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A Game Without God
by Rob Lockhart on 03/29/13 12:30:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

    I’m at GDC, and a number of talks, events, and random encounters have caused me to think deeply about the kind of game experiences I want to create.  Notably, this was the last year for the Game Design Challenge, an annual GDC event where top game designers are given a difficult and evocative topic to design for.  This year, the topic was “Humanity’s Last Game,” an idea which brings to mind the inevitability of death, and what may come after.  Last year, the designers were tasked with designing a game that is also a religion.

    One pressure that the GDC community exerts (especially the indie scene, of which I aspire to be a part) is the desire for authenticity.  Surrounded by indie culture, games seem like a stale and shallow inspiration for other games.  I have a lot of sympathy with this viewpoint, at least until the game industry generates a Tarantino.  Besides, I like so many kinds of game -- linear, systemic, abstract, realistic -- that as a source of inspiration, past games offer mostly confusion.

    I find myself thinking in the intersection of these two ideas: personal experience and spirituality.  My first twitch is to say “what spirituality?”  I am an atheist, now.  A bad one.  I’m the kind of atheist that thinks everyone who believes in the supernatural is at least a little bit crazy.  But I was crazy once.

    I was raised in the Eastern Orthodox church.  If I were to write a book about the world’s religions, I would need only one line for Eastern Orthodoxy, and it would say, “mostly harmless.”  They don’t pay taxes, but they’re a somewhat charitable.  They do proselytise abroad, but they also help the developing world.  They baptize infants, but don’t reject science.  They don’t allow female priests, but have no other institutional inequality that I can think of.

    I was a true believer, in the Stan Lee sense of the phrase.  I taught sunday school, gave student sermons, attended church camp and championed the Christian worldview against critics among my peers.

    Gods make great stories.  They set the stage for clashes between beings of unlimited power, but who rely on a relatable human character to accomplish the heroic.  Christians may believe, with full internal consistency, that they are soldiers in a war against evil.  A war which threatens every sentient being in the universe, but in which they personally play a crucial role.  Almost equally heroic is the iconoclastic atheism of writers like Nietzsche.  “God is Dead” sounds at least as bombastic as “Jesus Saves.”  But my atheism is not nearly so valiant as this.

    For me, my religion was like the plastic bag you take a goldfish home in.  It was pretty flexible, but I came to realize how superfluous a deity was.  There is nothing left that needs a god to explain its behavior or its origin.  My bag sprung a leak, and gradually, over a period of years, my faith leaked out.  I began to see what damage religion was doing to the world, and while I wasn’t looking, my goldfish, my God, had died.

Goldfish Bag Sorry, Jesus.
 

    Narrative games are usually played in a religious mindset.  There is a great struggle taking place, and you must play a crucial role in defeating the evil.  You are granted, by the game, miraculous powers to help you accomplish your quest.  You may even need to kill a god, but doing so only reinforces the grandiose fantasy you're in.

    There is a different class of game, often called “systemic” or “mechanical” which are commonly associated with reason.  These games are materialist, but in a way that never addresses the broader questions that religious games claim.  WHY am I trying to beat this person in Chess?  Maybe they are the good guy, and I should help them win.

    Perhaps what I could contribute is another kind.  A game about the transition from a believer to a nonbeliever.  A game where the player is asked to give up their epic mission and their extraordinary powers in exchange for the superpower of making free choices, and of being one human among many.

    Here’s how I think the game would play:  God would give the player an epic mission to complete, probably to destroy or kill something (even though that’s usually wrong -- he’ll say -- just this once it’s OK).  From a first person perspective, the player would slay various supernatural monsters.  Each mission would grant the player new powers, and challenges would, of course, grow in difficulty over time.  Powers would be automatically equipped in all available power slots, so gaining a new power means gaining a new slot, etc.  

    Missions would never involve other people, only demons and seraphims and whatever other mythology we’d decide to bring in.  But sometimes, while the player is on a mission, she would see the shadowy figure of another human being.  The ghost would say “reject your power!” And for some players, that would be the end of it, because it’s so hard to do so.  Some players might figure out that they’re supposed to unequip one of their powers so they have an empty slot.  The game might even threaten them as they start a mission with an empty slot.

Warning! Are you sure you want to begin this mission with an empty power slot?

    Missions would be designed very linearly, or hub-and-spoke, with a Fable-style navigation-helper.

    But if she empties some of her slots, the swirling demons will begin to fade, and the player will begin to see the figure a bit more clearly.  If the player veers away from the direction the mission is incentivising, she may even find new powers. Powers like “empathy,” and “creativity,” if equipped, will help the material world become more and more visible. With speech equipped, the player is able to interact with people through dialogue trees.

    Without any epic supernatural powers, the demons become invisible, and the player will see, instead, the scene of a car accident.  A dark haired woman will ask if your cellphone battery has any power.  
there are people trapped in the overturned car.  If you pull them to safety, the game ends, and you are the winner.  

That’s what I imagine a game about becoming an atheist to be like.


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Comments


Kerr Lockhart
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Absolutely extraordinary. I hope you pursue this.

I am reminded a little of THE MAGIC FLUTE, in which a young man is set on a mission and given all the reasons to become a true believer, to liberate a woman who is being imprisoned by an evil wizard. When he arrives, the evil wizard is a good priest and he learns that the person who sent him on the journey was evil. I could imagine that process continuing to ping-pong along until all systems of belief are full of holes and there is no safe secure ground for true belief, and the young man must make his own hypotheses and develop his own facts and finally come up with his own mission.

Chad Wagner
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Ah...but what if the "real world" is the illusion - the angels/demons win!

The tough part about making a game like that is your authorial view creates the reality/truth in the game. And really good philosophy is about asking the questions without giving the answers. It would be especially interesting if you could continue the uncertainty throughout the entire game! Offering clues here and there...affirmation of either viewpoint - never offering complete validation of the player's viewpoint. In effect, forcing them to come to grips with their own world view in your game. Basically offering at least 2 completely acceptable interpretations of the game systems.

Now that's a challenging mission!

I am working on a game that tries to do that. But subtly - and it really focuses on the techniques that you use to establish truth (in game and in real life).

I hope you make yours - then we can share!

Dan Porter
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@Chad:
I like that interpretation. It would be interesting if by getting the "car crash" ending, you never end up getting around to defeating the supreme evil being at the end of the game.

@OP:
Or weirder still, if you want to support a narrative path that is more in line with a believer, if somehow saving the people in the overturned car was actually a step in defeating evil. After all, some religious narratives as you say involve "A war which threatens every sentient being in the universe, but in which they personally play a crucial role." One of the fascinating things about religion is that doing every day good becomes a PART of the grandiose struggle, rather than juxtaposed to it as it is in your game concept.

Rob Lockhart
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I don't claim to present a balanced view - I definitely have an agenda, but it's an agenda I've never seen in a game before. Ambiguity about the nature of reality is an interesting topic, but it sounds prone to melodrama. Very difficult to pull off. I am eager to play your game.

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Robert Green
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I hope you realise that "an accurate depiction of God" is an incredibly loaded phrase, and that the conversation between believers and non-believers would be vastly different if there were any agreement at all about what constitutes "an accurate depiction of God".
I think this is also largely why it's so hard to portray a god in a videogame in any modern way - when you have to account for everything from deists who think god does not interfere in our world at one extreme to calvinist types who think god is in control of everything at the other, having a god figure in a game that would make any decent proportion of believers think of it as being "an accurate depiction of God" would be quite a challenge.

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Robert Green
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Sorry if I crossed a line there. I'm speaking primarily from a viewpoint of what believers profess to thinking about god, but as a non-believer, I can't claim to know that there isn't something that could be described as a 'common experience of believing'. If there is such a thing, and there was some way of conveying this experience in a game, then I'd be interested in trying it.

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Rob Lockhart
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@Joshua I'm sorry you feel so oppressed in the Games Industry, but in the real world it's usually the other way around. Atheists are considered untrustworthy in many parts of the US. I've had the experience of Atheism being confused with Satanism. 76% of US Citizens claim to be Christian. I have to use another language if I want to wish someone well after they sneeze without appealing to a supernatural creator.

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Lex Duchgard
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Thank you for representing your faith with gentleness, honesty and Truth.

I wanted to chime in to say that I know of someone that left a top social game studio in Silicon Valley to create exactly the type of game you are talking about. They've been working for over a year on it now. It is a game full of uncompromising Biblical truth. I can't say anymore than that right now. I just wanted to offer you encouragement and let you know that you are not alone in your views.

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Jakub Majewski
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Lex, I second Joshua's question :).

Lex Duchgard
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Anyone interested in networking on the previously mentioned game just send an email to: lexduchgard@yahoo.com. Ill forward your information.

Michael Joseph
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Good for you. I mean, seems to me you're thinking of games as a medium for expression and not as a product to fill any particular market. But it's not to say that such games can't make economic sense. We know they can.

That said. I'm a little unclear if you're trying to persuade people to become atheists or more simply construct an interactive metaphor for the transformation.

When I think of monsters (eg Cthulhu, Godzilla) or demons and devils, gremlins and gnomes, ghouls and ghosts, zombies and vampires and werewolves, I think of... people. People and their fears or their horrifying epiphanies about the nature of man, power, various institutions, etc. Cthulhu to me is a metaphor for a horrific epiphany that abruptly causes one man to fear, loath and hate that which he once admired and loved (and maybe depended upon!) once the true reality of it's nature became apparent to him. Godzilla we all know is a metaphor for the fear of the loss of control over atomic energy. So all of these "monsters" come from us not from without.

All monsters are us.

So what you're talking about with demons disappearing and rationality and reality taking it's place resonates. And it's empowering once you dispel the supernatural. But it's also heavy and scary in it's own right. Because now, worse than demons, you have the inertia of all matter of injustice and public acceptance of that injustice, all chalked up to human nature.

So in this light, its easy to see why people would take harbor in religion and would prefer to have it! Religion by comparison is easy. Ignorance is bliss. But also a curse as it guarantees problems don't get solved appropriately.

I have one problem with atheism. (I normally assume that any atheist is basically an agnostic btw) It is quite possibly a biological advantage to have some system of BELIEF. Renowned atheists/agnostics past and present like Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, would often talk about the need people seem to have for spirituality. They would then talk about "humanism" born from philosophy as being an adequate replacement. I think this distinction between a god and spirituality(or humanism) is something we don't hear enough about. But I think we could go even further in terms of advocating a holistic humanist belief that is scientifically based and which does not neglect physical nor mental (spiritual) well being. Hell, if Jesus would only have said run 3 miles a day and don't eat processed foods! :)

In my mind, atheism may take god away but then it doesn't ferry them to any sort of necessary replacement. Atheism should do more than destroy god, it needs to bring forth a solution to fill an inherent need. And non believers need to stop looking at believers as stupid or crazy... they are us and they are future atheists and agnostics and deists (re: deists read Thomas Paine's (YES that same old American revolutionary who authored 'Common Sense') essay 'Age of Reason' found anywhere online.)

http://www.deism.com/theageofreason.htm


I apologize for going somewhat off topic.

p.s. ever notice how atheists debates are now always vs Relgion or God and never any specific faith or denomination? Specifics would make the debate too easy for the atheists.

Bart Stewart
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Although I'd endorse seeing a game made as in the original suggestion, I'd spin it differently because I don't see atheism and agnosticism as the same thing.

I'd suggest that a shift from positively asserting that a divine being exists to asserting that a divine being certainly does not exist is not the shedding of a superstition -- it is the exchange of one kind of purely faith-based belief for another. Agnosticism is the humble acknowledgement that we are not able in this existence to know one way or the other, and that trying to convert others to accept that the highest power is God or to accept the rejection of God for statist power are just different ways to impose force over the minds of others.

Beyond the real-world stuff, I'd further submit that the journey to agnosticism is actually stronger narratively. A simply linear journey from (what is from the author's perspective) spiritual benightedness to rational enlightenment is simple to conceive but not very interesting. Moving instead from theism to atheism to agnosticism more closely tracks the way that the path to enlightenment is rarely a straight line of always-increasing perfection, but moves through errors and mistakes and false solutions to a position of as much balance as a fallible, limited human can achieve.

In narrative design terms, exchanging theist powers for atheist powers leads to a fake ending. If the game is continued, the player learns that giving up religious powers for gaining powers to convert people to a claim of divine non-existence is simply trading in one kind of mental chain for another. The real ending comes when the player chooses to step off both paths, letting go of both belief and disbelief. The fake ending (handled sensitively and not just for shock) intensifies the power of the true ending.

Obviously this only works if the author is able to buy at least somewhat into the apologia described above. There's still room for an interesting game otherwise, though.

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Bart Stewart
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It's a fair (and good) question, Joshua.

I'd suggest there's an important difference between telling other people what to think and how to behave based on faith in an unknowable, and participation in a system of social rules based on visible real-world effects.

Obviously even the latter isn't perfect -- again, it comes from fallible and limited humans. But if it's a chain it's one that at least has a chance of being a reasonably functional product of deliberation by free people based on knowable reality, and not one imposed because of someone else's unprovable belief.

This really is meant to be a meditation on the design of a game, though, so I think I will leave it at that. ;)

Douglas Gregory
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I respectfully disagree with Bart Stewart's suggestion that agnosticism is a third category, separate from theism and atheism.

Nearly everyone on both sides of the god question agrees we can never be 100% certain - this is uncontroversial.

The question then is, how do we conduct ourselves amid our uncertainty?

One broad class of options is to tentatively suppose there might be a god - and continue going to church, making offerings, or praying privately - just in case someone might be listening. Such an approach to life might be termed "agnostic theism"

Another class of options is to tentatively suppose there probably isn't a god - focusing on this mortal life and our mortal efforts as the only ones we can count on - because there's probably no divine being to intervene on our behalf. Such an approach might be termed "agnostic atheism"

Note that both these approaches are tentative and provisional, not absolute rigid faith-based commitments; and they may even coexist to different degrees in one individual. Such a person could probably be nudged along the belief spectrum toward greater or lesser credence in god(s), if presented with the right evidence.

Most accusations of rigid dogmatism come about because evidence that looks tremendously compelling from one point of view often isn't especially convincing to those who think differently (see Tim Minchin performing "Sam's Mum" for an amusing illustration of this). When seemingly iron-clad evidence fails to make an impression, it's easy to conclude that the other side is just being dogmatic, rather than examining why they might be unconvinced.

Even outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins are quite public about their lack of certainty, (See, for instance, Dawkins's 7-point scale of religious belief) in contrast to Stewart's characterization of atheism as a "purely faith-based belief". Our black-and-white mediascape and often vitriolic blogosphere can obscure such nuanced positions though.

I hope the above demonstrates that drawing hard lines between "atheist" "agnostic" and "theist" doesn't faithfully represent the real spectrum of credence in god(s). At worst, it can even perpetuate tribalism and stymie dialogue between people on different parts of that spectrum, by cajoling them to commit to the extreme positions.

That's one thing I found interesting in Rob Lockhart's proposal in the original post - that it admits a player placing bets to varying degrees in how much the "religious" story of angels & demons is the real one. A player giving up all their powers or maxing-out their powers are extremes: the game could also respond in an analog way to a player giving up just a little power to peek at the other view; or keeping a single power as a toe in the water "just in case" the supernatural version is the real game. I'd be fascinated by the human psychology mechanics like that could reveal. :)

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Rob B
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'I think you are making the assumption that faith is bad thing'
It is a bad thing, its literally the belief in that which isnt known to be true.

'all people have faith.'
Grey area, but also irrelevant to whether it is good or bad.

'all proof is by it's own nature is derived from ignorance.'
That doesnt really mean anything. Yes, everyone goes from ignorant to having evidence of things the important part is the ways and means about which you do that, and the path with least faith is always the correct one.

While testing the length of a piece of string you shouldnt have faith that it is 10cm you measure it and find out. In doing so you discover that the string can be stretched, that the string can be measured in different ways, that the length is a much more complex issue that you could have possibly imagined.

'Atheism should do more than destroy god'
Atheism itself cant really do anything, it isnt a complete ideology just a component of one. If you want to argue for another way of thinking you tread a fine line of wanting to run your own religion. A line that humanists currently walk, though fairly successfully so far.

The differences between religion and spiritualism can basically be summed up as one has ritual the other doesnt. That said the difference between religion/spiritualism and humanism is an interesting topic, one that I think humanists shouldnt shy away from lest they end up just forming a new religion in their attempts to produce a secular option.

'asserting that a divine being certainly does not exist'
A strawman, one I am really sick of. No atheist asserts god/gods do not exist with any more certainty than anything else that they have no evidence for. None. Not Hitchins, not Dawkins, not myself, not any atheist in their right mind that I have ever spoken to or known of. That definition of atheism only exists in the minds of those trying to paint atheism as being just as dogmatic as religion, and its nonsense.

Just ask yourself this question, do you believe in unicorns? You likely answered 'No', perhaps one or two more fanciful people will say 'Yes'. Pretty much nobody will answer, 'Unicorn existence is unknowable and I am unwilling to commit to any answer in the highly unlikely chance that unicorns are proven to exist.'

Agnosticism has become another word for atheist because of the fear people have that saying they are atheist makes them closed minded, the implications applied to atheists are really quite oppressive and unfair. Its not only a disingenuous idea its immature as it completely excludes the very basic idea that when evidence of unicorns happens to crop up you could quite easily say 'Guess I was wrong' and change your mind.

The usual definition of an agnostic is someone who believes that it is unknowable, its an entirely different argument about the nature of the universe. (Actually backed by some very cool pieces of logic with regard to closed systems.) Both atheists and the religious can and do explore agnosticism.

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Kujel Selsuru
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This sounds like an interesting concept and I'd like to try it (if you are able to bring it to frution). I think it would be very interesting to watch a theist and an atheist play this game, to see how they react to the message and how they interpret it.

Oh and I really loved this paragraph of your write up:

"For me, my religion was like the plastic bag you take a goldfish home in. It was pretty flexible, but I came to realize how superfluous a deity was. There is nothing left that needs a god to explain its behavior or its origin. My bag sprung a leak, and gradually, over a period of years, my faith leaked out. I began to see what damage religion was doing to the world, and while I wasn’t looking, my goldfish, my God, had died."

As someone who grew up without any religion or even talk of it (or atheism for that matter) I never had a transitional phase to atheism from theism and it was interesting to read a quick distillation of the experience.

Nick Harris
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I thought you were going to say that the shadowy figure turned into that of a Psychiatric Nurse in a secure unit of a Mental Hospital and that the remainder of the game would be the struggle against the temptations of returning to your Psychotic Religious Delusions and Hallucinations as you chose to take your medicine and accept that you were far less than the special demon slayer you had narcissitically led yourself to believe.

Another idea would be to do a version of 'Left Behind' with an atheist protagonist and a twist:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7h2LtAG3Mkw

The game could be a mod of DayZ, with normal life suddenly changed by the disappearance of the devout, causing helicopters to crash as their Jesus loving pilots ascended to heaven, and the dead to rise from their graves and walk the earth now become hell to all those left behind in the last judgement, etc.

Just about every non-zombie you'd meet would try to persuade you out of your atheism, but you would get points for staying in character as you continued in your scepticism as you role played this staunch atheist even though crazy stuff was happening, like the Sun going out and God speaking from the heavens in a final show of light, giving everyone a final choice to "come unto me". You would find yourself struggling to fit into a dwindling community of new believers, faced with the proof of heaven and hell and beset by flesh eating zombies. Increasingly isolated and seeking answers you alone would hold out and seek a logical explanation long after everyone else had given up.

The twist would be that the devout had been teleported away in a matter of a few hours given that their low numbers were not a strain on the alien's abduction technologies. Then genetically engineered clones from the cells of the recently buried would be teleported into the graves to claw their way out with superhuman strength in search of tasty brain matter. This distraction and confusion through the twisting of what they had found out about our collective dominant faith in the technologically dominant Northern Hemisphere since the early sorties around the time of the Roswell incident would destabilise any organised response to their later invasion in their holographically disguised demonic form. Mass panic would rupture government and military reaction to an invasion many were convinced was our own fault for our sins.

Your task would be to resist the persuasion of religious zealots, avoid the zombies, uncover the invasion and make the Sun shine again by infiltrating the lead space craft of their alien armada and moving the enormous number of ships out of the position where they were purposefully creating a synthetic eclipse. Showing the true face of the demon's by sabotaging the computer system driving their holographic appearance would be an optional secondary objective for bonus points.

Rob Lockhart
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I love both of those ideas.

Stephen Richards
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I really liked this article. I especially like the idea of a game being controversial for reasons other than gratuitous violence or sexual objectification.

Nicholas Heathfield
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I realise it's sort of the opposite, but Journey is loaded with spiritual symbolism, particularly at the end.

Unfortunately, the political climate of the day prevents honest examination of religion - because it is permissible to insult all religions apart from one. Islam.

Take the author's idea. Assuming his game had all the visual symbolism and metaphor of Christianity to represent the Evils Of Religion. In fact that's more or less what he was going for. No problem, right? In fact, there was such a game. "The Binding of Isaac", which bundled Judaism along with it.

If his game was about a Hindu on the way to apostasy, with all the (even more vivid) symbolism that entails, it would be regarded by a number of people as racist and xenophobic - but still tolerated.

If his game was about a member of That Other Religion I Mentioned on the way to apostasy, I expect it would not be permitted on Steam or the App Store or several other storefronts. There would also be death threats. The media would make you the next target of great vilification.

Look at film. Depicting and/or bashing Christianity you have The Life of Brian, among thousands of much cruder examples. Depicting Islam you only have to look up one film. "The Message", which went to incredible lengths to whitewash the life of Muhammad. Yet that ended with armed rioters storming buildings in Washington and taking over a hundred hostages. An innocent and a policeman were shot dead.


It's not possible to have an honest discussion with such a steep bias. Props to you for trying, though.

Douglas Gregory
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I was toying with an idea of addressing atheist themes in last year's Toronto Game Jam.

The theme was "The world is not ending," in reference to the various religious or pseudo-religious apocalypses predicted for 2012, and I was looking for a way to take that in an interesting direction.

I decided to focus on the NOT, and make it not a simple descriptive statement, but an active manifesto for the player. The prophesies say the world is ending, but the player would be an active agent in refusing that dogma and making sure the world continued. Player agency over fate or predestination.

The mechanics were pretty simple. There was a rising flood, and the player had to build a tower out of the various debris of civilization to stay above water. (A bit of a Noah/Babel mashup I suppose) There were no superpowers.

I didn't go overtly religious. I'd originally planned for two kinds of characters in the game: doomsayers, who held "the end is nigh!" signs; and builders, who would help build the tower so they could all be safe. Unfortunately I didn't scope appropriately and had to cut both, making the game much more flat. :(

My hope was that an atheist player would recognize a reflection of their mentality in the builders' efforts (ie. no such thing as fate or divine punishment / we're all in this together / no greater force is going to save us, so we have to save ourselves, no matter how bleak it looks), while a theistic player would not be alienated - they too could put themselves in the builder's role, albeit acting under an unseen deity. (Unless, I suppose, the player was Harold Camping or other hardcore apocalyptic, watching their little doomsayers and their signs disappear under the waves...)

Thought I'd mention this here as another way one might feature atheism in a game context. :)

Yegor Levchenko
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Great, Rob, so great!
Comment for each paragraph: "Yes, yes, yes! You`re absolutely right!".

Arnaud Clermonté
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When I found out that there are Vietnam war FPS games where the player has no choice but to be on the american side, I got this idea:

What about a FPS where you get to be part of faction A, fighting faction B without even being told why ( initially it's just kill or be killed, no time for questions ),
but at some point you get to sneak behind enemy lines in a stolen B uniform,
and you can learn about who they are and why they fight.
At this point, if the player is curious and intelligent enough, he'll realize that faction B are actually the good guys.
Ideally, about 50% of players would then decide to keep the B uniform and fight the next missions on the B side.
The end cinematic would show the player the consequences of the choice he made... or failed to make.

Hopefully, the player would then learn a lesson that applies in real life:
There's so many people who take side with their country/family/religion/sports team/company/any other kind of group regardless of whether that group is actually right or wrong...

Douglas Gregory
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Does there have to be a side that's the canonical "good guys"?

What if the player could find a (potentially hidden) third option, to either withdraw from the fight, or work against the conflict itself?

The game you propose is premised on each side thinking they're "good" and the other side is "evil" - just flipping the labels doesn't address the root problem that we're using labels of good & evil to justify violence against people who are no different from ourselves.

Arnaud Clermonté
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In the idea I mentionned, the 2 sides would be different.
Yes, there would have to be a "good guys" side, otherwise it would be pointless, as you pointed out.

Jan Zheng
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I like this idea of choosing sides.
Maybe it's not even good vs. evil, but maybe justified necessity. If both sides can be equally justified- if the player has a good reason to join either the protagonist or antagonist (the player essentially decides who these are), maybe they could help fight the cause they're more concerned about.

And in the end, maybe the narrative turns in a way in that makes players do horrible things, just to make the point that regardless of what side you're on, war is really the evil thing / there are no winners in war. I guess that's a little reminiscent of Spec Ops

Jan Zheng
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I like this idea of choosing sides.
Maybe it's not even good vs. evil, but maybe justified necessity. If both sides can be equally justified- if the player has a good reason to join either the protagonist or antagonist (the player essentially decides who these are), maybe they could help fight the cause they're more concerned about.

And in the end, maybe the narrative turns in a way in that makes players do horrible things, just to make the point that regardless of what side you're on, war is really the evil thing / there are no winners in war. I guess that's a little reminiscent of Spec Ops

Joshua Darlington
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Atheism is cool. So are fox fairies. (Don't want to upset the fox fairies)

What are your game ideas for teaching pre-k children about Beamed Zombie Turbulence Maser Action?

Jan Zheng
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This might be slightly off-topic, but this approach was kind of something I was hoping BS: Infinite would take

::::: MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD :::::

Whereas the story hinged upon the player's character to stop the cycle by killing himself, realize the player never makes that choice of suicide- the player's on a set path with no amount of choice. We're pulled into a cutscene, instead of pulling the gun on ourselves.

I was kind of hoping the game would apex- make you more powerful, superhuman; build this relationship with Elizabeth, only at the end, you have to make the hard decision of saying goodbye to all your new-found power and love for Elizabeth yourself. You could have been given many choices; you could have chosen to go through the many other doors, escape with Elizabeth, keep fighting, etc., but as the game goes, you end up with the world on fire, and wake up where the game began.

This would've been analogous to your choice of flipping the coin in the beginning, and your choice of choosing the bird or the cage necklace for Elizabeth, and your ultimate choice of whether to give in to fate or make your own.

The only way to actually break the cycle, quite literally (or otherwise you'd just keep playing the game over and over again), is to choose to not go through any of the doors but to actually kill yourself using the FPS mechanics in the game

::::: END SPOILERS :::::

I think this echoes with your thoughts in this post, where games need to break the mold of very similar narratives

Jakub Majewski
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Necessary disclosure first - I am a Catholic, and very much a "true believer". It's inevitable that this affects my thinking and arguments (just as Rob's affected by his atheist beliefs), but I assume we're having a civilised conversation here, and I won't hear any nonsense along the lines of "that's typical Catholic drivel" or anything like that. If you disagree with my arguments, as you inevitably will, prove that I am wrong. Respond with a "LOL, you're an idiot", and you lose by default.

Anyway, I want to make a couple of side-note points, and then I want to ask Rob a question to clarify a major issue about his game concept.

Side-note point #1:
Rob, you said in one of the comments here that out in the real world, atheists are discriminated. That's true. But it has to be pointed out that there are *logical* reasons for this - by logical, I mean arguments that should be equally acceptable and reasonable for religious folks and atheists alike. The simple fact is that atheism is about unaccountability. Every single religion out there involves, at least at some vague level, but often at a very concrete level, the idea that whatever you do in life, you will be held to account. If you do a lot of good things that nobody around you notices, God (or Gods, or the impersonal Karma concept in Buddhism) still takes them into account. Equally, you can literally get away with murder in this life, but God will still hold you to account for it.
It goes without question that atheism, by disposing of this ultimate accounting, disposes of accountability in general. Whatever we do in this life, we are only accountable to ourselves - that's the ultimate logical conclusion of atheism. In this aspect, therefore, it is only reasonable that atheists are discriminated against, and are regarded as untrustworthy by religious folks. Because someone who considers himself accountable only to himself is, by definition, untrustworthy. I'm not saying atheists are evil, or that religious people are good. In fact, I find that a lot of first-generation atheists are extremely caring - having turned away from religion, they are often almost obsessed with showing that atheism leads to higher moral values. But second-generation atheists (you don't get to see many of them in the US - here in Poland, after fifty years of communist indoctrination, we have quite a few) generally no longer have that zeal to show how morally good atheism is; they are religiously indifferent (except for a knee-jerk hatred of any moral arguments that remind them of religion), and they are indifferent towards other people. This is far from always the case, but generally it is what atheism leads to, because it's the only stance that's fully logical for an atheist - if I am only accountable to myself, then I do not have to care about anyone except when it is advantageous for me.
Note, by the way, that this is not meant to be an argument in favour of God's existence. Utility doesn't prove anything, and arguments along the lines of "look, religious beliefs make people better, so God must be true!" are sheer nonsense. All I'm saying, is that regardless of whether God exists, you should be grateful you live in a society where atheists are discriminated against, because ultimately, most atheist Americans who decided to live in the atheist promised land of the Soviet Union ended up pretty disappointed - and for the most part, dead.

By the way, I love the fact that you find the phrase "bless you" used for sneezing to be proof of discrimination. Let's look at it from the flipside, shall we? Why, in spite of so many creative atheists out there, has not one of them come up with a satisfactory well-wishing phrase that "doesn't appeal to a supernatural creator"?

Side-note point #2:
Atheists are not irreligious. Atheism is a religion just like any other. I believe in God, you believe in the absence of God. There are many events, people, places and objects in reality that Christians see as proof that God exists, and similarly there are many events, people, places and objects in reality that atheists see as proof that God doesn't exist. In both cases, we are dealing with faith. This doesn't matter too much in terms of this discussion, but I feel it's worth saying, because it helps to get the irritating condescension out of the way - this is not a conversation where someone who knows God doesn't exist now talks down to the poor superstitious folk to help them rise out of their delusions. No, we both believe in something, and we both would like to persuade others to believe that same thing. Intellectually, we are on absolutely equal ground.

Now for the question:
Rob, what I don't understand about your concept is the purpose of this game - or, if I understand the purpose, then I'm very curious about your integrity (i.e., intellectual honesty).
As far as I can figure out, this is not supposed to be a game that would persuade anyone to abandon their faith and become atheist - because really, it makes no such argument, any more than The Matrix made the argument that we live our lives inside a computer game.
If it's not an argument, then, I assume, it must be a personal testimony of how you feel about your conversion to atheism. And this is where I get very curious, because I find it very hard to believe that this in any way reflects your reality and your story. If I was to judge your views based on this concept, I would be led to assume that when you were religious, you concentrated on God to the point of ignoring other human beings, and that you spent your days thinking constantly about the devil and how to fight him off with prayer and fasting. In short, that you lived in a dream-world, a complete delusion.
Obviously, that's improbable to the point where I am absolutely certain this is not true. So, I want to ask - why present your story this way? Is this at all intellectually honest? Ultimately, you're making the claim that people who believe in God live lives of delusion, and that they will only start genuinely caring about other human beings if they abandon their belief in God. So... is that a joke, a lie, or... well, utter delusion?

It makes me curious about your past. When you look back at the people you influenced teaching at Sunday school, for instance - do you think "gosh, I ruined those poor youths, turning them into horrible selfish deluded people", or do you think "well, I taught them about God, and today I'd like to explain to them that it's not true... but the stuff I taught them still made them better individuals"? When you turned away from God, did you also come to the conclusion that your religious family and friends were selfish and deluded, living in a dream-world, fighting divine battles in their heads and not noticing the needy people around them?
Of course, I know, the game is just a game. It's an artistic vision, not meant to be taken literally. It's an analogy. But an analogy must lead to something, or else it's a failed analogy. In this case, the only meaning of the analogy that seems to make logical sense is that you want to persuade us that when you were religious, you were selfish and deluded (...to some degree, not necessarily living in a dream-world :) ), and that it's worth abandoning religion because it will bring you closer to reality and give you a new awareness of other people's problems. If that's the case, then the concept is an utter failure - if you have to misrepresent reality to such a great degree in order to make your case, then you simply have no case.

I would very much like to see a persuasive game that explains how a religious person falls into atheism. In my case, it's a "know your enemy" curiosity, where I'd like how this conversion process works so that I can counteract it, but why I'd like to see such a game is far less relevant than the fact that I would like to see one - and this ain't it. This doesn't persuade me at all, because it's utterly inconsistent with what we all can see in the world around us.

Douglas Gregory
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There are a couple of common misconceptions about atheism in this comment that I'd like to address:

1) Atheism is not "about" unaccountability.
Generally*, the implications of a godless universe are not the primary concern of atheists. The main question for atheists is usually "is the god hypothesis factually true?"

To what extent people would be accountable without any gods is irrelevant to the question of whether or not gods factually exist. When employed in that context, it's often a logical fallacy of "appeal to consequences," and an atheist regards it as a red herring. So atheism has no particular stake in accountability or unaccountability specifically.

(Sidenote: the notion that faith in deities is the sole source of accountability neglects the great success we've had with the rule of law in modern secular democracies, allowing people of many competing or even contradictory faiths to live together in relative peace. Atheists remain accountable in this life under the same secular laws as theists.)

2: Atheism is not a religion.
At least, not any moreso than "not collecting stamps" is a hobby, as the classic response goes. ;)

This common confusion comes from the fact that atheism overlaps with theistic religions on one important point: it has an opinion about the existence/non-existence of god(s). This is neither a necessary nor sufficient criterion of religionhood.

2a - It takes more than an opinion to make a religion:
Theistic religions are of the opinion that one or more gods exist. But "believing in god" alone is not a religion - otherwise our census forms would have only two options!

Within a theistic religion, one generally finds this opinion elaborated upon with various assertions of fact about these divine figures' nature, history, and intentions ("this god's name is Odin, he is male, and he sacrificed his eye for wisdom"), along with codes of conduct, goals to aspire to, rituals, canonical tenets, holy texts, hierarchies & institutions, etc.

Atheism, in the dictionary sense, does not include any of that. It's simply the lack of belief in gods. Two atheists might share nothing more in common with one another than that one opinion, and may disagree fundamentally about what it means. (For a dramatic example, Richard Dawkins and the Dalai Lama might well both be atheists in this sense)

This does not imply that it's better/worse. But it is a different kind of thing than a religion.

2b - An opinion is not necessarily a commitment of faith:
The "atheism is a religion too" meme is also sometimes used to mean "denial of gods requires faith" (since you can't conclusively disprove them). This too is a mischaracterization of atheism in the general sense. A typical* atheist opinion is not that "gods cannot possibly exist" - but rather "I have yet to see evidence that any god does exist," or more succinctly, "I'll believe it when I see it."

Far from a rigid article of faith, this is the way theists & atheists alike treat every extraordinary claim we hear, until we see it substantiated. If I told you there was a teapot in orbit of Mars, you may very legitimately not believe me - not out of an active investment of faith in the counter-claim, or distrust in me as a source - but simply because you have seen no evidence for my claim, and have no reason to believe it would be true. If I proceeded to show you photos from a NASA probe showing the object, then you might give the idea some credence, without any crisis of "faith" owing to your earlier skepticism.

That is the type of provisional absence of belief - until demonstrated otherwise - that characterizes atheism generally*. Unfortunately English is a bit sloppy with the various meanings of "believe," so this nuance is easy to overlook.

*(since there's no central authority or scripture of atheism - see 2a - very few universal statements can be made about atheists. Individual atheists may well vary from the rough outlines presented here.)

Please note that the above is not intended as evangelism - I am not seeking to convert anyone or claim that one idea is better. Whatever your opinions about the universe, I hope they continue to serve you well. :)
I just wanted to clarify what it is that atheism is and isn't, as there's a lot of misconceptions out there.

I'll leave to the author to answer your primary question, about his game concept, history, and intentions.

Ava Avane Dawn
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You know what (article writer), the part about empathy and power slots reminds me of "maybe make some change": http://change.textories.com/

It's a wonderful touch on perspective change, just as your idea.


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