Video games are a powerful medium and they have a considerable amount of influence over the people that play them. Most people see video games as a conveyor of violence but I can assure you that is not always the case. Throughout my considerable video gaming experience I can say that video games cover more than just violence. Sure it happens, more often than not, that a game is designed for cheap thrills or colorful distraction but there are a few rare exceptions that teach us about some topics that are much more substantial. At this particular venture I’d like to get into how some video games teach us about faith and about spirituality. No video game is just going to come right out and teach us how to be more spiritual or teach us that a belief in others is a powerful thought. Video games tend to show us by example whether it is as simplistic as characters preying to gods or whether a town places its faith in a champion to save it, we see some level of these advanced concepts in gaming today.
Faith itself comes in a number of different forms. Faith could be the faith that a captured person has in the fact that they will be rescued. Could it be argued that the Princess had faith that Mario would save her? I believe it could. When you break it down it’s the same faith that we all have in some form or another. Fortunately, video games have gone further to convey faith between its characters. Since spirituality and faith comes in so many forms we should divide the concept into faith in oneself, faith in another and faith in a higher power. Sure we could break it down even further than that but I think this will give you an idea of how games can tackle these subjects and what they can teach us about ourselves in the process.
Faith in oneself is seen quite frequently in gaming. You almost always encounter seemingly normal characters that go on a quest and on that quest develop a strong faith in themselves to overcome the obstacles in their path. You can take an example from just about any game but for arguments sake let’s look at God of War. In God of War, Kratos is a man who was tricked by the Olympian Gods to kill his family and the rest of the story revolves around his path towards revenge. There are a number of times where Kratos loses hope and tries to kill himself to escape his reality. Every time he goes to finish the deed he is saved and talked out of finishing himself off. At that point his faith is restored and the anger and yearning for revenge is reignited. Some may argue that revenge is the only emotion present and faith has nothing to do with it but I beg to differ. If Kratos did not have any faith in himself or his salvation then why does he constantly pursue it? Whenever he is presented with an image of his family he tries to embrace them. Someone without faith that he will accomplish his salvation would not go to the lengths he goes to either bring himself closer to his family or fight so hard to take down those in his path. What do we learn from Kratos and his sense of faith? We learn that though there may obstacles in our path between where we are and what we want, there is always a way around it. No matter what God or entity, desire or delusion he faces, he simply marches on towards what he wants and finds the path that takes him where he wants to go.
Faith in others is another concept that is often used in video games. We see groups of people choose a champion to defeat the evil power that continues to torment them. In this instance it seems like everyone has lost faith but in reality they just entrust it to one person. In this instance, much like faith in oneself, you can choose any number of games that take this concept on but let’s look at Fallout New Vegas. You play as the courier, a man shot and left for dead in the New Vegas desert. A robot finds your body and brings it to the town of Goodspring. The citizens of the town nurse you back to health and ask for your help in quelling the local gang from robbing and killing its inhabitants. You take on the job, kill the members of the gang and the town loves you forever more. Once the people’s faith in the courier was reaffirmed, the entire town goes out of their way to express their gratitude. From these types of games we learn that faith is something we all possess in some form or another and this can be given and taken away at a moment’s notice. We ultimately control who we give our faith to and how much we decide to give. The more faith we put in something or someone the more vulnerable you become. Luckily for the people of Goodspring the faith they entrusted to the courier was well placed but if the courier was more treacherous things could have turned out to be much worse. The morale of this story is if you can’t have faith in yourself be careful who you decide to put that faith in. You never know what someone will do with the power you give him.
Finally we reach the type of faith that isn’t seen very often in video games and that is Faith in a higher power. The games that really focus on this type of faith are usually religious games. It is a sensitive subject for a lot of people and I guess it doesn’t make great video games. However there was one particular game that really spoke to me about this kind of faith and that game was Final Fantasy X. In Final Fantasy X you play as Yuna, a young summoner of Yevon. In FFX, Yevonism is a monotheistic religion which serves as the games dominant religion. As a summoner of Yevon, Yuna has two main purposes. Her first duty is to “send” the recently departed to the Farplane. Basically this resembles the concept of a soul going to heaven after the person dies. The only difference is people in FFX can speak to the recently departed’s “soul” and that “soul” can stick around until they are sent to the Farplane. The game alludes to the fact that the Farplane is a happy place and that is where souls need to be, further cementing the comparisons to heaven. Yuna’s second duty is to complete a pilgrimage to all of the temples of Yevon and prey to the fayth. The fayth are basically the soul of an aeon or a large beast. Once you finish your prayers, the aeon will be able to be summoned and fight for your cause. Placing the video game elements aside, you can see how this takes religious concepts and incorporates them into gameplay. From the concept of a monotheistic religion to the concept of heaven, this game is the ultimate example.
So why is this important? Well it is important because the hallmark of a great game is how the game can appeal to its players. Whether a game goes after your sense of adventure and takes you down a story involving hidden treasure in remote tropical civilization or a game goes after people who like to be scared and shows them scenes or gore and mayhem a game will be ultimately judged by how well it captures your senses. In today’s gaming landscape we rarely see a game fully engage people’s sense of faith and spirituality. I believe it’s because of its taboo nature in society and the fact that video game manufactures try to make games that appeal to broader senses than something as specific and personal as religion. Surely games today may borrow and element or two that give the main character some ability to relate to the audience. We see this quite a bit as previously described but only a few games really dedicate itself on appealing to the religious side of gamers. Of course you would not see a triple A title about Christianity or Islam but it is refreshing to see video game companies acknowledge the fact that religion is something we all share. Surely we don’t all agree on the details but most people in the world believe in something and we tend to be attracted to video game characters that believe in something as well. It is a basic human trait and while amazingly simple, it remains as one of the least talked about issues in gaming today. Because of how infrequently it is mentioned, it tends to create incredibly compelling games so for the sake of great gaming I hope we see some more experimental titles dealing with faith.