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The God of Pixels

Ever since the early days of video games there have been a large share of people who are convinced that they’re evil incarnate.  Well, I guess it actually started around the same time that Mortal Kombat hit the shelves back in the early 1990s, when a bunch of angry parents watched a digital ninja man rip the spine out of another dude and suddenly began to worry that their kids might try to do that too.  Violence, people argue, is always much worse when kids see it.  The rest of us are well-grounded, down to earth adults, after all.  Everyone knows all violent tendencies stop the moment you turn 18.  It’s just something adults know.

It’s a matter of having “strong Christian values,” that are undermined by these…  red pixels.  Because where, exactly, do video games ever show any of those?

The argument made me think.  How is religion portrayed in video games?  It’s definitely present…  I can remember toppling insane dragon cults and goddesses since Breath of Fire for the Super Nintendo.  But then I remembered something kind of odd with the industry.  There are no, and I mean absolutely no traces of competent benevolent gods anywhere to be found.

Oh sure, you’ll find yourself surrounded by evil cults, ancient gods of darkness, middle-of-the-road annoying sub deities, and of course you can’t forget the Gigantic Apocalyptic Monster That Time Forgot.  But any time a benevolent god or religion is mentioned it’s usually powerless to stop the coming apocalypse, doesn’t care about the plight of mankind (which, I should point out, it’s kind of obligated to do as a benevolent deity), or it’s been reduced to little more than a unique way to save your game in between dungeons.

Bless you my child, but you do not have a MEMORY CARD plugged into SLOT 1.

I suppose the last one kind of fits the bill, but I’m not sure if that’s quite what they had in mind with the “continuing life after death” theme that pops up in Christianity.

I understand the need to remove omnipotent benevolence from games.  It’d be kind of a let down, wouldn’t it?  Nothing like playing through an entire game, leveling up your characters or shooting demons in the face, just to have the big man up top snipe the glory from you at the last moment.  It would be pretty stupid.  A huge cop out.

Of course, you could argue that God doesn’t step in and save the world because that’s not how it happens in real life.  When was the last time God stopped a hurricane or tidal wave from wiping out a society?  Actually, come to think of it, God was pretty into floods back into the day.  Don’t know if he ever actually stopped one.

But, there’s the thing.  Sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen these days.  But last time I checked, there were no infinite dark gods on the verge of breaking through the veil of worlds and subjugating everything to 10,000 years of darkness and bad smells.  We suspend reality because it’s a video game, for crying out loud.

The first time the concept of religion was presented to me in a game was in Breath of Fire for Super Nintendo.  Though the fact that I was actually going against a goddess in that game didn’t really register with me the first time around, what with how poorly Breath of Fire was written.  Actually, I don’t really remember much about Breath of Fire.  Something about keys to heaven and a giant stone man who accidentally slaughtered some people and then committed suicide in a volcano?  And there were fish men, too?  Huh.

Momma said KNOCK YOU OUT.

At the end of this long, strange journey, you’re face to face with the goddess Tyr, who is actually a pretty decent chick, once you get to know her.  But hey, your sister says she’s evil so it’s time to throw boomerangs at her and turn into a huge dragon for some reason.

Turns out, she was evil the whole time, though they never really explain why.  But that’s okay.  Evil entities are like Nazis:  you don’t have to feel bad for them.

Breath of Fire 2 actually did the religion theme much better, this time moving from cults to an actual established religion, complete with sinister soul-sucking machinery and creepy priests secretly empowered with dark energy.

It’s worth noting that in both Breath of Fire one and two, there is a benevolent Dragon God, who allows you to save your game safely away from the insane cultists and somewhat-evil goddesses.  Though that’s about all he does.  Dragon God’s so uncool you could cook eggs on him.

Prince of Persia for Xbox 360 is another good example.  In it, the god of darkness and, uh, no social skills, breaks free, leaving his re-capture solely to the Prince and Elika, who had the misfortune to be in the area at the time.  The evil god Ahriman is actually one of two gods, his counterpart being the good, kind god of light who is predictably nowhere to be seen.  Elika eventually starts making use of some of the shiny god’s leftover powers, but you never actually see the guy who probably should be doing more to make sure the world isn’t plunged into darkness.  It is kind of his job.

"I've totally got this thing I need to go to, so yeah, you got this one?"

The list goes on and on.  Zeon,demon general or something, breaks free in Shining Force 2 for Sega Genesis.  There is actually a benevolent god named in this one, a giant stone statue named Volcanon, who apparently was instrumental in sealing Zeon away to begin with.  Though, after a ten minute conversation with him, he tells you to take your troubles and stuff it, because he’s on vacation.  You never hear from him again in the game, leaving the demon’s defeat to a mismatched group of heroes.  Ha ha!  Good ol’ Volcanon, abandoning everyone right when they need you the most.

Oh, and for the record?  You save with priests in this game too.  Though they never really tell you which god, exactly, you’re praying to, or why it likes promoting people to different classes who are level 20 or higher.

The ONE game I can think of that breaks this mold is the Playstation 2 game Okami, where you play as Amatseru, mother to the world and, apparently, a wolf.  This still fits somewhat under the theme, since Amatseru was defeated pretty good at the beginning of the game, with her divine powers chased to the four corners of the globe faster than you can say “Metroid tutorial level.”  Just about everything you encounter has a one up on Amatseru…  at one point I found myself getting crapped on, literally crapped on, by a pack of normal dogs wearing bandannas.  Plus, Amatseru has been out of the picture for so long, few even remember her name.  To me, she was less of a god and more of a wolf with a paintbrush.  Cool game, though.

Ahhhh stop it stop it I

Oh, and don’t even get me started on Dante’s Inferno.  I think that game was many things (horrible, for one) but “based on an epic poem it was not. And I spent a lot of boring hours reading that epic poem, so I think I’d remember if he had been chopping people up with Death’s scythe like an underworld version of Rambo.  Again, God might be mentioned in the game, but whether or not he actually lends a hand is something entirely different.

It’s easy to see why video games have been denounced heavily by religions and other groups over the years.  There isn’t much in the way of religious emphasis, errr, I mean positive religious emphasis in the industry in the last thirty years.  But sometimes I think people are unable to look past the fact that they’re not beating you in the face with faith in a higher power, and focus on all the good things we’ve learned from video games over the years.

Namely, dark cults are bad.  Probably should join one of those.  Also:  If you punch a chair and find a hamburger, you should eat it to restore your health before you get to the train level.

Or maybe people should just stop looking at video games as north on the moral compass.

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