if it’s not part of your strategy overall, you should still have some form of religion, and it’s even better if you can found one.
2) They’re balanced. Sure, Hinduism and Buddhism are the first religions you get, so they get that little advantage, but later religions come associated with more advanced techs, and the really late-game religions like Islam get free Missionaries. That keeps it from feeling like Christianity Pwns Joo.
This article touches on a lot of touchy questions about religions in video games. The first question is, why? Short of making a game particularly about religion, when and why should you include religion? Several games (such as Assassin’s Creed) include it as part of the story line, which is common to much of literature, but turning it into a game mechanic is something entirely different. For a game like Civilization, it makes sense to use religion as a tool, because religion has been instrumental in managing entire empires.
A hard question is how to make religion into a mechanic. Religions are more than simply a practise; there is a deep philosophical underpinning to them that permeates into all facets of life. How much of that can you use without ruining the mechanic? How little can you use without trivializing the religion? How do you do either without bias and without implying statements about the purpose and effectiveness of various religions?
Lastly, how do you make a game with religion, without making the game about religion? Can religion co-exist with other material without being trivialized? Even just the suggestion that there is more to life than religion could offend some people.
It’s not surprising that few games really touch on religion, even though it’s ripe for the exploration that gaming allows. Kudos to the Civilization for trying to tackle it and making it fun.
In response to “Pastor Blaster” from The Escapist Forum: Interesting article, although for some reason I’m mildly disturbed by the idea of a pastor directly participating in a murder simulator (despite the conflict with a percieved, or in the case of Doom, obvious evil, violence is the main point of the game). Perhaps, as a lapsed Catholic, I have entirely unrealistic expectations of the clergy that doesn’t even translate appropriately to the topic of the article. But would the simulation of violence be analogous to sexual fantasies on the part of a Catholic priest? Sinful in regards to the fact that they stimulate feelings that go against their respective doctrines? An unbidden fantasy may be regarded as a spiritual attack, certainly something the priest attempts to overcome, but in the case of violent video-games, the person in question has actively sought out the sensation and could be analogous to a Catholic priest browsing through a copy of a gentleman’s magazine.
By no means do I support the view I just explained, as I dislike the repression in more puritan religions. I’m just curious as to how playing violent video-games can be justified on faith grounds, as it has some effect on the purity of thought or something. Probably. I could easily be confusing doctrinal issues between different religions, or imagining a problem that does not exist, but if anyone better informed has an answer (or more wild speculation to add to my own) then it would be very welcome.
I know a few pastors like this myself, and it’s always encouraging to me. I also know a few pastors who don’t play, but don’t condemn either. In fact they’ll use games on a ‘youth night’ at the church, playing Halo or Call of Duty on the big screen projector in the sanctuary!
I just have to wonder why people are surprised by this, though. The dogmatic of the church used to stand against Rock and Roll and Hip-Hop music, and now we’ve got Christian rock bands and Christian Hip-Hop artists!
As the youth of the church grow to become it’s leaders, they grow with an understanding of what is and is not important to stand for or against. The leaders of today know that Rock and Roll is just music, and any music can be used for bad, or for good. Likewise, the Church leaders of tomorrow will say the same about video games, and it’ll happen sooner then later.
Again, great article.
– Baby Tea
In response to “The Parables of Gaming” from The Escapist Forum: Well, this was a great article. I always wondered why Christian games are either not fun, completely contrary to Christian beliefs, or both, and finally it’s right there: because their focus on the dogma, rather than the values and morals of Christianity. Actually, I think games are not the only thing that could benefit from realizing that.
This reminds me of an article on video game morality I read long, long ago, on a different site. It mentioned that the main fault on trying to make moral choices matter in a game is that players will just ‘game’ the choice – i.e., choose the one they think or know will have the best outcome. Do you let the starving man that stole food go or reveal his crime to the eatery owner? Well, which rewards do each side give you? Oh, none of them do? Then it’s a pointless sidequest, skip it.
Oh, and I think that view on GTA’s policemen as a response to the player’s evil deeds is quite equivocated. I’ll use N64’s Goldeneye as an example because it jumped into my mind for some reason, but it could be any game, really. In Goldeneye’s first level, you are a secret agent who is infiltrating a dam controlled by Russian soldiers. The Russian soldiers will shoot at you. Is this telling you a morality teaching that going to places you are not allowed in is bad? No; it’s game design. The game gives you a goal (break into the dam), an obstacle that tries to keep you from reaching that goal (armed Russian soldiers) and the tools to remove those obstacles (a gun, and the ability to use the enemy’s guns). The same thing applies to GTA, except that, since it’s a sandbox game, you can create your own goal. So you decide your goal is to shoot random innocent people, and then the game creates an obstacle to stop you from reaching that goal and the tools to conquer those obstacles. If your goal was to reach the top of a bridge instead, the obstacle would be the game physics and the tools the flying vehicles.
Oh, and since we’re on this subject, I saw an Atheist man posting that he found the Fallout 3 morality system too dogmatic, since you lose karma even if no one witnesses you doing an evil deed, which would imply a god-like entity keeping track. I just mention it to show that things are always more complicated than they first seem.
The possibility of more religious gaming is in some ways worrying.
I think that if people treat games as a vehicle for preaching there will be a bias towards one religion, Christianity. It dominates the countries which own most of the gaming industry. I’ve personally seen enough culture bias and monotony of this nature in games to be very bored with it. Thankfully, there is a good chance people will simply not buy games that continue along the line of similarity. This is very much an innovation industry like that, and this may keep things interesting.
From a design standpoint, I must ask: if there must be religious/moral systems in gaming, then why not make them as diverse as the ones we are presented with in the real world? How about, instead of simply having “good” and “evil”, having “orderly” and “chaotic”, a Y/X axis scale that literature and fandoms have already begun to use?
Or better still, have a reading that shows what secular philosophy/religion your set of actions so far conveys (a kind of changable reading from gameplay history). For example, your character might visit one church and go save some people, this would make them read as that religion, but if they pray at different churches, that makes them a universalist. If they kill everyone in sight, they might be a nihilist. If they rebel against more than one government with different views, they become an anarchist. If they kill one man when they see his about to do something evil, they might be seen as a utilitarian. If they act selfishly, objectivist. Continue this around the many flavoured scale of world philosophies, and you have a powerful, diverse system that would keep players engaged for years. It’s not a simple thing to code or understand. However, it is something that gaming sorely needs.
Such a reading could create complex factional consequences in a world-scale game, whereby people with similar “beliefs” (actions) will ally themselves to you, and others will slowly become enemies, neutral, or unsure (apathetic) as you establish yourself. This realism would actually teach people something about true consequences, rather than being, as many complain of moral systems in games so far, “preachy”.
In literature, almost every philosophy has been given a narrative in some form. The same goes for film, though it hasn’t existed for as long and hasn’t covered as much yet.
Gaming, meanwhile, is new to morality and ethics. I think that there must be a push for diversity, not simply Christian morality, in games. Unfortunately, thanks to the extremity of possible decisions in most games with morality systems, they seem to have a fairly obvious, simple, Christian basis. This isn’t always true; there are games like Masq, which show more than that and throw unexpected consequences in to make being “good” or “evil” less easy and certain. But in terms of the mainstream, there is very little in the way of risks being taken to do something interesting with this.
If we’re going to have a lot more religious games, then they will depart much more completely from the simple idea of being fun or not fun. This is both a good and a bad thing for obvious reasons. I really hope that the good side of this consequence is emphasised and strengthened by pushing for diversity and not black and white decisions in games. The potential for the demonisation of any faith and prejudice is very strong – this could also be avoided if each game character still acts separately from their factions in one way or another as individuals.
Games like PeaceMaker seem to do things right. A few more games about reaching peace (through diplomatic means) rather than waging war would be a fantastic thing which balances the situation. And not just because they’re good morally, but because such games improve the image of gaming itself.
In response to “Missionaries of the Digital Age” from The Escapist Forum: I don’t talk about it much, but I have very strong religious convictions that influence every decision I make. In fact, I actively avoid talking about it because most people either a) think I’m mocking Christianity or b) think I’m flat out insane.
Personally, I no more believe the verse that states that Christianity is the only way to Heaven/Nirvana/Paradise then I believe that lichen is self-aware. However, I do believe that it is a way. Even more than I believe that, I believe that you don’t need to profess a religion to get to HNP, you simply have to behave in a moral fashion.
Of course, “morals” are vagrant, ethereal things. A “moral” is any belief that is held with total conviction, such as “eating meat is wrong” or “killing another is wrong.” A person cannot be “amoral” because “amoral” refers to something that “morals” should not have a bearing on (an example that would apply to most people is what breakfast cereal you are going to have). “Amoral” has, unfortunately, taken on the meaning of “immoral” (a shorthand for contradictory to morals). A situation can be amoral (not having to do with morals), but an act can be immoral (contradictory to morals).
Basically, what I’m trying (and kind of failing) to get at here is that everyone is different, and thus everyone should be allowed to define their own moral code. Religion is not everyone’s bag, but it can be a very good place to start defining what you feel is right and wrong. This attempt to educate people who want to know more about Christianity is a good step in the right direction for our culture in my opinion.
In response to “Robbing Gods” from The Escapist Forum: They did do a pretty good job, and that’s a huge part of why I like the story in them. It definitely reminds me of the pagan vs. Christian church rivalry of old (I’m sure very much by design.) The Pagans are influenced by nature but not in the sanitized Disney perspective; they’re feral and capricious, not cute and fluffy. The Tenets of the Master Builder harken towards a darker idea of religion than is common now: One of undeniable brutality beneath the control of unyielding rules. The feel is far more medieval than the majority of analogous organizations in other games, which is still pretty damn unique 10 years or so after release.
And I’m surprised that the article didn’t mention the religious schism with the Mechanists in the second game. It seemed to be pretty significant to the tone.
I still need to play the third game, though. The engine change and the host of other alterations make it feel less like proper Thief (TM), but it is still worth it from everything else I’ve heard. Anyone else care to weep over the demise of Looking Glass Studios with me?
This is an article I wish I’d written myself. The interplay of the three different main factions in the City (Hammerite, Pagan, Keeper) set an excellent backdrop for Garrett’s antics, since- despite his bitter protests to not give a whit for the Keepers’ balance-favoring priorities- it was in his own best interests as well not to let either the Hammerites nor the Pagans get the upper hand over the other, as that would disrupt his comfortable status quo. The Hammerite/Mechanist schism in Metal Age brought all sorts of problems to our favorite taffer, and signalled the end of his self-interested bystander role with his partnership with Viktoria. And then there was Karras….
Deadly Shadows pretty much put the Keepers in the spotlight and relegated the Hammerite/Pagan feud to a plot point. In fact, in that game it was entirely possible to become buddy-buddy with both factions, and lemme tell you, hearing a Hammerite utter the words “Builder bless thee, Garrett” was like a sledgehammer to the forehead in terms of shock.
Also, because it is one of the most awesome quotes in the game, prefacing one of the most awesome missions in the game (“The Sword”):
“Builds your roofs of dead wood.
Builds your walls of dead stone.
Builds your dreams of dead thoughts.
Comes crying laughing singing back to life, takes what you steal,
and pulls the skins from your dead bones shrieking.”
-Clay tablet in an abandoned Trickster temple
A riveting read and an excellent use of that opening quote. I’d love to read that book someday.
The Thief series is one of the few where you can sensibly deconstruct it and analyse themes like Religion. Each game analysis the three factions’ motivations and structures in turn while using the others to compare them again.
As has been said, particularly with the Keepers, you can really see the attraction in their philosophy. A promise of a warm bed and predictable lighting, the surety that comes from creating formidable structures and sturdy weapons… in a world like the City its an enticing option, especially for those not lucky enough to be born into wealth.