Friday, March 28, 2014

Where Are The 'Religious' Games?

For those who follow me through Facebook, you may have noticed a post that I'll be hosting a panel at A-Kon this year titled: The Mythology and Mythos of Final Fantasy. Being a FF nerd, it should not be surprising I would choose that series to start with. But my interest is mostly in the mythology and mythos aspect of the games, and as I continue to research and prep for this panel, I'm finding very few games integrating current religions without overlapping others or twisting their origins to fit the game's parameters. There are very few games that focus on one religion, and if they do they tend to be "religious" games reenacting scenes from the Bible or the Qur'an. Wait, have they made one for the Qur'an? Google says no, but there are a few Christan games like Captain Bible in Dome of Darkness. Okay, so not a retelling of a bible story, but it's along the lines of what I'm looking for. Games that focus on one religion, whether it be a real-world variant or one completely made up for the world the game resides in, and developing stories from it.

Why am I interested in this topic? Why have religion involved in games at all? Well if you're an Atheist, you can easily argue that all religions are stories and could easily fit within the framework of a video game and re-purposed. But according to the Washington Times (not the Post, sorry) in 2012 84% of the world's population have faith and practice some type of religion. 84%! That is a lot of video game potential! So why are there less then 2 dozen "Christian" games available? Why can't we find one about Buddhism, Hinduism, or even one for Atheists?

Well my interest is stemming from the research I have been doing with Final Fantasy and the types of mythology they employ in their games. In that THERE IS SO MUCH OF IT. FF draws heavily on multiple religious and mythological influences to create it's parts that it almost clouds the original origin of those pieces. Shiva, "the Destroyer" in Hindu religion, is now best known to gamers and a lot of non-gamers as the Ice Queen from Final Fantasy. Carbuncle is a red precious stone (also the name of a boil), is a Latin American creature believed to terrorize the living for any sins they have committed. Now? It's a fuzzy green rat with a red gem on it's forehead. The emotions that these beings were meant to evoke in a video game have been diminished by their use over time. In turn, the spirituality that they bring into the story also fades because they are no longer seen as representations of Gods and Deities. Instead they are Ice and Fuzzy Rat.

Now I've typed all of this not as an argument against the use of multiple religious and mythological icons in a story. They provide context and understanding in situations that may be difficult to accept. "What this message we want to get across in our story?" Throw in Diablos and you know the focus becomes 'death.' And it has allowed so many of us to learn about different cultures through these religions nods. How many of us have gone online to look up where "Doomtrain" came from? Or how about The Chantry from Dragon Age? Or sought out a copy of 'Dante's Inferno' after playing Devil May Cry? These icons, names, places, all serve well with video games no matter how they are developed and portrayed to the audience. I'm completely fine with brand new religions being introduced into the sphere, because sometimes our real-world religions are just not enough. They need to take stronger, or more lenient, standards in order to make 'this' character more like what they want to portray. (I'm dancing on the lines of morality there.)

I find it interesting that there as so very few focused solely on one religion or a retelling of one tale. Untapped market. That's all. I could go on for pages, but I'll leave it here. New things to think about!

But if you want to keep going, Inglorious Gamer did a piece on the history of religion in games last year. Again, the focus is more on the little bits and pieces that make up a game's story, or the hidden gems of mythology, but not games specifically focused around a religion or a bevy of them.

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