Special Issue "The Sacred & the Digital. Critical Depictions of Religions in Video Games"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 April 2018)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. F.G. (Frank) Bosman

Department of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Tilburg University, Dante Building, Postbus 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherland
Website | E-Mail
Interests: religion studies; game studies; theology; esotericism

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Although it is certainly not the largest section of the relatively new field of digital gaming research, the study of religion and video games has expanded quite considerably since 2010 at least. Through landmark publications such as Halos & Avatars (Detweiler, 2010), Godwired (Rachel Wagner, 2011), eGods (2013), Of Games and God (Bainbridge, 2013) and Playing with Religion in Digital Games (Campbell & Grieve, 2014), and through specialized academic journals like Online. Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet (Heidelberg University) and Gamenvironments (Bremen University), ‘religious game studies’ has become a multidisciplinary field of research that has attracted experts from scholarly disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, religious studies and theology.

This overview—which is anything but exhaustive—shows the richness of the scholarly research of religion and digital games, but at the same time illustrates that the discipline as such is only in its relative adolescence. The ludology-versus-narratology debate still lurks in the background, despite having been declared ‘over’. Game-immanent approaches compete with actor-centered alternatives. And both constitutive notions—‘religion’ and ‘digital game’—are notoriously difficult to define.

Nevertheless, religion as a theme is widely seen in modern digital games, both in smaller indie games as in triple-A publications, sometimes as a convenient part of a grand medieval décor, sometimes as a driving force behind the game narrative, sometimes taken from the real world, sometimes highly fantastic, sometimes depicted in a positive way but also heavily criticized. Countless examples can be given, like the deconstruction of the Christian narrative in the Assassin’s Creed series, the crypto-fascistic Abbey of the Everyman in the Dishonored series, the supremacist Church of Comstock in Bioshock Infinite, the ‘angelic/demonic’ mythology behind series like Darksiders, Diablo and Devil May cry, and the different religious sects in the Borderlands and Fallout series.

In the special issue of Religions, papers of experts in the field of religion and video games will be gathered under the theme ‘The Sacred & the Digital. Critical depictions of religions in video games’. We are searching for academic articles critically discussing the various ways in which ‘religion’ is used and commented upon (positively or negatively) in modern day digital games. Articles utilizing both an actor-centered (player agency) and a game-immanent perspective (game agency) are welcomed. Also articles concerning the intertextual relationships between the religious game text and real-life religious traditions, both institutionalized as well as ‘lived religion’, are much appreciated.

Dr. F.G. (Frank) Bosman
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • religion studies
  • game studies
  • theology
  • digital media

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial The Sacred and the Digital. Critical Depictions of Religions in Digital Games
Religions 2019, 10(2), 130; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020130
Received: 17 January 2019 / Revised: 13 February 2019 / Accepted: 21 February 2019 / Published: 22 February 2019
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Abstract
In this editorial, guest editor Frank Bosman introduces the theme of the special issue on critical depictions of religion in video games. He does so by giving a tentative oversight of the academic field of religion and video game research up until present [...] Read more.
In this editorial, guest editor Frank Bosman introduces the theme of the special issue on critical depictions of religion in video games. He does so by giving a tentative oversight of the academic field of religion and video game research up until present day, and by presenting different ways in which game developers critically approach (institutionalized, fictional and non-fictional) religions in-game, of which many are discussed by individual authors later in the special issue. In this editorial, Bosman will also introduce all articles of the special issue at hand. Full article

Research

Jump to: Editorial

Open AccessArticle Stay Your Blade
Religions 2018, 9(7), 209; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9070209
Received: 14 June 2018 / Accepted: 28 June 2018 / Published: 3 July 2018
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Abstract
In their article ‘Transmedial worlds: Rethinking cyberworld design’, Klastrup and Tosca show that the core elements of a Transmedial World are: Mythos, the lore of the world, the central knowledge necessary to interpret and successfully interact with events in the world; Topos, the [...] Read more.
In their article ‘Transmedial worlds: Rethinking cyberworld design’, Klastrup and Tosca show that the core elements of a Transmedial World are: Mythos, the lore of the world, the central knowledge necessary to interpret and successfully interact with events in the world; Topos, the setting and detailed geography of the world; and Ethos, the explicit and implicit ethics and (moral) codex of behaviour. Though other terms are used, in essence similar distinctions are made in game worlds and storyworlds. In this article, I will first discuss the game world and the storyworld and show that the storyworld in games is different from that in non-interactive narrative media. I then focus on the Mythos and Ethos elements in the world of the Assassin’s Creed series as both govern the moral choices in the series and, by doing so, subtly direct the behaviour of the player. Full article
Open AccessArticle ‘Things Greater than Thou’: Post-Apocalyptic Religion in Games
Religions 2018, 9(6), 169; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9060169
Received: 3 May 2018 / Revised: 18 May 2018 / Accepted: 18 May 2018 / Published: 23 May 2018
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Abstract
In the literature on religion in games, two broad types of religion have been depicted: on the one hand, historical religions—Christian, Muslim and Buddhist narratives, tropes and symbols—and, on the other hand, fiction-based religion, referring to fantasy, myth and popular culture. In this [...] Read more.
In the literature on religion in games, two broad types of religion have been depicted: on the one hand, historical religions—Christian, Muslim and Buddhist narratives, tropes and symbols—and, on the other hand, fiction-based religion, referring to fantasy, myth and popular culture. In this article we aim to describe, analyze and explain the emergence of a new, unacknowledged repertoire. Building on two case studies—Fallout 3 and Horizon: Zero Dawn—we argue that modern technology (computers, AI, VR, androids) itself is becoming a sacred object of veneration in fiction, specifically in post-apocalyptic games that imagine man-made annihilation. Although the themes and topics differ, this emergent form of techno-religion in game narratives is generally located in a post-apocalyptic setting. Although they are fictitious, we conclude that such narratives reflect developments in real life, in which technology such as artificial intelligence is feared as an increasingly powerful, opaque force. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Play, Game, and Videogame: The Metamorphosis of Play
Religions 2018, 9(5), 162; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9050162
Received: 2 April 2018 / Revised: 10 May 2018 / Accepted: 12 May 2018 / Published: 17 May 2018
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Abstract
The question, the Fragestellung, which drives this paper is, can football video-games be analyzed from a religious perspective? We can answer positively, at least, provisionally. First, in order to demonstrate our approach, we will take into account the different conceptions on play drawn [...] Read more.
The question, the Fragestellung, which drives this paper is, can football video-games be analyzed from a religious perspective? We can answer positively, at least, provisionally. First, in order to demonstrate our approach, we will take into account the different conceptions on play drawn along sociological theories. Second, we will analyze Francis M. Cornford’s contribution to the already forgotten but essential work by Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis: The Social Origins of the Greek Religion, in which he established an elective affinity between the origin of the Olympic Games and the annual ritual dedicated to the Daimon-God Dionysus, in which he was elected the best Kouros (Young hero-King) of the year. At the very beginning, play, ritual, and competitive games (helped by self-reflexivity as well as collective reflexivity) were united, and that constellation is still there in modern times with the creation of modern sport. Third, in modern advanced societies the football game-sport creates meaning, and succeeded throughout two main processes such as the sportification and progressive rationalization of violence. Fourth, we built an ideal type of two competing strategies, in which created a new type of hero, the sports hero, the modern celebrity. Finally, fifth, we analyze how in our digitalized societies the football videogames are a sort of play on the play of which comes out a religious transcendence associated with it, “Throughout the videogame I become myself in my idol”. We explain this comparing two ideal types, the Dionysian-Messi versus the Apollonian-Ronaldo. Full article
Open AccessArticle Critique with Limits—The Construction of American Religion in BioShock: Infinite
Religions 2018, 9(5), 150; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9050150
Received: 1 April 2018 / Revised: 30 April 2018 / Accepted: 3 May 2018 / Published: 7 May 2018
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Abstract
Released in 2013, BioShock: Infinite is a blockbuster first-person shooter which explores topics of American nationalism and religion. This article examines how religion is represented within the game and how motifs from American religious history are used to construct its game world. After [...] Read more.
Released in 2013, BioShock: Infinite is a blockbuster first-person shooter which explores topics of American nationalism and religion. This article examines how religion is represented within the game and how motifs from American religious history are used to construct its game world. After an overview of the game’s production process and a literature review, several specific religious and historical motifs are discussed. Through a dissection of the aesthetic and narrative dimensions of the game, the article analyzes elements of religious history from which the developers of Infinite drew their inspiration, such as the biblical motif of Exodus or the still-popular concept of millennialism. The analysis shows how the game uses familiar but simultaneously transformed American imagery, such as a religiously legitimated American Exceptionalism in which George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin are worshiped as saintly figures. Infinite plays with popular notions of evangelical religion, mixed with themes related to so-called dangerous cults and sects. In this construction, Infinite strangely vacillates between a biting liberal caricature of religiously fueled nationalism and a nod to widespread moderate mainstream values in which unusual religious movements are negatively portrayed. The article argues that a critique of a mainstream religious movement such as evangelical Christianity is not possible for a multi-billion-dollar industry which is wary of critical topics that may potentially estrange its broad consumer base. In such instances, critique can only be applied to forms of religion that are already viewed as strange by the popular discourse. Full article
Open AccessArticle Disenchanting Faith—Religion and Authority in the Dishonored Universe
Religions 2018, 9(5), 146; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9050146
Received: 30 March 2018 / Revised: 25 April 2018 / Accepted: 27 April 2018 / Published: 1 May 2018
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Abstract
This game-immanent study approach and game content analysis focuses on the Dishonored video games series. The article examines how the topic of authority and religion are represented and discussed in the video game universe of the Dishonored games, where religion is referenced through [...] Read more.
This game-immanent study approach and game content analysis focuses on the Dishonored video games series. The article examines how the topic of authority and religion are represented and discussed in the video game universe of the Dishonored games, where religion is referenced through explicit authority constructions. For comprehending the concept of authority and how it is created in the games, Max Weber’s tripartite authority distinction is used as a comparison for understanding the authority image’s legitimatisation in the game stories. The article explores how religion is reflected by the identified three authority ideals, and how the ideals are presented and constructed in the located main characters or agents. The Dishonored games can be interpreted as stories commenting and contesting societal authority models, asking who or what in which circumstances may have societal control and domination over others. Full article
Open AccessArticle Contemplation, Subcreation, and Video Games
Religions 2018, 9(5), 142; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9050142
Received: 2 March 2018 / Revised: 16 April 2018 / Accepted: 16 April 2018 / Published: 26 April 2018
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Abstract
This essay asks how religion and theological ideas might be made manifest in video games, and particularly the creation of video games as a religious activity, looking at contemplative experiences in video games, and the creation and world-building of game worlds as a [...] Read more.
This essay asks how religion and theological ideas might be made manifest in video games, and particularly the creation of video games as a religious activity, looking at contemplative experiences in video games, and the creation and world-building of game worlds as a form of Tolkienian subcreation, which itself leads to contemplation regarding the creation of worlds. Full article
Open AccessArticle The Paranormal in Jane Jensen’s “Gray Matter”
Religions 2018, 9(4), 134; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9040134
Received: 28 March 2018 / Revised: 13 April 2018 / Accepted: 16 April 2018 / Published: 17 April 2018
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Abstract
The main research issue of this article is to determine the extent to which Western esotericism influences the formation of computer game plots. The methodological framework is the occultural bricolage theory (C. Partridge). This article looks at how the paranormal is represented in [...] Read more.
The main research issue of this article is to determine the extent to which Western esotericism influences the formation of computer game plots. The methodological framework is the occultural bricolage theory (C. Partridge). This article looks at how the paranormal is represented in the game “Gray Matter”, created by J. Jensen. Jensen has always used occult bricolage as the main method for creating her games, but in “Gray Matter” this method is perfected. Although the game plot is built around paranormal events, they are not given any unambiguous interpretation; their status is the main question of the game. There are three answers to this question. The first answer is the beliefs of Sam Everett, a girl magician who does not believe in the supernatural. The second answer is the research of Dr. Styles, a neurobiologist convinced that the mind is an energy that can be objectified after death. The third answer is the theory of Dr. Ramusskin, a psi-phenomena specialist, who believes that super-abilities are real, and that spirits and the afterlife exist. It is the last answer that Jensen promotes in creating the game. The basis of “Gray matter” is a bricolage of Stephen King, the works of the Society for Psychical Research, works on parapsychology and the debates around psi-phenomena in neuropsychology. Full article
Open AccessArticle I Have Faith in Thee, Lord: Criticism of Religion and Child Abuse in the Video Game the Binding of Isaac
Religions 2018, 9(4), 133; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9040133
Received: 26 March 2018 / Revised: 9 April 2018 / Accepted: 12 April 2018 / Published: 16 April 2018
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Abstract
The game The Binding of Isaac is an excellent example of a game that incorporates criticism of religion. Isaac is a roguelike dungeon crawler with randomly generated dungeons. Both from the perspective of narrative and of game design, McMillen built The Binding of [...] Read more.
The game The Binding of Isaac is an excellent example of a game that incorporates criticism of religion. Isaac is a roguelike dungeon crawler with randomly generated dungeons. Both from the perspective of narrative and of game design, McMillen built The Binding of Isaac around the Biblical story of Genesis 22:1-19, which has the same name in Jewish and Christian tradition, but he placed it in a modern-day setting in which a young boy is endangered by a mentally disturbed mother who hears “voices from above” that instruct her to sacrifice her only child. Multiple critical references to Christianity can be found in addition to the narrative: hostile embodiments of the seven deadly sins, rosaries, Bibles, and crucifixes, and unlockable characters, such as Mary Magdalene, Judas Iscariot, Samson, and Cain, who are all depicted negatively in both Jewish and Christian traditions. McMillen’s inspiration came from his own experiences with his family, which was made up of both Catholics and born-again Christians. The game describes both the dark creativity and the mental and physical abuse associated with religion. In this article, we analyse the narrative of The Binding of Isaac by performing an intertextual comparison with the Biblical narrative of Genesis 22:1-19. We then analyse the three-fold narrative structure of the game which enhances and nuances the criticism the game directs at religion. Full article
Open AccessArticle ‘Instant Karma’—Moral Decision Making Systems in Digital Games
Religions 2018, 9(4), 131; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9040131
Received: 2 April 2018 / Revised: 11 April 2018 / Accepted: 11 April 2018 / Published: 16 April 2018
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Abstract
Moral decision making systems have long been a popular and widely discussed part of computer games; especially in—but not limited to—role-playing games and other games with strong narrative elements. In this article, an attempt will be made to draw a connection between historic [...] Read more.
Moral decision making systems have long been a popular and widely discussed part of computer games; especially in—but not limited to—role-playing games and other games with strong narrative elements. In this article, an attempt will be made to draw a connection between historic and recent concepts of karma and moral decision making systems in digital games, called ‘karma systems’. At the same time, a detailed analysis of one such system (that of Mass Effect 2) will be provided. Full article
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Open AccessArticle The Dark of the Covenant: Christian Imagery, Fundamentalism, and the Relationship between Science and Religion in the Halo Video Game Series
Religions 2018, 9(4), 126; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9040126
Received: 20 March 2018 / Revised: 5 April 2018 / Accepted: 10 April 2018 / Published: 12 April 2018
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Abstract
What do a bionic supersoldier, space stations and religious fanaticism have in common? They are all vital elements of the plot in Halo, a series of first-person shooter games developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Games. One of the interesting things about [...] Read more.
What do a bionic supersoldier, space stations and religious fanaticism have in common? They are all vital elements of the plot in Halo, a series of first-person shooter games developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Games. One of the interesting things about Halo is that the developers made use of quite a number of religious images and themes, especially from the Christian tradition. In modern Western society, science and religion are often portrayed as polar opposites, and Halo appears to reaffirm this narrative. Yet it might still be interesting to look at how exactly this animosity is portrayed, and to see whether there is more to it. This paper is an inquiry into the significance of religious imagery and themes in Halo, as well as an attempt to place the game in the broader context of the geopolitical situation of its time. In short, this article is going to be a case study of how the relationship between science and religion can be explored through the medium of video games. For an overview of the current debate on how science and religion relate to one another in academia, I am going to look at the works of American physicist and scholar of religion Ian Barbour, American paleontologist and historian of science Stephen Gould, and British ethologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. To justify the academic study of videogames I will be drawing from the writings of Dutch cultural theologian Frank Bosman. The analysis itself will consist of a summary of the game’s main story, its portrayal of religion on the one hand and its depiction of science on the other, and its representation of how these two fields relate to one another. In the conclusion, finally, I will connect the dots between the different parts of the analysis and provide an answer to the main question. Full article
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