So, as you may have heard, a new study out says that video games have a “problematized” and violent view of religion. One thing that probably didn’t come up is the academic who conducted the study, Greg Perreault, doesn’t think games are out to persecute religion, just that they need conflict for their stories and that violence tends to be a good way to generate conflict.
That said, this probably isn’t going to stop the religious types who already hated video games from jumping on the study like lice and waving it around to prove that see, see how oppressed they are!
So, before that fires up, let’s have a little discussion of this study.
#1) The History of Actual Religion in Video Games Is Way More Complex Than Perreault Gets Into, Or Had the Funding To
Video games were defined, for much of their modern history, by the Japanese. Japan’s major religions are Shintoism and Buddhism; Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity pull up the rear.
The result, as any anime fan or current Western resident of Japan knows, is that the Japanese treated Christian imagery a lot like Westerners treat Buddha heads; as something kind of exotic and unusual to decorate our apartments with. As a result, there’s been some…confusion along the way.
But, over time, the games industry shifted more towards Western developers, who weren’t interesting in offending any large swaths of their audience, so religion in general took a back seat. Unless, of course…
#2) Dead Religions Give a Lot Of Video Games Their Plot
Believe it or not, there are still Greeks who worship the pantheon. As you might imagine, the “God of War” games made them mildly upset. Similarly, there were still a few people worshiping the Norse gods who were upset over “Too Human” (or the “Thor” movie, for that matter). The key thing here is story: Sony didn’t set out to annoy some rural Greeks with “God of War”, it wanted to make a rollicking action game, and Greek mythology tended to suit what they wanted to achieve.
Similarly, even games that deal with Christian religion tend to either focus on very specific apocrypha or works that only deal with it tangentially. “Darksiders” essentially depicts what quite a few Christian fundamentalists believe is actually going to happen after the Rapture, although probably one of the four Horsemen kicking ass across the Earth with a zweihander and a scythe doesn’t come up that often. “Dante’s Inferno” is largely concerned with butchering a literary classic, and actually sidesteps most of the Catholicism present in the text, despite it being written by a devout Catholic.