Occasionally religion and politics intersects the world of video games. As this is a blog that deals with MMO’s, I normally avoid discussing those issues as they are usually fraught with acrimony and contention. However, on August 14, 2008 GamePolitics.com published an article entitled: Militant Atheists Upset Over Spore. Will Wright revealed that the game has been under attack from atheists upset with Spore — not religious players:
Will Wright: But so far I’ve had no critical feedback at all from anybody who is religious feeling that we were misrepresenting religion or it was bad to represent religion in the game. It was really the atheists!
This story reminded me of a few weeks ago when Tobold, one of the most prolific MMO bloggers around pondered whether the “religious right” would be protesting Spore because of the assumed evolutionary basis of the gameplay. It looks like he got it very wrong according to recent comments by luminary Will Wright — the creator of Spore who unlike Tobold has actually designed a series of wildly successful and important games.
The fact is the underlying premise of his article was rather shaky and silly. Fantasizing about the religious right protesting Spore was needlessly disrespectful to anyone that happens to be religious and right of center politically. He used loaded phrases like “religious right” and “religious crowd”. I told him so in a comment I made on his blog:
With all due respect you should be wary of injecting religion and politics in a blog about gaming. The term “religious right” has a lot of baggage and is a pejorative used by some on the left in America and in other parts of the world to castigate people who don’t agree with them.
Using labels to stereotype and pigeonhole people is wrong. There seems to be this notion held by the intelligentsia in Europe that the so-called religious right in America is a Taliban-like group of crusaders that go around burning books, CD’s and video games.
I myself am religious and right of center in my political leanings. In America that is not a crime (yet) as we have freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association. Am I then part of the “religious right”?
Yet I am a game designer. I enjoy playing games on many platforms and especially MMO’s. America has over 300 million people* that purchase and enjoy video games. I would assume that many of them are religious and lean to the right. Are they part of the religious right as well?
I do appreciate your points about creationism and intelligent design with regard to Spore. However, I think there is no need to use a politically charged moniker like “religious right” to make your point. Thank you.
* I later clarified that statement in a subsequent correction
Here is his less then charitable response which borders on invoking Godwin’s Law with a reference to fascism:
“If I call a group “religious right”, I imply that a) they are religious, and b) they are opposite of the left side in the political spectrum. If you think that is an insult, the insult is purely created in your own head, thus you are the solely responsible for it. That doesn’t require me to change my language. “Liberal” isn’t an insult either, so I’d use it as well. The whole political correctness language fascism is just bullsh*t.”
It’s not about political correctness — which by the way, I am personally opposed to. It’s about being accountable for unfair and unfounded speculations directed at a particular group of people. Let’s be honest here, the term the religious right is a heavily loaded phrase which any intelligent observer of the world like Tobold would most certainly know.
From a Wikopedia article on the term Christian Right:
The term Christian right is considered pejorative by some observers who suggest the term, and similarly, Religious Right is used primarily by the political left.
Tobold loves to invoke the right to free speech but he sometimes fails to realize that freedom of speech goes both ways. Those that use words should be expected to be scrutinized and challenged for what they say. With freedom comes responsibility.
So which *actual* group of people is Tobold talking about? No one knows because he has failed to identify any such group. I have checked the Internet and news organizations: there are no protests for the upcoming release of Spore or any other video game nor are any planned by anyone. The only news item I could find about a video game protest was back in 2006 by left wing and progressive Christian groups protesting a Christian video game called “Left Behind” — not the religious right at all.
In the final analysis, his concerns that the so-called “religious right” will be protesting Spore were completely unfounded and intellectually dishonest. Why manufacture outrage if none exists? Also, he didn’t provide one shred of evidence that this group of people:
- cares about this issue
- has any appreciable detrimental effect on the video game industry
- has any substantive past history of protests against video games
Instead, he needed a convenient straw man as the talking point to launch his article and the bogeyman of the religious right fit the bill perfectly. It must have been a slow MMO news day. Crying “wolf” by creating imaginary enemies and scapegoats doesn’t do anyone any good. Will Wright’s observation that it was not the religious right but the militant atheists is further evidence how unfounded Tobold’s concern was in the first place and gives us some insight as to who really has a deficit of tolerance. Again a quote from the interview with Will Wright points this out:
Will Wright: our bigger fear was that we didn’t want to offend any religious people; but looking at the discussion that unfolded from this thing, what we had was a good sizable group of players that we might call militant atheists, and the rest of the players seemed very tolerant, including all of the religious players…
The moral of the story is this: think before you blog. Not every idle thought, feeling or fantasy deserves to exist in text form and shared with the world at large — especially when it concerns people’s deeply held beliefs like politics and religion. Better to be silent and thought a fool then speak and leave no doubt.
Will Wright might have been afraid of this:
But I think that Penny Arcade nails it when it comes to Spore and religion:
The thing about god games is that you’re the highest authority. You won’t have any creatures that need to poop to see unless you put them there. If you play as a malevolent god, that’s your choice, not a religious statement by the developer.
As a whole, the game industry is usually ambivalent or antagonistic towards religion and/or morals and ethics. Thing is, what antagonism is there isn’t really directed against religion so much as it is a wholehearted embrace of things that religious folk don’t like. In other words, games don’t go out of their way to tick off religious people, games just wallow in the gutter that religion tries to lift people out of.
As such, there’s really no reason for religious people to feel attacked, and feel forced on the defensive. People have been wallowing in the gutter throughout history, and only the most insane of zealots ever bother to try to change the world by sword. Religion is more about service than fighting.
Also, what’s the phrase? “It’s just a game!” There are a few more important things to actually expend energy over.
*Disclosure: Tesh does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this comment, and is a very religious, mostly conservative sort of fellow who is not offended in any way by Spore… though the very existence of the GTA series is disappointing*
Christian groups have a long history of attacking games on religious grounds. They attacked Dungeons & Dragons for having devils and demons in it. They attacked GTA for the hot coffee mod.
And if you would actually read my post, you’d see that I ended concluding that the religious groups would probably be okay with Spore, because it promotes intelligent design. Which is apparently what happened. So I don’t see the point of your post, other than a crusade to prevent other blogger from using the term “religious right”, which is pretty silly if you ask me.
The initial protests for Dungeons & Dragons was almost 30 years ago and the religious groups involved were small, fringe Christian denominations. And if they protested, then so what? That is their right to express their opinion in a free and open society. The link to D & D and people being able to produce and enjoy video games without fear of censorship in 2008 is tenuous at best.
Regarding the GTA infamous “hot coffee mod” I could not find any evidence of religious groups protesting this. It seems that Jack Thompson and (former candidate for Democratic nominee for U.S. President) Hillary Clinton were two of the most outspoken opponents of it. Jack Thompson is a Christian Conservative who represents nobody but himself yet Hillary Clinton is a left-wing Democrat who represents the people of New York State. The difference here is that one represents himself and the other represents a State.
If you can find evidence that major religious groups opposed the “hot coffee mod” and organized protests outside of Jack Thompson — I would like to see it.
As far as Grand Theft Auto IV there have been no protests from religious groups as indicated in an article which at GamePolitics.com which references another article:
So now the problem according to some in the gaming press is not that religious groups are protesting, the problem seems to be that religious groups are *not* protesting video games. Doesn’t the press have better things to do then worry about who is and who isn’t protesting video games? It seems that the video game press is busy looking for news these days and is very eager to villify the religious right regardless of the fact that they have taken no interest in video games.
Also, notice the bias toward religious groups in the writers first sentence:
Here he’s making an unsupported claim that religious groups have nothing better to do then protest which is an attempt to make them look ridiculous. It’s easy to make offhand comments like that without any evidence or proof. What if the writer had said that minority groups protest just about anything? Would that statement have been acceptable? Of course not. He would be labeled a racist and probably fired from his job.
The bottom line is that the video game industry is not under threat by the so-called “religious right” in any appreciable way, shape or form.
Tobold, if you wanted to have a debate on evolution vs. creationism or intelligent design then that’s great. I just didn’t understand the need to bring people who happen to be religious and right of center politically into the debate in order to launch your article and make your point. Thanks for at least coming here to clarify your remarks.
(current Democratic Candidate for U.S. President) Hillary Clinton
(current Democratic Candidate for U.S. President) Hillary Clinton
Fixed! Thanks 🙂
Anyway.. I think that while religious groups have protested against games like Doom before, the protests have been very limited (or even nonexistent) in recent years. In fact, the misguided protests against Doom (1, 2, 3) might have persuaded people to look at the games themselves. After all, it was pretty silly to claim that Doom promoted satanic worship when the primary objective was to fight the forces of Hell.
Also, it’s prudent to distinguish the reasons why various groups denounce or protest against video games. Denouncing a violent game doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing it for religious reasons. Ditto for video games that include sex. Lumping together protests by right-wing, left-wing and/or religious groups and saying that it’s the religious groups protesting is disingenuous at best.