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Why is religion used in video game plots?

Video games have become one of the most important tools to convey the great myths.

Video games are becoming more and more popular and are more and more accepted in our society. They have become an integral part of society and reflect various topics of our culture such as history, politics, education and religion. Religion is, just as contemporary topics, a part of games. What’s the connection between games and religion? Since this topic is new it is currently being studied. But why is religion in games being examined?

The answer is clear and impartial. Games contain religious topics. The fact that you can find religious elements in contemporary popular culture (video games) is reason enough to justify the religion-centered studies about the actors and culture. Since there are religious elements in video games, the research in the area of religion are justified.

Video games have become one of the most important tools to convey the great myths. Information technology and electronic communication made games an important instrument to immerse in an imaginary world full of religious norms.

Unlike traditional media - TV or theaters - in which immersion is dominated by the passivity of the watcher by receiving images and sound, video games allow immersion due to the different degree of interactivity.

TV and movies make the watcher empathize with the plot’s protagonist whereas, in digital games, the player feels like being the protagonist: He’s the actor and merges with his avatar, who performs actions and overcomes obstacles to reach his goals in the gaming world.

To better understand the relationship between games and religion, it is necessary to understand the terms game content, game context, game challenge and player capital. That’s the reasoning of Carlos Lima Pacheco in his dissertation “O sagrado nos videogames: uma introdução ao estudo da religião e jogos digitais”.

Game content - are games with the purpose of teaching about a certain religion, or conveying certain characteristics of shared aspects of one or several religions.

Game context - refers to the environment, symbols, rules and characteristics of players and worlds that depict explicit or implicit religious aspects in games.

Game challenge - are challenges that occur in the game. The are presented like rules or commandments from a god, regardless of whether they are good or bad. These commands represent features of a religious deity like creation or redemption.

Player capital - this concepts deals with religious and moral convictions and plots that can be seen from the outside, beginning with choosing the game to the interactions and actions while playing it.

The scientists Tobias Knoll, Simone Heidbrink and Jan Wysocki noticed several religious trends in games in their article “Theorizing Religion in Digital Games”, published by the Institute for Religious Studies of the University of Heidelberg.

  • Real or imaginary religions are used in genres like fantasy, science fiction, historical or modern games to make these fictional world more credible and to make it easier for the player to immerse in the game.
  • Religion is not only used for the construction or definition of cultural identities but also to emphasize the badness of the characters by emphasizing otherness.
  • Religion and religious discourse are important for design as well as perception processes
  • There is a tendency among placers to transfer their own religious identity, environment and socialization into the games. This particularly applies to games such as EVE Online or World of Warcraft. In EVE, for example, candles are used in memory of players who passed away.

Simone Heidbrink, Master of Arts of Religious Studies at the Heidelberg University institute thinks that the game content reflects other areas of life of the player and vice versa. One example would be the increasing number of people who dress up as video game, anime, or manga protagonists at games trade fairs. “Video games are as much a part of media pop culture as literature, music, film and TV, and are therefore one aspect of the environment and identity of many people,” concludes Heidbrink.

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