Daily Reaction: Religion in Games – Should Anything be Taboo?

December 12, 2012Written by Sebastian Moss

Leading up to Christmas, the Daily Reaction duo of Seb and Dan take the latest addition to the Twelve Days of Christmas song and write about it. Today, it’s “two turtle doves”, so we’ll discuss religion in games and whether anything should be off limits.

Seb: God, it irritates me how sensitive some people are, especially when it comes to games. Games are just a medium of entertainment like movies, books and paintings, and should be treated exactly the same way. If a game wants to discuss religion, it should definitely be able to.

Of course, just like with any medium, some rules have to apply. A game that says it’s an accurate depiction of the bible, but isn’t is flawed. But if it openly admits to being satirical or aggressive, then fair enough. Games aren’t edgy enough, mainly because the second they do anything outside the norm they’re branded racist or insensitive.

We’ve seen a huge rise in TV shows tackling the very touchy subject of terrorism, but often they try to show both sides of the story. In Homeland, Brody is, in many ways, a terrorist, but you’re meant to sympathize with him, you’re meant to understand his side of the story.

Imagine the outrage if there was a game about that? There’d be shock, boycotts and public condemnation. It’s the same thing that happened with the hot coffee mod in GTA. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal as a hidden extra on a DVD.

As long as the game doesn’t downright teach you how to build a bomb, then anything should go. There are many reasons to criticize religion, and numerous books, TV shows and films do that, but no major games. Equally, there are pro-religion books, TV shows and films, but no major games. El Shaddai is the only religious game that comes to mind, and it rocked.

I want both, I’d love for there to be more political, more thoughtful games, even if I ended up disagreeing with a lot of them.

Dan: The real issue behind the lack of depth found in our medium is that a significant portion of the general audience lacks any real ability to form original thoughts. Whether it be from TV, movies, books, or even games, the ability for a person to derive some meaning beyond the initial brain fodder is sadly a rarity.

Religion is, in most cases, a series of events that supposedly contain messages about life. Yet, the message that is derived from these tellings are in itself someone else’s comprehension or a just mixture of opinions. So, for a game to capture the essence of any religion, it would only be correct to a certain subset, and be anything from misguided to blasphemy to others. Which is the basis for the problems I have with religion, in its inability to recognize the possibility of being wrong, or that someone else might have something better to offer.

This combination of single mindedness to what is ‘factual’ and the magnitude of differing opinions creates a bigger problem for the games industry than most other forms of media. TV, and movies are allowed by most to get certain bits wrong, but will inevitably anger a smaller subsection of the audience. Yet, due to the significantly larger audience for TV and movies, the ability to still turn a profit even if they piss off a small portion of people is still fairly high. The video games industry has a bigger issue in the fact that it is an interactive medium, that gives the player control over the events taking place. Religion is such a big topic that people have been studying each of the depicted character’s actions, that to give someone a choice could in fact change the meaning someone has based their lives on.

Well I do understand why some people take issue with religion being a major premise in a video game, I do think by ignoring some of the more interesting aspects that have happened in theology would be a shame. As it would only leave less possibilities for people from all walks of life to try and understand some of the better things religion might try to convey, or even give us a better look at ourselves.

Where do you stand on the matter? Should games be allowed to do what they want? Or are there some subjects that are just too sensitive? Follow Seb and Dan on Twitter to be imparted with our words of wisdom, or commit holy communion by emailing us.

Be sure to email DR ideas, podcast comments and scripture to [email protected] to go to hell.