Do video games spend too much time emphasising the violent aspects of religion? A study released by the University of Missouri on Monday says so, concluding that video games present religion in a “problematised” way.
In the study, doctoral student Greg Perreault looks at five modern games: Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Assassin’s Creed, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Examining religious aspects from each — like the bloodthirsty Templar Knights of Assassin’s Creed and the silent, death-fuelled prayer of the assassin Thane in Mass Effect 2 — Perreault eventually concludes that there is a link between religion and violence in video games:
What all of these games show, and what should have been anticipated, was the connection of religion to violence. There is a broad literature on violence in gaming. Violence is conflict and drama. And conflict and drama are key to making a good game. As narratives have become increasingly deep, religion has become a part of the stories of the protagonists and antagonists. So the fact that religion would end up being tied to religion is not unexpected. Given religion’s checkered history with violence in reality, it could also be seen as reflective.
The picture presented of religion the analyses shown here is a problematized one. This researcher initially went into this project thinking that organised religion would be shown in a bad light, and it often was, but more individualized ‘unorganized’ religion was not shown to be somehow superior. It would be safe to say that what we do see in these scenes in a problematized view of religion.
While Perreault makes some fair points — religious groups seem to frequently serve as gamers’ adversaries, and who hasn’t played a JRPG in which you have to kill God? — this study is far too limited to make any reasonable conclusions about the nature of religion in games. You could write an entire thesis paper about the religious overtones in titles like Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor or mythology-packed action games like God of War or Dante’s Inferno. It seems unfair to judge the entire medium based on a selection of five modern titles.
What do you think? Do video games treat religion unfairly?