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access_time February 27, 2012 at 11:12 AM in Culture by Andrew Kent

Burning Embers: Violent Religion In Video Games

So today I received an e-mail from the Convergence Media Manager for the News Bureau at the University of Missouri. He wrote an article (and published it of course) about a study that was done at the University that shows that video games often depict religion as “violent and problematized”. Greg Perreault, a doctoral student in the School of Journalism at University of Missouri, did the aforementioned study. Perreault took five different contemporary games (Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Assassin’s Creed, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) and took at look at how religion was depicted in each of the games.

In most of these games there was a heavy emphasis on a ‘Knights Templar’ and crusader motifs. Not only was the violent side of religion emphasized, but in each of these games religion created a of problem that the main character must overcome, whether it is a direct confrontation with religious zealots or being haunted by religious guilt. – Greg Perreault

Perreault doesn’t think that game developers are intentionally trying to depict religion as violent, but merely to “create stimulating plot points in their storylines”. Perreault’s study is interesting mainly because I’ve noticed the depiction of religion in the games but never really put any thought into it. Usually in art, as we all know video games are art, the artist tries to depict what is going on around him/her and show it to you in writing, video, or a painting. (some times they just splatter a lot of paint all over the canvas and call it art) Some times the artist does this for political reasons, to show the people how they view the political atmosphere or how they perceive a tyrant. (as you can clearly see in political cartoons in the newspaper) So, what if game developers are putting their thoughts on a silver platter? If they are, then so what?

I’m not sure about Mass Effect 2, Castlevania, or even Oblivion (I’m pretty sure it was Morrowind where the Tribunal was demonized), but Assassin’s Creed and Final Fantasy XIII do in fact make the church look like the mean nasty bad guy. So, how far are these stories from the truth?

Final Fantasy XIII, if you didn’t already know, is about six ordinary peeps who live on the moon of Gran Pulse (called Cocoon). They get turned into magic wielding L’Cie (basically freaks in the eyes of the Sanctum/people of Cocoon) and have to go off and basically fight the Sanctum (AKA the church). This can be very much likened to how the modern day world operates. There are certain taboos and whatnot that the Church does not indulge in (or so they say) and that the rest of society dubs as “evil”, “bad”, “gross”, or what have you. Homosexuality, abortion, and even sex are some hot button issues in today’s world that have people at odds with one another. In Final Fantasy XIII, you can view Lightning, Snow, Fang, Vanille, Hope, and Sazh (when they are L’Cie) similar to the taboos we have today and the Sanctum wants them or anyone who has even touched them purged and placed on Gran Pulse. Think about it, doesn’t the Church just wish that homosexuality would go away? They even try to “pray it away” or set up clinics to help people get rid of their gay. A more humanistic, albeit still psychologically unhealthy, approach but still an attempt at purging nonetheless.

In the Assassin’s Creed series you are part of an organization of Assassin’s who are fighting against the actual Roman Catholic Church and the Knights Templar. Let’s take the Piece of Eden called the Apple into consideration. This artifact allows you to control people’s wills and make them act however you want them to act. The Church wanted to take this power for itself and make it so that everyone followed their dogma and lacked the free will they were born with. While we don’t have such an artifact in real life (and hopefully there never will be) people do have a way of “inviting” you into their religion. Do you recall Blood Mary? She was also known as Queen Mary I of England, and a very religious Catholic. She was given her title of gore because of her persecution of Protestants. Mary wanted to reconcile with the Catholic Church and so the Catholic religion had to be re-implemented into England. It’s unfortunate but to “persuade” people to she used her own artifact, the gift of fire, to burn anyone who would not convert to back to Catholicism. This is an extreme example and not the only religion to do something so extreme but since the Catholic Church is portrayed in Assassin’s Creed I thought it would be fitting.

However, the question still remains as to whether the developers meant to put this propaganda into their games for entertainment’s sake or to get a point across. I think that it’s possible that Final Fantasy XIII was intentionally made to criticize religion but Assassin’s Creed on the other hand is somewhat based on real historical events and so could possibly just be using the Catholic Church as an enemy of the Assassins as a form of entertainment. Either way, you really don’t know until you ask.

Let me get back to a question I posed earlier. If game developers are placing their thoughts on a silver platter, then so what? Is it a terrible thing for someone to do? After all, these developers have the right to produce whatever content they please, but within reason. Is this any similar to the rumor awhile back flying around about cops being shot in the Darkness II? In my opinion, I really don’t think  that it’s a crime to voice your opinion, let alone voice your opinion against religion. Video games are art, and the opinions of the games or developers are just that, opinions. Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Assassin’s Creed are, in essence, fairy tales that you play out and enjoy. What you take away from the video game, if anything at all, is a different story. The developers are not trying to force you to believe in their beliefs, rather they are trying to show you how they view the world in their own way. That is, if the game developers made religion the bad guy for more than to just entertain.

What do you think dear readers? What are your thoughts about religion in video games? What do you think about religion being depicted as “violent” and “antagonistic”? Are you offended by religion depicted this way in video games? Comment below and let us know what you have to say about this subject.


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