Gaming and Religion: Why Not?

megamanAs a storytelling medium, there is no doubt that gaming has come a long way. From the early years of navigating pixelated plumbers on to the revolutionary cut scenes of the late 90’s and finally to the high definition narratives of today, gaming is truly growing up in more ways than one.

While there are those out there that will always claim that gaming is not and can never be art, or that gaming can in no way tackle deep issues, I propose that those people have not been emotionally moved or impacted by a game before. Even though gaming is still an adolescent in terms of its medium, some great strides have been made in storytelling that place video games right alongside some of the best books or Hollywood blockbusters.

This is why it came as a surprise to me this morning when I read an article at Gameplayer titled Why God and Games Don’t Mix. The point of this article was to assert that stories that shoulder religious issues or themes have little to no value in the realm of gaming. According to the writer, games are the only medium that can not and should not mingle with religion. Apparently, games will never be equipped to handle this. I couldn’t disagree with this idea more.

To limit games in such a way is not only a misunderstanding of games that have excelled at quantifying deep human issues, but also a gross underestimation of the possibilities of gaming storytelling. I’m not arguing that games need to be more religious, not at all. What I am arguing, however, is that to say that video games can’t deal with religion (or any taboo subjects) in a meaningful way is to put gaming in a box. I think Fox News has done enough of that for us.

sotcOne needs to look no further than some of the greats in the last few generations to see that gaming is mature enough to handle heavy issues. Games like Final Fantasy X and Braid have shown us stories of sacrifice, love, and loss, while Metal Gear Solid 3 and 4 were dissertations on war and duty. Likewise, Shadow of the Colossus presented what I believe to be one of the most poignant and powerful sermons on death that any medium has shown us in the last few years.

So why would religious themes or issues be out of bounds? Are they really all that different than any other weighty issue? Yes religion is a touchy subject, but our favorite TV shows, books and movies are steeped so deeply in the same stuff, and we don’t seem to bat an eye at their willingness to address these subjects.

As some of his evidence for games and religion not making acceptable bedfellows, the author offers up a couple of examples. Namely, some of the awful evangelical games such as Left Behind. While these games don’t work on many levels, they fail first and foremost as well designed games, rather than just the subject of their content. Sure, the content’s ridiculous too, but the content would be just as ridiculous on any other platform, and that’s not just limited to video games.

Truthfully, there are already many prime examples of games that do the tango with religious themes. And some good ones, in fact. The most recent Prince of Persia game, for instance, was all about the battle of good versus evil, with Elika being a practitioner of a faith that sought to banish the dark lord Aruman. Throughout the game, the Prince and Elika get into discussions about Ormanz, the god of light, and whether or not he truly helps his followers. Why should she keep believing, the Prince asks, when no help seems to come to them?

acLikewise, Assassin’s Creed even deals with a league of assassins at war with the Templar Knights, and takes place in Jerusalem at the time of the Third Crusade in the Holy Land. If that’s not a touchy subject, I’m not sure what is. Assassin’s Creed pulls the narrative off surprisingly well, even incorporating events from the Bible as well as a device that creates miracles.

I think Halo is another strong example of a game shouldering the religion boulder fairly well. Not only is the game set amidst a total holy war of an alien race against humanity, but it is also ripe with religious symbolism. Referring often to Biblical language such as The Ark, the Covenant, prophets and even the number 7, these things are no accident. While I’m not saying that Halo is some allegory for the Bible, I am saying that these symbols were chosen carefully, because our culture is already familiar with them. Even the old school Gregorian chants that fill the title screens of each game in the series attest to this intentional design.

The funny thing is, the list goes on and on, even more than you might realize. Final Fantasy X, Xenosaga, and Indigo Prophecy, for starters. Not to mention the countless stories about faith, forgiveness, redemption and salvation that embody religious ideals without necessarily even being about religion. These are found in stories everywhere, regardless of the medium.

The point is, gaming has been tackling these issues for years, and shows no sign of slowing down in the near future. As the methods of storytelling continue to develop and become more refined, game developers will continue to tell more engrossing and more meaningful stories. Just like any of the other volatile and contentious issues out there, it will be met head on by video games given time, and I believe our pastime is more than capable of handling it with flying colors.

To shut the door on it is to stunt the growth of this medium that we love. At some point, one of these stories will be about religion, just as they have been already in the past. And you know what? I’ll keep on playing.

So what do you guys think about this? Is religion too big of a taboo for video games? Would video games be able to deal with it the same as any other medium, or is it different?

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

12 thoughts on “Gaming and Religion: Why Not?”

  1. This is a very interesting subject for me, as I went to a Christian Private school through Junior high and High school. I got about half way through this post and started thinking “hmm, they better mention Assassin’s Creed”… If you dont know the story of the holy grail, (or other holy artifacts) the game’s story really does shine a really great light on the possibility of the conspiracies.

    Another game I havent seen mentioned was Deus Ex. Easily one of the best stories ever played out in a game; involving the Illuminati, The Knights Templar, etc. In the 2nd, there is a choice between the Church and the Rebels (*spoiler* only later to discover they are the same organization.)

    And of course, it’s impossible to say there arent obvious connections to Biblical themes in Any video game. If you guys havent read any of the Bible and think its all roses and miracles, do yourself a favor and read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Some of the most graphic and horrifying stories I’ve ever read come straight out of the Old Testament.

    P.S my favorite book is Job, in which God and Satan work together. Very controversial amongst people who only read the Jesus stuff and strip verses of their context to sound spiritual.

  2. I’m impressed by this lol, obviously thought it through and didn’t rant on. I couldn’t agree with you more on this, while I probably wouldn’t go out and buy Noah’s Ark for the 360, I enjoy seeing different games protagonists view on faith as well as other subjects. I think Gears 2 even gave a little taste of the Locust’s beliefs lol. To me, Assassins Creed is probably the most religion in a game without crossing the line, it balances perfectly throughout. That was one of my favorite parts of it, it felt like watching The Da Vinci Code while scaling buildings and stabbing people threw the neck lol. I think outrage will be minimal with religion in video games if it sticks on the same track it is, the second a Rock Band game or Sega Superstars Tennis starts having Bible references there might be a little trouble lol. As long as its not disrespectful I don’t see the issue, and there’s nothing wrong with some underlying morals in a video game… in between the killing and stealing

  3. I think that most developers won’t want to venture into the realm of religion – just look at what happened with LBP and its lyric scandal. Also, making religious statements in games is bound to offend some people, and could thus impact sales. Religion in video games is certainly a direction that gaming can, and likely will take, but I’m not sure that it’s something that most developers are ready to tackle just yet.

  4. I concur. Although it would have to take a developer with some balls, because they would have to deal with media struggle and correctness on the subject.

  5. I think that saying “subject X should not be allowd in medium Y, but Z can if it wants” is wrong. It’s censorship and against our freedom of a creative mind. I think that since the wider world views games as GTA or whatever other violent game there is with drugs and harmful messages to children and how they are ‘Murder Education Tools,’ then everyone will bitch about every trivial thing that comes along. Those were all great examples of games though (especially your point on SotC *sniff*).

  6. Religion is in no way too big a taboo. If they are worried about sales being bad perhaps they need only look at how all these games with blood and gore out the ying-yang sell to kids of less than 15. I think it could add some deep things in gaming.

    Example look at GOW2. They put in that one dude ( I dont know his name I havent played it ) with all the tattoos. The developers in one of their movies even said they put him in to try and bring in a RELIGIOUS character and put religion in the game. Dunno how that worked out.

    The setting has to be right though and it may be hard to come up with a good story. I personally think that they can do it. I just think they are afraid more of being labeled by people. You dont want to become that game company that “made THAT game”

  7. Honestly i try to avoid internet threads even ones on respectable sites but this article made me interested. I am a practicing catholic and i would love for a serious narrative involving religion seen in a video game. I don’t know if any of you read the bible but it has some amazing stories and values. If a developer would take some of these idea and adapt them into a game an excellent and potentially powerful narrative could be easily created. it also could create one of the most moving and notable game experiences. If a game were to have that in addition to a solid game i would have to give it game of the year without a doubt. If you disagree how many gave it to fallout 3? that games main story centered around revaluations 21:6.

  8. Assassin’s Creed was cool in that it made the Assassins the good guys and the Templars the evil invaders. Well, that IS true, but still. Also, if game companies are worried about making their game seem like it’s propaganda or what have you, just do whant Ubisoft did and have a disclaimer saying “This game was created by people of multiple cultures and beliefs,” and then get to the story. I like movies, books, and especially games – since games are a relatively new medium – tackling racy subjects like religion, slavery, racism, war, corruption, etc. It challenges the mind and makes you think, and if video games are going to cut through Fox News’ crap, they need to be mature.

  9. I think we can all agree that the problem would not be creating a game BASED on Biblical stories; for example all the gory wars in the old testament. I think the problem would be if they were conveying a message specifically tied to Christianity. I played through the GTA’s without wanting to kill or pick up hookers in real life, and I think people playing through the crusades, or as an Assassin working for the Vatican (Conspiracy!!!) wouldnt feel like they were now supposed to read the bible and find all the good things in it.

    In fact most gamers probably wouldnt even put the two together.

    Aslong as the credits dont say “Go to church now or you’ll burn in hell!” than the game would probably work.

    Anyone remember the games Black and White? You played a God in that game, the people worshiped you. If there’s ever been Blasphemy in games that would send Religious Groups through the roof, that would probably be the one.

  10. “there are those out there that will always claim that gaming is not and can never be art, or that gaming can in no way tackle deep issues”

    Hmm, Bioshock anyone

  11. Great post, very well thought out. I agree that religion and games can mix, but it will take a truly groundbreaking and mature title to set the path for others.

  12. [quote comment=”4557″]it will take a truly groundbreaking and mature title to set the path for others.[/quote]


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