172: Heathens by Design

James Raynor

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I don't see why it really matters, The game designers, artists, etc. made the game. So to answer your question "Who made the world" Well the game designers of course.
 

Robyrt

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This article badly conflates demigods / pagan gods with the Judeo-Christian God, and ends up a total mess.

God games put you in the role of a demigod, who has near-total control over the environment, but also has to follow certain rules and belong to a certain faction. Other games like System Shock, Portal or God of War pit you against a demigod, who appears to have total control over your environment - but also turns out to be limited and factional in the end.

No game that I know of has cast you in the role of an omniscient, omnipotent God - except insofar as that applies to the developer. Similarly, I don't know of any game that pits you against God, without applying some sort of disclaimer to make him less omnipotent than he seems. No conclusions can be drawn about theism/anti-theism in this regard from games, because games don't ask that question.

As far as Mario is concerned, Mario doesn't expect God to save the princess for him - which is exactly what Mario would expect if he were Christian. (Do you see God ending wars with a wave of his hand? No. So why would you expect it to happen to Mario?) So again, there's really no conclusion that can be gleaned from this.

Even God of War reveals the bankruptcy of your plan to kill a god - but that would be spoiler territory.
 

GreatNexus

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I'm an atheist/agnostic, but I'd argue that a game world by its very nature is theistic. I don't think many would be monotheistic, but rather presided over by a pantheon of gods, i.e; the game designers. Whilst they might not be omniscient, they limit the player's choices to a preset selection of interactions they can perform in a structured arena of their choosing.
Portal and God of War display the role of designer-as-god more than many in their linearity of goals and plot. Sandbox games and MMOs might provide more freedom, but it is still tightly structured to provide a cohesive gaming experience. And MMOs have GMs, who are the closest thing games have to the personal gods of Greek mythology; they get involved in the game world, take notes and then make amendments. And lo! upon the 2nd year, the gods released an expansion pack!
Whilst arguments for intelligent design don't really hold water in the real world, no one could really argue against it in a videogame.
 

arrr_matey

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Bionic_Fhtagn post=6.74602.840450 said:
A universe apathetic to the existence of gods is an atheistic universe. I know, I'm an atheist and totally apathetic to the existence of gods.
I think a common mistake made here and in the article is not knowing the difference between atheism and agnosticism.

Atheists say there is no god. Agnostics say we can't know whether there is a god or not, and so we shouldn't bother worrying about it--just get on with your lives.

Seems like an argument could be made that games like Mario are agnostic in that Mario never prays and he relies on himself to win his battles. He doesn't worry about whether a god is involved or not. He also doesn't thank god for his victories, the way NFL players and Grammy-award winning rappers do. If the Mario world was truly atheist, it would outright tell us that no gods exist.

There are plenty of role-playing games where gods do play a big role and we see prayer and worship having an effect. Off the top of my head, the old Final Fantasy games resurrected your fallen players at a church. The Elder Scrolls games give you powers based on which gods you worship (or am I remembering that wrong?) Those games are surely theistic ones, just not based on any Earth religions...
 

The_Spirit_of_Epic

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...wow
hey, author guy? yeah, why not think about what you write first before actually writing it.

alot of video games dont mention about a divine being, so dont just lable if an antitheistic game. And Bioshock, yeah, if you paid attention to the beginging, it did mention a divine being *cough*vaticangod*cough*... excuse me... anyways, alot of this made me think 'hey, just shut up.'

srsly
 

asiepshtain

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Great article, and yet another reason to love Portal, didn't think there were any more ways I could love that game.

Thanks for showing me another one!
 

arrr_matey

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Bionic_Fhtagn post=6.74602.840864 said:
Atheism, in the most narrow sense, could express the affirmation of the absolute belief that gods do not exist. However, in my opinion using that definition is so narrow as to make the term atheist useless as am unaware of any atheist who claims absolute certainty that gods do not exist. In a broader, and in my opinion more accurate, definition of atheism would simply indicate a lack of belief in deities or a rejection of theism.
You've possibly nicked most of that from the first paragraph of Wikipedia's atheism article...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism and I don't disagree with the definition because it's the same as mine. If you say you don't believe in god, then you're saying there is no god. It doesn't make the term atheist useless... it defines it as something different from agnosticism, which is precisely the point.

I know plenty of atheists who believe that no gods exist with the same amount of certainty that religious people believe god(s) exist. As an example, here's a book called "God: The Failed Hypothesis" written by one, with a forward by the Christopher Hitchens who's mentioned in the Escapist article:

http://www.prometheusbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1847
(not promoting the book... haven't read it, just saying it exists along with others like it)
 

Unholykrumpet

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The only thing I can say is...wow. We try to get off the subject of religion, and the writers throw a religion week in our face. Sadface.
 

gametaku5

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Maybe God isn't a liar, when gave free will he really did give it. That means we have the freedom to be good or evil. You take away free will and humans are no longer human, we either become animals or puppets. Most video games show off this fact when the player takes control, who says Mario doesn't believe in a God? He's scared as heck of God because he takes control of body to carry out his will, which at first seems to be for good purposes. To him at least but for us it's simply for fun.

Honestly, why would a fat plumber stay in Mushroom Kingdom or keep fighting Bowser? Mario may be able to fight him by why bother when Mario can establish his own kingdom? Bowser would never attack, you notice how Bowser's only gone directly after Mario 2 times if I'm correct. The first time he was too afraid to flat out fight with Luigi so he sent him on a knowledge challenge, the second time he sent Koopa Troopa's to tie him up at a smart moment, but Peach beat him.

The main characters of the Mario games are the only ones who know God exists, the others are thankfully ignorant of his existence, otherwise we'd have Sim style games about Toads.

Fixed part of this, words disappear when I type because I skip over them without knowing it. I looked at it from the games stand point a bit more literally because when we play games we literaaly do take control of the characters. In RTS's we command them, but in a platformer we hijack their body and go on a ride.
 

Skarvey

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While I agree that these new God games do not necessarily simulate in any faithful way the feeling of being a God, I would point out that I dare anyone to find a game that faithfully simulates the feeling of being anything. There will never be a game that gives the player a feeling of 100% immersion. Force Unleashed was lauded as practically the closest you could get to ever actually using the force yourself, but that wasn't true. What the designers were promoting was the scope of force usage in the game, and while it was an impressive amount of powers and advancement and combos, I came away from the game wishing I could've done more with the powers. The problem of placing Gods in games is that we have yet to find that perfect medium. Either they're there and they're playing a significant character role in the story, or they're not there at all. There needs to be a mid-ground, some role in the game that God's can fit into that will effect the way we as gamers play the game in both positive and negative ways, but also act as a transparent prescence. Most importantly, the player must be involved emotionally with these God's, otherwise, we find ourselves in a situation where the gods act for or against characters who just don't care about their existence. Then everything just gets chalked up to the invisible wheel of fate and gods lose their meaning in a game. The closest I've seen a game get to this is in Oblivion, after the Divine Crusader download. But once again, its not perfect mid-ground and I didn't care about the 9 Divine before the download, even though the Gods were there before it. There is a place for Gods in gaming, but as of yet, that perfect placement has yet to be found.
 

Denmarkian

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The premise of this article sounds a lot like the kind of weird insights I get at about 5am after spending the entire day taking in too much information. Just because the player character does not profess fealty to a particular deity, does not mean the entire game universe is devoid of divine interventions.

I would say the argument of games being anti-theistic based on the behavior of the player characters is flawed because you don't take into account the fact that someone designed the game outside of its execution, and therefore would be the allegory of God in that situation. The game designer is tasked with the secret placement of power-ups and health for the character to use to maintain their ability to reach their goal. Just because the player character does not stop to thank God for giving them these things does not deny a benevolent omnipresence watching over the player character's quest, in fact it damn near refutes it.

I don't think it necessary to try and find a "does God exist or not" argument within game worlds because if that's what you're looking for, then you've missed the point of why the game was made. Much like my distaste for listening to film students critique films for their metaphoric meanings, I find trying to define a game as religious based on the actions of the player character in comparison to the rituals performed by religious followers in the real world.

Then there's the whole pantheon/monotheistic debacle when trying to clarify what divine influence is being exercised. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic God/YHWH/Allah is the omniscient, omnipresent, benevolent father figure (unless you do something bad, then he hates you for the rest of eternity) where as the pantheonic Gods of Greece and Scandinavia were more human in their abilities and flaws; they did not know everything, nor see everything, they were constantly fighting with one another or, for example in the case of Zeus, busy impregnating human girls from time to time. They did not watch over every one of their believers and help them toward achieving whatever "plan" was set for them. No, the pantheonic Gods were more an explanation for the occurrences of natural phenomena, the meaning of which was initiated by their actions. You prayed to one of them for a safe journey as you were passing through their domain.

But I think I lost my point, I'm writing a lecture on Gods of the pantheon.

Ah, right.

Because the actions of the player character in game do not mimic the rituals of religious followers in the real world does not forge a good argument for the lack of divine intervention, and therefore the existence of God, in the in-game universe.
 

mnimmny

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This was more interesting as a study in power dynamics within games rather than an argument that games are atheistic or antitheistic.

The author's claim that "most games must take place in atheistic universes and thus are antitheistic by nature. It is clearly better to play a videogame taking place in a world without a god than a world with one" is far too broad. It conflates atheism with antitheism when really all that is implied is that the game allow some free will.

First, the author didn't address games with disinterested gods, most notably the Diablo series or best shown Planscape:Torment's Lady of Pain (who mazes you a few times and then kills you if you keep pissing her off but otherwise leaves you alone).

Second, the author hasn't addressed the idea of a kind of god who has people earn his favor/assitance rather do everything itself. The idea of Mario proving he is worthy of another life by donating 100 gold coins to the charity of his choice is about as far-fetched and valid a frame as is the idea that Mario is atheistic. A more traditional and proper example would be the power progression of clerics in DND games like Baldur's Gate where divine power is granted based on the experience has earned (i.e. the deeds the character has done).

In short, the author forgets "just because you're hung like a moose doesn't mean you gotta do porn"-Kumar. Omnipotence doesn't mean God needs to do everything and giving the player some "free-will"/control doesn't outright contradict the existence of an omnipotent God (really anymore than it does in our daily lives).

The author makes a somewhat better point in terms of god games. Yes, in a god game you have limitations as to what you can create and do, however you made the choice to stick to those limitations. In civiliation the idea isn't to be God without a context, its to be God to a certain civilization in conditions roughly simulating our world and its history. Another farfetched argument here is that these do not necessarily need to be taken as theoretical limitations on god. They can just as easily be taken as self-imposed limitations chosen by god that the game designer has derived from historical and worldly contexts.

Finally, the author, in explaining games which thematically have rebellion against a higher power, conflates power with godhood. A totalitarian government is not god. A tyrant is not a god. Neither should Gladdos or whoever is the foozle in bioshock or any other game be necessarily considered God.

Holes in the author's individual examples aside, I still fail to see how the absence of God or gods in games might make them all better.
 

Simski

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gametaku5 post=6.74602.840981 said:
Maybe God isn't a liar and when gave free will, he really did give it. That means the freedom to be good or evil, you take away free will and huiman beings are no longer humans, we either become animals or puppets. Most video games show off this fact when the player takes control, who says mario doesn't believe in God? He's scared as heck of God because he takes control of body to carry out his will, which seems to be for good purposes to him, but for us it's simply for fun. Honestly, why would a fat plumber stay in Mushroom Kingdom or keep fighting Bowser? mario may be able to fight him by why bother when Mario can establish his own kingdom? Bowser would never attack, you notice how Bowser's only gone directly after Mario 2 times if I'm correct. The first time he was too afraid to flat out fight with Luigi so he sent him on a knowledge challenge, the second time he sent Koopa Troopa's to tie him up at a smart moment, but Peach beat him.

The main characters of the Mario games are the only ones who know God exists, the others are thankfully ignorant of his existence, otherwise we'd have Sim style games about Toads.
Please tell me you're trying to be confusing on purpose.
I read that 3 times and I still have no bloody idea how you think that makes sense.
 

gametaku5

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Short and simple, When we play Mario games we're God. when we make him run through the level we take away his free will by controlling Mario. What would you think if someone controlled you the way we control mario or even if you were controlled the way Psycho Mantis controlled Meryl?

It was a rebuttal to the article which claimed that Mario by design doesn't know god exists and may be happier for it, but I believe it's the opposite. Mario knows and hates it but knows that he can't fight it.
 

aaron552

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I don't actually think games are anti-theistic in general. D&D based games have gods by necessity. These gods are both benevolent and malevolent. Many most RPGs have "gods". Even Ocarina of Time has gods (the goddesses)
I think the author's gone out on a limb a bit here...
 

broadband

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ZeroMachine post=6.74602.840399 said:
First, just want to say:

Lvl 64 Klutz post=6.74602.840375 said:
I doubt a world filled with conveniently placed coins, mushrooms, and power stars is entirely devoid of some omniscient force.
Priceless XD
QFT
 

The Rogue Wolf

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mnimmny post=6.74602.841058 said:
The author's claim that "most games must take place in atheistic universes and thus are antitheistic by nature. It is clearly better to play a videogame taking place in a world without a god than a world with one" is far too broad. It conflates atheism with antitheism when really all that is implied is that the game allow some free will.
That's pretty much the sum of my take on this article. Mr. Burch seems to take a great deal of liberty in extrapolation- non-theist designs are suddenly anti-theist, absence of direct visible intervention is proof of the absence of God, etc. And this is coming from a serious fence-straddling agnostic. This article seems to ascribe a lot of philosophical depth to a portly but athletically gifted plumber from Brooklyn... probably much more than it should.