When it comes to finding inspiration for new games, developers are happy to look to films, books, comics, myths and folklore to find rich veins of inspiration. Why not consider major religions too? Sure, we get the odd title like Dante’s Inferno that’s willing to creatively interpret religious writing or God of War that lets you massacre the less fashionable deities, but where are the games that let you dragon punch Muhammad in the face or headshot then teabag John the Baptist? Every religion has great source material for a game setting, and here’s the top 5.
* Anyone a bit uptight or sensitive about religion might want to make their lives less stressful by not reading this list. I won’t be offended if you don’t want to be offended.*
Title: Seal of the Prophets
Genre: Party based RPG
Islam is monotheistic, and Muhammad himself spent much of his time preaching against polytheism. Like all of the major monotheistic religions, Islam is very much opposed to other faiths, believing them to be incomplete or corrupted versions of the true faith. This sets up the antagonists of the game. Not only can Islam metaphorically overcome polytheism, but it could be interpreted in game form as a battle against the other, older Gods. Enemies could range from the preachers and priests of the polytheistic religions, right up to the pantheon of Gods from ancient history.
So how does this translate to a game? Can we simply have Muhammad stalk around the world of 610AD punching Zeus and Vishnu? Well, first off Muhammad is referred to as The Seal of The Prophets, and if that’s not a game title then I don’t know what is. In fact, it seems hard to imagine that some fantasy RPG hasn’t used it already (Baldurs Gate 5: The Underdarks Tomb, Seal of the Prophets bonus pack). An RPG game would therefore seem like a better choice than some button masher. Indeed Muhammad was not exactly an action hero, and building a party of trusty sidekicks while convincing others to come round to his way of thinking seems like a more authentic experience.
There’s a decent story arc to Muhammad’s life that could work within the framework of a modern game title. His initial conflicts with polytheistic doctrine in Mecca and his growing support as he convinced groups and individuals to join his side is representative of the different factions in games like GTA or Fallout New Vegas. Meanwhile, his trial and persecution by the Meccan authorities could be played out like the trial of Tali in Mass Effect 2, with the player trying to gain support from different important individuals with a stake in the result of the trial. Following this, Muhammad performed the Hijra (emigration) and ended up in the city of Medina. From here, Muhammad brought desert tribes under his control, fought against Meccan forces at the Battle of Badr in 624 and the Battle of Uhud in 625 and eventually managed to take Mecca in a near-bloodless conquest.
Certainly there are aspects of Islam that would make for a better game. For example, if Muhammad had defeated the ruler of the Meccan authorities in personal combat, perhaps with a sword that was also a gun. Despite these shortcomings, a mature approach coupled with a little creative license could make Seal of The Prophet a great RPG adventure, fully exploiting the tropes of a powerful lead character up against the odds, driven into the desert before returning triumphant. Let me just go check with some Mullah’s and see if they’re cool with the idea…
Title: Brainwashing Cult Tycoon
Of all the religions, this one would seem to require the least originality to convert to a videogame. Concocted by a failed science fiction writer, scientology is the brainchild of L Ron Hubbard, the man who once famously claimed that if you wanted to make real money, you should make up your own religion. It’s ironic that of all the religions here, despite being by far the most recent, scientology’s content has aged the worst. Seemingly inspired by bad 50’s style drive in movies about green men and flying saucers, and owing more than a little to Flash Gordon, Hubbard’s religion tells of an intergalactic confederacy of people who dressed exactly as we do today (and he said this in the 1960’s). They drove the cars of the 60’s (Ford Cortina’s?) and flew in the plans of the day (DC-8’s), but they were fitted with hyper drives of some sort. These character designs and art assets are not exactly of Halo or Mass Effect standards then.
You would think that on this rich tableau of galactic empires and space travel that the story of mans journey to Earth would be suitably epic. You would be spectacularly wrong. Apparently the people in the Galactic confederacy were tricked by a group of psychiatrists (I wonder why a brainwashing cult would be scared of them?) to come in for income tax inspections, and when they did they were frozen in alcohol and packed onto those 1960’s planes to be sent off to Earth. Following from this, the story devolves into nuclear explosions in volcanoes, soul-capturing magnetic tape in the sky and 3D cinemas full of disembodied “thetans” watching movies about Jesus. The whole thing is such a mess that you would think that it was the script for a Uwe Boll movie. Of course many elements of scientology have been used in a movie with a mainstream theatrical release. It was a comedy starring John Travolta about funny camera angles and the colour purple called Battlefield Earth.
So disregarding all of Hubbard’s sub-standard, crossover fan fiction, how do you make a game about scientology? I would suggest a Sim or Tycoon style game about building your own religion. Like Theme Park or Sim City you start small with a few converts and you seek to grow your religion until it is big enough to compete with your other major competitors. You build your structures one by one, starting with a barn and levelling up to an isolated island and even a ship just like the Freewinds and from here you add physical exercise camps to break recruits spirits and brainwashing centres to convert them more fully to your cause. The game mechanics will revolve around a delicate balancing act of extracting the most money from your disciples and severing their family ties without making them so unhappy that they leave. The ultimate goal will be to create a world-dominating religion that aggressively attacks journalists or psychiatrists while maintaining an efficient, Jim Jones style camp which makes sure no one can ever leave. The end game will be met by having your camp martial’s execute your followers with poisoned kool-aid while you sail away on a boat filled with money, drugs and short skirted women.
Title: Travis Truth – Epistemology and Ontology adventure
Genre: Court room (Phoenix Wright)
There have been lots of games inspired by elements of the bible. Literally hundreds of games features demons, angels, hell and miracles, but the games that are explicitly about Christianity are exactly as good as Christian rock bands, Christian tv channels and Christian camp. This means that even Christians don’t want to play games about Christianity, and atheists, agnostics or other religious doctrines aren’t too bothered either, so how can we make a game about Christianity that everyone can love, believer, unbeliever or heathen?
Well regardless of faith, the one thing that gets almost everyone going is a good debate/argument. If the internet is made up of anything other than boobies and cats, its ad hominem and straw man arguments from all sides of the religious spectrum. Arguing over whether God exists, what he looks like and whether he’s the kind of guy (or gal) you’d want to go for a drink with has been a pastime for humans going back to Plato. Of all these arguments, some of the greatest are between the heavyweights of the religious flame wars: atheists and evangelicals!
Can a whole game about the ontological argument, Descartes chain of being and Bertrand’s teapot be entertaining? Well seeing as some people do this all day on YouTube videos, pay money to see it done by others and study argument points that may as well be on gamefaqs labelled “how to win the a-priori argument ” there’s definitely an audience out there.
In typical Pheonix Wright style, you try and convince a jury (or in this case an audience of agnostics) of the validity of your argument. As an atheist, you’re secret weapons include logic, science and evidence, while as an Evangelist, appeals to emotion, revealed truth and the argument from design will be your dragon punch/hadouken combo. There’s even scope for celebrity endorsement from Dawkins, Hitchens and Shermer for the atheists and Hovind, Comfort and Behe for the Christians.
Title: Brahman of War, Vishnu Gaiden
Genre: Hack N’ slash
Hinduism is an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based on the Vedic traditions (thank you Wikipedia) and as such is a little harder to pin down than some of the other more familiar religions on the list. From the start it has some attributes that map well to games. Firstly, Hinduism emphasizes Karma, a term that has entered gaming lexicon and is used in games as diverse as Fallout to Neverwinter Knights. As well as Karma, themes of reincarnation and rebirth are useful gameplay mechanics, whether they justify the player continuing to play after they seem to have died, or letting the player experience a number of different characters through the game.
Looking through the diverse beliefs and practices which exist under the umbrella term of “Hinduism”, it can be seen that almost any game could be made from the rich source materials. God’s, divine beings, animalistic spirits, Deva’s and Avatar’s all exist within this complex religion, and many of them seem to almost have been invented as end-of-level bosses. Elephant-headed, multi limbed creatures with many jewels, each of which looks like it was placed there by a game designer to look like a “weak spot” means that Hinduism more than any other religion sets the player up with a great range of antagonists. It might be unoriginal, but fighting your way through this pantheon of creatures with some swords-on-chains or a master sword makes a lot of sense. Shall we say hack-and-slash and more on? Alright then.
Title: Super Buddha Kart
Genre: Kart Racer
Ok, I know you’re thinking I’m running out of steam. How can Buddhism be a Kart Racer? In the last entry, did he actually know anything about Hinduism or did he just try to avoid the whole issue? Is Buddhism even a religion?
Well I’m not going to answer any of those questions. I’m not going to answer because I’m too busy delivering the greatest game pitch of all time. Welcome to the world of Super Buddha Kart!
The life story of Siddhartha Gautama is interesting and everyone should read it. The quest for enlightenment and the search for nirvana is relevant today as people move away from traditional Abrahamic religions and seek meaning in their lives. Despite Buddhism’s gloomy preoccupation with cycles of suffering and reincarnation as non-awesome animals, the religion does offer one key ingredient for a games designer. A roster of characters to choose from!
In Buddhist thought, a Bodhisattva is a being who is dedicated to achieving complete Buddhahood. That last word doesn’t mean the place where a bunch of gangster Budda’s live, it’s a state of perfect enlightenment and each of these Bodhisattva get to Buddahood in a number of hillarious ways. For example, Akasagarbha, the Buddha of infinite happiness spends all his time counting the number of sentient beings in existence (rock and roll) and Nio, two awesome Buddha’s wrestle and are often seen guarding Japanese temples and fighting each other in Street Fighter 4.
Just imagine all the Buddha’s lined up on that character selection screen. If you were enlightened, you’d be in a kart racer too, having fun and power sliding round corners. Sure, everyone would want to pick the funny fat Buddha, but just imagine how funny it would be to see him whoop with joy when you hit his banana skin on the rainbow road. If that’s not in nirvana, then I don’t want to go there. Leave me behind in this world of suffering with all these awesome games I just came up with.