Religion in a faux-medieval world

I was thinking about the question of times when I’d played a role unlike myself in games and came to the conclusion that there were two entirely different ways this can come about. On the one hand, there are the times when I’m forced into playing something other than myself because that’s all that the game offers. All too often, I’ll be playing a thin, able-bodied, straight, white male, not by choice but by default. When this happens, I generally don’t even try to get into the head of my character. He’s just some pixels on a screen which I am guiding around.

On the other hand, there are the occasions when I choose to role-play as someone that I am not because it provides an experience I couldn’t get in the real world. Sometimes, this can be as simple as choosing to play a game where the player character is an expert martial fighter or a genius strategist, since I am neither. Other times, I’m choosing to play a character who is physically unlike me, such as my Elonian characters in Guild Wars both of whom are women of colour because this fits the game lore better, whereas I am white. Still other times, I choose to play a character who is of a different personality to me. Maybe someone more gregarious, someone more overtly feminine, or someone with a shorter temper.

For me, this last is the most interesting. If a game is well written, and I’m in the right frame of mind, I can really get into my characters head. It’s a bit like method acting, only in this case, it’s method gaming.

“]Even when you first meet her, Leliana's religious conviction is obvious from her Chantry robes. [A white woman with coppery hair worn in a bob. She is wearing robes featuring religious symbols.]

Even when you first meet her, Leliana's religious conviction is obvious from her Chantry robes. [A white woman with coppery hair worn in a bob. She is wearing robes featuring religious symbols.

One particularly memorable case of this came for me when I played Dragon Age: Origins. There, I was playing a female character (as I usually do when I have the option) and I decided that of the romance options available to me, I’d woo Leliana. Now, normally, this wouldn’t have been my first choice. Leliana is not my type at all. However, seeing as how she’s female and the other two options were male, she was the closest to my type that I was going to get.

And so, I decided that while she may not have been my type, she was my character’s type. The relationship I chose to pursue heavily influenced the way I saw my character, the way I identified with her, and the way I played the game.

One of the consequences on this was my character’s take on religion. In real life I am an atheist, and by default, that usually carries over into my game characters, who tend to be wary of churches and religious institutions. Leliana, though, is not just sympathetic to the church, but is a devout believer and a member of the Chantry. She also claims to have had visions revealed to her by the Maker.

And so, my character also became religious. At first, she was receptive and open, and as she talked more with Leliana and grew closer, so her faith also strengthened. In my head at least, their shared beliefs were a large part of the bond between Leliana and my Warden that ultimately led to them becoming lovers.

Of course, my character’s religious convictions weren’t confined to her interactions with Leliana. They also guided her other choices when dealing with sacred artefacts, the church, and with magic. When I played, I was no longer Rachel Walmsley, atheist. I was Rhoswen Cousland, devout believer.

This was fun and interesting for me in its own right, but looking back on it now, I think there’s an additional lesson to take from all of this. One of the reasons why I was so effectively able to identify with a religious character is that the religion portrayed in the game was not the same as any religion in the real world.

Well, of course it wasn’t the same. Why would it be? This is a fantasy world with magic and elves; it would make no sense at all to insert Christianity into Ferelden exactly as it is in our world. I can say with certainty that if the game replaced the Chantry with the Christian Church, elves with Jews, and the battle against the darkspawn with a crusade against Muslims that I would not have been able to enjoy the game anywhere near as much. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have played it at all.

Of course, by not having our real-world religions, this made the game-world resemble Europe of the Middle Ages a whole lot less. But so what? That’s a good thing, surely. By not adhering to the real world, the game allowed me to experience being someone with a character, personality, and religion different to my own. If I’d been playing an actual historical RPG set in actual Middle-Ages Europe, I doubt I’d have been able to immerse myself the same way.

Developers have no difficulty recognising that adherence to historical accuracy is not necessary in this one aspect of their games, and yet they feel compelled by it in other areas. Misogyny, racism, and homophobia – amongst others – are all excused on the grounds of historical accuracy. That this is nonsense is unlikely to be news to readers of The Border House, but I think that comparing it with how religion is portrayed in games of this nature provides a stark and instructive contrast.

 

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40 thoughts on “Religion in a faux-medieval world”

  1. >>Developers have no difficulty recognising that adherence to historical accuracy is not necessary in this one aspect of their games, and yet they feel compelled by it in other areas. Misogyny, racism, and homophobia – amongst others – are all excused on the grounds of historical accuracy.<<

    In the sci-fi/fantasy novelist community, I see a similar adherence to misogyny and homophobia, while remaining flexible and creative with religion. From what I've observed in conversations with other writers, it's not about "historical accuracy" and more about "Human nature." They think any society inhabited by humans will always default to misogyny, racism, and homophobia, even if it's 10,000 years in the future or has a completely different history. Not very creative for speculative fiction writers.

    These same writers allow themselves freedom to mess with religion or write a new one completely, because most of them consider faith and divinity to be a work of fiction in the first place, so they'll invent one or rework one just like they would a fictional system of sorcery or alchemy.

    As a person of faith, I find irksome to insulting, depending on how it's handled. Often a secular writer uses the made-up religion as a platform to take jabs at people of faith or portray the divine as something absurd. When handled by authors of faith, there's usually more sensitivity to the subject, but there's still the pressure to write a religion that's "new" to avoid criticism from secular readers.

    1. That must be rough; I guess you’ll just have to take comfort in the fact that the rest of American society privileges you over non-religious people.

      1. I would not be so quick to snidely dismiss such a comment.

        Religious people as a whole are not privileged over non-religious people in the way you imply. *Which* religion matters. Christianity is privileged, especially the sort that comports with dominant political ideologies. Liberation theology or Unitarian faiths or pro-LGBT interpretations or feminist Christianities, however, face as much backlash from their own peers as they might from the wider community.

        Then there’s Muslims in the West. Need I say more about the immense discrimination they face?

        Then you get to Wiccans and other neo-pagans who are often maligned with the greatest viciousness by *other* people of faith.

        Then you get to Jewish people who still, with disturbing frequency, find their holy sites, property, and cemeteries vandalised by anti-Semites.

        So, no, to be frank it’s not so simple as saying that atheists or agnostics are disadvantaged relative to people of faith. It’s a very reductive analysis that dismisses a lot of intersectional struggles that are not so cut and dried.

        1. I’m quite happy to give her privileged griping a quick dismissal because that’s all it’s worth. Notice that she didn’t make any of the fine distinctions you are making, she framed it as “religious vs. secular”. You say “*Which* religion matters” but she didn’t specify it either. But now it’s important for ME to specify. We call out privileged whining from any other group, but when it comes to religion then we have to get into the fine-tooth comb territory.

          1. What I got out of her comment was that she was making much the same complaint I’ve made about a lot of speculative fiction: that they are notoriously uncreative when it comes to social arrangements on gender, race, and sexuality and that they rely on bogus excuses to justify this.

            A fair point.

            She then pointed out that religion is often used uncreatively as a metaphor for backwards thinking. This is, if I am to be scrupulously fair, also largely true.

            Religion is not a class in the same sense being a certain gender or being a certain race is a class; mapping an unmodified rendering of privilege dynamics onto it is unhelpful and does not accurately reflect the state of play with regards to what’s happening with religion in our society.

            In what sense is Islamophobia a “religion vs. secular” question? In what sense is Evangelical antagonism to Wiccans religious vs. secular? Many Americans will not vote for an atheist president, but equally large numbers would have equally prejudicial reservations about a Witch or a Muslim. The question of prejudice and privilege is not really mappable to a religion/secular axis, at least not in its entirety.

            There are many people of faith from a variety of communities, including significant numbers from historically marginalised ones. Their interests are poorly represented when religion en toto is poorly represented.

            Now, I would very much appreciate it if you stopped attacking a commentor without reason. I will not have you trying to silence a woman because she’s religious. That would be very much against TBH policy.

            1. I did not make the claim that every religious issue is “religious vs. secular”, nor did I claim that some religions are not more privileged than others. That was something you projected onto me. As I said before, Kat’s framing was “religious vs. secular”, not mine. As I was Wiccan before I left religion entirely, I’m not unfamiliar with what minority religions face at the hands of the majority, and I am against that as well.

              I’m actually stunned that you are claiming I am trying to silence a woman because she’s religious. I have not attacked her character or insulted her person in any way, but you’re calling my words an attack without reason. Your closing paragraph is a very direct attempt to silence a woman because she is NOT religious.

              Is this seriously a thing? Is TBH seriously in favor of privilege not being considered in cases of religious people attacking atheists?

            2. Is TBH seriously in favor of privilege not being considered in cases of religious people attacking atheists?

              How did you come to that conclusion? That has happened no where in this thread. Kat didn’t attack anyone in her comment, let alone atheists or you.

              Your closing paragraph is a very direct attempt to silence a woman because she is NOT religious.

              I don’t read Quinnae’s comment as trying to silence you because you are not religious, I read it as her asking you to stop commenting in this manner because it was uncalled for and unnecessarily abrasive. Kat’s comment wasn’t attacking anyone and, as a non-religious person who is fairly anti-religion myself, it didn’t read as whining to me either. It was a thoughtful comment about the depiction of religion in games, informed by her perspective as a person of faith. I don’t think Kat did or said anything that justifies your hostile snarking.

            3. Since the nesting function won’t let me reply to your 5:24 post, I’ll put it here.

              What did she say that was oppressive?

              “As a person of faith, I find irksome to insulting, depending on how it’s handled. Often a secular writer uses the made-up religion as a platform to take jabs at people of faith or portray the divine as something absurd.”

              Non-religious people have religion forced on them constantly, and they have a right to explore the harm it does to them through fiction. Further, when they do, it’s almost always criticizing the most oppressive conservative forms of religion, NOT the tolerant progressive forms, but she conveniently left that out. As a trans woman, if I were to write a story exploring themes of cissexism and the gender system in it, and a cis person came along and said that they found it insulting that I would take jabs at them and portray cissexism as absurd, I would be quite right to dismiss that person, and tons of other people on TBH would agree.

              Decrying marginalized people’s right to discuss and challenge the majority is oppressive, and Kat did it right there. It’s the same thing as when cis people try to tell me I don’t have the right to “label” them as cis. Further:

              “When handled by authors of faith, there’s usually more sensitivity to the subject, but there’s still the pressure to write a religion that’s “new” to avoid criticism from secular readers.”

              Said as if those secular readers are unfairly infringing upon religious writers! As if the pressure to consider non-religious readers is oppressive to her! To return to my earlier metaphor, if a cis person said that cis writers dealing with the subject of trans lives feel unfairly pressured by trans readers to write trans-positive stories, we would rightly call that out as privileged whining.

              If Kat had stopped at pointing out the hypocrisy of “historical accuracy” excuses for including sexism/homophobia/racism/etc. but not worrying about changing other huge cultural things such as religion, I would have been down with that. I’m all for criticizing atheist writers who still display bigotry in other areas, but I am NOT for ignoring their points on oppressive religion because of it.

        2. All questions of privilege aside, I agree.&nbps; If faith is to be treated as learned behavior—and even worthy of mockery—why should bigotry and so on be given free passes as “human nature” and somehow inevitable?

        3. “Religious people as a whole are not privileged over non-religious people in the way you imply. *Which* religion matters. Christianity is privileged, especially the sort that comports with dominant political ideologies. Liberation theology or Unitarian faiths or pro-LGBT interpretations or feminist Christianities, however, face as much backlash from their own peers as they might from the wider community.”

          That sounds familiar. The old man was a minister and has a list as long as his arm of former ‘friends’ who turned on him as well as colleagues who blacklisted him for such inexcusable and outrageous things as, for instance, appointing a woman as an associate pastor, allowing people in interracial marriages and LGBT people in the congregation. This was in several spots in the US as well a couple spots in Australia.

      2. Sas, I never once said what people should or shouldn’t write. I’m simply making observations on how religion in fiction is often handled.

        I said there is pressure to write fictional religions in spec fic instead of real-world religions. There is. I never said this pressure was unfair or oppressive.

        I never once said that religious people should never have to face criticism. Nor did I say anything that would suggest atheist writers should be silenced in any way.

        I DO find it telling that you instantly assume that I’m privileged due to my faith. Did you assume I’m a conservative white Christian when I mentioned that I am religious?

        That’s exactly the kind of blanket stereotyping I have a problem with when it comes to treatment of religion. Some people hear “religion” and instantly assume this to be synonymous “evil oppressive conservative religion.”

        I mention “people of faith” as an all-inclusive group that would include Wiccans, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians. The reasons is because when someone discusses the virtues or evils of “religion”, the comment would apply to anyone from these groups.

        Often criticism of faith in fiction isn’t religion-specific or dogma-specific, especially in a context where the religion is completely fictional and it’s the only faith presented. Then the criticism becomes one of “religion in general” rather than specific problematic issues. The problem with this approach is it paints with a broad brush over ALL religious people, persecuted and marginalized people of faith included.

        “Religion” is not one monolithic vehicle. Faith has infinite expressions and variations. If an author wants to criticize particular problematic issues in specific religions, that’s helpful. Slandering religious people in general (as many novels do), is not as helpful.

        Sas, I think it’s worth examining your own prejudice in your many assumptions about me. As soon as I identified as a person of faith, you instantly assumed I’m coming from a privileged majority perspective, that I’m whining, that I think religious shouldn’t be criticized, and that I’m telling writers other writers what they should or shouldn’t write. None of those things are true in my original post. Please check your assumptions at the door.

        I completely agree with you that problematic issues in some religions SHOULD be criticized. However, supposing that all religious people are privileged and majority, that’s provably false. The broad brush used to paint religious bigots often ends up painting the marginalized religious as well.

    2. I agree entirely, Kat.

      I think the “human nature” argument is the other side of the same coin as “historical accuracy.” It’s a rationalisation for a lack of creativity. Personally I think that inventing new religions in these settings is brilliant and inventive, if it’s done right. Faith is a malleable thing that is part of the cultural fabric of our society, and I love seeing thoughtful writers reinvent that system of meaningful order.

      What I am less fond of, as you say, is when they use it merely to take a pop at religion itself. Not only is it mildly insulting, but even more importantly it represents the failure of many atheists to engage with what actually makes religion problematic. Certainly faith can lead one astray. The question that such uncreative writers fail to contemplate is “why?” It ends up with a reductive “Oh, they’re naive, weakminded, stupid and dogmatic, that’s why.” Which is very sociologically unsatisfying and about as subtle as a tap-dancing elephant.

    3. “Often a secular writer uses the made-up religion as a platform to take jabs at people of faith or portray the divine as something absurd.”

      I’ve noticed this as well, and as much as I despise many real-world religions, it really bothers me when writers or players take whatever bone they have to pick with RL faith into a fictional setting. It’s not “fair” to take it out on fictional people who have nothing to do with RL problems and who cannot argue back either. Nor is it fun to have a potentially interesting belief system brushed aside with a “believers are all wrong, evil, corrupt” for no apparent reason. If a setting or an individual religion starts with the premise that belief is factually wrong or an institution corrupt, fine, but even then people should be careful not to let OOC grievances lead to IC bashing.

      I think it’s not limited to nonbelievers, though. Many religious groups have plenty of experience bashing each other (or far worse) for worshipping the “wrong” god after all as well, and I guess some just refuse to take another faith seriously even if it’s in a fictional setting.

    4. Another thing I also find really annoying in sci-fi/fantasty is the level of religious and cultural appropriation when it comes to making up fantasy religions and cultures and not distinguishing between religious elements and a cultural/regional elements is too common.

      It’s all just been appropriated and glamorized and not to mention mixed up with other religions and cultures. (In one book for example, it had “barbaric Arab” characters that have probably been inspired by 1001 Nights and Lawrence of Arabia worshiping pantheons of very “Hindu” like gods” wearing “bindi” like ornaments living Aladdin types castles furnished with “Turkish” rugs wearing “Sikh” style turbans and South Indian style dress wielding “Japanese” style blades).

      I was rolling my eyes so hard they nearly fell out of my head!

      Also whilst my religious and cultural identity are quite intertwined they are also separate. There are some religious festivals that only my culture celebrates whereas there are cultural festivals that we celebrate that are non-religious and as well as festivals that are religious and not cultural. I don’t think a lot of people appreciate that difference. Not to mention people of my culture come in many different religions. My family has a diverse mix relgions predominately Hindus, Muslims, Catholics and Christians but we share the same culture. A lot of games and books etc don’t seem appreciate the difference.

  2. I had almost the exact same experience playing the female noble and romancing Leliana. I’d planned on my second character having very conventional beliefs for her station, but hadn’t really thought about her opinion on the Chantry until I picked Leliana over Alistair (whiny manchild – eww). It just seemed to flow naturally from that she was a believer, and I was very comfortable with playing her as a religious character, even though I too am an atheist.

    I really like games like Dragon Age because I prefer to play the “other” when I role-play. I’m a straight white dude. Playing a slightly more heroic version of me is… boring. Having a game that gives me a huge palette of different experiences and viewpoints to explore is really awesome.

  3. All I see from the DO:A religion is still the same “A man created everything, worship him.” True we throw in a goddess or two and a few other gods, but that’s the same make up as older Greek/Roman/Norse pantheons.

  4. Full agreement on not wanting RL religions in my fantasy. Dragon Age is a bit too close to home with its male monotheistic Maker, actually, and I don’t know how well I’d be able to RP a believer in such a faith in a group with other people. In the context of the game, though, it was doable.

    I’m an atheist as well, but for some reason I love roleplaying religious and spiritual characters; it’s definitely where I deviate from the real me the most. It can be a challenge, but when a fictional belief system or deity works for me, it can also be very intense and enjoyable. For example, over my years of WoW, much of the best RP I’ve had revolved around the night elf beliefs, with some seasoning of Holy Light. If I dislike a setting’s religions on the other hand (too much like RL; too shallow; gods as humans-with-cool-powers; a token minority of female deities shoehorned into the sex-growth-and-motherhood boxes; etc.), it’s generally a reason to give the game or story a pass.

    1. What I love about the issue of religion in Dragon Age is there’s nothing that confirms that anything the Chantry says–up to and including the existence of the Maker–is true. For example, in one of the first quests, in Redcliffe, there’s a priestess who outright states that praying doesn’t grant any actual protection; you can convince her to say a blessing just for the sake of the morale of the troops, but she won’t like it. This is so interesting to be because the game is more concerned about the role of religion in society than the specifics of its beliefs, and it treats the Chantry in a realistic sort of way, showing both how it helps people and how it is an institution of oppression. IMO it’s an atheist perspective that treats religious people with respect, avoiding the problems Kat points out above.

      *has too much to say about Dragon Age, always*

      1. I agree entirely, and I remember reading your own blog post on this issue as well. It made for interesting reading, and I agree that the game presents a reasonably thoughtful perspective about faith. Calling it into question without belittling it, showing its social role without making it seem to be a crutch. It was well done.

  5. I found this article very enlightening. I’m always a little bit surprised by the different ways people approach and enjoy roleplaying games. For me, “playing someone I’m not” has always been the whole idea – RPGs let me encounter and experience worlds, societies, cultures, situations and ultimately philosophies and ways of life that aren’t my own.

    In this light, ironically I often feel as if the scenarios and situations computer RPGs present are not alien enough, or if they are, they’re alien in an uninspired and unconvincing way. The Chantry, for instance, though not mean-spirited, reminds me a lot of the Faith of the Seven in A Song of Ice and Fire: it’s a mostly inoffensive Catholicism substitute that’s there to complement the generic medieval milieu, but the people you meet in the story mostly seem pretty indifferent to religion on the whole, which always felt incongruous to me.

    This is also why I’m a little uncomfortable with the “well, it’s fantasy, why should it have to have anything to do with historical accuracy anyway?” argument. I’ve seen it several times in this blog, generally in the context that it’s disingenuous to insist on having “realistic” institutional racism and patriarchy in place when you have elves prancing about. This is obviously true; the thing, though, is that the backward societal norms we run into in fantasy games tend to be our own, not those of a medieval Europe or an ancient Rome.

    If anything – and I think the way religious sentiment in particular is a great example of this – a lot of fantasy worlds are, for a lack of better word, ‘watered down’ to make characters and situations easier to relate to for a player with modern, Western sentiments, which is counterproductive to me, since well… it’s the exact opposite of what I want from these games!

    Ironically, I enjoyed the immensely problematic Qunari a lot more than the Chantry. Gaider’s description of them as “militant Islamic Borg” made me facepalm and almost not get the game, and the (poorly handwaved) way in which the religion practically corresponds to the species still frustrates the Hell out of me – but they ended up being one of my favourite parts of the game, simply because they represented an intelligent, sentient foe with a sense of morality and dignity wildly different from anything you’d find in the modern world. Dealing with them is an exercise in looking past your usual set of conceptions and expectations, something I found pretty thrilling.

    1. “In this light, ironically I often feel as if the scenarios and situations computer RPGs present are not alien enough, or if they are, they’re alien in an uninspired and unconvincing way.”

      I can agree with that, especially when it comes to the portrayal of non-human species and their cultures. While I have no idea where the term “humans in funny suits” comes from nor do I remember where I first read it, it’s spot-on. Too much remains shallow and unexplored, too much is ripped off from from a vague generic template, too often aspects like genders and their roles are never questioned. I’d rather have no “aliens” at all than that.

      Much of the time, I think it’s laziness. The focus is on other things like action or loot, with the “aliens” just plopped in for a colorful fantasy feel or a pretense at diversity — or, quite often, in order to make humans look better than everyone else. I guess fictional religion often suffers from the same laziness. You kind of “have to” have it, so there is a male monotheistic god or a quasi-Greco-Roman pantheon with very predictable gender roles. Boring at best, too aggravating to bother with at worst.

  6. Rhoswen is a very cool name, I have to say.

    I appreciate this post and some of the discussion it’s generating. When it comes to roleplaying, RPing a woman of faith was actually hugely important to me even though I’m not really particularly faithful myself. My most memorable characters have been clerics or priestesses and it was actually very important for my sense of healing; I grew up with a strictly Catholic father and when I went off to college I hated all religion with a smouldering passion. RPing actually helped me let go and forgive, and it also denuded my father’s conservative Catholicism of the power it had. If I could rewrite faith for my characters to be feminist, pro-queer, and empathetic… was this not possible with the real deal too?

    The distance from real world religions and the incredibly ponderous history and social context with which they’re lardered made this possible, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. Perhaps my Blog of the Round Table should be about that! Gods know I’ve done to death the whole “RPing helped me discover my gender” business. *chuckles*

    Great post Rho, and thanks.

  7. Really great post, rho! In DA:O, I loved that there are usually “angry atheist” responses available when religion comes up. They amuse me so much I have a hard time not picking them :p But if anyone tries to make fun of Leliana for her visions (Alistair!), they’re going to get a stern talking to! I admit I was wary of her at first with all the very fervent Maker stuff, but she is such a great character.

  8. One of the really great things about the game is that you don’t really get the depth of each character unless you make a real effort to engage with them. But because each playthrough is different (if you pick a different personality and origin) you don’t get to see it all at once, so the characters feel different each time through.

    Leliana was definitely one of those characters who had a ton of depth that you didn’t see if you weren’t going to put in the effort (or if your character’s personality didn’t mesh with hers).

  9. Don’t have much to add but I will also echo the sentiment that DA: Origins has one of the most naunced depictions of religion in a videogame. I do notice however that your options are based around the assumption that your character is either a believer or an angry atheist. As I played my main character as an elf who discovered the original faith of her race, I was hoping to explore the relationship between racial and religious imperialism.

    1. Yeah, playing as a Dalish there weren’t many options to reference the Dalish gods. I wish that (and the dwarves’ ancestor worship, as well) had been more fleshed out in the dialogue options.

      1. I find this especially jarring at the end of the Ashes quest, when Brother Genitivi asks the Warden something about how it felt to be around the Ashes or why they saved it if they did. Can’t remember which one. The game lets you either be awed like a pilgrim or dismiss the ashes as just being ashes. I was thinking “Just because I don’t worship the Maker doesn’t mean I can’t respect Andraste as a heroic figure.”

        1. Yeah, totally. There are several situations where there’s no option to just say something politely neutral, which would have been nice to have.

  10. This is strange, i had exact the opposite experience when playing Dragon Age 1.

    I was fascinated by the Dragon Age world because the religion of the Chantry was so similar to the medieval catholic Church. In default fantasy settings there is normally a big pantheon of gods that somehow give their followers some holy magic power and / or a lots of spirits and demons that have some sort of godlike status. Simplified the concept of the standard fantasy world in computer games is : “What if there is a world where gods like the ones from ancient Greek religion where real?”

    For me the refreshing thing about Dragon Age was, that the religion is much more similar to real live. There is no evidence that “The Maker” exists, the priests of the chantry cannot perform any special wonders, Andraste was a historic prophet and was declared holy afterwards.
    It more like “What if we had a world where magic and fantasy races exist but without godlike beings ? What would a big religion institution in this world look like ?” That made the conflict of the world much more interesting for me.

  11. What I like in Dragon Age was that they left room for doubters in their fantasy religion. In a lot of fantasy worlds, the god(s) are obviously present, and the evidence for their existence is conclusive. This irks me.

    Obviously, I would not be an atheist in such a world, because in that world, believing in the gods is the thing to do rational. This creates a bizarre kind of quasi-erasure, in which I can still play “myself”, but the self that I play does not act like the self that I am. (if that makes sense.)

    This is even worse when the creators try to put atheists in the world any way. It a world where all the priests have god on speed-dial and god actually answers, the atheist is an idiot. So the character who does act like me is someone I can only hold in contempt.

    1. I agree, in most fantasy worlds its more about which god will you follow or do you try to work against the gods or even try to defeat the gods. But proof for their existence are everywhere in the world so there is no reason to doubt them. I think that’s why we don’t see monotheistic religions so often in fantasy worlds, because many different godlike beings leads to conflict.

      Thats one thing i didn’t liked about the Skyrim background … the whole civil war is about if Talos is a real god or not. But everybody can pray on a shrine of Talos and instantly all diseases are removed like on any other shrine of the other gods. So obviously Talos has some sort of godlike power … it would fit better, if they argue that Talos is some sort of deity but should not be worshiped because this angers the other gods or something like this.

      1. It works if you hypothesise those altars are enchanted items in and of themselves, much like the standing stones, and that the blessings are nothing to do with gods whatsoever. It fits, given that many of the priests are high-level magic practitioners (e.g. the priestess of Kynareth in Whiterun who is also a restoration trainer). Also, in Morrowind there are altars to saints who are definitely not gods that also have magical powers, and in both Morrowind and Oblivion priests are often spell vendors and trainers.

      2. That is of course a valid explanation. Going down that road it would lead to an interesting discussion if the gods exist at all or if the wonders created by the gods are just manifestations of a powerful class of magic practitioners which call themselves priests.

        But since this is not a topic in the conflict of the game world (my character is level 40 now and i didn’t encounter an Imperial or Thalmor claiming that the Thalos shrines are not real shrines but “just” magical item) it feels disconnected for me.

        1. Well, I’m pretty sure I read in Oblivion and/or Skyrim, in game, that praying to the Divines has no practical result, unlike contacting the Daedric Lords, which are rather a different proposition. So I’ve always assumed the altars had more to do with mortal than divine magic.

  12. This post got me thinking about how comparatively reluctant to handle the topic of religion most games set in the real world tend to be. At least the AAA titles. You can perhaps presume someone’s religion based on the region they’re from (Muslim in, say, Iran – Catholic in, say, Brazil) but most of the game I play seem to shy away from any specific religious statements or iconography. And I can see why: making any statement about religion in the real world embroils a game in a stew of politics that most developers are at loathe to enter. Can’t say I blame them. Games that do mention religion explicitly, like the Assassin’s Creed series, tend to be set far enough in the past to dodge the worst of it, as a result.

    I understand completely: people often don’t want politics with their escapism (I know I wouldn’t have liked the CoD series anywhere near as much if it had been presented as “Christianity versus Islam” – heck, overt references to either would probably have ruined the games for me). Which makes the comparison to misogyny, homophobia, racism, and ableism oh so apt: why is it okay do dodge religion to avoid ruining the fun, even though religion is real and exists in the real world and would make the games more realistic, but somehow sexism etc. is totally fine when it crops up in games even though it ruins the fun for many people, because that’s “just the way the real world is”?

  13. My Natia (had named her after myself but will go with canon name, i.e. a dwarven casteless woman, warrior) chose to ruined Leliana with her nihilism – just like i kill the faith/politics in my companions on the road ;)

    And in the view of DA2, she has failed to do so. And i’m happy about it, it’s beautifully realistic. For people don’t change ever, just passion gives us a handle to pause/put on hold the beliefs and inequalities. It’s how it is. And it does not diminish the beauty of the moment.

    The only safe way is my equally nihilistic Lady Hawke’s. Find another blood mage. And to the world, perpetually ready to make a move – this here greasy, worn book is the Harvester rite. I challenge you to desecrate our corpses and part us in death.

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