Religion & Video Games

At last we have come to the end of February, and the end of concept month. Over the last four weeks I’ve discussed: Violence, RacismRomance and Politics; and how each of these issues relates to video games. To close it out, this week’s topic is Religion. It may not seem evident right away, but many video games have used aspects of religion, at least as a concept to enhance the player’s experience.

Last week, I mentioned that Skyrim featured a civil war and that it allowed to the player to express a political viewpoint. I also mentioned that this war was essentially a religious war, being fought over ban on worshipping a particular deity. This isn’t the only example of religion in Skyrim. There are a set of side-quests that allow the player to interact with some of the gods, there are even temples that allow the player to pray and receive blessings from these same gods. It may not be as fleshed out as the politics, but Skyrim affords players the opportunity to make a small religious statement. This example, however, is looking at religion from a mythological perspective. It looks at the gods and creatures as if they were real, it’s a perspective that both of God of War and Devil May Cry use effectively. This is a cool thing for video games to draw inspiration from, but it leaves out the most interesting aspect of religion; faith.

“Do you have a moment to talk about Jesus?”

While a lot of video games use religion, few of them incorporate the idea of faith. The most controversial example of religion in video games is in Dead Space 2. Dead Space 2 features a cult of radicals who practice a religion called Unitology. They believe that an alien race of mindless monsters called Necromorphs are humanity’s next step in evolution (or something like that). They are a primarily antagonistic faction and are undeniably similar to Scientology (mostly because both charge money for their teachings). While in my opinion this a shallow and clichéd use of faith, it’s still a valid use of faith. It’s completely one-sided and it doesn’t really add anything to the game but at the very least it’s worth mentioning. This example is the bare minimum for using faith in a game. There are better examples, one of them comes one of the most popular video game franchises of all time.

Final Fantasy XIII may be the most polarizing video game ever made. Just about every aspect of this game has been both criticized and praised by different people. Considering the passionate fanbase, the use of religion in Final Fantasy XIII is surprisingly under-examined. The world of Final Fantasy XIII is controlled by gods that are called fal’Cie (pronounced fal-see). Occasionally a fal’Cie will brand someone, turning them into a l’Cie (pronounced luh-see). A l’Cie is required to fulfill a task that is unknown to them. If they succeed they turn into crystal, if they fail they turn into a mindless monster. Depending on the fal’Cie that one is branded by, a l’Cie is either treated as a hero or vilified as a monster and considered less than human. The fear of certain fal’Cie is so great that anyone who even comes close to one is considered a threat and is purged. There’s a lot going here so I’ll break it down for you.

The fal’Cie bear a strong resemblance in how they function to the gods of  Ancient Egypt. There is fal’Cie that controls the weather, one that provides sunlight, one that provides food and so on. To anyone remotely familiar with Egyptian gods, this should be ringing a few bells. The religious prejudice in Final Fantasy XIII, especially the purge, isn’t at all similar to anything that’s happened in the real world. The l’Cie themselves are essentially prophets for fal’Cie, a concept that has been used many times over by multiple religions. The amount of religious concepts present in Final Fantasy XIII is simply staggering.

If only Square Enix had spent some time giving a certain *ahem* character at least one likeable quality.

Final Fantasy XIII features the most extensive use of religion in any video game I’ve seen. The entire world of the game takes several religious concepts and weaves them together into an expansive setting. The six protagonists in the game all react differently to being branded and each has a different way of interacting with their own faith. From this aspect, Final Fantasy XIII successfully incorporates faith and religion into the game.

While it’s been proven that faith and religion have a place in video games, there are aspects of both that have been left unexplored. There hasn’t been a game that has forced the question of faith onto a player, or questioned a player-character’s religion. As a matter of fact, that’s more of less been the conclusion I’ve come to for everything I’ve talked about this month. Video games have shown that they can be violent or political but these are aspects that are just begging to be explored. Video games are still a growing art form, the games of tomorrow that embrace these aspects are the ones we are all going to want to play. It’ll be a lot of waiting before this happens, but we’ll get there. You could say, I have faith.

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About Sam Hale

Autistic, young adult and lots on my mind.

Posted on February 28, 2013, in Game Design and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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