Faith in Video Games -Ifrith Islam
With the rapid urbanization and squeezing of open fields and parks in cities children are increasingly staying back at home and playing indoor games. Video games are getting popular with this generation as the space for outdoor games is shrinking day by day.
A video game is structured form of play, usually we take it as entertainment and it can be experienced as exercise tool. Games are mostly played by professional players. Games are usually considered to be a type of work and art as games are involving an artistic layout such as Mahjong, solitaire, or some video games.
The key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction. Games generally involve mental or physical stimulation, and often both. Many games help develop practical skills, serve as a form of exercise, or otherwise perform an educational, simulational or psychological role.
Gradually the taste of the games changed as the system of life style of the generations changed and therefore, according to some recent studies, among the indoor games, video games became the most fascinating part for the children as they are one who likes to play indoor games. It is really interesting to play these games for indoor entertainments.
Video games are computer- or microprocessor-controlled games. Computers can create virtual spaces for a wide variety of game types. Some video games simulate conventional game objects like cards or dice, while others can simulate environs either grounded in reality or fantastical in design, each with its own set of rules or goals.
A computer or video game uses one or more input devices, typically a button/joystick combination (on arcade games); a keyboard, mouse or trackball (computer games); or a controller or a motion sensitive tool. More esoteric devices such as paddle controllers have also been used for input.
Video games sometimes are products of human culture as they carry myths, stories and symbols of the time in which they were created. Since they can be read as “text” and hence by “reading” video games, philosophers, sociologists and theologists have the opportunity to study the religious and spiritual themes in them and can be done through several steps.
by studying the design, rules and mechanics or by talking to the developers by watching others play by playing the game themselves
If one looks closely he is likely to discover something interesting about the video games which sometimes appear as the relationship between the video games and religions. The concept and the basic contemporary elements and the religion in the video games appear in many ways such as in Age of Empires the worshiping place comes as a part of gameplay and in Mass Effect 2 religious themes are borrowed.
As video games are a form of entertainment, the use of religion can be controversial. Opinions on video games differ from religion and denomination; there are religious groups that use games actively to convert people, while some games are banned for religious siding. Scholars of religious studies are also studying video games like Journey (2012) by observing the players.
Religions often have sacred texts and holy places. Themes and questions about life and death, innocence and guilt and violence are existential in nature; while they are not immediately understood as “religious”, as they are represented as the meaning of life.
The use of religious elements
Video game developers use religious and spiritual themes to involve the player more deeply in the game such as Shigeru Miyamoto, video game developer, who used to play outside as a child, used his experiences and memories of exploring the forest and discovering a Buddhist temple in the design of his video games. Canadian developer BioWare (Mass Effect, Dragon Age) has in its offices several encyclopedias on religion, as well as the Book of the Dead.
Religious elements are used in two ways— explicit and implicit.
They are seen side-by-side in video games and do not exclude each other. Religion in Mass Effect can be understood as an “unseen character”.
Explicit narrative references
An explicit reference to a religious or spiritual concept is one that is clear to what it is referring. These can be based upon real-world religions, but also on fictional ones. Stories, motifs and names of characters from religious texts are used as reference points.
Implicit narrative references
The stories of action-adventure and role-playing games often involve world-saving quests. The player, as the protagonist, takes on the role of the hero, and destined to be the world savior according to prophecy.
The Legend of Zelda uses religious elements and motifs like the Triforce.
Ancient religions and their deities are used in various ways. The religions portrayed are often no longer practiced, like ancient Greek religion.
In the real-time strategy game Age of Mythology the player has to choose a “major god”, which gives certain gameplay benefits.
In Prince of Persia the nameless Prince has to fight Ahriman, an evil deity from Zoroastrianism.
Events and places
For inspiration historical religion and events are used in the games. Assassin’s Creed (2007) is fictional, it is set during the Third Crusade in the Holy Land; the player takes on the role of the Assassin Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad and is involved in the conflict between Catholic Christians, Orthodox Christians, Sunni Muslims and Shi’ite Muslims. While these religions appear, they are portrayed in a “sanitized manner”.
Religion is often institutionalized, having a certain organizational structure. Most games in the Megami Tensei series involve a religion, or a cult.
In the action role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) a civil war is about to erupt between the Empire and the Stormcloaks. The Stormcloaks wish to worship Talos, a human ascended to godhood. The Empire suffered a defeat against the powerful Aldmeri Dominion, an alliance of Elves who have made the worship of Talos illegal. It is up to the player to help in the conflict.
Video games as a religious medium
Video games as cultural objects can also provide religious and spiritual experiences, like Journey (2012). Developer Jenova Chen said that “I feel that Journey is a very spiritual game. People from around the world ask me if the game has a religious connection. Many religions share an affinity with Journey—this is because many religions partly share a common structure”. Chen said Journey is based upon Joseph Campbell’s book on comparative mythology The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the “Hero’s Journey” narrative structure.
After the death of Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek Online added two statues in his honor, and World of Warcraft added a non-player character (NPC) based upon Robin Williams after his death. Developer Gearbox Software honored a late fan of Borderlands, cancer victim Michael John Mamaril, by adding a NPC named after him in the sequel. Additionally, Gearbox posted a eulogy to Mamaril in the voice of the game character Claptrap. For their game MechWarrior Online, developer Piranha Games sold a custom in-game unit called a Jenner, honoring the daughter of a player of the game. Minecraft player “GasBandit” built a memorial for her. When players of the online game Final Fantasy XIV heard that fellow gamer “Codex Vahla” was in the hospital on life support, they held a digital wake.
Christian video game and Islamic Fun
Some religious groups use video games for education. An example is the Christian game Left Behind: Eternal Forces.
Use of video games
In May 2012, the Exeter Cathedral used Flower during its Sunday service.
Video game controversy
Religion is a serious topic, whereas video games are entertainment. As such, developers and publishers sometimes take precaution not to offend people’s religious beliefs. Religious references in the Japanese role-playing video game series Final Fantasy were originally censored for the U.S. release of the games. It was after the franchise switched to Sony’s PlayStation with Final Fantasy VII (1997) that the religious references were left largely intact. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series show a disclaimer:
“Inspired by historical events and characters. This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs.”
The German video game rating board USK gave The Binding of Isaac a 16+ rating, considering it “blasphemous”.
The game BioShock Infinite is heavily based on the notion of American exceptionalism at the turn of the 19th century, and incorporates somewhat skewed notions taken from Christianity to support the game’s dystopian themes. One aspect of this was the use of baptism. One developer on Irrational Games staff expressed strong concern to the lead developer, Ken Levine, that the game’s presentation of baptism was highly controversial, leading Levine to with the developer to recast the baptism aspect as a notion of forgiveness rather than a religious tenet. At least one player objected to the final changes, prompting them to request a refund from Steam. The scene was otherwise well received by critics as less a commentary on Christianity but on as a representation of themes such as free wills, evil, rebirth and redemption that were central to the game.
On October 22, 2008, Microsoft announced that Fallout 3 would not be released in India on the Xbox 360 platform. Religious and cultural sentiments were cited as the reason, as the specific reason was not revealed in public, the possibilities are -the game contains two-headed mutated cows called Brahman, or -Brahman is also the name of an ancient, powerful hereditary caste of Hindu priests and religious scholars in India, or -its similarity to the spelling of Brahman, a type of cow breed of Zebu, is revered by Hindus.
The action game Hanuman: Boy Warrior was criticized by Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, for portraying the Hindu deity Hanuman.
Hanuman was developed and published by Aurona Technologies in India. The player controls Hanuman with a joystick/ button/ keyboard/mouse [is] denigration. Zed urged Sony, the publisher of the game, to pull the game. Sony’s regional manager however said that Hanuman: Boy Warrior sold beyond their expectations. Smite would be featuring Hindu deities.
GameSpot asked if characters based upon Abrahamic religions would be added as well, but Harris said that “the key Abrahimic figures—Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, are not that interesting in character design or gameplay”.
The song of the soundtrack of Little Big Planet (2008) had been reported about the lyrics to one of the licensed songs in the game included passages from the Qur’an and could therefore be offensive to Muslims. However, no actual complaints regarding the music were made. The song, entitled “Tapha Niang”, was by Malian artist Toumani Diabaté, himself a devout Muslim. Some American Muslims acted with the report on the second release of the game. M. Zuhdi Jasser M.D., head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy said that Muslims cannot benefit from freedom of expression and religion and then turn around and ask that anytime their sensibilities are offended that the freedom of others be restricted.
The fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us was temporarily banned in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. It is speculated that Injustice was banned because of the inclusion of the word ‘Gods’ in the title, the outfits of some female characters exposed cleavage, and overall bloodiness. Eventually, the ban was lifted.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002) featuring the killing of Sikhs at the most holy site, the Harmandir Sahib, where hundreds of Sikhs were massacred in 1984. An altered version of Silent Assassin was eventually released later.
Religion and violence
A study released by the University of Missouri stated that video games often emphasize the violent aspects of religion.
Games as focus of religious studies
Video games were seen as mere entertainment, a form of “low culture”. Playing video games was not a valid object of scientific research. So to “play” games as a scholarly pursuit became “ludicrous”.
It has only been in recent years, video game research is done in two ways; the game can be studied as an object, while actor-focused research looks at the player.
Video games are interactive. The developer designs the game, including its rules and story; it is up to the player to make the game “happen” by using the brain.
Current State of Muslim Representation in Video Games
Islam has an image problem. And it’s not just recent world events as the media has been pigeonholing Muslims for years. If watched a few episodes of 24 or Homeland to see that Muslims, particularly those of Arab descent, are almost always painted as the enemy but in reality they are the one who is demolished.
The Call of Duty is rife with Muslim villains — like Khaled Al-Asad in Modern Warfare. “That’s Call of Duty, over and over. Shoot all the Arabs,” said Ismail, the co-founder of Vlambeer and also according to him Muslim blood is the cheapest in the world.
In an annual game conference some points came out in light that Muslims are also often portrayed as aggressive and violent. The appearance of Muslim characters in fighting games like Zafina from Tekken 6 does not show anywhere near a Muslim character should be. Then again Muslims are not necessarily Arab, and Arabs are not necessarily Muslim.
It’s not just the portrayal of Muslims that is problematic. In several video games, images of the Arab and Muslim world are often inaccurate.
In some of the universities games became a subject to study where the presences of non-Muslim students are noticeable whereas Muslim students are barely countable. Christian students get the encouragement to follow their heart without delay so they make games that are favourable in every way possible. The developer sometimes produces a game which deemed insult to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and some material offensive to Muslim such as YouTube. The game developers develop video games using the Bible whereas Muslim doesn’t have any video games based on the Quran. But there are some games that are- Quraish is a third person strategy game based on the early battles of Islam. The orders of Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife India came.
Moreover, the game industries are mostly controlled by the Christian that causes silent clash between the Muslim and the other nations and in this quiet battle Muslims are defeated remarkably. Therefore, they are lagging behind.
The initiation of game studies was a splendid idea for the game lovers. The subject itself is almost non-existent in most of the universities around the world particularly in the OIC countries and it’s quite unknown to the young generations. But now that the world is changing Muslims can use the neglected themes as new idea in making video games with Islamic ambience and values because a section of game lovers are waiting for that to happen quickly.