Where is God in our video games?

In image from the game "Bioshock."Religion is a central element in countless books, movies, plays, and other artistic media. We watch and read stories that approach religion from every conceivable perspective—pious devotion, doubtful questioning, and angry rejection. We can probably all point to a few novels or films that affected our faith, calling us to re-examine our beliefs or casting light on a difficult spiritual question.

But when’s the last time you played a video game that talked seriously about God?

An article at the video game site Gamespy ponders the absence of religion in video games. That absence does seem odd when you consider both the popularity of games today and the prominence of religious belief in other areas of life. The article’s author tries in vain to get game publishers to comment on this phenomenon; one is left with the strong impression that game publishers consider religion to be too touchy a subject to tackle:

So it was with some surprise that I encountered a wall of fear and paranoia when I called around, asking developers to talk about religion in gaming. What I found is a small handful of people who think about the issues a lot, and wanted desperately to be part of the conversation… and a vast, silent majority who didn’t want to touch the topic with the proverbial 10-foot pole.

“There cannot be a hotter potato than this hot potato,” explains Peter Molyneux, Creative Director of Microsoft Game Studios Europe and Lionhead Studios, and one of the brave few not only willing, but eager, to talk about issues of faith. “Religion is one of those things where — if you’re specific about it — you’re going to get yourself into a mountain of trouble,” he suggests. “You have to be very, very careful.”

When religion does appear in games, it’s usually superficial at best: either religious imagery is used as window-dressing for the gameplay, or shallow themes of sin and salvation are used to prop up plots without saying anything meaningful about religious faith itself. (And while a handful of specifically Christian-themed games have been produced by Christian publishers, none to date have met with widespread critical or popular success.)

The reluctance to engage religion is somewhat understandable, from a game publisher’s perspective: why limit your game’s audience by appearing to favor any particular religion when you can just leave religion out of the game entirely and avoid the potential for controversy? That works fine for “pure entertainment” games like Mario Kart or Tetris, but the popularity of Modern Warfare 2 (which sparked discussion about the morality of video game violence) and Bioshock (which explored the clash of real-life political ideologies) suggests that gamers are not averse to games that blend serious issues with fun gameplay.

Why do you think religion is hard to find in video games? Have you played a game that treated religion in general, or Christianity in particular, in a serious and thought-provoking way? What would a game with serious religious content look like, and is that a game you’d like to play?

[Image is a screenshot from the game Bioshock, which gathered attention for exploring real-life political ideas.]

6 Responses to “Where is God in our video games?”

  • Pat says:

    Seriously…..Think about it. Most games reflect what is happening in the world on some level; greed, war, etc. I would not expect God to be a subject in such games as people are trying to exclude God from everything else these days.

  • Chris says:

    What’s interesting is that many games have elements of the supernatural in them without ever fully discussing the religion or deities surrounding those elements.

    A good number of games have a form of Magic in them. Yet, how many discuss where that magical power comes from? At most, they’ll write it off to some “energy of the earth” trope.

    I think it’s hard to find religion in games because of how polarizing and personal it is. Regardless of how seriously they take it, everyone has practiced a religion of some sort and has formed strong opinions on what they believe. It’s far easier to focus on simpler things like racing, beating up the bad guys or (even) politics.

  • maria says:

    With the amount of time spent on playing video games… not many, even believers will devote that kind of time to “God” games. Not only that, but while destruction and violence doesn’t belong in games, neither does God. God is real-life.

  • Phyllis says:

    All I see is an addiction in progress when it comes to video games. Just another way for the evil to get into the children of God fearing homes, unaware! Anything with God out creator brings conviction of our human fleshly cravings of the world. We have to seek a hunger for the things of God to have desire for the things that God is in. Most of these games in a fantasy world that creates an escape from reality, for all ages. From the mother to the father to the child. Beware of how the spiritual world works.

  • Lu .W. says:

    I myself have played video game since i was five years old and never really thought about this terrible truth. I don’t think it’s wrong to play video games but here’s a truth I’ve been learning more recently . the more you love God the less you’ll be making a god out of video games. I still play video games a lot but i seldom do it without thinking,” Hey, God, thanks so much for this. You made the electricity go into this machine and you gave man the knowledge and curiosity to make something so… fascinating & fun. Let me glorify you through this…” God is awesome and he loves us so much. He gives us gifts we don’t need like video games and music and all kind of things video games are a gift from God in a manor of speaking. one of the big pluses to being a teen in the twenty 10’s (= I still think it’s very sad that God is not usually in video games and i will be praying very hard for game designers and their work…
    Peace out!!! -LU .W.

  • Manuel says:

    It’s interesting just how much time some of us can spend in front of a computer or console wanting to get to the next level or in many cases conquer the next stage. Before we know it we have spent hours without giving any thought to anything else including the one who has given us the very breath we take. I’m not against gaming I still play games BUT for people like me that seem to get lost in games like World Of Warcraft (which I no longer play)and get lost in the gameplay, I mean, I remember playing for more than 24 hours straight on my days off and at least 5-6 hours when I had to work the next day, I’m not placing judgement on anybody, (please understand that this is only my journey) but as I started to see how much time I’d spent with GOD and how much of it playing games Its no wonder he has prompted me to curve the gaming time. Infact I’ve thrown my discs out and cancelled my subscription because as I understand it my God is a jelous God and he wants to spend time with me. I am a grown man, how about those teens that seem so consumed by video games that they don’t give a thought to our creator, they do go to church and maybe even home groups, but a relationship with God is far more than church its how much time is spent with him when no one is watching. All God wants is a real relationship with his children. Its been a very difficult lesson for me to learn but he does love us and I beleive that because he loves us he would prefer for us to spend more time with him then in the virtual world.