[MY POSTS MAY CONTAIN LANGUAGE, SPOILERS, AND VIOLENT PICTURES]
For as long as I can remember, video games about the bible have sucked. Also for as long as I can remember, I have been murdering angels, decapitating gods, absorbing souls to power up my swords, and becoming an overall threat to the very cosmos themselves. Thanks to games like God of War, Bayonetta, Dante’s Inferno, Devil May Cry, and Darksiders, I have taken what was once sacred, mashed B repeatedly, and beat it to death with its own limbs. Is it just me or am I sensing some hostility towards religion in gaming? Or have we begun creating new stories that treat religion with tolerance?
Long before I was old enough to even know who Nietzsche was, I was beating Grandia II on the Dreamcast and (*SPOILER ALERT*) when I got to the end of the game, god was dead. Valmar had killed him long ago, and I had spent 30-40 hours on a quest to save god and stop Valmar. But instead of the anger of being lead on a fools errand, I was extremely pleased with such a shocking twist and the feeling of power that I had to defeat what god could not.
Now before I continue, I should note that I have beaten all of the games I am referencing (aside from one that isn’t out yet) and I am informed on what I am saying, not simply some outsider looking in. I also belong to no faith or religion, so this isn’t some pamphlet I am trying to get you to read that ends with “Jesus”. But what religion and mythology hold for us are amazing stories, sometimes filled with drama, action, and hopefully a lack of QTE’s. We are getting closer to combining impacting stories in gaming with religion. Or are we?
God of War. Oh wow, where to start. God of War takes once religious deities turned myth and then turns them into a forensic detectives worst nightmare. “What do you mean the evidence points to his head being torn off with bare hands and used as a lantern?!”. But unless you are still offering tribute to Mt. Olympus and placing coins on the eyes of your dead to make sure they cross the river Styx, God of War can only offend your taste for unnecessary violence. Sometimes it achieves what many good games try for; total immersion. When it does, it can actually feel as if you are murdering gods, and depending on your stance this could be troubling. I personally loved God of War, and the story writing is done in such a way that made me want to murder all of the lying, cheating, down-right nasty gods. Judging by how many sales God of War made, a lot of others enjoyed murdering Hercules, ripping gorgons heads off, and beating Zeus to death so many times it is silly. Maybe it is necessary for us to take a new format and kill everything first before we can get the truly moving stories. Shakespeare’s first tragedy was Titus Andronicus and was the equivalent of a teen slasher movie, meant to mirror the revenge stories of his time. It also, was quite successful.
Devil May Cry took a different approach to the concept of angels or demons by putting you as a demon yourself. The story can be hard to follow as DMC3 is the first game story wise, then comes DMC1, then DMC4, and finally DMC2. Forget what you heard about Dante and Virgil being intellectuals touring hell in Dante’s Inferno. This time around they are snappy-dressed show-offs bent on…… Wait, what is their goal again? Kill everything that has wings or horns! The name itself is a play on the phrase ‘Devil may care’, which sums up the game (I lose the game) nicely. None of the characters cared. This game is just for shits and giggles. It was a step in the right direction, moving away from shallow but gratifying murder and attempting to give a narrative and create a new environment for the elements of religion to play around in. Still though, I can’t shake the image of Dante surfing on rockets while throwing out one-liners. Devil May Cry opened up new arenas for religious motifs to do creative battle, but its greatest strength in being free has been its greatest weakness in that it can’t be looked at as a serious story. That said, I enjoyed the Devil May Cry games and I am a fan to the point of crying foul over the new reboot and a lack of a second Nero helmed game.
Someone must have heard me, because soon after we got what looked to be a literal adaptation of Dante’s Inferno…. with a giant scythe. And… he’s stealing peoples souls to power… up… his scythe. Wait, what the fuck?
We can’t get away from violence it seems, but EA’s take on the classic did manage to take the nine gates of hell and vividly recreate them for us to enjoy. Given they took a few liberties, but the original concept of Dante exploring the nine gates of hell with religious and sometimes venomous allegory still applies, except that Dante is given a more direct reason for entering hell other than enlightenment. Although they missed the mark on Beatrice and she has to be saved by our dashing hero, in typical cliche fashion. Bad EA. You go ruin parts of classic literature outside, with the other bad dogs. Although with a darker tone, and at least an attempt at the preservation of the original text, Dante’s Inferno should be applauded. Two steps forward and one step back.
Why can’t we stop murdering everything religious? Maybe Darksiders can tell us, since we play as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. One of gods chosen servants, surely we will right the wrongs done to religious figures everywhere. After I finished ripping the wings off the 80th angel, I realized this would not be the case.
It was awesome to ride a horse that literally left a blazing trail everywhere we went and with a single tap of a button, hack off any foolish demon or angel that got in my way. But even with a horse that’s on fire, it still felt like I was beating it to death and beyond. The all too common trope of “God isn’t here so we angels are taking matters into our own hands” also doesn’t do much for the story. Darksiders did finally do what I had hoped for though, in that it took direct elements from the bible and incorporated them into a great adventure. I visited heaven, I found the garden of Eden and sought enlightenment, and broke the seventh seal that sounded the return of Satan (“the destroyer” in this game). But I can’t get over the fact that you are put in a third-party position, simply so that you can murder all of the angels and all the demons with out guilt of affiliation.
And then came Bayonetta and I thought developers had just given up trying, at least in regards to story. Let it be said that Bayonetta is one of the favorite action games with some of the most jaw-dropping set pieces I’ve ever played, with quirky music, and a wry sense of humor. But, man oh man. You will decapitate angels with a guillotine, rip them apart in a torture rack, spank them (what’s worse than humiliation), eat them…. with your hair (Yes, I am serious), lock them in iron maidens, and steal their halos to buy things in hell with.
But it isn’t all bad. Finally, they give you a definite side to fight for. You are a witch and fight with demons to stop god and the angels from bringing peace to the world. Oh……… Although, to be fair, the angels picked a fight every five minutes and didn’t seem very peaceful. So you fight as the “bad guys” in this game, but it’s a step forward. In artistic works there isn’t always a right side and when there is, it can be more meaningful to play as the “wrong side”.
So where are we now?
Coming up are two games I actually wanted to touch on. El Shaddai; Ascension of the Metatron and Asura’s Wrath.
El Shaddai; Ascension of the Metatron seems to be doing things right. Created by a team of developers who were part of the Devil May Cry team (looky, looky) and Okami (amazing game), it is an action platforming game that uses the apocryphal book of Enoch as inspiration. You play as a priest on a quest to stop a flood from destroying mankind, with help from angels. It’s colorful, strange, and the action is interesting. You must steal weapons from your enemies, purify them, and use them to your own advantage. There seems to be no gratuitous violence or blood for that matter, with damage being shown through your armor breaking. Studies have shown that inclusion of blood in entertainment is not related to how much we as people enjoy a film or game. Even if you die, you are given extra chances to revive by mashing a button.
Quite frankly, this could be the first respectful take on a biblical subject that doesn’t suck and could appeal to modern gamers. The book of Enoch is filled with dream visions and it looks like El Shaddai will be embracing those elements and giving gamers unique and exciting experiences through that idea. There is a demo out now you can play, but the game won’t hit shelves until the end of July.
So we are finally here?! We have learned to respect each others ideas and incorporate them in ways we can all enjoy?! Oh wait…..
Asura’s Wrath. Watch the trailer and then we shall continue.Please enter the url to a YouTube video.
Watched it yet? Looks like God of War, except you are trying to kill Buddha and other elements of eastern religion. It all looks like it is done in over-the-top DBZ fashion, and I personally can’t wait to rip Buddha a new one. Now at first glance this sound extremely dangerous in a world filled with lawsuits and crybabies, and it also sounds like we are taking a step back towards killing all religious symbols (just more eastern themed this time). Wahhhh, my coffee was too hot and I burned myself. Wahhhh, the zombies in RE5 are black, that must mean it’s racist (it couldn’t possibly be because they are in Africa….). Lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits.
You know what I’m talking about. But when you realize that in Hinduism, Buddha isn’t actually sacred, and what is or isn’t holy quickly becomes a grey area. Buddha is venerated, not sacred. When something is venerated, it is held in great respect because of its history and associated events, in the same way your grandparents wedding rings could be venerated, but they are not sacred. There is no deity involved with Buddhism, so in the end, punching video game Buddha seems disrespectful, but not blasphemous. Or is it even disrespectful? Read on.
The main character looks like your typical badass bent on destroying all that is religious. But what exactly is Asura? Just a name Capcom made up? Nope. In Hinduism Asura’s are hell-bent on destroying deities. They are power hungry, filled with rage, and extremely jealous of higher gods. In Buddhism, they are the lowest ranks of deities, sometimes known as demigods or antigods. Rebirth as an Asura is considered to be on of the “uhappy births”. Being an Asura means you are at war within your own mind and you don’t have the proper tools to deal with violence without resorting to violence.
My point is that where Kratos, from God of War, was designed solely with the purpose of being a god-killer who never existed so that we can enjoy the blood sport of it all, Asura’s are actual religous canon that actually desire to kill gods. An Asura would definitely punch Buddha in the face. Capcom hasn’t twisted anything, and I imagine when the game gets closer to release that the floodgates will open and we will hear undeserved cries of blasphemy.
So it seems we are moving forward in creating video games with religious subtext. Gaming is a new medium and possibly the best we currently have. It is good to see we are moving away from the petty hate that we’ve been mixing in with games and turning them into more cohesive stories that we can all enjoy. Movies and video games are the modern myths of our age and it is our right to be concerned where they are going as they will affect future generations for ages to come.