Editor's Note: Parting the Digital Sea

Parting the Digital Sea

Videogames usually do a neat sidestep around all things religious. But they do love to engage in one religious concept - hell. Yes, it's safe to say that, against all odds, Hell is gamer heaven.

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I'll admit off the bat that it is possible for designers to make 'hell games' interesting and deep. However, (and it is a large however), most of the time it seems like a 'get out clause' for improbable/ridiculous plot lines. Whenever I see a game or movie where aliens/nazi's/deamons/lucifer and his spiky minions as the enemies it is usually because don't want the hassle of making them believeable, having a backstory or have the protagonist face any sort of moral dillema. Nazi = evil so when we have nazi's inexplicably trying to blow the world up, including themselves, we need no futher explanation. A hillarious example of this comes from the film industries Hellboy 1 where nazi's, attempt to destroy the world by opening portals to Hell. Why? BECAUSE THEY'RE NAZI'S of course.
Like I said at the start this isnt always a bad thing (Doom didn't need moral choices) but the hell/deamon bad guy has become cliche, they no longer shock like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. We've become desensitized due to over exposure. Religious imagery other than hell has replaced this lack of fear. Many games use faith crazed priests or corruptions of common religious iconography. This defamilliarization is a great way of pulling someone from their comfort zone. Hell and its deamons is being replaced by humans and their abuses of religion. This is good for me as I can't be scared or mooved by a deamon, mainly because, no matter how well they've been done, I KNOW them not to exist. But human's we are real and truly scary creatures.

I'm not sure why, but I expected someone to write an article about how Japanese games routinely co-opt and deploy religious imagery and symbolism in games. The Final Fantasy series, for example, has built a pantheon of supernatural creatures (Espers, Summons, whatever) by mashing up gods from many different cultures. Other JRPGs, such as Breath of Fire II, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Xenogears, actively attacked 'fictional' religions which were nonetheless analogous versions of the Catholic church (see ritual trappings and cathedral-like settings, themes of corruption and evil amongst high priests). It strikes me that Japanese developers are much more likely to approach the line of 'heresy' that Western developers shy away from, which makes these games interesting in their own right.

As the musical "Wicked" dictates "No one moarns the wicked."

It really depends on how figurative people take religion, the more literally its taken the lower tolerant they are to just about anything.

Now as for how hell is used GOW was not to bad I have seen Hades done before and yes it might be cliche but 90% are going to be because that's the brunt of media's allowed writing skill and ability.

IMO hell is a place for demons and those that have been them in life if they can find personal salvation then perhaps they are truly saved but most go there to get better at what they do, torment is just part of training. Heaven would be the opposite a place for souls to polish enlightenment even returning to the mortal coil to refine a part of themselves.

But no matter the scenario or setup most stories are going to go for the lulz because the suits don;t think deep will sale so well....

There's clearly a difference between trying to convert someone and including some religious references in the same way you might include a reference to a TV show from the 70's (Bioshock's use of ADAM and EVE being an example of the later). As other people have said already it's about subtlety and how sensitive the group mentioned are. In the West to a certain extent some aspects of Christianity are in a state of flux, stuck between being associated with religion and popular culture (For example Satan and Jesus are frequent characters on South park).

Games typically can have a mish-mash of ideas from different places and combine mythologies like the tomb raider and final fantasy series have done fairly successfully. The great thing about hell from a creative standpoint is that everyone has a different interpretation of it. From the Greek version (the underworld - where all the dead end up) the Norse (Hel - a frozen wasteland, where those who don't die in battle go) and the Christian (Hell - where those judged to be evil go) to hell entering the popular imagination. The concept already exists in different forms, so it's easy to mould into a new distinct form with out re-treading too much old ground.

If you set a game in New York, players will expect; skyscrapers, yellow taxi cabs, the statue of liberty, etc and you're limited. With hell, you're in essence start with a blank slate. Well...except for fire...and evil...(although sometimes even evil is subverted in place of humour)
When it comes to a simple good vs. evil plot, hell and hell spawn can seem cliché - but often don't because of the creative freedom designers and writers have.

i dont know why people get so worked up by religion

Religion isn't that rare a partner of gaming, but its depiction usually isn't positive. Its also never allowed to be a focal point though, merely a factor. You can have the schizophrenic priest who eats the baby he's supposed to be christening and then slaughters the family, but he can only be one playable character, and even then not the main character. You can have the shootout with a homicidal terrorist in an Italian church, but it must be quick and forgettable. You can find the bombed out ruins of a church, but nothing major can ever happen here. The gaming equivilant of something like Angels and Demons couldn't happen currently - whether this is because of what public reaction would be, or simply because designers are afraid of what public reaction would be, remains a moot point

Share and enjoy

I will!

Although blasting Demons is a fun pastime, whenever I see one fighting I want to know why he/she is fighting. Surely a lowly Imp, who cannot do much more then singe you a little, honestly doesn't want to die in such an ineffectual way for something he doesn't believe in, after all xenophobia never seems to attract fanatics does it? My question is what did that Imp hope to accomplish, what were his dreams? Did he want Promotion, was he trying to escape his comrades when you stumbled upon him, or was he trapped between your weapons and the demons? Questions like this always seem to face the other way for me as well, and it always seems to me that no matter how vicious the demons are, the Angels come off as just as bad, for the reasons of Fanaticism, xenophobia towards the demons, and a trial that comes off as similar to ethnic cleansing, no matter how much they dress it up. This is why I have always loved the Disgaea series, because behind that facade of vileness or purity, each demon and angel had their own personal motivations, their own goals and ideals, their own trials and past mistakes. In all honesty, they didn't seem much different then humans once any pretense was out of the way.


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