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PC Games (Games)

Game with God 877

Posted by Hemos
from the yhwh-games-with-us-all dept.
Andrew writes "GamerDad has an article up about how religion is handled in computer gaming, titled 'Game With God'. The article features quotes from Sid Meier, Jane Jensen, Will Wright, Peter Molyneaux, Phil Steinmeyer, and Richard Garriott. Here's a snippet: 'While religion and spirituality add a lot to a game world, they often aren't used effectively. 'I don't think there are any games that treat religion at anything more than a superficial level,'; says Firaxis founder and Civilization creator Sid Meier. PopTop Software's Phil Steinmeyer agrees, noting that 'Religion is ignored in gaming, or if it is portrayed, it's wildly caricatured.'"
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Game with God

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:08PM (#9739184)
    "don't think there are any games that treat religion at anything more than a superficial level,"

    In Black and White you ARE god.
    The game covers everything from how many ppl warship you to weather they build you a temple...

    Plus being god, you get toset the rule or "morals" of your ppl.
    • How does the particular religion you create for yourself affect the population? Apart from setting their 'morals,' I mean. Do your citizens persecute heretics? Can you tell the difference between 'worshippers' of one player versus 'worshippers' of another? Or is the 'you're God' aspect merely a superficial explanation of your control over the 'citizens' and game environment like it was in Populous? Because although I haven't played the game myself, when I have seen it played and heard it explained, it seeme
    • by Rei (128717) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:19PM (#9739301) Homepage
      Another game which really delves into religion is Final Fantasy Tactics. In fact, it could be argued that the main point of the whole game is a critique on Christianity.

      As for myself, though, I learned everything I needed to know about religion from Dungeon Keeper.
    • by KDR_11k (778916) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:20PM (#9739317)
      That's what the press releases said. In reality your influence on people is limited to issuing commands (chop tree, worship, build house, ...), making them love or hate your titan and blasting them with diverse spells. No such thing as defining morals. The temple is built in the beginning (doesn't require any moral fiddling, you just get there, pluck some trees and drop a few workers at it, finished) and any building is ordered by you as well. People can love or hate you, but that just determines the look of the temple, they never ran in fear or something even though I used christian conversion methods (believe or die!).
      • by It'sYerMam (762418) <thefishfaceNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 19, 2004 @03:13PM (#9740226) Homepage
        "Believe or Die?"

        Jokes aside, when have you heard any non-fanatic religious person say "believe or die," or something to that effect? Perhaps it is the superficiality of religion in games and popular culture that gives people misconceptions such as these.
        Unless of course you're referring to the "true life" offered by Christians, but I think that's supposed to be an offering rather than a threat.

        In my experience, most people's opinions of religion are invalid - based on inaccurate/biased sources. Although I'm not religious as most people would understand it (it's complicated) a lot of my Christian experience has been interesting and worthwhile - not boring, irrelevant and "burn the heretics/witches/computers."
        Basically, I'd like to say "Don't insult religion until you have hard evidence that that insult is valid." Otherwise you'll unnecessarily piss off a lot of people.

  • Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xhad (746307) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:09PM (#9739191) Homepage Journal
    It's hard to feature serious topics like religion in an only semi-serious art medium like video games. I konw the RPG fanatics think video games are an art form just like movies, but the reality is that most video game stories are as deep as the average action flick.

    What's the typical action flick treatment of religion? Barely existent if at all, and usually just an excuse to give people cool special powers.

    • Semi-serious? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by *weasel (174362) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:16PM (#9739267)
      Semi-serious? That's just an artifact of the youth of the medium and the lack of a real artistic indie segment.

      There's nothing about the gaming medium itself that is semi-serious. It's perfectly capable of tackling any topic just as well as narrative fiction on celluloid or page.

      Calling the medium semi-serious as of now is an unfortunate but true overview, but implying the medium is incapable of more is shortsighted and wrong.
      • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Xhad (746307)
        While I agree it's theoretically possible for video games to become more serious storywise, I honestly doubt it will happen.

        The first reason is cost of creation; the lack of a real artistic indie segment is the fact that good artists are rarely good programmers and vice-versa. No one is going to play a game that doesn't work even if the story is awesome, so any gamer indie market will always gravitate toward playable games with little to no storyline in the absence of either: -Dev tools that make it so

        • I think Half-life proves you wrong on this point : Besides the multiple mods out there, which most likely also attracted people to buy Half-Life, in the start , it was most defenitely the kick-ass story line that made most people either advise it to their friends, or buy it themselves.

          If you haven't yet, and you still searching for a game with somewhat more of a story to it, try Half-Life (better yet, wait for HL to be released for free on the HL2 Source engine).

          • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Ewan (5533) <ewan@[ ]gwords.org ['lon' in gap]> on Monday July 19, 2004 @02:19PM (#9739803) Homepage Journal
            While Half-life was great, any description of it as a "kick-ass story line" just shows how awful 99% of games' stories are.

            Half-life story = guy starts new job at nuclear research site, guys first job is start up new experimental device, new experimental device opens gateway into other dimension, guy has to escape the research site avoiding enemies from other dimension and human anti-alien squads.

            it has very good set pieces, and the scripting is way above the doom type we were so used to at the time, but the story itself is 100% action movie.

            Ewan
      • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by (54)T-Dub (642521) <tpaineNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:34PM (#9739453) Journal
        I think it has less to do with the medium than it does with the audience. 99% of the dorks (and gamers) that I've met are aethiest or at least agnostic. As history shows, technology (read science) and religion don't mix well. Science tends to try to explain phenomena with laws that govern nature, while religion tends to use historical beliefs.

        Most of the science fiction that I've read has been the same way. Religion tends to be refered to in an historical reference or as a backwater inhibiting aspect of a small group of society.

        It's also interesting to look at the progression of religion as science has progressed. In the times of the greeks religion was used to explain elements of physics (why things fall, why things move through the sky). Once these things were explained with science religion moved to the body. It was used to explain illness and the interworkings of the body. Now that we have modern medical science God has moved to our head. He is used to explain our emotions like love and anger. Once we fully understand brain chemistry where will God go next?
        • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Laur (673497) on Monday July 19, 2004 @02:28PM (#9739878)
          As history shows, technology (read science) and religion don't mix well. Science tends to try to explain phenomena with laws that govern nature, while religion tends to use historical beliefs.

          Just remember a few core beliefs of Chrisitanity:

          1. Even if you live a perfect life, you deserve to go to hell. Why? Original sin.
          2. What was original sin? Pursuit of knowledge.

          Kind of sums things up nicely.

          • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Dachannien (617929) on Monday July 19, 2004 @02:41PM (#9739979)
            1. Even if you live a perfect life, you deserve to go to hell. Why? Original sin.
            2. What was original sin? Pursuit of knowledge.


            That's a bit of a stretch. The Original Sin was succumbing to Lucifer's temptation and eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the story doesn't indicate that Eve ate the fruit of the Tree because of a desire to gain knowledge. Gaining knowledge of good and evil was a consequence of eating the fruit (one requiring some drastic measures on God's part), but was not necessarily the motivation behind the sin. Now, Lucifer, on the other hand, knew full well all of the consequences, and the entire reason for his temptation of Eve was to spoil God's creation.

            A different (and probably better) interpretation, one that reappears throughout the Old Testament (see Judges), is that the Original Sin was doing whatever the hell you want (generally, whatever "feels good"), despite God's direct instructions to the contrary.

            • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:5, Informative)

              by Laur (673497) on Monday July 19, 2004 @02:55PM (#9740094)
              That's a bit of a stretch. The Original Sin was succumbing to Lucifer's temptation and eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the story doesn't indicate that Eve ate the fruit of the Tree because of a desire to gain knowledge.

              Genesis 3:6 (KJV) And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes,
              and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

              It says quite clearly that Eve ate the fruit in order to become wise (i.e. gain knowledge). Now you can "interpret" this story to mean whatever the hell you want, but the FACTS of the story cleary say that Eve ate the fruit to become wise (pursuit of knowledge) and was punished for it.

              • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:5, Informative)

                by zhiwenchong (155773) on Monday July 19, 2004 @03:39PM (#9740419)
                I don't want to turn this into a debate, but I believe in critically analyzing the text we're reading. When reading the bible (like any other text), it is often useful to consider the entire context.

                If you don't, then it is often possible to contrive any naïve and convenient conclusion, and then claim that's what the good book teaches when it doesn't.

                Re your syllogism, it is a fallacy of the most rudimentary kind:

                Eve eats fruit from tree of life to gain wisdom
                God punishes her
                Therefore Eve was punished for gaining wisdom?

                Is that the only conclusion? Must it be? What kind of wisdom does the original Hebrew word talk about? What about other possibilities supporting facts? It is unfair to make any conclusion without considering these questions.

                In reality, what most Christians are taught is this (now you may consider this "interpretation"): *God punished Eve for disobedience to his explicit command*. That's it. There are also issues of pride and rebellion, and supposition that one might be equal to God, but I won't get into those. I've made my point. Case closed.
                • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Hatta (162192)
                  In reality, what most Christians are taught is this (now you may consider this "interpretation"): *God punished Eve for disobedience to his explicit command*.

                  And since that command was "Don't gain knowledge", it's pretty fair to say that Adam and Eve were punished for gaining knowledge.
              • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:5, Informative)

                by Troy (3118) on Monday July 19, 2004 @05:06PM (#9741333)
                The problem with using a single verse to make an argument is that there is a whole lot of remaining Bible that can provide clarity and context to that single verse.

                For instance, while that verse does say that Eve saw that the fruit would make her wise, the issue goes deeper than that. Look at the previous few verses:
                Genesis 3 (NIV):

                2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,
                3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "
                4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.
                5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
                Reading the preceding verses, you see that the serpent tempted Eve, not with knowledge, but with Godliness. The serpant told Eve that

                1) God had lied to her
                2) She could be like God

                and Eve chose to believe him instead of God and ate it, gaining this very specific kind of ethical knowledge. Now the knowledge is important because it is what made Adam and Eve like God, but saying that the passage is big parable against the pursuit of knowledge is a little short-cited. If you go on to read the rest of the chapter (and the rest of the Bible) the big problem is not that Adam and Eve had gained knowledge, but that they had disobeyed God and striven to become like Him. This is proven throughout Scripture: whenever someone disobeys God or attempts to deify themselves, a divine bitch slap is always close behind.

                On the other hand, wisdom and knowledge (in the general sense) are praised multiple times throughout Scripture -- only when the wisdom/knowledge is gained in defiance of God is the person punished. God blesses Solomon with both wisdom, and from wisdom comes wealth and fame:
                I Kings 4 (NIV):

                29 And God gave Solomon exceptionally much wisdom and understanding, and breadth of mind like the sand of the seashore.
                30 Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the people of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt.
                31 For he was wiser than all other men--than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol. His fame was in all the nations round about.
                32 He also originated 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.
                33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; he spoke also of beasts, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish.
                The entire book of Proverbs is one big love letter to wisdom and knolwedge....especially the first nine chapters [biblegateway.com].

                -Troy
        • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dasmegabyte (267018) <das@OHNOWHATSTHISdasmegabyte.org> on Monday July 19, 2004 @02:31PM (#9739893) Homepage Journal
          Actually, Sci-fi can have very deep spiritual (god I hate that term) overtones, sometimes backed up by science, sometimes not. Look at the religious aspects that spring up in Asimov's Foundation saga, and how those aspects change over the course of the hundreds of years that saga portrays -- as science is forgotten, it gives way to religious devotion to the purveyers of knowledge (who themselves worship the progenitor of their system as a prophet). Look at the importance of the Ben Gesserit order in Dune, or the Bejorran religion in Deep Space Nine and the delicate, reverent and earnest way each of these is treated. In the context of the story, there are believers and disbelievers and neither is outright wrong (in fact, in ST:DS9, the detractors are more often wrong...except where church politics have polluted the "true message;" shit, a minor villain of the series is a higher member of the church as are many of the heroes).

          In fact, the biggest problem I see with the portrayal of religion in video games is that it's nearly always shown as a sham or a cult. This is just wrong. If you've got powerful gods duking it out in the primary plane of existance, with their hands directly influencing their followers and directly punishing their detractors, what you'd have is a state of immense fear and respect for religions of all kinds. Furthermore, there's a drive, especially among Japanese RPGs, to use scienfic order to explain away magical forces within the text ("magic comes from these blue rocks" or "the gods are just really powerful X and we can kill them with swords"). Also a cop out -- why not have gods that are just undefeatable, and the players have to deal with their lives within that context? Stories work best when properly restricted, and being a pawn in a war you can't affect is serious restriction.

          Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic had some interesting "religious" overtones, but they were kind of underdeveloped. Basically, they separated the light side from the dark side mostly on issues of social politics...if you chose the needs of the many over the needs of the few, you'd often lose light side points. Still, basing the outcome of the game (and indeed, the availability of skills and teammates) on moral decisions made for a fun game with lots of replayability.

          Of course, I don't really think this is what GamersDad wants. I think the editorial is referring not to a figuritive God, but a literal one. The problem there is that integrating a Chrisitian/Muslim/Judaic/Hindu/Buddhist concept of God into a game effectively alienates the others, thus reducing your game's overall appeal and indeed often relegating it a position as a genre title. It can work -- I seem to recall some positive aspects of Chrisitanity in the old Sierra "Gabriel Knight" series of action games -- but on the whole, potrayals of any real religion, positive or negative, are delicate undertakings.
          • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Lynxara (775657) on Monday July 19, 2004 @03:17PM (#9740266)
            Also a cop out -- why not have gods that are just undefeatable, and the players have to deal with their lives within that context?

            Well, at least as far as the Japanese experience goes-- this is completely alien to their concept of deity. The gods of Japan's native and almost-native traditions, Shinto and Buddhism, are not invulnerable, just very powerful, and humans have to deal with them in certain ways to get what they want without being destroyed. Buddhism goes so far as to maintain the belief that gods are just sort of irrelevant, because they won't help people become enlightened and aren't perfectly enlightened themselves. So, as far as that goes, deities are often protrayed as being largely inferior to wise monks or incarnate buddhas in Japanese folklore. I think it's hardly a cop-out for Japanese creators to follow the ideas about godhood that are natural to their culture.

            The idea of totally invincible godhood is strictly Western, and as far as the Japanese experience goes, strictly Judeo-Christian. While Japanese declares itself to be officially Christian, only maybe 1% of the population would fit the usual definition of a faithful believer. However, that 1% tends to be among Japan's cultural elite, so Christianity remains very much on the Japanese mind despite being a religion that not many people actually practice.

            This being said, your idea for a game that involved really absolute, invincible deities could make for some very nice gameplay, especially in a well-designed RPG. I don't think an RPG like that is ever going to come out of Japan, though....

        • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by TheLoneCabbage (323135) on Monday July 19, 2004 @02:53PM (#9740072) Homepage
          Don't be a nitwit.

          I absolutely hate it when people assume that they must be right, and therefore anyone of separate opinion must be an idiot. (the only reason I assume that about you is your statement can only be interpreted as an exclusive opinion)

          Every discovery science has won us, has brought with it more questions. It's just a simple fact.

          The divisiveness between those such as your self, and those of the religious persuasion, is that you dismiss that which you do not understand (evident that you seem to think that our world is 'explained' so well already!), while a religious person stands in utter amazement at the number of questions. (or rather their exponential growth in relation to answers. It's counter intuitive.)

          Someone who is open minded, does not dismiss a POV out of hand. Many people in this world are capable of managing eloquent and logical thoughts, and quite a few of them disagree with your POV. Take the time to inquire why.

        • Re:Semi-serious? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Rostin (691447) on Monday July 19, 2004 @03:15PM (#9740252)
          As history shows, technology (read science) and religion don't mix well.

          In fact, most early scientists (in the modern sense) were Christians, and "did science" because of their belief in a rational God who created a rational universe with understandable natural laws.

          Even now, many scientists regularly attend religious services (a statistic I read a few years ago placed the number only slightly beneath that of the general public in the US).

          A common theme of modern western myths is the conflict between Science (with a capital S) and religion. While there are a few examples for which this explanation plays well, like the Scopes trial, not even all of the examples normally trotted out (Galileo) support it very well. Like most legends or myths, they tell us more about what people want to be true than what actually is true.

          Your final paragraph is full of common misconceptions. Historically, Greek mythology didn't die out because of modern scientific explanations of gravity and the like. But the more fundamental problem is your misidentification of the type of answers science is capable of giving and what this implies about religion. It may very well be the case that lightning bolts are being cast by an omnipotent being. Our understanding of the natural causes of lightning suggest nothing either way. In explaining "why" lightning struck something to a person who has such a religious belief, he may very well say to you, "It's very interesting how God did that!"
  • I would state that not only is religion handled "ineffectively" in most games, but between the wish to be politically correct and catering to the predominantly anti-christian sentiments in the gaming community most games end up being downright disdainful of christianity.

    What is worse is the fact that most games put out by christians fall into one of two categories; blatant propaganda which is more concerned with pushing a message than with providing an enjoyable gaming experience, and "fluff" mostly written for children.

    What the christian community urgently needs is a development company to emerge which can balance both the needs of the gospel, and the needs of the game playing experience.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:21PM (#9739321)
      It's not so much that religion is ineffectively handled; it's more that certain religions are usually targeted for ridicule. It's considered hateful to discriminate or ridicule someone based on their religion -- with the sole and unique exception that ridiculing any flavor of Christianity is acceptable.
    • Here's a short inequality statement to help solve your problems.

      Religion is not only Christianity.

      And I don't think the Christian community needs any of that. I have plenty of Christian friends who are perfectly satisfied with the way things stand. The only reason they don't go out and buy DOOM3 is because their hardware can't handle it. You don't need a game to portray Christianity, that's what people go to church for.
    • by bob_jenkins (144606) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:45PM (#9739530) Homepage Journal
      It seems to me that religion should be a natural topic for games. Religions tell you that if you're in situation x, you should do y. Or that if you do y then the world will do z. Religion attempts to model reality. Games ... do exactly the same thing.

      So, given a religion, the matching game should simulate a world that behaves exactly the way the religion says it should behave. If Christianity can't be made into a game that is believable and enjoyable, um, that says something interesting about Christianity.
  • Escapism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DocStoner (236199) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:12PM (#9739225)

    I always thought of games as escapism. Many wouldn't define religion as escapism, or at least those that strictly adhere to their faith.

    To me, the two do not mix well.

    YMMV
    • by mangu (126918) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:32PM (#9739438)
      What can be more escapist than denying the worth of this whole universe? A non-escapist religion would be more worried about ethics than theological problems.


      All religions I know of assume the existence of another, spiritual, universe that's truly important, compared to our material universe, which is considered more or less irrelevant. Their reasoning goes more or less like "we do not have to worry about this life, eventually we will all die, so we should be more concerned about what comes after death."


      But that assumes the existence of that unproved afterlife. What if it doesn't exist? What if this life is our only chance and, once it ends, everything is over for us? To refuse to even contemplate this possibility is the Mother Of All Escapisms.

  • by Slayk (691976) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:12PM (#9739226)
    Run through the tech tree, then go for Fundamentalisim. There repercussions for that form of government were far outclassed by the *amazing* ability to build wealth and power for your fight against the infidels.

    Yup. Not portrayed realistically at all.
  • Too much realism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MarkusQ (450076) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:14PM (#9739241) Journal

    Religion is ignored in gaming, or if it is portrayed, it's wildly caricatured
    So, is this yet another case of game designers trying to imitate the real world too closely?

    -- MarkusQ

  • by Grey Ninja (739021) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:15PM (#9739254) Homepage Journal
    In Japan, religion is often portrayed quite heavily in games. Japan in general has a more liberal relationship with religion than the western world, and works of fiction aren't really lynched for not showing the church in a good light.

    If you want some GOOD examples of religion in games, try Xenogears, Grandia, or Tales of Symphonia. All quite good games that deal with religion quite heavily. In the case of Xenogears, it was almost not released in North America, as the church would consider it to be almost blasphemous.

    For a North American game dealing slightly more than average with religion... try Eternal Darkness. The game features a bit of the inquisition, and the main characters are using magick based a lot upon the pagan practices and rituals. I would guess that the church would be none too happy about this one either.
    • In Japan, religion is often portrayed quite heavily in games. Japan in general has a more liberal relationship with religion than the western world, and works of fiction aren't really lynched for not showing the church in a good light.

      Most japanese games don't really treat games more liberally. Rather they use symbols and messages from other religions (e.g. Christianity) and adapt them using their own (sometimes flawed) understanding. A lot of christian imagery in japanese games are used with only a sup

  • Religion (Score:5, Funny)

    by falzer (224563) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:15PM (#9739258)
    As long as the gods in nethack are pleased, I'm fine with it.
  • Well (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cloudkj (685320) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:15PM (#9739262)
    As far as taking religion on a deeper level, video game designers are probably less willing to take the dive.

    The main reason I see is the potential controversies that could arise for a video game, say, that dealt particularly with a certain religion. The game would invite backlash from religious zealots that take the values instilled by the game designers on face value rather than for entertainment/educational value.

    Granted, many video games nowadays openly invite controversies with sex, violence, and the what-not. However, a game has yet to take the pioneering step to bring religion into the circle. Until then, most game designers will settle for dancing on the outer loops of the controversy circle, and avoid potentially sensitive issues.

  • by Lethyos (408045) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:15PM (#9739263) Journal

    Using (or abusing) religion in certain ways manner way adds significant shock value to entertainment. People (in the US at least) are generally taken back by what they perceive as evil religious symbols or inverted ones from the mainstream. A prime example of this is Doom. I think most people feel more freaked out when they walk down a hallway and see certain symbols on the walls. Anime does this a lot too. Evangelion, for example, draws from mythology that is very recognizable to most Christians and it can be very disturbing for some.

    Whether any of this is good or bad is not my concern, but I will say that it is getting very annoying. Religious nerves have been plucked far too much by a lot of entertainment and usually it's use just signals a great lack of creativity. If you really want to unsettle or disturb your playing or viewing audience, try to come up with something new.

  • by ZeroGee (796304) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:16PM (#9739268)
    A "serious treatment" of religion is not needed in games. Maybe in a form of edutainment, but not a game! Do you want to play SimWorshipper, where you choose your religion (Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, Christian, and Jew, with Sikhs and Wicca forthcoming in an expansion pack) whereby you must go to synagogue/church/mosque once a week, or click to use the prayer mat, or else sit outside and meditate with nature? Then after 20 game-years have elapsed, you start trying to convince your game children to marry within the religion? Of course, we could always do "The Passion of the Christ, the officially licensed game," and give Icon Entertainment another few hundred million dollars, allowing you to be beaten for an hour and try to still stay alive by mashing the circle button. You could also argue there's been no real treatment of "sex" in video games either. Let's make a realistic sex game where the sheets smell and you have to do laundry, you have to rummage through your underwear drawer for condoms, and your roommate comes home in the middle and you have to suddenly get quiet! No thanks. Games don't have to address everything. They're supposed to be FUN.
  • Who'se AI programming could be considered good enough to simulate God? How would God come into play in, say, Doom3 or The Sims? Do you lose if you are sinful?
  • by mdvlspwn99 (172473) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:19PM (#9739298) Journal
    I like games where I am god. And if the villagers didn't like it, they got a thrown in the ocean!

    Or I'd feed them to my creature.


  • I find plenty of religion in games - clerics and druids amass, ritual sacrifices, pentagrams and much much more. There's even a whole genre dedicated to where you play a god!

    Or did the author perhaps want jewo-christian religion? Sorry, it doesn't easily lend itself to games, except as a church building or sacrificial ritual. Face it, singing hymns and sitting still praying isn't all that exciting, compared to slaying and casting spells that actually do something you can see.

    Regards,
    --
    *Art
    • by Perianwyr Stormcrow (157913) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:26PM (#9739384) Homepage
      Jewish mysticism has been only peripherally explored by Japanese game designers (quick example: what's a "Sephiroth"?) and mostly as window-dressing.

      Also, Catholic priests are, broadly viewed, the basis for D&D clerics.

      Both the Kabala and early Christian mysticism are rich footings from which to explore religious concepts in a game- I think they're mostly ignored by Americans because it's easy to offend people that way- which is fair enough.

      However, I think a game based around the book of Revelations would be utterly awesome (perhaps an adaptation of "Left Behind"? I don't think much of apocalyptic stuff but it would sure make a good game.)

      It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the religious concepts you grew up with aren't very interesting and don't have any real mysteries to explore. But even a cursory review of what's out there (ever hear of the gospel of Thomas?) reveals a great deal.
      • by anubi (640541) on Monday July 19, 2004 @02:14PM (#9739761) Journal
        Interesting take on it, Stormcrow...

        It seems to me some good games based on theology may finally ignite some critical thinking on religion dogma. Just *what* is 'religion' and what is of God himself?

        It is a strong belief of mine that earthly religions are the work of man and they are just using the name of God to bolster power for themselves. Even the Bible states Jesus had to throw the Scribes and Pharisees ( yeh, all those loud moaning prayer-sayers and interpreters of the Word that pontificate profusely in public so as to appear holy ) out of the temple.

        There is a human condition called "cognitive dissonance", which is a strong drive within us to know we made the correct decision. The last thing a guy who just bought a car wants to hear is that he made a big mistake by doing so. He wants positive affirmation he made an intelligent choice. I see religious congregations in a similar light - once 'converted' to that religion, those members push it because if others join, that bolsters their belief that they were correct. Its a human condition we form religions - but I don't see these as really having anything much to do with God. Its just a gang of people - and they can be very dangerous if they are ever led to believe that doing violence in the name of God is acceptable.

        I have a hard time distinguishing earthly religion from cult and superstition. Like I am not aware of any proof that Zeus or Thor do NOT exist, yet I have no faith in their power. Well, are things any different today?

        Maybe some good games where a "supreme power" did indeed create us, and our goal is to find out about him, but along the way are all these people who have formed these little gangs to feed us misinformation and make us waste time until our lifetime runs out.

        You know these little 'pyramid' schemes that run around every so often, where a few guys organize this financial ponzi scheme that require the contributions of lots of suckers so the guys at the top can get fabulously wealthy? Yeh, they print up these little business plans and have rows of lines for people to sign up for a measly donation of $1000 to get a $64,000 tax-free return. Their heads begin yammering like air compressors as their mouths begin spewing streams of words like "outpouring of wealth", "faith", "make a committment", etc.

        But, once you've seen it, you recognize it for what it is. A ponzi scheme. A way for people to get money for just jabbering. A quick way for you to lose your resources.

        I see earthly manmade religions in exactly the same way. This is not to say I don't believe in God - its just I know that Man will lie. And Man can be very cruel if he's ever led to believe he is just being an instrument of God ( as if the God who created the universe needed the services of Man! I think of it like asking my cat to fix a leaky faucet. ).

        Please don't tell me I've got it wrong. I most likely do have it wrong. I may never find what I am looking for. I know Man will lie. And I know Man , even though he obediently follows all the religious rituals, can do unbelievably cruel things to others - and feel completely guiltless over the trauma left in his wake. ( Southern Baptist )

        It would be nice to see a few games where people actually had to *think* about their relationship with our Creator and fellow man, instead of just being led by another man.

  • oh please (Score:4, Interesting)

    by glMatrixMode (631669) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:23PM (#9739348)
    "religion and spirituality add a lot to a game world"

    Oh please. These must be really weird times, when people even _think_ about putting spirituality in games.

    Games unite people. Religion separates people.
  • by Creosote (33182) * on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:24PM (#9739359) Homepage
    There's plenty of imagination of what the God-role might be in a computer game. I'm not a big fan of Andrew Greeley, but he did stake out this turf in The God Game [amazon.com] a decade ago. Or, for a high metafictional take on a real-life role-playing game with a godlike director, there's John Fowles's The Magus [amazon.com]. And I suppose the best Death-of-God Game would have to be Lucky Wander Boy [luckywanderboy.com] by D. B. Weiss.
  • easy (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968)
    If you have a chip on your shoulder, take aim at Christianity. It's an easy target and you'll get applause from the gamer community for bashing. Every other religion of the world must be treated respectfully, though.
  • AHEM (Score:2, Informative)

    by Mr_Malcontent (792689)
    How about Billy Graham's Bible Blasters?
  • Who hasn't exclaimed "Kill'em all and let god sort 'em out" in a gore-spree in [insert FPS here]?
  • I would love to see Alien -vs- Predator -vs- GOD
  • Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gogl (125883) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:45PM (#9739525) Journal
    "Religion is ignored in gaming, or if it is portrayed, it's wildly caricatured."

    Insert *any* substantive intellectual or philosophical topic in place of "religion" and that sentence almost always holds true. They're *games*, they're not meant to provide truly rigorous analysis but rather to entertain.

    The only game I can think of that has some rather sophisticated references to religious and philosophical concepts is Xenosaga (and presumably the prequel Xenogears, though I've not played it), but even then it's nowhere near as deep or intellectually stimulating as a good book.

    So while this is not a hard and fast rule, I would say that the vast majority of games are, well, just entertainment. Very few games truly broach into what I would consider art or substantive dialogue.
  • by NWRefund (723683) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:45PM (#9739529)
    In a country where groups got together to burn Harry Potter books because they "taught kids to be witches and wizards," can you *blame* game creators for trying to tiptoe around religion?
  • Superficiality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ra5pu7in (603513) <ra5pu7inNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:51PM (#9739558) Journal
    Why is it any surprise that games only portray religion on a superficial level? The vast majority of people I know are only superficially religious. Christians may say they are such, but they don't live every day as if they were following the path Christ laid out for them. Rather, they attend church once in a while - usually on major holidays - and wear crosses. At most, they slap a bumpersticker on their car or a sign in their window proclaiming their faith.

    Many games include an aspect of religion or spirituality - though it is seldom Christian. An underlying theme of good vs. evil is spiritual in nature. Most RPGs have the idea of heroes guided by destiny often based on a prophecy. Many adventure games like Tomb Raider delve into the spiritual beliefs of ancient cultures.

    Actually, as I read that article I realized that the author is more interested in seeing games that make Christianity the emphasis. That might appeal to some people, but there would be a fairly good-sized market it would turn away UNLESS the gameplay and story were otherwise engaging. Most people don't listen to Christian music for the lyrics if the music and singing are poor. Likewise, few would play a game just because it involve Christian beliefs and activities if the gameplay and story were so-so.
  • by namidim (607227) on Monday July 19, 2004 @01:56PM (#9739590)
    The article falls flat on two fronts for me. The article assume that 1) religion means christianity 2)ethics are the sole domain of religion.

    Outside of that particular pet peeve I would also argue that the article does not address the issue on its true scale: religion in mass media. Nor does it address the reason for the typically marginal role of religion in the mass media: there are a lot of people who either don't want to see it in that context(Christians included) or who do want to see it but can't agree on what it should look like.

    Just looking at the miriad of splinter groups within the judeo-christian pantheon of religions and the innumerable hotly contested details that caused them to split in the first place should make it clear why a strongly religious game with mass appeal would be difficult to create. Now think in terms of the gaming demographic. That doesn't mean impossible, but outside of the occassional high production value rarity al-la Passion of Christ I wouldn't hold my breath.

    And to get to the heart of the issue, is that really such a bad thing? Doesn't relying on video games to provide religion, education, ethical guidance, etc. simply mirror the TV as a baby sitter/parent problem?
  • by jjoyce (4103) on Monday July 19, 2004 @02:20PM (#9739807)
    Games have plenty of religion. Unreal Tournament 2004 would not be much fun if I couldn't be reincarnated every time I died.
  • by bob_jenkins (144606) on Monday July 19, 2004 @02:49PM (#9740042) Homepage Journal
    What if you simulate a religion in a game? It would probably come out more like SimCity than Doom, but it seems like a reasonable thing to do. Religion posits that certain things exist, that if x happens you should do y, that if you do y then z will happen. Those could be built into the rules of the game simulator. For example,
    • God speaks through fortuitous circumstances. When God wants to answer "yes", you happen to find what you're currently looking for.
    • Murphy's law. If anything can go wrong, it actually does. Always.
    • The laws of physics aren't reliable because God or Angels keep mucking with things.
    • The devil can hear your innermost thoughts, but God only hears what you say. Or vice versa.
    • What goes around comes around. Always.
    • No good deed goes unpunished.
    • Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
    • You can't tell what your standing is until you die. (Might be useful to have several characters and a rewind button, so Iago can kill you off every now and then so you can peek at your standing without going to Hell due to suicide.)

    You could configure the game to play by your favorite belief system.
  • by Znord (610696) on Monday July 19, 2004 @03:11PM (#9740206)
    There's been a big vacuum in the world of sci-fi / fantasy with religious overtones ever since the modern age of thought began back in the 1920s with Freud and the concept of "wishes" as a basis for fiction and dreams.

    C.S. Lewis and (to a point) Tolkien did much to show that religious themes can easily coexist with fiction. The endless "let's try it from scratch" 60s put a bit of a kabosh on that... experimenting in ideas of myth-religion without knowing how much they repeated in old fiction.

    Frankly, I see "religion" is actually present in many many spheres... but a new establishment has arrived. It's just the pop-psyche (i.e. Oprah) plus bits-of-new-age psuedoscience that we've had tons of in the 20th century. (practice X does Y for your spiritual Z condition, take two and call me in the morning).

    Religion in Babylon 5, for example, was one of the first beginnings of a good treatment in mass media... because believers at least showed some positive though vague devotion as part of a plot (monks at one point, and the Minbari otherwise).

    Most scifi religion is incredibly shallow and made for outsiders, with the constant drum of "Hey man, don't get all religious about stuff cuz it all looks the same to us." moral-of-the-story.

    Even that only started from the 50s and earlier when tons of minor religious divisions mirrored ethnic/cultural ones (i.e. blacks, whites, immigrants etc..). I knew one old lady who declared the One thing she knew about her Presbyterian church was that she wasn't Baptist. Yikes. That has always scared authors.

    Anyway the writing can only occur when religion is handled in a fashion that doesn't get everyone spooked about the loudest minorities involved. Someone's got to stop caring about Pat Robertson and yet still know who Jesus (or Bhudda) was without a minor "survey of religions" class.

    Besides, atheism/materialism keeps framing the discussion (e.g. Babylon 5 came down to assuming all "gods" were advanced races) and that forms a rift on how much you're even allowed to describe beliefs. It's tough to write plot about followers of God X or Y when the author makes clear that they're idiots doing something for no purpose or reason except the cuteness of "blind" idealism.

    What's gotta happen is that some story writer somewhere has to first avoid the swashbuckling loot-and-horde-and-kill plot. Secondly they need to leave mystery about something Bigger having a role in the story instead of mere science-and-discovery explaining it all by the last 5 minutes.

    If it's "universal harmony" that someone deals with (i.e. Ultima V) so be it, but if its God in any fashion it makes the plot and reality of behavior much richer. Yes it makes NPCs *much* more complex... and a score isn't just "gold" or "life" anymore. Deal! I want to see that happen.

    We're at the effective top for polygon counts anyway. Someone has to *THINK* that fiction matters someday in a game.

  • by DroopyStonx (683090) on Monday July 19, 2004 @03:50PM (#9740531)
    "Jesus: The FPS":

    While demented soldiers and demons run around the battle arena trying to frag you and each other, your ask as Jesus The Peacemaker is to persuade them to stop fighting.

    With a bag full of holy water and bibles, your task is to put and end to the violence.

    Powerups include "Quad-prayer" (make them believe in you. If they fail, instill fear into them.) and "Persistent nagging" - If they ignore you, annoy the shit out of them until they listen. ...hm, on second thought: no.

    If you played that and anyone knew about it, you'd probably get your ass kicked for being such a pansy, haha.

    Not to mention, religious games (with the exception of Black and White) would be utterly boring, just like most religious movies.
  • by awhite (179035) on Monday July 19, 2004 @03:55PM (#9740596)
    I would love to see a game based on the bible. It would be the most violent, debased game in history!

    Those of you who've read the bible with any sort of objectivity know what I'm talking about. How many places in the OT does god command the jews to wipe out entire peoples, including women and children? There are even passages where he is angered because the jews decide to spare a few individuals or animals. So in any true bible game, genocide has to play a key role. And of course god doesn't leave all the fun to his chosen people; he certainly gets his hands dirty as well. Some of the more famous instance of god's handiwork include leveling Sodom and Gomorra, killing all the first born in Egypt when the pharaoh refuses to free the jews (interesting note: according to the text, god intentionally "hardened the pharaoh's heart" to Moses' pleas; god forced the pharaoh to refuse so that he could demonstrate his power via the plagues), and wiping out almost every living thing on the planet in a big flood cause he didn't like the way the humans he created were turning out.

    Or, how about a Sims-type game? You could try to follow god's laws as they're laid out (mostly in Leviticus, IIRC) without getting stoned to death. Choose to pick up some sticks on the Sabbath? Sorry: you get stoned. Are you a woman who gets raped in the city? Sorry: you get stoned. In a city you should have been able to scream loud enough that someone would have heard. Is your Sim character a child who makes fun of a bald guy? Sorry: god sends some bears out of the woods to maul you. On the plus side, though, you can have slaves and multiple wives, sell your daughters, and have sex with your servants. (Yes, these are all actual biblical laws/stories.)

    And the NT isn't much better. You've got the whole crucifixion thing, which is plenty violent (and intentional; not like the omniscient being didn't know it was going to happen). And then there's the problem that Jesus' core message is about as horrible a moral as you can find: "Worship me or you'll be tortured for all eternity, regardless of how good a person you are." And considering god's actions throughout the bible, could any truly moral person worship him in good conscience?

    So yeah, I'd like to see a game based on the bible. I want to see the religious right squirm when a game based on the actual stories of their holy book makes Doom 3 look like Big Bird on Ice.

    p.s. If you doubt the accuracy of anything I've said, I encourage you wholeheartedly to read the bible yourself. You'll see that the points above are but a tiny sampling of the atrocities the bible has to offer. I just discovered that some enterprising folks have even distilled a lot of the horrors (as well as the ridiculous "science" and many contradictions) of the bible for you: http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com
    • by HermanAB (661181) on Monday July 19, 2004 @10:28PM (#9744403)
      Oh yeah, and that is only the King James Bible. For good measure you should throw the rest of it in - all the dragons and stuff that King James had removed from it, would make a game way better...

      It is interesting how many of modern children's TV stories are based on Greek/Roman/Egyptian/Hebrew/Persian/Norse religion and come to think about it, that is exactly what the Bible is - a huge honkin story book for the entertainment of the masses.

      Or as Valadimir Illich said: "Religion is the opium of the masses".

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday July 19, 2004 @04:33PM (#9740972) Homepage
    Now that would sell in the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia would ban it, but people would buy it anyway.

    So far, Islamic game software has been rather lame. There's Come to Salah [astrolabe.com], but it's a "memorize the Qur'an" edutainment product. Something edgier is needed to sell to the Arab street.

    What's needed is Diplomacy with the graphic quality of Tropico. You're a dictator trying to play off the religious fanatics against the moderates while dealing with neighboring warlords, US-backed enemies, and ambitious relatives. Try to suppress the imans, and you get a rebellion; give them power over education, and soon few of your people have any useful skills. Start a war to divert attention from your domestic problems, and run the risk of losing. Fail to follow the precepts of the Prophet and the people turn against you.

    It must be playable in Internet cafes. That's your market.

    The islamic world does have a sense of humor. [aljazeera.net]

  • So what? (Score:3, Funny)

    by tektor (103923) on Monday July 19, 2004 @05:19PM (#9741443)
    I don't think there are any games that treat anaesthesiology at anything more than a superficial level, either.
  • by bishiraver (707931) on Monday July 19, 2004 @05:30PM (#9741553) Homepage
    The Medieval iteration of this game used religion fantastically. If your populace was too zealous, and you had an unreligious leader as a governer of their province, they would be less loyal. If you had a really zealous governer, and most people in the province were of another religion, you'd better set up missionaries. The more zeal a province had, the more troops a Jihaad or Crusade would gather during its stay in said province. Glossed over and caricatured? I think not.
  • by LS (57954) on Monday July 19, 2004 @07:27PM (#9742896) Homepage
    There are multiple ways you could look at religion, and they are very different when it comes to video games, or any other medium.

    One way is as an institution or culture. This is not difficult, as you are treating the religion as a behavioral entity and can easily reproduce it's symbols and customs in a video game.

    Another way is to look at religion as philosophy. This is more difficult, as creating a game that encourages different scenarios based on the beliefs of the player (or at least temporary philosophy for the sake of the game).

    One last way to look at religion in regards to video games is the most interesting: The video game as an aspect of the religion itself. If you only believe that religion is defined by authorities writing in books, then you won't think this makes sense. If you believe religion to be a highly personal experience that involves defining your place in the universe, then everything is religious. A video game that changes your world view or wakes you up to a more aware thought process, then it become an aspect of religion itself.

    I had a friend who cried at the beauty of one of the game scenarios he experience in Alpha Centauri...

    LS
  • by DunbarTheInept (764) on Monday July 19, 2004 @08:19PM (#9743339) Homepage
    The reason games don't have real religions modeled in them is just that it would divide their potential userbase. I really think that's all there is to it. Instead of getting people mad, since it is literally impossible to have a portrayal of religion that looks balanced and evenhanded to every potential consumer, they either make the religion realy comic-book-like and fakey, or they shift it off to something else entirely so it doesn't look like anything on earth (like the Hammerites from Thief).

    Even the preachy Ultima IV mentioned in the article had to do that sort of thing - making up a new religion that is based on eight virtues, and stays well away from anything like a belief in a god. (It was a good game, although having a computer program enforce rules of morality had problems in that it only cared about the letter of the law, and not the spirit of the law. For example, you could lose an 'eigth' for lack of bravery when your main character doesn't stay behind to be the last person to leave a map in a fight. That was severly flawed when sometimes the congestion of characters on the mapboard made it necessary for you to leave with your main character first just to make the room for the rest to fit out the exit. Sometimes the computer's random placement of figures on the map made it such that your only two choices were 1 - lose the virtue of bravery because the leader is in the way and has to leave first, or 2 - reload the game.)

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