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Religion in Video Games 523

The Opposable Thumbs blog recently took a look at how religious themes are handled in video games. Most makers of mainstream games are hesitant, given the strong feelings of most consumers on the subject, but other companies are trying desperately to bring religion into the spotlight. Quoting: "Part of the problem is that the game industry is often touted as being a corrupting influence for the youth of the world. Criticism against the game industry has come from leaders as high up as the current Pope, and many of us who have been exposed to sermons bemoaning the influence that games and movies have on kids. Even when groups like the Christian Game Developers Foundation put out a video encouraging developers to create wholesome titles for kids, the attitude conveyed towards current members of the industry was contemptuous at best. Needless to say, games with heavy religious content are usually fringe projects, independently created and oftentimes sporting dodgy production values, because publishers wisely don't want to risk boycotts from legions of the faithful."
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Religion in Video Games

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  • by baegucb ( 18706 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:15AM (#30554068)

    says religion has no say in games. And I'm on the good guys side ;)

  • by Hawthorne01 ( 575586 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:15AM (#30554070)
    Then worry about the religious content. If it's not a good game (or movie, or song, or book) you can stuff it to the gills with religious messages, and no one outside of your particular religious community will ever buy it. Build a better game (or movie, or song, or book) and the world will come to you. (See: Sufjan Stevens, C.S. Lewis, VeggieTales, etc.).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Or you can make a good video game based on religious themes, mythology, and history, rather than one with religious messages. A lot of religious mythology would make pretty awesome settings for games.
      • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:22AM (#30554090) Journal

        But the whole point of these Christian "developers", like Christian "rock/pop musicians" is not to put out a quality product, it's to get the faithful to fork over money. Obviously these kinds of products are not going to be marketed at the mainstream, because the mainstream could give a shit about a bunch of whacked-out Evangelicals and snake-oil dealers.

        • by Monsuco ( 998964 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:53AM (#30554170) Homepage

          But the whole point of these Christian "developers", like Christian "rock/pop musicians" is not to put out a quality product, it's to get the faithful to fork over money.

          In other words, rather then being the "snake oil" dealers you claim they are, they are just simply like every single business on the planet. They identify a market, then they look for a way to make money serving that market. There is clear demand for Christian Rock, and the customers obviously buy the music because they enjoy its message, just as one might buy a regular album (or especially a concept album) because one enjoys its message.

          The only problem with video games is they are expensive to produce and to buy. A series of Christian games might work, but it is a gamble. Books and songs require relatively less staff than a video game. Of course, a game with an underlying religious message could very much stand a chance at success, but an expressly "Christian Game" might not.

          • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:23AM (#30554276)
            the only thing that you got right is that religion is a business like any other.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Kjella ( 173770 )

              And the only business with a reality destortion field bigger than Steve Jobs.

      • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:28AM (#30554300)

        A lot of religious mythology would make pretty awesome settings for games.

        "Bring me the foreskins of 100 Philistine warriors, bonus points for 200" - Quest from "A Lorena Bobbit in King Saul's court"

        • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:33AM (#30554318)

          A video game based on the Bible would be more violent than GTA and have to be rated M++ for all the sex.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 26, 2009 @03:01AM (#30554580)

            Coming soon: Grand Lot's Daughters! Live in the Biblical town of Sodom! Get offered by your father to be raped by gangs of men! And have them turn you down!! After which you flee and get your father drunk and rape him!!! Preorder today from your nearest Christian Gamer store.

          • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @06:03AM (#30554996)

            The rating you are looking for is AO, adults only. It's a real ESRB rating. It is more or less the "anything goes" rating. The reason you don't see much of it is because most retailers refuse to carry games with that rating. It's a real rating though and there have been a few games with it (Sim's Singles being one of them). An accurate depiction of the Old Testament would most certainly qualify for that rating.

            Of course that's not what the fundie Christian types want. They are rather... selective in their knowledge of the bible. There are parts of the OT and NT they like and would want in a game, there are other parts they like to forget about.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Simetrical ( 1047518 )

              The rating you are looking for is AO, adults only. It's a real ESRB rating. It is more or less the "anything goes" rating. The reason you don't see much of it is because most retailers refuse to carry games with that rating. It's a real rating though and there have been a few games with it (Sim's Singles being one of them). An accurate depiction of the Old Testament would most certainly qualify for that rating.

              I don't see why you'd think that. About the only thing that gets AO is actual pornography. The Bible discusses sex sometimes, but never very explicitly. It relies very heavily on euphemism – "know" and "lie with" and so on. The most explicit things I can think of are in Song of Songs, and that's very mild by today's standards. (Like: "Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.") Likewise, the Bible doesn't depict graphic violence, it just says something

      • by bertoelcon ( 1557907 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:31AM (#30554310)
        Like Dante's Inferno? Even though it isn't "canon" it would be good bits of Christian mythology. God of War has bases in Greek mythology. Stuff like that is probably as close as many companies would dare to get today to real world religions.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by skuzzlebutt ( 177224 )

          Does praying that I can reload my auto-shotgun before the tank punts me across the room count?

          • Well I know the first time I spun around a corner popping off caps at a splicer and hit a Big Daddy in the ass by mistake as I ran like a little girl I was praying MY ass off!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mr2cents ( 323101 )

        Could turn out to be interesting, a game based on the old testament could be plausible, where you get missions directly from God (enslave your neighboring tribe, kill every man in another tribe, ...). It would be very violent though, so I don't think it would get approved for children.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        My problem is that I do believe the Bible and if my kids were playing a game I would not want it "loosely based" on things. I'd imagine Hindus, Buddhists, etc would not really like their religious figures turned into game characters either... and that's why publishers won't touch it.

        You mention C.S. Lewis, who was a heavy proponent of Allegory and fantasy in stories. I'm more like Tolkien in that I want my stories as "play" and my religion taken seriously. C.S. Lewis did a bit of disservice because many of

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:20AM (#30554084)

    How about someone create a game that occurs during the inquisition when the ignorant Christians killed thousands of people who wouldn't convert to their religion?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Right after they make Total Eclipse [reason.com], showing the brutality of Stalin's Russia.

      Thousands of people killed by Christians during the Middle Ages was a horror. Millions of people killed by atheist Soviets was worse by at least an order of magnitude.
      • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:15AM (#30554248)

        The Crusades resulted in the deaths of roughly ninety to one-hundred-eighty thousand non-combatants (nominal civilians, over a multi-century period. This was the 28th most severe invasion of the fertile crescent after all, falling behind only such other invasions as the Califate, The Hittite expansion, Assyria, Alexander the great, and 24 other wars with higher death tolls.
        If you include crusades not directed at the holy land, such as the Fourth Crusade versus Constantinople, the Albigensian Crusade versus the Cathars and the Northern Crusades, a Million is not an unreasonable death toll. That's both ways of course, not just the 'Christian side' body-counts, and includes wars where both sides claimed to be Christian.

        The witch burnings were really post middle ages (about 1480 to 1700) spanning the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War, resulting in a problem of figuring out which executions were witch related and which were of Cathars, political and nationalist based population obliterations and so on. Best estimates for a death toll definitely cross the line into the 100,000-110,000 range. but still taking over 200 years total to do so, and falling behind not just the rest of the thirty years war, but the hundred years war, maybe the English civil war, the Armenian atrocities, and a couple of mid 20th century events I won't bother to mention in the same areas. It's even possible that what Vlad personally did to combat the Muslim invaders of Transylvania resulted in more civilian deaths than the witch trials.

        The best estimates for the Spanish Inquisition come from the church's own records, and thousands of people who wouldn't convert is quite accurate, in fact the best guess is around 32,000. I wouldn't mind seeing a game in this setting, but if it's a typical first person shooter, The Player will probably have to gibe that many personally to get a high score.

      • That's one way of looking at it. Another way is that the total population of the world changed by at least a factor of 10 between the Crusades the the Soviet Union, so expressed as a percentage, they're about equal.

        Yet another way of the looking at it is that both are equally bad, but atheists are just more efficient.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hitmark ( 640295 )

        i do wonder, how much of that was stated as "for atheism", vs how much of the crusades or similar was stated as "for god"?

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:20AM (#30554086)
    I don't really see how religion is needed in video games. Plenty of games have used religious influences heavily. Fantasy games often use elements of Norse, Egyptian, Greek/Roman, and Christianity/Judaism in their games and that hasn't been a problem. People don't like being fed propaganda from any religious group so games based on any particular religion usually will fail (the fact that they are usually done by second-rate developers and are low budget doesn't help them either). But more than anything else, there is no need. Look at some games, either A) They are done in a fantasy setting and therefore having a real-world religion as a major theme is simply unrealistic or boring B) The focus is action rather than storyline development, most gamers don't care if the Spy from Team Fortress 2 was an agnostic, Buddhist or a scientologist. C) Religion would take away key parts of character development, for example Fallout 3, choosing a religion would effectively either make your character a hypocrite, unrealistic or would make decision making too simple.

    In the end, I don't think there is a need for religion in video games. While it will always and has always been referenced, theres just no good reason to put it in.
  • Religion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:22AM (#30554092) Homepage

    Religion does exist in video games. They aren't usually the same religions as we have meatside, however. I think that's what people are complaining about. The problem is if you let, say, World of Warcraft priests worship the Christian god, then people will automatically boycott when it doesn't follow a particular sect's beliefs. In fact, they'd have no combat skills at all if they followed the word of the Bible.

    Instead, religions are made up, relatively shallow, and may be based on the history that took place in the game. Sounds a lot like real religions, doesn't it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by williamhb ( 758070 )

      Religion does exist in video games. They aren't usually the same religions as we have meatside, however. I think that's what people are complaining about. The problem is if you let, say, World of Warcraft priests worship the Christian god, then people will automatically boycott when it doesn't follow a particular sect's beliefs

      There's a blocker that comes up before that -- the game designers don't like to do it. The issue is that the game designer is the game's Creator -- he designs the rules, even intervenes with server-upgrades. It, therefore, starts feeling a bit blasphemous to ascribe your own "game-supernatural" actions of creation to God. So, game designers and programmers who believe in God don't want to put their words into His mouth; and the atheist ones don't want God in their game anyway.

  • by copponex ( 13876 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:31AM (#30554112) Homepage

    Christ is risen, and boy, is He pissed.

    After receiving the authority to smite the tribes of Islam, Christ joins the eighty deuces and gets his revenge on vegetarians, homosexuals, eaters of shellfish, and of course, unbelievers and blasphemers. Armed with a robe and the wrath of Yahweh, step into the sandals of He Who Is Righteous as he transforms from the Prince of Peace to the Prince of Blowing Motherfuckers to Pieces. Use conventional weapons to kill the wicked or send plague upon plague to the unfortunate souls dumb enough to defy you. Raise past holy warriors from the dead to join your army of brutal goodness, and get bonus points for killing Arab leaders and sending them to Hell.

    Feel the rage of the righteous! Coming Spring 2010...

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:31AM (#30554114)

    They say they are interested in religion in games. Well, in fact there IS religion in quite a few games. In some cases a religious mythology forms the basis for the game's world, in other cases there are various religious characters who influence things and so on. That's not what they want. They want a game that evangelizes their religion. They want one that shoves it in your face, that tries to show it as The One True Way(tm).

    Well, games like that are basically always going to suck. Evangelism isn't fun. What's more, it turns off most people so major developers won't do it. When you have an inherently shitty premise and combine that with a shitty developer you are going to get a total crap fest.

    In terms of mainstream games, religion will continue to be a role in them as it always has been. Often it'll be fictional religions, since they are often set in fictional worlds. However you'll continue to see religious characters of one sort or another in games where such a thing is useful to the story. However you aren't going to see games designed around pushing a religion. Those aren't fun, and they won't sell well, so major publishers aren't going to fund them.

  • These groups and these complaints are a perfect example of people who don't understand the idea of freedom. They are the people who want everyone to live like they live and believe what they believe. They don't get that people are free to make and sell whatever games they want, and that people are free to choose which games they buy and which they don't. If people wanted more religious video games, companies would recognize this demand and create more religious video games. There are no regulations enco
  • Re: article tag (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dexmachina ( 1341273 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:46AM (#30554146)
    Simple solution: If you do not want- do not buy. Developers aren't idiots. Religious video games will be industry standard when hell freezes over. That's sort of the main point of the article. At the same time, there's certainly a niche market for them. I don't enjoy racing games, that doesn't mean I'm opposed to their existence. Why should this be any different? Seriously, in cases like this the whole, "leave religion out of it," line is just retarded. On that note, Happy Newton's Birthday everyone.
  • Bullshit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:47AM (#30554150)
    First of all, not everyone is being completely adverse to religion. The marketing team behind Dante's Inferno actually hired a group of people to pretend to be Christians protesting the game. Even if such a thing would be considered poor taste, it's not going to affect game sales at all. The same people who would actually protest or boycott a game over religion would never buy your game anyway. Hell, I actually heard more about the game because some religious people were offended by the fake protest and made enough noise that it was picked up by a few news outlets. Free advertising right there.

    The other way to look at it is that games are trying to be a form of art. If they're not willing to tackle religion, they're just throwing away their legitimacy. Whether you're religious or not, I think you would agree that religion plays a major role in the world today and as such is an interesting topic to explore from a narrative standpoint. It's not even necessary to single out a religion by name, but exploring ideas such as polytheism, religious crusades, or corruption of religious institutions can add something interesting to a game. In fact, I think that an exploration of some philosophy is something that is sadly lacking from so many games today. If someone were to make a game exploring these themes I would be tempted to buy it, even if the gameplay weren't as good as another title in the genre.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      but exploring ideas such as polytheism, religious crusades, or corruption of religious institutions can add something interesting to a game.

      You mean like what Tales of Symphonia did? If you haven't played the game I strongly recommend that you do as it basically covers corruption in religion, the morality of war, etc. All while being quite possibly the best RPG for the GameCube (not that there was much competition). (look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_of_Symphonia#Story [wikipedia.org] if you want an overview of the plot).

  • SimChurch (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:48AM (#30554154) Homepage

    If religion in games was done right, it would make kids too cynical. Imagine this game:

    "SimChurch - start your own religion, gain adherents, build a church, advertise, and grow. You can tweak your theology - too loose, and your people lose interest; too strict, and your people backslide. You can ask your followers for financial support, but ask too hard and they'll drop out. You can train fanatics to help you expand, but they may turn against you."

    "In multiplayer mode, you can try to convert people from other religions to yours. Become strong enough in an area, and you can convert your country to a theocracy. Then you can have wars with other theocracies."

    "If your theology calls for miracles, they might just happen. But they won't always help you. You can also fake miracles, once you have enough assets, and gain adherents that way."

    This would teach kids way too much about how religion really works.

    • Re:SimChurch (Score:5, Informative)

      by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:20AM (#30554264) Homepage Journal

      >>This would teach kids way too much about how religion really works.

      Sure you don't want to call it Church Tycoon?

      But honestly, having worked with/on church councils, while you see a lot of the politics you see in, well, all social organizations, churches are actually filled with good people who are trying to make a difference in society. Perhaps your game could actually encompass some of that, instead of just focusing on monetary issues.

    • Re:SimChurch (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hackel ( 10452 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @02:00AM (#30554402) Journal

      This is probably the most brilliant "Sim" game I've heard of since SimCity! I would buy this in a second, it is really a brilliant idea! And it would be GREAT education for kids!

    • obviously, you haven't played Civ 4... not to the same extreme, but much of the same stuff. They gave a very loose high level view of religion.

      Personally, my views on religion are nowhere near as cynical. There are those in it for the money/power/glory, but I think there are other leaders who truly believe what they preach, and have reasons for believing it. Of course, the more they ask of their congregations, the lessI tend to believe that their motives are "pure".

  • ...you mean like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_Adventures [wikipedia.org] ?

    One can only imagine the modern remake of that game-play....they could always use the Quake engine for 3D awesomeness...I'd love to see the rail gun used in Biblical fights.
  • I think that Scientology would a pretty good video game. Scored in thetans you would lambast your opponents into submission so they were 'stuck in an incident' and use a variety of pyscological techniques to intimidate, cajole and threaten anyone who get's in your way.

    Contact with any southpark characters or hearing music from Tool kills your character instantly with sardonic irony or an influx of conscious awareness. You can use Tom Cruise missiles and seeing a movie with John Travolta increases your heal

    • I think that Scientology would a pretty good video game. Scored in thetans you would lambast your opponents into submission so they were 'stuck in an incident' and use a variety of pyscological techniques to intimidate, cajole and threaten anyone who get's in your way.

      I will only play if you get to buy an R2-45 audit kit. [wikipedia.org] It could be like the chaingun in Wolf3d or the BFG from Doom. Exteriorize Thetans right and left!

  • As far back as I can remember, religion and gaming go hand in hand. For example, if you prayed in Nethack, you could be gifted with potions of healing. Or if you sacrificed a fresh kill at an altar, you may gain favor with your god. But don't sacrifice your puppy because someone may get upset.

    In Fallout 2 I learned that Hubologists are a great source of grenades. They keep to themselves except when they're out warring with the New Reno drug lords. Oh, and they have some strange spokespeople with shiny teet

  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:22AM (#30554270)

    "I wanted to create a game that had both an entertaining adventure but also hold true to the commandment of 'Thou Shalt Not Kill.'"

    Done: I am unaware of any game in which you actually kill people. Plenty of games in which your fictional character kills other fictional characters, but they're videogames, not real life.

    It's odd to me that religious types sometimes seem to put more emphasis on morality in fiction than they do in real life. It's not real. Why is this a thing to them? No one has ever demonstrated that violence in videogames or movies actually leads to desensitization for real-life violence, so that's not a valid reason. There's plenty of real-world violence going on, that should be higher priority.

    Virtual violence is repugnant to them is what I think it comes down to. That's fine, they should not play games with violence. I think this guy is basically doing the right thing, he's making his own game to fit his tastes, which is great. There aren't enough games like that. I still have to object to the mindset he seems to have: that virtual, in-game violence is somehow morally wrong.

    And most in-game violence to me seems pretty justified. Most involve shooting bad guys or bad aliens. GTA allows you to kill innocent bystanders, sure, but so far that's always been a player using free will to do so. The main story does involve murder, but nine times out of ten it's justified. Not great morality there, but pretty good considering it's not real.

    Some games actually suceed in making you feel guilty. Fallout 3 had oodles of opportunities to do evil, and plenty of times I ended up feeling pretty guilty.

    Having played some of those wisdom tree games, I very much doubt people who are out to make games as a vehicle to promote their own morality have NEARLY the skill it would take to make a game in which a player felt guilty for committing virtual sins, but that is a possibility.

    "It was important to do so, and it is not easy. You can defend yourself by stunning Enforcers, or thugs for a very brief time. The goal is the mission, and to avoid direct contact with the enemy as much as possible."

    That sounds like a watered down version of mirror's edge, a FPS/FPA* which combines parkour with bad guys with guns. You can stun an enemy to take his gun, then use it on other bad guys for a few shots, but the game really encourages you at most parts to flee and stun rather than get into a shootout. Not for morality reasons though, it's just easier that way.

    *I don't want to get into a semantic argument over marketing terms here, you know what I'm talking about.

  • Sure, it wasn't "Religion" based, but it was philosophically based, and promoted good values. Give me some more positive games like that where there are little sub-quests where you can make the lives of the people in the game-world better. Heck, I was just playing Ultima7 again for the bazillionth time, and just fixed Polly and Thurston up for the first time. No lasting game value, doesn't help any quest, give moeny, etc. but it's a great warm fuzzy. Then I stole Morphin's illegal drugs, tried to blackm
  • by hackel ( 10452 )

    Gamers--the people who really fuel the gaming industry (as opposed to the casual gamer) are a very unique market segment. They are, for the most part, people who actually *think*. A religious game targeted at this group would make no sense, as many of the responses to this story have demonstrated. Not only would I say the majority of the "gamer" market is probably atheist, but even the ones who do believe in something are much more likely to be independent in their thinking and what they believe, and not

  • After populous, no more religion is needed in video games.
  • Japanese Video Games (Score:3, Informative)

    by sesshomaru ( 173381 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @02:56AM (#30554570) Journal

    Many, many Japanese video games have pretty strong religious elements in them. I mean Shinto religious elements.

    A good example recently is Ju-on, the Grudge [wikipedia.org], which is loosely based on an old Shinto legend [wikipedia.org]. (Variations on the supernatural grudge theme show up in a lot of Japanese cartoons or "anime.")

    Even way back in 8-Bit days, the Shinto story that later inspired The Ring [wikipedia.org] was used in a video game called Monster Party. [wikipedia.org]

    Oh, and of course, Shinto shrines play a role in Shenmue. Like the shrine where you find the cat, and Ryo will actually do a small devotion at the shrine in the house if you "use" it.

    I could go on and on here, but I think it would be a bit shocking for games made in another country to include an alien religion, like Christianity is in Japan. Even Japanese games that include Christianity might not quite get it... it might be used the way Western games use pagan religious elements.

    Well anyway, for more information on the Shinto religion, consult your local library!

  • by AlgorithMan ( 937244 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @05:21AM (#30554890) Homepage
    maybe the problem is that religious games (I don't know even one counter example) focus to much on conveying the religion and to little on stuff like A STORY, or GAMEPLAY... they're like most educational games, they just AREN'T FUN TO PLAY.
    http://www.cinemassacre.com/new/?p=3878 [cinemassacre.com]
    http://www.cinemassacre.com/new/?p=4069 [cinemassacre.com]
  • Dragon Age (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rpillala ( 583965 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @09:44AM (#30555452)

    There are issues of religion brought up behind a thin veil in Dragon Age. The different countries of medieval Europe are represented, as well as shoddy treatment of Jews (read: elves.) In addition to this, there is a powerful church organization that some people think is too oppressive. There's even the legacy of the Roman empire and I think the Babylonian captivity is mentioned.

    I didn't see Dragon Age in the article, but this is because the game isn't really about these things. They are incidental, and can occupy as much or as little time as you like. Your NPC companions in the game sometimes get into religious debates with each other, depending on your squad selection.

The solution to a problem changes the nature of the problem. -- Peer