This is the second part in a set of posts about LGBT and Religion in Video Games. To check out the first part, click here.
While LGBT themes have been slow to appear in the mainstream of Video Games, Religion in Video Games has pretty much been there since the start. Simulation Games (or Sims) have always had a shade of Religion. A good example is Civilization, which puts you in command of great ancient races, such as Egyptians (watch your community flourish when you build a temple!) Romans or Aztecs. This game was made in 1991, and has become one of the most popular strategy games of all time (complete with 5 sequels, a board game and more!). What Civilization didn’t do however, was focus on religion. Religion was a bi-product, just another thing you could add to make your city more successful. The first real connection to religion came with the advent of the ‘God Game’ genre.
‘God Games’ are a type of game (usually a simulation game) in which the player become a deity and takes control of either a city, a race, or the entire planet. Here a player can be either good or evil, a tyrant or a shepard. The first game of this vein appeared as early as 1989, with a game called Populous. While this is one of the clearest examples of religion in games, it is also the most fantastical, or unbelievable.
You can watch the second part here.
Very recently, with the release of popular game Bioshock: Infinite, the debate on Religion in Video Games has heated up. In the opening sequences of the game, the player travels to an unknown city where he must be ‘baptised’ to gain entry. There is no other option for the player, no choice to not do this – except of course, to stop playing. But that’s exactly what has happened. An American player made news when he asked for a refund on account of “The player is forced to make a choice which amounts to extreme blasphemy in my religion (Christianity) in order to proceed any further – and am therefor forced (in good conscience) to quit playing and not able to experience approx. 99% of the content in the game.”
When Gaming news website Kotaku spoke to the player, he said “The difference here [to other religious games] is that you are forced to make a decision that violates those beliefs in order to continue with the game – which is not something I have run into very often.”
While many games feature elements of religion; names, aesthetic elements or mythology, it seems that very few of them actually interact in a realistic way, or a modern way. This is probably one of the reasons that Bioshock: Infinite caused a stir, and seemingly, caused offence. Gamers simply weren’t used to realistic simulation of religious rites.
Another game that recently made headlines was the independent game Journey which was published in 2012. In Journey the main character is on a mystical quest (or could it be a hajj?) and wears what appears to be a Burqa. The extremely popular game (which scored 9/10 in nearly every magazine it was reviewed by) was assumed to be highly influenced by religion but apparently this was not the case at all.
“I feel that Journey is a very spiritual game. People from around the world ask me if the game has a religious connection. Many religions share an affinity with Journey – this is because many religions partly share a common structure.
Journey is based primarily on Joseph Campbell’s work. He studies various myths and folktales from all around the world making comparisons. He found that there is something called ‘The Hero’s Journey’, which is common to cultures all around the world. Journey, as a game, is inspired by the ‘Hero’s Journey’ structure. Funny thing: I often get people asking about Christianity and other religions.”
So even if a game is not religious at all, do we want to see religion in it anyway? It seems that just like art, literature or music, elements of religion will always appear in the video game medium. There is after-all something universal about faith, about a belief or curiosity in something greater. In my opinion I am glad that games like Journey exist. Even if they aren’t specifically about religion, they bring the conversation around to religion, and show that despite the showy graphics or fantastical plot lines, many games have something to teach us about the world, and in the end about ourselves.