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Almighty clash of video games, religion

By Boniface Mithika | Dec 12th 2021 | 3 min read

In the UK, The Binding of Isaac was given a 16+ rating despite being deemed “blasphemous”. [Courtesy]

Religious themes almost never appear in video games, but when they do, eyebrows are always raised. Introducing religion in the mix makes it a controversial subject.

While the video game industry is usually willing to court controversy when the potential payoff is worth it, concepts of spirituality and faith have mostly been avoided by both developers and publishers.

Many video games create immersive worlds complete with their unique cosmology, metaphysics, deities, religious lore and mythical stories. Others incorporate religious symbols and rituals from existing religions, but most publishers avoid the clash that comes with religion.

Themes of escapism and hedonism that accompany any form of entertainment media often seem to clash with religious themes of spiritual growth, social consciousness, generosity, righteousness or worldliness.

Even as games continue to take root in popular culture and grow rampantly as a global phenomenon, many religious authorities urge people to resist them.

There have been a couple of scenarios where games have crossed the borderline and subsequently faced the wrath of the faithful.

Just recently, Call of Duty: Vanguard, which was released barely a month ago was on the receiving end after a section of Muslims noticed pages of the Quran lying on the floor during a gameplay scene. In Islam, the Quran is considered sacred and cannot be placed on the floor or on any dirty surface.

This is not the first time Call of Duty has attracted negative criticism from Muslims for insensitive content. In 2012, developers of Call of Duty had to remove a multiplayer map that showed Islamic religious text.

Opinions on video games differ from religion and denomination. As such, developers and publishers take precautions not to offend people’s religious beliefs.

Religious references in the Japanese role-playing video game series Final Fantasy were originally censored for the US 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.

In the UK, The Binding of Isaac was given a 16+ rating despite being deemed “blasphemous”.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has also been considered by many as anti-Christian due to its inclusion of burning churches and monasteries. It also forces the players to steal and attack churches in order to progress in the main story.

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.

Although the specific reason was not revealed in public, it is possible that it is because the game contains two-headed mutated cows called Brahmin, or that Brahmin 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 that originated in India. Brahman, a breed of Zebu, are revered by Hindus.

Courting controversy with the Hindu culture was another action game titled Hanuman: Boy Warrior, which was criticised for portraying the Hindu deity Hanuman.

LittleBigPlanet (2008) had a last-minute delay involving a licensed song in the game’s soundtrack.

A PlayStation Community member reported the lyrics to one of the licensed songs in the game included passages from the Quran and could, therefore, be offensive to Muslims. The game was patched twice, the day before its release for players who had received the game early, before its intended release date.

The fighting game, Injustice: Gods Among Us was temporarily banned in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Originally, the title of the game was rebranded as Injustice: The Mighty Among Us for promotional uses in those areas.

It is speculated that Injustice was banned because of the inclusion of the word ‘Gods’ in the title, the cleavage exposed in the outfits of some female characters, and overall bloodiness. Eventually, the ban in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait was lifted.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002) sparked controversy due to a level featuring the killing of Sikhs within a depiction of their most holy site, the Harmandir Sahib, where hundreds of Sikhs were massacred in 1984.

An altered version of Silent Assassin was eventually released with the related material removed from the game.

- Additional information from Internet sources

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