The study of religion and video games is a subfield of digital religion, which the American scholar of communication, Heidi Campbell, defines as "Religion that is constituted in new ways through digital media and cultures." (Campbell, 2012, p. 3). Video games once struggled for legitimacy as a cultural product, today, however, they are both business and art. Video games increasingly turn to religion not just as ornament but as core elements of their video game design and play.   Games involve moral decision, rely on invented religions, and allow users to create and experience virtual religious spaces. As one of the newest forms of entertainment, however, there is often controversy and moral panic when video games engage religion, for instance, in Insomniac Games' use of the Manchester Cathedral in Resistance: Fall of Man. Concepts and elements of contemporary and ancient religions appear in video games in various ways: places of worship are a part of the gameplay of real-time strategy games like Age of Empires; narratively, games sometimes borrow themes from religious traditions like in Mass Effect 2.
Religion has several definitions. Religions that are organized can be seen as cultural systems, with corresponding behavior and practice. They often have sacred texts and holy places. A religious experience, however, does not necessarily have to be understood through an established religious framework.
Video game developers use religious and spiritual themes to involve the player more deeply in the game. Video game developer Shigeru Miyamoto, who used to play outside as a child, used his experiences and memories of exploring the forest and discovering a Buddhist temple in the design of his video games. Canadian developer BioWare (Mass Effect, Dragon Age) has in its offices several encyclopedias on religion, as well as the Book of the Dead.
The negative portrayal of religions has been criticized.
Religious elements are used in two ways: explicit and implicit. They are seen side-by-side in video games and do not exclude each other. Religion in Mass Effect, for instance, can be understood as an "unseen character".
An explicit reference to a religious or spiritual concept is one that is clear to what it is referring. These can be based upon real-world religions, but also on fictional ones. Stories, motifs and names of characters from religious texts are used as reference points.
Ancient religions and their deities are used in various ways. The religions portrayed are often no longer practiced, like ancient Greek religion. In the real-time strategy game Age of Mythology the player has to choose a "major god", which gives certain gameplay benefits. In Prince of Persia the nameless Prince has to fight Ahriman, an evil deity from Zoroastrianism.
Real world historical religions and events are used as inspiration for video games. For instance, while Assassin's Creed (2007) is fictional, it is set during the Third Crusade in the Holy Land; the player takes on the role of the Assassin Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad and is involved in the conflict between Catholic Christians, Orthodox Christians, Sunni Muslims and Shi'ite Muslims. While these religions appear, they are portrayed in a "sanitized manner".
In the action role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) a civil war is about to erupt between the Empire and the Stormcloaks. The Stormcloaks wish to worship Talos, a human ascended to godhood. The Empire suffered a defeat against the powerful Aldmeri Dominion, an alliance of Elves who have made the worship of Talos illegal. It is up to the player to help in the conflict.
The stories of action-adventure and role-playing games often involve world-saving quests. The player, as the protagonist, takes on the role of the hero. The player character is often destined to save the world, which in itself is a prophecy.
Players and developers use games to express their existential and spiritual feelings. Video games as cultural objects can also provide religious and spiritual experiences, like Journey (2012). Developer Jenova Chen said that "I feel that Journey is a very spiritual game. People from around the world ask me if the game has a religious connection. Many religions share an affinity with Journey—this is because many religions partly share a common structure". Chen said Journey is based upon Joseph Campbell's book on comparative mythology The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the "Hero's Journey" narrative structure.
After the death of Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek Online added two statues in his honor, and World of Warcraft added a non-player character (NPC) based upon Robin Williams after his death. Developer Gearbox Software honored a late fan of Borderlands, cancer victim Michael John Mamaril, by adding a NPC named after him in the sequel. Additionally, Gearbox posted a eulogy to Mamaril in the voice of the game character Claptrap. For their game MechWarrior Online, developer Piranha Games sold a custom in-game unit called a Jenner, honoring the daughter of a player of the game. CAD122,210 was donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. Losing his wife Pauline to ovarian cancer, Minecraft player "GasBandit" built a memorial for her. When players of the online game Final Fantasy XIV heard that fellow gamer "Codex Vahla" was in the hospital on life support, they held a digital wake.
Some religious groups use video games for education. An example is the Christian game Left Behind: Eternal Forces.
Opinions on video games differ from religion and denomination; there are religious groups that use games actively to convert people, while some games are banned for religious reasons. Scholars of religious studies are also studying video games, by looking at the game and to the players and their experiences, with games like Journey Religion is considered a serious real world topic, while video games are an art and entertainment. As such, developers and publishers sometimes take precaution not to offend people's religious beliefs. Religious references in the Japanese role-playing video game series Final Fantasy were originally censored for the U.S. release of the games. It was after the franchise switched to Sony's PlayStation with Final Fantasy VII (1997) that the religious references were left largely intact. Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series show a disclaimer:
Despite efforts from some companies, there have been incidents with religious groups and video games. The German video game rating board USK gave The Binding of Isaac a 16+ rating, considering it "blasphemous".
The game BioShock Infinite is heavily based on the notion of American exceptionalism at the turn of the 20th century, and incorporates notions taken from Christianity to support the game's dystopian themes. One aspect of this was the use of baptism. One developer on Irrational Games staff expressed strong concern to the lead developer, Ken Levine, that the game's presentation of baptism was highly controversial, leading Levine to with the developer to recast the baptism aspect as a notion of forgiveness rather than a religious tenet. At least one player objected to the final changes, prompting them to request a refund from Steam. The scene was otherwise well received by critics as less a commentary on Christianity but on as a representation of themes such as free will, evil, rebirth and redemption that were central to the game.
On October 22, 2008, Microsoft announced that Fallout 3 would not be released in India on the Xbox 360 platform. Religious and cultural sentiments were cited as the reason. Although the specific reason was not revealed in public, it is possible that it is because the game contains two-headed mutated cows called Brahmin, or that Brahmin is also the name of an ancient, powerful hereditary caste of Hindu priests and religious scholars in India, or its similarity to the spelling of brahman, a type of cow that originated in India. Brahman, a breed of Zebu, are revered by Hindus.
The action game Hanuman: Boy Warrior was criticized by Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, for portraying the Hindu deity Hanuman. Developed and published in India by Aurona Technologies, the player controls Hanuman. "Controlling and manipulating Lord Hanuman with a joystick/button/keyboard/mouse [is] denigration", said Zed. "Lord Hanuman was not meant to be reduced to just a 'character' in a video game to solidify [a] company/product's base in the growing economy of India." He urged Sony, the publisher of the game, to pull the game. Sony's regional manager however said that Hanuman: Boy Warrior sold beyond their expectations.
Zed was also critical of the use of Hindu deities in the MOBA game Smite. In response, developer Hi-Rez Studios COO Todd Harris said that Smite would still be featuring Hindu deities, possibly adding more. GameSpot asked if characters based upon Abrahamic religions would be added as well, but Harris said that "the key Abrahimic figures—Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, are not that interesting in character design or gameplay".
LittleBigPlanet (2008) had a last-minute delay involving a licensed song in the game's soundtrack, after a PlayStation Community member reported the lyrics to one of the licensed songs in the game included passages from the Qur'an and could therefore be offensive to Muslims. However, no actual complaints regarding the music were made. The song, entitled "Tapha Niang", was by Malian artist Toumani Diabaté, himself a devout Muslim. The game was patched twice, the day before its release for players who had received the game early, before its intended release date. The first update did not affect the song, whilst the second updated the game to remove the vocals from the track, leaving only an instrumental. Some American Muslims responded to the recall and stated that they were offended by the restriction of freedom of speech. M. Zuhdi Jasser M.D., head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, was quoted as saying, "Muslims cannot benefit from freedom of expression and religion and then turn around and ask that anytime their sensibilities are offended that the freedom of others be restricted."
The fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us was temporarily banned in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Originally, the title of the game was rebranded as Injustice: The Mighty Among Us for promotional uses in those areas. It is speculated that Injustice was banned because of the inclusion of the word 'Gods' in the title, the cleavage exposed in the outfits of some female characters, and overall bloodiness. Eventually, the ban in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait was lifted.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002) sparked controversy due to a level featuring the killing of Sikhs within a depiction of their most holy site, the Harmandir Sahib, where hundreds of Sikhs were massacred in 1984. An altered version of Silent Assassin was eventually released with the related material removed from the game.
A study released by the University of Missouri stated that video games often emphasize the violent aspects of religion. Researcher Greg Perreault said "It doesn't appear that game developers are trying to purposefully bash organized religion in these games, I believe they are only using religion to create stimulating plot points in their story lines".
For many years video games were seen as mere entertainment, a form of "low culture". Playing video games was seen as a form of escapism and the medium was not regarded as a valid object of scientific research. To "play" games as a scholarly pursuit was thought of as "ludicrous". It has only been in recent years that video games have become the object of scientific study. Looking at the game as an object, researchers can explore religious and spiritual references. Video game research is done in two ways; the game can be studied as an object, while actor-focused research looks at the player.
Video games, as products of human culture, can be seen and read as "texts". They carry myths, stories and symbols of the time in which they were created. By "reading" video games, philosophers, sociologists and theologians have the opportunity to study the religious and spiritual themes in video games. This can be done in several ways.
Video games are interactive; it requires input from the player to happen. While a video game developer designs the game, including its rules and story, it is up to the player to make the game "happen". As such, it is up to individual player to give meaning to their experience.
Video games allow the player to think, form and possibly change their own opinion about religious and spiritual matters. Players often discuss these elements on online platforms. For instance, some players made their own version of the player character Commander Shepard of the Mass Effect series an atheist, while others thought of him/her[b] as a Christian. As such, video games also give new meaning to the concept of religion.
Custer's Revenge is an adult video game produced by Mystique for the Atari 2600, first released on September 23, 1982. The game gained significant notoriety due to its goal being to rape a Native American woman.The titular player character is based on famous American Civil War commander General George Armstrong Custer, who is most well known for his major defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn.Following the North American video game crash of 1983, Mystique was unable to stay in business. As a result, many of Mystique's intellectual properties, including Custer's Revenge, were sold off to the adult video game company Playaround. Under the ownership of Playaround, Custer's Revenge was re-branded as Westward Ho and given slight modifications to its original gameplay. These alterations included simple aesthetic changes such as the darkening in color of the Native American woman's skin tone. Playaround also made a version of Custer's Revenge named General Retreat. The game received negative reviews.Office of Film and Literature Classification (New Zealand)
The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC, Māori: Te Tari Whakarōpū Tukuata, Tuhituhinga) is the government agency in New Zealand that is responsible for classification of all films, videos, publications, and some video games in New Zealand. It was established under Section 76 of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (FVPC Act), replacing various film classification acts, including the Indecent Publications Tribunal. It is an independent Crown entity in terms of the Crown Entities Act 2004. The head of the OFLC is called the Chief Censor, maintaining a title that has described the government officer in charge of censorship in New Zealand since 1916.
The FVPC Act gives the OFLC jurisdiction to classify "publications" which include films, videos, DVDs, computer games with restricted content, books, magazines, comics, manga, sound recordings, pictures, newspapers, photographs, photographic slides, "any print or writing", any "paper or other thing" that has images or words on it (including apparel, playing cards, greeting cards, art, store-fronts and billboards), and electronic digital image, text and sound computer files. The OFLC also approves film posters and slicks. Only computer games with restricted content, and all films, videos, and DVDs, must carry a label before being offered for supply or exhibited to the public.
Any person may submit any of the "publications" listed above for classification by the OFLC, with the permission of the Chief Censor.However, the Secretary for Internal Affairs, the Comptroller of Customs, the Commissioner of Police, and the Film and Video Labelling Body may submit publications for classification without the Chief Censor's permission. The courts have no jurisdiction to classify publications. If the classification of a publication becomes an issue in any civil or criminal proceeding, the court must submit the publication to the OFLC. Any person who is dissatisfied with a decision of the OFLC may have the relevant publication, but not the OFLC's decision, reviewed by the Film and Literature Board of Review.Outline of video games
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to video games:
Video game – an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device. The word video in video game traditionally referred to a raster display device, but following popularization of the term "video game", it now implies any type of display device.Reservoir Dogs (video game)
Reservoir Dogs is a 2006 third-person shooter video game based on the Quentin Tarantino film of the same name. It garnered mostly mediocre reviews and caused minor controversies for its violence, being banned in Germany, Australia and New Zealand.TempleOS
TempleOS (formerly J Operating System, SparrowOS and LoseThos) is a biblical-themed lightweight operating system designed to be the Third Temple prophesied in the Bible. It was created by American programmer Terry A. Davis, who developed it alone over the course of a decade after a series of episodes that he later described as a revelation from God.
The system was characterized as a modern x86-64 Commodore 64, using an interface similar to a mixture of DOS and Turbo C. Davis proclaimed that the system's features, such as its 640x480 resolution, 16-color display and single audio voice, were explicitly instructed to him by God. It was programmed with an original variation of C (named HolyC) in place of BASIC, and included an original flight simulator, compiler and kernel.
TempleOS was released in 2013 and last updated in 2017. It was received with largely favorable reviews in tech communities and Davis amassed a small online following. He died on August 11, 2018.Video Recordings Act 1984
The Video Recordings Act 1984 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that was passed in 1984. It states that commercial video recordings offered for sale or for hire within the UK must carry a classification that has been agreed upon by an authority designated by the Home Office. The British Board of Film Classification, which had been instrumental in the certification of motion pictures since 1912, was designated as the classifying authority in 1985. Works are classified by the BBFC under an age-rated system (see motion picture rating systems); it is an offence under the Act to supply video works to individuals who are (or appear to be) under the age of the classification designated. Works that are refused classification cannot, under the Act, be legally sold or supplied to anyone of any age unless it is educational, or to do with a sport, religion or music and does not depict violence, sex or incite a criminal offence. The BBFC may also require cuts to be made, either to receive a certain age rating, or to be allowed a classification at all.
In August 2009 it was discovered that the Act was unenforceable as the European Commission was not notified about it, as required by Directive 83/189 (see now Directive 98/34). Directive 83/189 had to be implemented by 31 March 1984 (12 months after its notification to the Member States). Until this situation was rectified, it was legal to sell and supply unclassified videos and computer games, although many retailers had agreed to observe the regulations voluntarily. Then pending prosecutions under the Act were abandoned, but the government has claimed that past convictions cannot be challenged.In December 2009 the government introduced new legislation, the Video Recordings Act 2010, which repealed and immediately revived the Video Recordings Act 1984, after the required notification was provided to the European Commission in October 2009. This made the legislation enforceable once again, as well as allowing it to be amended by the Digital Economy Act 2010. In December 2014 streaming and on demand services were brought under the remit of this act via the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014.Video game controversies
Video game controversies refers to a wide range of debates on the social effects of video games on players and broader society. Since the early 2000s, advocates of video games have emphasized their use as an expressive medium, arguing for their protection under the laws governing freedom of speech and also as an educational tool. Detractors argue that video games are harmful and therefore should be subject to legislative oversight and restrictions. The positive and negative characteristics and effects of video games are the subject of scientific study. Academic research has examined the links between video games and addiction, aggression, violence, social development, and a variety of stereotyping and sexual morality issues.
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Religion and philosophy in popular culture