ladycroft142 (User)

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Religion vs Video Games

ladycroft142 | 744d ago
User blog

Videogames get a lot of unwarranted bad press. There’s barely a week goes by that they aren’t being blamed for social ineptitude and aggressiveness, with some even claiming that video games turn us into cold blooded killers. Along with parents and lawyers looking for an excuse for why their ‘oh so perfect’ son is a violent maniac, there is another institution that is seemingly always getting video games in the headlines for all the wrong reasons; religion.

Most recently Valve agreed to give a full refund to a customer after they’d purchased Irrationals stellar shooter Bioshock Infinite from their download service Steam. Why? Because the complaint was made on a religious basis. The offensive scene appears within the opening minutes of the game when the player must undergo a forced baptism. In a letter written by the consumer Breen Malmberg, he states;

"The player is forced to make a choice which amounts to extreme blasphemy in my religion in order to proceed any further - and am therefore forced (in good conscience) to quit playing and not able to experience approx. 99 per cent of the content in the game."

Valve was in no way bound by law to offer Malmberg his money back, but refunded him as a gesture of goodwill and under exceptional circumstances; although there’s no doubt countless others have tried the same tactic since.

Every gamer has had their fair share of games that they’ve been ‘forced’ to stop, due to some aspect of the game they didn't like. If a woman got offended by the fact they are ‘forced’ to visit a strip club in a game, and let’s face it, it’s almost an obligatory addition to most FPS games these days, would they be offered the same compensation? I think not! Like any other entertainment medium there are always going to be things people find offensive and, religious beliefs or not, the fact remains he played a game, didn’t like it and consciously decided to turn it off, and how many of us have done that? Anyone who’s played the abomination that is AMY, that’s for sure.

This is not the first time religion has been in conflict with Bioshock Infinite either. It’s a game that's steeped in religious themes with the inhabitants of Columbia worshiping their ‘Prophet’ Father Comstock, who established the floating city to segregate the wholly religious from the ‘sodom’ below. While initially portrayed as seemingly perfect religious do-gooders, the inhabitants of Columbia are rapidly shown as nothing more than a bunch of racist and oppressive xenophobes. This has led many to suggest that Levine’s masterpiece holds a resoundingly anti-Christian message.

While this may have caused a stir with deeply religious folk, initially the games religious themes were set to be even more offensive. In an interview with Official PlayStation Magazine UK, Ken Levine spoke of changes he made to the game in terms of its religious content; "One of the characters in the game was highly altered based upon some very interesting conversations I had with people on the team who came from a very religious background,"

Levine makes it clear that he did not change the game in order to seek approval, but that he believed the proposed changes would benefit the story overall; “The last thing I wanted to do was change something because it offends somebody, but the thing they pointed out was making it a lesser story”. Still, one can’t help but wonder if maybe his decision was partly influenced by a desire lessen the impact of the inevitable religious outcry.

Despite being the most successful video game of all time, it seems Call of Duty isn’t above being altered because of its religious content either. Back in October of last year Modern Warfare 2 saw its Favela map taken offline when Activision received several complaints from Muslim fans after religious teachings, recognised as those of the Prophet Muhammad, were found in a bathroom within the map. Activision swiftly apologised to those offended, and the map remained unplayable until Infinity Ward patched it in order to remove the offensive material. The game is undoubtedly offensive to others for its glorification of war, especially soldiers who’ve seen combat, but have they received as much as an apology from Activision? It turns out it's okay to offend everyone else, but not the religious types.

Media Molecules revolutionary creative platformer Little Big Planet, one of the cutest most family friendly games on the planet, also managed to stir up controversy with Muslims. Everyone keen to sample its innovative idea of player created content were forced to wait after two lines from the Koran were discovered in the game's soundtrack. Not only did it mean that millions of players were inconvenienced, but it was a costly blow for Sony, who had to withdraw millions of copies of LPB that had already been sent to warehouses ready for distribution. Is it fair that a vast number of players, who do not care about religion, were forced to wait while the game was altered for those that would have been offended?

I’m not saying that every game should depict an anti-religious message or go out of its way to disrespect, but that religion shouldn’t be given free reign over games. It’s highly discriminatory to listen to a set of arguments from one group and not another, yet if developers gave into every complaint they received, be it from anti-violence protestors, feminists or just gamers themselves, titles would be so far from their original vision that they would cease to be recognisable as the same game anymore.

Nowadays, with the internet producing vast quantities of information about games before they are released people can make informed decisions about what games are right for them. If certain players are offended by an aspect of a game because it conflicts with their idealism, then they are simply forced live with it and, as such, the wishes of religious players should not be given special treatment. Developers should not give into their demands so willingly and instead they should learn to avoid games that are going to offend instead of trying to ruin it for everyone else.

Septic  +   744d ago
" Back in October of last year Modern Warfare 2 saw its Favela map taken offline when Activision received several complaints from Muslim fans after religious teachings, recognised as those of the Prophet Muhammad, were found in a bathroom within the map."

Actually, if I recall correctly, it was mainly just one chap who made a video highlighting the issue. He never intended the map to get removed. Also, it was odd how the painting with 'Islamic' text was placed over a toilet but no where else.

" If certain players are offended by an aspect of a game because it conflicts with their idealism, then they are simply forced live with it and, as such, the wishes of religious players should not be given special treatment. "

Yeah but where do you draw the line? Complete freedom of expression without any limits could open floodgates to chaos.
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Sovereign59  +   744d ago
I'm just going to copy and paste my comments from 2 other very similar recent articles:

Freedom of speech/expression must include the right to offend. If anyone chooses to believe in something for which there exists absolutely no evidence to support it, that's one thing, but they can't keep playing the "offended" card each time someone challenges them.
Religion within games as a plot device is fine, portrayal of religions in games such as Halo (Covenant religion) and Dead Space (Unitology) accurately shows how horrible acts can (and have throughout the majority of our own real-world history) be committed in the name of {insert god of choice here}.
The real problem is religion snaking its way into education systems not through classes that are intended to educate our youth on mythology and literature, but rather via the science classroom. This is simply reprehensible.

And back to the old "offended" thing... http://www.youtube.com/watc...

It's true hypocrisy to find fault with violence and or sexuality in video games or any other media and to not take issue with these things even slightly any of the many times that they appear in the Christian Bible.
As Richard Dawkins has written, "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

And to quote the late great Christopher Hitchens, "Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It's our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated."
Septic  +   744d ago
So you started off well and on-topic and then later basically went into a typical atheist rant?

Freedom of expression needs to work both ways and as much as many fundamentalist atheists purport to stand behind the freedom of expression and 'the right to offend', I can imagine their backlash if atheism itself was critiqued in gaming medium.
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ladycroft142  +   744d ago
The article does not promote atheism, I simply wanted to point out that it's highly unfair to change content because it offends religious people and totally ignore those who are offended on a non-religious basis.

I don't think atheists would care too much if they were the object of criticism in a game, but neither do I think developers would amend their content if they were offended, which is also discriminative.
Septic  +   744d ago
I don't know ladycroft, the internet seems to house extremes of all sorts and intolerant atheists are quite common these days.

But I do agree, developers would be less inclined to amend content if it discriminated against atheists (if that even ever happens).

But you have to bear in mind that there are a lot of anti-religious programs and 'documentaries' in popular mediums as opposed to anti-atheist counterparts. Richard Dawkins for example, is one key fundamentalist atheist that seems to enjoy free reign with his documentaries such as 'The God Delusion' and Netflix chooses to feature quite a few anti-religious documentaries.

Personally, I don't agree with Sovereign's view that "Freedom of speech/expression must include the right to offend" at all (or at least a blanket right to it). To me it just strikes me as giving free reign to intolerance and lack of respect.
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Sovereign59  +   744d ago
"So you started off well and on-topic and then later basically went into a typical atheist rant?"

Wasn't a rant, per se, I stated at the beginning that I was simply copying and pasting my comments from 2 other recent articles on videos games and religion.

"I don't think atheists would care too much if they were the object of criticism in a game, but neither do I think developers would amend their content if they were offended, which is also discriminative."

Again, freedom of speech, anyone has the right to criticize atheism just as they have the right to criticize anything else. Not sure exactly how it would work though, the story of a game that criticizes someone for not believing that a celestial dictator created the universe and everything within it and wishes to control every aspect of our lives even after giving us free will... just seems like a story like that in a game would be destined to fall apart but if someone wants to make a game like that, they have the right and it would be ridiculous for anyone to claim that they were so offended that such a game should not have been released to the public.

But anyways, if my views on existence must be defined, I'm more of a nihilist than an atheist.
coolbeans  +   744d ago
Edit: wrong reply
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ladycroft142  +   744d ago
True you're going to get extremists in every aspect of society, but the opinions of atheists should not be any less valid in the eyes of developers.

That's another thing, other mediums get away with portraying wholly anti-religious messages but video games are immediately amended as soon as someone is unhappy.

I agree with you that intolerance and lack of respect is not something that should be encouraged, but if people weren't allowed to voice their opinions in case it offends another, it wouldn't really be freedom of speech would it?
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Septic  +   744d ago
Voicing an opinion and setting out to offend are two different things. Of course, you could offend someone BY voicing your opinion but recently in the media, we have seen some examples of clearly offensive materials designed with the intention to spark hatred being released.

Look at the whole fiasco regarding the movie mocking the Prophet Muhammed. It was clearly designed to offend and incite racial hatred and violence. Then look at the double standard regarding Holocaust denials and the mandatory prison sentence expressing any views supporting it carry in many European countries. Now look at damage the former incident caused. Where do you draw the line?

The freedom of expression should carry a sense of responsibility and it should be reasonable. But the question is, who controls it and what is deemed reasonable.

"That's another thing, other mediums get away with portraying wholly anti-religious messages but video games are immediately amended as soon as someone is unhappy."

Well, Bioshock Infinite wasn't amended. Some chap managed to bag a refund but the content remained the same. Also, the use of Islamic themes in various games probably arose out of ignorance (with the possible exception of MW2 and the painting fiasco) about the seriousness of their 'contravention' so to speak.

What I do think will happen is that, as the gaming medium matures, the industry will tackle sensitive issues such as religion etc more and more. We're seeing it happen right now. There will always be controversy; its human nature after all.

But I don't think the issue is as black and white as many people make it out to be. There are two sides to the story.
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Sovereign59  +   744d ago
Religion does not inherently deserve respect. If I were to say I believed in a giant octopus that lives inside the sun and grants wishes every Thursday, my claim does not automatically deserve your respect and you have every right to criticize it.
Perhaps you've heard of a time during which religion ruled human life and the power of churches was unchecked. Anyone that dared defy and believe anything different was dealt physical harm and often death. People were burnt at the stake. We've come a long way from that and are now able to criticize the very things which we should have always been able to, let's not take a step backwards.
TopDudeMan  +   744d ago
Well, religion in concept has always been about those who are in power controlling the masses. But the thing is that in society now, they've found much easier ways to do that like television, for example. So it makes sense that religion is becoming less relevant.
HonestDragon  +   744d ago
I don't think religion should get a free pass in fiction no matter what. If the topics of racism and violence can be looked at in movies and video games, why not religion? Because it's too personal? So what? People just need to learn that there is a difference between reality and fiction.

Art in all forms is about expression. Whether that expression is to convey emotion, an idea, entertainment, or a thought, it is always meant to have freedom of expression. If we play the double standard with religion and say it's off limits in fiction, then we suppress creativity and innovation.

That is what Breen Malmberg fails to understand. It wasn't Breen who was getting baptized, it was Booker. He let this small moment of lore in BioShock Infinite ruin the game for him. He missed out on the greater moments in the game because he cannot discern a video game from real life. He was lucky that Valve was willing to refund him. I doubt he would have had the same luck with any retailers had he bought a physical copy from them.

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