This piece was first published on Thursday, May 19th, 2011, in Culture Bomb ~

I am very interested in mythology, be it Norse Pantheon, Christianity, Greek Pantheon, Hinduism, Traditional Beliefs (such as those found in Lesotho or Tanzania) or Satanism. I guess this came from a combination of things; awesome mythological stories such as The Illiad or the Sundara Kanda and my complete lack of understanding of people’s belief in it. I suppose I also fear mythology and what it has done, and as Carmine Falcone said, you always fear what you don’t understand. Furthermore, as horror movies/games/books have taught us, we are also fascinated by what we fear.

However, when talking with friends regarding the themes I’d want to see in a mature videogame, the topic arose that this might be a problematic tale to tell, especially if one were to use a ‘real’ god as the antagonist. I was inspired by the Nepalese take on this Hindu Goddess from the ferocious statues of her in Kathmandu not to mention the goats tied to the blood-stained altars before them. Here is a picture I took:

I think you’ll agree, pretty damn scary, what with the several limbs grasping severed heads, a hand, a sword and the whole thing stood on a corpse.

Games have made good use of mythological imagery and themes, often focusing on Christianity due to its familiarity to the major gaming audience. One of the early notable examples is the Doom franchise, where the finale of Doom took place in Hell. Its sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth sees you ultimately destroy the brain of the Icon of Sin AKA Satan.

However, it is not just Christianity that gets the pixel treatment; one notable and brilliant example is Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, based on the Chinese novel Journey to the West and written by Alex Garland of 28 Days Later, The Beach, Sunshine and the upcoming Dredd.

So far, however, the mainstream gaming industry has been hesitant to mix things up a bit by combining other mythologies. One notable example is Age of Empires spin-off, Age of Mythology which pits Greek, Norse and Egyptian mythologies against each other. This, however, utilized mythologies that are not widely believed in, not to the extent of, say, Christianity or Islam anyway.

When a game does dare to challenge religion, in the same way Assassins Creed II does, it feels the need to put a disclaimer every time the game starts.

This is where gaming still has some growing up to do. Why is it that Assassins Creed II needs to put this disclaimer on the game at all? For those of you who want to play it, look away now…

The game ends with your main character Ezio Auditore di Firenze breaking into the Vatican and assassinating Pope Alexander VI. Following this Ezio gains access to a secret vault where he is confronted by a hologram calling herself (the Roman goddess) Minerva. Through their dialogue we learn that a sect of Christians are attempting to rule the world while also trying to prevent the 2012 apocalypse, Minerva is actually a member of the ‘ancient astronauts’ conspiracy-theory race that influenced Humankind; thus Christianity’s version of our creation is a lie. This isn’t even a particularly big element of the game, it’s simply an overarching plot thread that links the series together that we assume will be resolved in the final game.

Meanwhile, in other narrative forms…

 

So this series of books, aimed at children, doesn’t need a disclaimer yet, as Pullman states “My books are about killing God.” Not just a made up God like those shown in The Elder Scrolls or World of Warcraft games, but actually the Christian God. Yet, in the copies I’ve seen at least, it doesn’t have a disclaimer asking people not to be offended. Pullman is overtly preaching of the evils of belief in mythology. Just to reinforce the point, this is a series of books aimed at children whereas Assassin’s Creed II sports a 15 Certificate. Why should they have to put such a disclaimer on a game with a 15 Certificate? I suppose the only answer I can come to is that it is a game. It might actually convey some kind of ideological message, but it is not allowed to do that; that’s the job of books, movies, T.V. and comics. It’s the medium to be scared of, or at least that is how a lot of the media still convey it. Games like Assassin’s Creed II, by being interactive, might make players question the mythology they have been brought up with and that would be a terrible thing. But then, I suppose much of the media is right in its thinking. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I car-jack old women, regularly get in fistfights which result in someone’s head getting ripped off and throw boomerangs at pottery in search of crystals…or maybe not.

by RJ Bayley

Is using religion/mythology in games really that much of a provlem? Let me know in the comments below!
You can follow RJ Bayley on Twitter: @RJBayley
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