No new post this week (Im currently out of ideas lol). Instead, here’s a link to an episode of the Burrowshire Podcast with Brandon Vogt and Fr. Blake Britton on Video Games and Culture that came out this week:
Back when I first started writing here, I did some research online to see if anyone else was doing anything with video games and Catholicism. While my search was mostly fruitless at the time (although I’ve since found a few others like Fr. Blake Britton with Word on Fire), I did manage to find a topic in a discussion forum trying to think up how to make a good Catholic video game. I thought it was a pretty interesting discussion back then, so today I figured it would be interesting to talk about the challenges with making a Catholic focused video game and discuss the one really good idea I saw someone come up with online.
So why is creating a Catholic video game so hard? Even if you ignore the fact that discussing religion seriously would shrink your potential audience, it still is hard to imagine a video game with a major focus on Catholicism. The problem is the need for some kind of gameplay. Most games out there deal with some kind of conflict or fighting, which doesn’t work nearly as well for a Catholic story as it does for a general one. You could try to use an historical setting (for example, the Crusades) like you see in the few games out there where the Catholic Church present, but when you do that there is a real temptation to just remove the focus of religion entirely (like in the original Assassin’s Creed game).
You could also do some kind of grand strategy game where the focus is converting people to Catholicism, but when you do that the religion itself tends to get abstracted out completely and as a result, it could be about any religion. And while you could make a cool story about Catholicism, if there isn’t any kind of game that to go with it you might as well write a book or make a TV show. There simply isn’t much gameplay out there that could work with a compelling Catholic story. That said, there is one type of game that could work well for a Catholic story- a stealth game.
The one idea for a Catholic game that I’ve seen that feels like it would actually work is a stealth game playing clergy during a time of great persecution. The example I originally saw online was for a game about a priest trying to minister in Elizabethan England (where being Catholic was considered treason), but really the idea could work for other times of persecution as well, such as the French Revolution Paris or Soviet Poland. The gameplay would then be something similar to the stealth parts of older Assassin’s Creed games or something like Metal Gear Solid (just without the combat).
The player character would have to sneak through dangerous areas filled with people on the lookout for them by hiding in the shadows, blending in with others, or if you want to go full Assassin’s Creed, parkouring all over the town. With a setup like this, suddenly a Catholic focused story no longer feels tacked on. In fact, it is enhanced by it instead, giving people a sense of the tension people went through during these times in a way that a book or show couldn’t. I remember when I first read this idea being really impressed because up to that point I honestly didn’t think a video game about Catholicism could be done without either skimping on the gameplay or the religion. So overall, I feel that if someone really wanted to make a video game focused on Catholicism, a stealth game would absolutely be the way to go.
In the end, while I believe in general it is particularly hard to come up with an idea for a Catholic focused video game, you could at least make it work in the stealth genre. All that being said, there realistically isn’t much of a chance of a game like this being created. Making AAA games costs hundreds of millions of dollars and companies simply wouldn’t be willing to invest that much money on something that could alienate a large chunk of their potential audience. And while you could potentially find a small indie game team to create it on a much smaller scale, in my experience the indie game crowd tends to pretty heavily overlap with political activist types that hate religion and wouldn’t be interested. I guess I’ll just have to wait another decade or two for enough Catholics who like video games to actually have a small group willing to try.
If you were to look at the religion shelf on my bookshelf, it would become clear pretty quickly that I’m interested in church history. There is something about seeing how things work out just right in history that is cool to me. One major set of topics that shows up in church history is the various heresies that pop up periodically. While studying this topic is nice because by learning what the church says is wrong you also learn what is right, today I want to focus on heretics themselves. Specifically, I want to talk about how heretics are presented in games and what a heretic is (and isn’t) in real life.
The term heretic is actually pretty common in various games and fictional settings. In pretty much any setting with a religion (especially an fanatical one), characters that come into conflict with the religion tend to be branded heretics. For example, I’ve been recently playing Final Fantasy Tactics. About half way into the game, the main character Razma ends up fighting Cardinal Draclau who has taken the princess hostage.
The cardinal uses magic to turn into a monster, but Razma and his team defeat him. As a result, the church declares him a heretic and the people of the world are told to capture or kill him on sight, despite the fact that the cardinal was the one in the wrong. This kind of setup is common, and is often used with the “church is secretly evil” plot twist to make the player character enemies of the world. Another minor example from a more recent game is Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Early in the game, some members of the western branch of the Church of Seiros plot to rebel against and attack Archbishop Rhea. As a result, they are branded heretics and you the player have to fight them, eventually leading to their execution. In probably the most extreme example, there is the world of Warhammer 40000, where anything going even slightly against the Empire of Man can be considered heresy. It’s so over the top in this setting that in extreme cases it is justification for wiping out an entire planet. It’s so extreme that Warhammer heresy memes and jokes are pretty common online.
Even looking at The Legend of Heroes series, heretic is used to denote enemies of the church, although in that case, it is limited to rebellious and out of control clergy. So as you can see, most fantasy settings with a church will simply use the term heretic to refer to an enemy of the church. But what exactly is a heretic in real life?
Simply put, a heretic is someone who has an incorrect belief, is told that belief is incorrect and to stop believing it by some kind of authority, and choosing to believe it anyways (I believe the term “obstinately” shows up in the official definition). The important parts of this definition are the second and third parts, namely that a heretic has been corrected by some authority and still deliberately chooses to be wrong anyways. This is important because it means that someone who is wrong about something isn’t a heretic, just someone who is wrong. For example, the church father Origen had many beliefs that the church today would consider wrong, but we wouldn’t call him a heretic because no one corrected him at the time (as the doctrines in question weren’t fully developed). On this flip side, Arius would be considered a heretic, because even after the Council of Nicea said his beliefs about Jesus were wrong, he still continued to preach it. This also explains why the church would consider the original Protestants heretics but not modern ones. The early Protestants were under the authority of the church who told them they were wrong but chose to ignore that. Modern Protestants however were raised outside the church and thus lack that authority correcting them. The next question would be once someone is a heretic, what should be done about them? In most fictional settings, the answer is almost exclusively to execute them. In real life, execution was indeed an option, but typically only after spending considerable time convincing the person to give up their incorrect opinion. The justification for executing them would typically be to prevent the incorrect belief from spreading and leading more people away from the church and to give them a clear period of time to help them repent (similar to the Catholic justification for the death penalty). This is the justification used (whether right or wrong) to execute Jan Hus, one of the proto-Protestants. So overall, heretics are people who are wrong, told they are wrong by a church authority and choose to remain wrong rather than simply any enemy of the church. And while they have been executed in the past, it is typically as a last resort, not an automatic response.
So as you can see, heretics in fictional religions don’t really align with the real thing. As I mentioned earlier, I believe the reason the term heretic is thrown around in games so often is that it is an easy way to get the world to turn on the player even if they are the hero, especially in conjunction with the church is secretly evil trope. I’ll admit, while I’m completely sick of the church being secretly evil, I tend to be more ok with the main characters being branded heretics because it tends to lead to interesting gameplay (as being on the run usually limits your options). I just hope people understand that fictional stories don’t necessarily correspond to reality.
One of my favorite series outside of video games is the anime series Mobile Suit Gundam. It’s basically the origin of the “real robot” mech genre (as opposed to the “super robot” genre), mainly focusing on war dramas that feature robots instead of tanks and planes. In addition, the fact that I like to build the model kits of the robots in the show probably increased my love of the series (I may or may not have come up with the idea for this post while trying to find an excuse to post a picture of my models lol). One entry, however, is pretty strange in that it is actually a super robot show- G Gundam. It actually has an interesting and unique world and plot as a result, so I thought I could talk about how the Catholic Church would respond to the world of G Gundam.
First, I’ll give a quick overview of the world of G Gundam. At some point in the future, the world has become pretty run down due the abuse from mankind. The countries of the world, rather than try to fix the problem, decide instead to just abandon the planet and go live in new pristine space colonies instead.
However, not everyone could make it onto the space colonies before they left, so most of humanity was left behind on Earth. While not 100% abandoned, they are clearly third class citizens and the governments really dont care about their people still on Earth much. In addition, the countries of the world realized that war in space is a really, REALLY bad thing (for evidence of that, just go watch any other Gundam series lol), so to avoid war, they decide instead to have a tournament every four years to decide which country will rule the planet called the Gundam Fight. During the Gundam Fight, each country sends its own giant robot called a Gundam to fight in a tournament with the planet as the arena Some rules include destroying the head of an opponent’s Gundam eliminates them from the tournament, deliberately killing an opponent is forbidden (although it can occasionally happen on accident) and fights can happen anywhere on earth, including the places where people still live. This universe is actually pretty interesting and unique, in contrast to how goofy the rest of the show is (for example, each Gundam is basically a bunch of National Stereotypes. Neo America’s Gundam is a football, surfing, cowboy boxer for example).
So how exactly would the Catholic Church respond to a G Gundam type situation? I think it would in kind of a mixed way. I’ll focus on the abandonment of Earth and the Gundam Fight itself.
I feel like the abandonment of Earth would likely be frowned upon by the Catholic Church for a few different reasons. First of all, the Catholic Church would be against letting Earth get to the point where countries feel the need to just leave. While not against using the resources of the Earth, the Church is against abusing them with no concern for others or the rest of God’s creation. After all, if we go by Genesis, humans are the stewards of the Earth, not its dominators. Pope Francis has talked about this a decent amount during his pontificate if you want to look into the topic more. Beyond that, I don’t think the church would be for a plan to abandon the planet unless there was no other choice. Yeah, if there was a Krypton type situation where the choice was leave or die, I think they would be ok with it (because human life is so precious), but in G Gundam that is not the case. I feel they would instead try and convince everyone to stick around and help clean things up. Finally, I feel that the church would be extremely hard on abandoning the rest of the people on Earth after going to the space colonies. I don’t think there is a problem with space colonies themselves, but ignoring the suffering still going on on Earth would not be ok. If the governments of the colonies were still working to help the people of their country still on Earth, either by trying to get them to the colonies or by supporting them in other ways, I think there would be much less of a problem. Overall, I think that everything involved in the general abandonment of Earth would be frowned upon by the Catholic Church.
Next, let’s talk about the Gundam Fight itself. I think that the idea of avoiding war by instead having some kind of sports like tournament would likely be celebrated (assuming of course, enough limits on the ruling country to prevent them from enforcing unjust laws). While the Catholic Church isn’t completely against war (check out the Just War doctrine), it is definitely something to be avoided as much as possible. That being said, I think I could see a few potential issues with it. First, the fact that the fight takes place on Earth is just not ok. Not only are you wrecking an already wrecked planet, you are also puting the people still on Earth in harm’s way and increasing their suffering by potentially destroying their homes. On top of that, the Gundam Fight is basically an MMA tournament in giant robots. On the one hand, the objection’s I’ve heard to MMA (which aren’t universal but are common in Catholicism) don’t apply to a giant robot fight (as a robot being injured is different from a man being injured), but at the same time, since the cockpits are in the robot, there is still a chance of accidentally being killed if hit in a bad way. I could see the church preferring some other kind of competition instead. So overall, I think the Catholic Church would be OK with the Gundam Fight, but with some tweaks to make it more acceptable.
But the real question on everyone’s mind- would the country of Neo Vatican City participate in the Gundam Fight? In universe the answer is yes just because of how everything is set up, but in real life, I think the answer would be no. I feel that history has shown that when the pope has temporal power (as he would if they won the Gundam Fight), things start to go bad in the hierarchy with people becoming clergy mainly for control of Italy. This is part of why the popes of the 20th century have been so good- the papal states were taken by Italy in the mid 1800s so the pope had no more temporal power. Instead, I see Neo Vatican City having more of an advisory role, kind of like they do in the UN today. That being said, I still want to see what kind of goofy, stereotypical Gundam they’d come up with and how they’d get a pilot (my guess is a new Gundam Fight focused religious order lol). This brings me to what really inspired this post. When the show aired there was a contest to design Gundams for countries not in the show. One of the higher placed designs was for Neo Vatican City- a bishop looking Gundam in this image-
This kind of design would absolutely fit in the world of G Gundam and I love it.
So overall, I think the Catholic Church would be against the abandonment of Earth but ok with the Gundam Fight with a few changes. It’s kind of interesting to think about how the Catholic Church would respond to crazy fictional scenarios, so I might do this a few more times in the future as well. Finally, I’ll leave you with a picture of my High Resolution Burning Gundam model (Neo Japan’s fighter and the main Gundam in the series) because now I have the excuse to show it off lol.
One final note- this is the last of my original writing ideas, so updates will be slower in the future, just showing up as I think of things to write about.