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.
If you’ve been following my writing for a while, you can probably guess that I’m a fan of video game music. I actually started collecting it as an alternative to listening to the radio on my long drive into work, but Ive now got a pretty sizable collection (enough to simulate my own radio station by running shuffle all on my songs lol). Today I thought it would be fun to talk about some Catholic inspired songs in games. While many songs include Latin lyrics to make things sound epic (like the Song of the Post at the bottom), I want to focus on some songs that are more obviously Catholic inspired. Specifically, I’m going to talk about Gregorian Chant inspired songs and the song Megalith -Agnus Dei- from Ace Combat 4.
For those unfamiliar, Gregorian chants are typically prayers being sung by monks in monasteries for their daily prayers, although you can encounter it in other places as well. For a long part of the church’s history it was the primary form of music in Catholicism, and I believe it still is considered prominent among Catholic music (I think I remember the Catechism or some Vatican II documents mentioning that fact but don’t quote me on it). As a Catholic, when I hear this kind of chanting, it really gives the place I am a holy vibe. In video games, this kind of chanting is primarily used to give areas an air of mystery and majesty. The most prominent example I can think of is the Temple of Time from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
This plays in the titular Temple of Time, a building that looks a lot like a medieval cathedral, with stone, stained glass and flying buttresses everywhere. It gives the building kind of a solemn feel, like something ancient and important is there (which is true in the story, although you may not know it yet when you first arrive). This song has stuck with me all these years since I first played the game in 1998 and honestly probably comes to mind even before real Gregorian Chants just because I’ve listened to it so much. Another example of chanting is the song The Incomplete Stone from Nier.
Nier takes place in a super post apocalyptic world where the ancient lost civilization with ruins scattered everywhere is modern society. Early in the game, the main character goes to explore an ancient tower (basically a ruined office building). This song plays in the ruins while you are not in battle, giving them a real mysterious feel. The echo effect on the male voice makes it sound especially chanty, as Gregegorian chants would typically be done in large open monasteries which creates an echo. There are other examples of Gregorian Chant like songs, but these two in particular really show how Catholic like chants are often used to give a mysterious feeling to an area of a game.
The other song I wanted to talk about and the song that inspired me to write this post is Megalith -Agnus Dei- from Ace Combat 4.
This is actually from a game I’ve never played- I mainly know the series because it is famous for its good music. When I was researching the soundtracks to decide whether or not to buy them, I encountered this song as one of the most popular in the series. I was immediately thrown off because Agnus Dei is one of the prayers in the Mass (you can see it on this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnus_Dei_(music)). Apparently this version is the climatic final fight song of Ace Combat 4, but with some lyrics from the Latin prayer (you can see the lyrics in the video description or here: https://www.animelyrics.com/game/acecombat4/megalithagnusdei.htm). At first I thought this was simply a Japanese composer that thought a foreign religious song from the Mass sounded cool and just threw it in superficially as is typical, but it seemed to me at the time that some of the lyrics were changed to fit the context of the game. I’ve since found out that the lyrics actually come from Mozart’s Requiem, which music for a funeral Mass (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_for_the_Requiem_Mass#Agnus_Dei). This revelation shows they knew what was being said in the song and specifically chose it for the fight. That being said, there is still a bit of silliness with the lyrics in the context of the game’s world. The Ace Combat games take place in Strangereal, a fictional, vaguely modern world to justify fighter jet dogfights, which is a world where Christianity likely doesn’t exist (because it’s not the real world). The bulk of the Agnus Dei prayer, which is “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” is so incredibly specific to Christianity that the line really doesn’t make sense in a setting with no connection to real life. Despite the bit of disconnect between the world and the song, I thoroughly enjoy this song and am glad the composer decided to put it in the game. Even if they might not realize it right away, giving people a positive exposure to Christianity can only be a good thing.
So there are some songs in video games inspired by Catholicism and a brief discussion about them. I have to say, I really enjoy it when any Catholic sounding songs show up in games, even if it’s as superficial as just having Latin lyrics. As I listen to more songs (and run out of other ideas), I think I’ll occasionally come back and write about them, so look forward to that.
One of my favorite games in more recent years was Mass Effect (the first one, not the second that most people prefer). It’s a space epic with a cool story and moral choices that at least appeared to matter at the time (part of the reason why people didn’t like Mass Effect 3- they really didn’t). In particular, I liked the world building done in the game and all the extra information on the various alien races which wasn’t really needed, but I thoroughly enjoyed (in fact, part of the reason I didn’t like Mass Effect 2 as much as most people is that they went back on that lore a few times for gameplay reasons). Today I want to talk about my favorite scene in Mass Effect and how it ties into Catholicism (note- this is kind of a big reveal scene near the end of the game so SPOILER ALERT).
At this point in the game the player character Commander Shepard has gone against the wishes of the galactic government in order to continue investigating the threat of the Reapers- giant inorganic life that periodically comes into the galaxy to wipe out all organic life. Shepard goes to the hidden Ilos where an artifact called the Conduit is supposed to be. While fighting through the planet, he and his team are temporarily trapped and redirected down a side passage. There, they meet Vigil, an ancient computer program created by the Protheans- the alien race that previously dominated the galaxy before being killed off by the Reapers.
Vigil reveals that when the Reapers attacked the Protheans 50000 years ago, the people working at the research center on Ilos were put into cryogenic sleep to hide as records of life on the planet had been destroyed in the initial attack. By the time the Reapers finally left the galaxy, there were only a few of the researchers left to revive on the planet. These researchers, knowing that there wasn’t any hope to revive the Prothean race, decided instead to spend their little remaining time helping the people of the future.
They created the Conduit- a mass relay that would send someone to the location where the Reapers first appear and made some changes to delay the Reapers return (which is why in Mass Effect 1 you are only fighting a single reaper rather than all of them). They also created Vigil, an AI that could explain what was going on to whoever eventually showed up on the planet many millennium later. After talking to Vigil, Shepard and his team use the Conduit to go to the Citadel and stop the one Reaper from bringing in the rest, ending the first game. I remember when I first played Mass Effect, this scene with Vigil cemented it as one of my favorite games of all time. For some reason, I always enjoy stories where some people in the past do something to help the people in the future they will never meet. Now you may be wondering, how does that story connect to Catholicism? The answer is actually my favorite bible verse.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). This is probably my favorite passage in the Bible, from the end of the Gospel of John. It’s effectively the same idea as the story of the creation of Vigil in Mass Effect. Some ancient people left behind a record that will help save people of the future they may never meet. There is however, one key difference between the two- the Gospel of John is real and was written for me, rather than some fictional character. Think about the early Christians. Many of these people went to their deaths proclaiming the truth about Jesus to lead others to him in the future (this is where the term Martyr actually comes from- it means witness). Without them, Christianity as we know it really wouldn’t exist today (barring supernatural means of course). If these people had kept it to themselves rather than spreading the Gospel, it probably would just be a minor footnote for in depth textbooks on the history of Rome or Judaism instead of the most common religion in the world. Because of the actions of these people 2000 years ago, I am able to know the truth today.
So as you can see, the story of the Protheans on Ilos can show the importance of the works and witness of the early Christians. As someone who honestly isn’t a very emotional person, thinking about the Bible verse I mentioned still always gets to me because I know it actually is addressing me in particular (in addition to everyone else). I think seeing some of your favorite elements of fiction in real life can have a real effect on people (for example, JRR Tolkien converted CS Lewis to Christianity when he explained how the Gospels were like all the myths the two liked, but the Gospels were actually true). This effect is honestly probably a large part of why Mass Effect was so memorable to me and why 13 years later the scene with Vigil still stands out so clearly in my mind.
One of my favorite new series of games is Yakuza. I had heard about it a long time ago, but never got around to playing it until Yakuza 0’s US release a few years back. The series is basically a combination of a serious, manly Japanese crime drama main story and a bunch of super goofy side quests. Recently, the Yakuza 3, 4 and 5 collection released on PS4, giving me a chance to play the last few games in the series I’d missed (I had already played 6 since it released on the PS4 earlier). I just finished up Yakuza 3 as I’m writing this and it’s ending stuck out in my mind. So today I’m going to discuss the ending of Yakuza 3 and how it relates to happiness (spoilers obviously).
For the final showdown in Yakuza 3, the main character, Kazuma Kiryu is rushing to a hospital to rescue his protege and the current leader of the Tokyo underworld, Daigo Dojima (who is recovering after being shot at the start of the game) from Yoshitaka Mine, who is planning to kill him and take over the crime organization. After fighting his way through a hospital filled with Mine’s underlings and black market partners, he finally reaches the depressed Mine on the roof with the unconscious Daigo.
Mine explains his backstory. He became an orphan at a young age, with his father’s last words encouraging him to use his bright mind to make something with his life. Mine then spends his childhood and young adult life working extremely hard to become a super successful and rich investor. Having accomplished all his goals, Mine realizes that despite all his achievements, he still isn’t happy with his life. He then decides to join the Yakuza, figuring that the power that comes with being part of the underworld will make him happy. Now a super successful leader in the Tokyo underworld, Mine realizes he still isn’t happy. He decides that maybe the honor and respect that will come with replacing Daigo as the leader of the Tojo Clan will finally make him happy. To accomplish this, he has to kill Daigo, the only man he truly respected (which is why he’s so depressed when you finally reach him). Kiryu insists Mine is wrong, and the two have their dramatic shirtless fight to finish the game (as is tradition in the Yakuza series).
After being defeated, Mine realizes the error of his ways and sacrifices his life to protect Kiryu and Daigo from his black market partner that decided to betray and kill all three of them. Yakuza 3’s story isn’t necessarily as good as some of the others in the series (I feel it had higher highs and lower lows), but this was probably my favorite set up for a final fight in the series. But what does it have to do with Catholicism? To answer that, we have to look at what exactly is happiness.
So what is happiness? St. Thomas Aquinas discusses this in question 2 of the first part of the second part of the Summa Theologiae (here’s a link if you want to read it yourself, but be warned it can be tough if you aren’t familiar with Aristotelian Metaphysics: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2002.htm). St. Thomas’ answer is ultimately God, which explains why we can’t be truly happy until we are in heaven (even if we can get some degree of happiness on Earth). He then discusses various possible sources of true happiness and why they are wrong. The four you typically hear on this topic are wealth, power, honor (which should sound super familiar after finishing Yakuza 3) and pleasure (which Mine wasn’t interested in so I’ll skip it for today). Wealth can’t make you happy because artificial wealth (money) is just a shorthand to make acquiring natural wealth (things you need to live) easier while natural wealth will only make you happy to the point your basic needs are met. This argument has been backed up by modern studies, which show that more money will increase your happiness until your needs have been met, and any additional money after that won’t increase happiness. Power can’t make you happy because power just enables you to accomplish other things, which may or may not lead to happiness. To put it another way, having power won’t make you happy, but using power to do good things will lead you towards happiness (which wouldn’t really help Mine anyways since he’s getting underworld power). Finally, honor won’t make you happy because honor isn’t a good, it is merely others recognizing a different good within you. The good itself may lead you to happiness, but others respecting it ultimately doesn’t make a difference. All of these alternate possible sources of happiness (pleasure included) are super common in today’s world and it’s all too easy to see that none of them work. Looking at it from a more Augustinian angle, people are trying to fill the infinite need for God with various finite things, so they are never satisfied. Happiness ultimately comes from being with God, not with various items in the world.
As you can see, Mine is looking for happiness in the world that will never be able to truly make him happy. When I was first watching that ending, I remember being amused that not only was he going through the classic happiness substitutes, but he was even doing it in the same order as the Summa I linked before. I honestly wasn’t expecting to come up with any ideas for this blog while playing the Yakuza games, so it was a nice surprise. I hope you can learn from the example of Mine and remember that true happiness ultimately comes from God.
One of the more amusing things about being a Catholic interested in nerd media is you find a lot of inaccuracies that go unnoticed because no one else involved in the production or fanbase is even a practicing Christian, let alone Catholic. For example, there was one anime I watched where a character worked for the bishop of the English Puritan Church. When I heard that, I started cracking up, thinking “Ah yes, the English bishop of the people that thought Anglicanism was too Catholic, got kicked out of England and ended up in the new world where they were known as the Pilgrims- that makes total sense.” Today, I wanted to talk about one of the more common incorrect ideas that shows up in various media- Catholics mind controlling people into being Catholic.
Catholic mind control shows up in many stories, especially ones where the Catholics are the antagonists. I’ll mention two examples. The first is in Assassin’s Creed 2. At the end of the game, you find an ancient alien device that mind controls the people around you to do your bidding.
As it is found under the Vatican and is used in one DLC by a monk to cause a zealous mob to riot in Florence, it is implied that the reason Catholicism was established was not because it is true but because Catholic leaders have been using this relic the whole time. Another example comes from the same show as the English Puritan Church I mentioned earlier- the anime A Certain Magical Index. This show alternates between story arcs where magic is the focus (with the Catholic Church being the main antagonist) and science is the focus (where the government of the super scientific city is the antagonist). In one arc, a few Catholic mercenaries are sent to the science town to use a relic of St. Peter that will make everyone in the town believe they were Catholic all along.
I can kind of see why mind control is such a focus in a series with Catholic antagonists. Part of it is probably atheist writers expressing how they felt growing up and projecting their feeling about organized religion on to Catholicism regardless of where they originated (as I mentioned in the past, if you are going to include a religion you’d include Catholicism for the aesthetics). The other part is probably that if a goal of an organization is to convert everyone into following it, it only seems natural that mind controlling people into believing it would be the fastest way to accomplish that. This however, is where the lack of understanding Catholicism shows itself- Catholicism deeply cares about free will.
So why does Catholicism care so much about free will? It clearly isn’t an obvious connection because so many writers believe it would be natural for the Catholic Church to just mind control everyone into submission. The answer is love. You can’t have love without free will (if you don’t believe me, you can look into stories where mind control is used to make someone love another- the person forcing love always comes across as abusive and creepy). God wants everyone to choose to love Him, and you simply can’t have that without the free will to make the choice. This reality has many implications. One is part of the answer to the problem of evil (although only a small sub part). Why would an all good God allow people to do evil acts in the world instead of just removing the ability to do so from all humanity? The answer is that without free will people can’t do the good of choosing to love Him. This is why, for example, the church has always condemned forced conversions and baptisms (even if some people ignored that rule and did it anyways)- you can’t force someone into wanting to love God. This is also why some people believe that in the Garden of Eden story (which doesn’t need to be taken literally by the way) the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil was even an option- so that Adam and Eve could choose to obey God and not take it. Finally, free will is often used to reconcile the idea of Hell and an merciful God- someone with free will can still choose to reject that mercy even if it is offered to them. So as you can see, free will is extremely important to Catholicism and Catholic theology and answers many major questions people have about the faith.
In the end, it is quite hilarious that Catholics in various stories will use mind control to forcibly put humanity under the church’s control. Removing free will is something that goes against so much of what the church teaches that mind control makes it extremely clear that the writer doesn’t know anything about Catholicism. Still, if nothing else, it can give you a nice laugh now that you know what the church actually believes. You’d be surprised at just how enjoyable that accidental comedy can be.
This past December I took it upon myself to play through the entire Ys series available in the US (8 games in total, but most are relatively short so it didn’t take too long). This is a series that has been around forever but never really caught my attention until I got into Falcom’s other big series, The Legend of Heroes. The series follows the adventurer Adol Christin and his various travels. The games don’t focus much on story (especially compared to the Legend of Heroes series) but are still fun to play. As a result, not a whole lot came to my uncreative mind with respect to religion until I got to Ys VIII -Lacrimosa of Dana-. Today I’m going to talk about Sister Nia and what exactly is prayer.
Ys VIII is probably the most plot focused game in the series, but the premise is relatively simple. Adol is working on a passenger liner to travel to a distant land when the ship is attacked by a giant squid and wrecks on a “cursed” island. The basic goal is to find the other castaways and find a way off the island while uncovering the island’s mysterious past. One of the castaways is a nun named Sister Nia, who was on the boat returning to the town where she teaches.
Once you find her on the island and she comes to your castaway village, she spends most of her time praying for a way off the island while helping around the village. After making some progress in the game, she asks you to escort her to a tall nearby mountain. Once there, she decides she needs to not spend all her time praying for her god to get her off the mountain but instead to work towards that herself, symbolically removing her habit.
For the rest of the game when you talk to her she essentially says she hasn’t given up on religion and praying but is focusing more on helping everyone get off the island. I can see what the writers were trying to say with this storyline- that you can’t just sit around waiting for someone else to save you. It reminded me of the classic homily joke where a man is praying for God to save him from a natural disaster and ignoring the various rescue vehicles that come by to help. That said, the execution felt off to me. It really felt like the game was saying prayer was pointless despite the game’s attempts to insist that wasn’t the point (after all, it would have been pretty easy to have her work and pray at the same time like real life religious typically do). I knew this point was wrong, but I realized I couldn’t actually explain what the point of prayer was. I knew that prayer was important (after all, Jesus spends a lot of time praying in the Gospels and saints are always talking about how important prayer was) but I couldn’t really tell anyone why. So I decided I wanted to do some research and find out.
So what exactly is prayer and what is the point? I admit, I don’t think I can do a good job explaining this idea but I’m going to still try (for a better explanation, see this Word on Fire Show episode on the metaphysics of prayer where I got my information: https://wordonfireshow.com/episode169/). So what is prayer? It is “the raising of the heart and mind to God.” Ok, while that does feel like an accurate definition, it may feel kind of abstract and unhelpful explaining prayer to others who aren’t already invested. So instead let’s focus on the point of prayer. Prayer doesn’t change God- God is unchanging (side note- why does God seem to change in response to prayers in the Bible? According to St. Thomas Aquinas it’s just a metaphor). God doesn’t need prayers either, unlike say the gods of Greek mythology. So what is the point? The point is that prayer changes us. It helps the prayer become more attuned to God’s will and purpose. This is part of why persistence in prayer is important. As St. Augustine puts it, by continuing to pray the heart and soul continue to expand outward to receive the gift God will give us. After all, the heart may not be ready initially, but after a period of waiting it becomes prepared. I admit, this explanation feels abstract and a bit hard for me personally to explain, but it does help me grasp why prayer matters. By praying, I start to focus more on God than on myself. If we go back to Sister Nia and try to view it in this framework, the point of her prayers would be to help hear realize her god wants her to help work to get off the island (not saying something like that would necessarily happen in real life, just trying to apply the real ideas to the fictional setting).
I realize this probably wasn’t the most satisfying explanation out there, as I’m still learning myself. That said, I hope that this has led you to start to kind of see why prayer matters even if you still feel you need more on the topic. If you do want more information, I really would encourage you to listen to that podcast or look into the writing of the saints who do a much better job explaining prayer than I do. Prayer is important, so learning more about it can only be a good thing.
This past December I finally got around to playing Xenogears. It’s a pretty famous JRPG from the PS1 era known for its mature story, good music and the fact that the second half of the game turns into a visual novel because the developers didn’t have time to finish it. I’d been meaning to play it for some time but just never got around to it (I didn’t really have access to Playstation until late PS2 era and at the time I was way more concerned about getting caught up on Final Fantasy). Not too long ago I saw a video discussing the development and story of the game by Resonant Arc on Youtube. One of the things he mentioned was the game seriously discussed religion and was critical of Gnosticism (something I’d heard about the game back in the day as well). Since I’ve really only heard Gnosticism talked about in the context of church history, I got suspicious that it was probably a politically correct way of saying the game was critical of Christianity and decided to finally check it out for myself. So what’s the verdict?
The game is fun but a bit dated. The story itself was overhyped in my opinion. I wanted to take some time to discuss some of the religious aspects that do show up in the game.
Spoiler warning for the full game
I think when people say Xenogears is critical of Gnosticism, they are mainly referring to how religion is portrayed in the game. The main religious organization is a group called “Ethos.” They are your classic fictional church aesthetically modeled after Catholicism (big churches, stained glass, similar hierarchy, etc., they even have a confessional in their headquarters).
In addition to being a religious organization, they are excavators. As a result, they effectively control the super advanced ancient technology found underground which I believe is the secret knowledge people use to claim it is criticizing Gnosticism. Before you reach their headquarters, it wasn’t really obvious that it was a religious organization (I personally thought they were only excavators), but once you get there the religious connection is made very clear. After a certain point in the game the big plot twist with the organization is revealed- it’s literally an organization created by a hidden, super advanced country to control the masses (straight out of Karl Marx). This kind of plot twist has become such a cliche in modern media that it is actually more surprising when the organization is legit rather than secretly evil, but when this game came out I’m guessing it was much less common (the 1990s PS1 games were when video game storytelling really started to push its boundaries). My guess is that for many people this was the first time they encountered what seemed like a serious atheistic story which kind of blew their minds. For me personally, this was actually pretty tame compared to what I was expecting based on how hyped up the game was. I mean yeah, the game is critical of organized religion but its not like the way the religion is set up in the game has any real bearing on how something similar is in reality. This is in contrast to stories that will explicitly call something the Catholic Church and have them do something that doesn’t work with Catholicism.
Another religious feature of Xenogears is that there are many random references to Genesis. From what I have read, religions like Christanity and Judaism are uncommon enough in Japan that they are seen as weird and exotic groups to throw into media even if it may not make sense, kind of like Buddhism and Hinduism are for western countries. The result is media like Evangelion and Xenogears that will just randomly refer to these religions just to seem cool. This is how the references to Genesis in Xenogears work- they’re just kind of there without any real purpose. Here are a few examples. Early in the game you meet an old man familiar with the backstory of the world in which the game takes place. The way he describes it is essentially the fall in Genesis with humans being expelled from paradise for some sin. Later in the game we find out that story is an abstract way of referring to a space colonization ship that tried to control a dangerous superweapon but was destroyed and crashed on the game’s planet. Another example is the Omnigears. Around halfway through the game you start encountering the 12 powerful Omnigears (basically super powerful mechs). While these robots have names your party uses, but the names the antagonists use are various children of Israel (for example, the main mech Weltall is referred to as Naphtali). There doesn’t seem to be any real point to this reference, but to be fair it is possible the intended meaning was lost since it shows up in the rushed second half of the game. One last reference is to Cain and Abel. Late in the game, you find out that the main character is a reincarnation of the sole survivor of the spaceship crash 10000 years ago. When flashing back to his previous lives, one of them shows him (named Abel at the time) being hunted down and killed by Cain, the emperor of the super advanced country from earlier in the game. Once again, this seems to just be a superficial reference to Genesis without any real purpose. There are many small references like these that show up throughout the game. I could see how someone who wasn’t super familiar with the stories would think it was pretty cool and had some deep meaning, but I feel that anyone who has actually read Genesis would notice pretty quickly that the references really have no point other than just to be there.
Lastly, I want to talk about how the god in the game is portrayed. Like most games with a fictional religion, the god of the religion is the final boss of the game. This is a pretty common trope these days. After all, if the game wants to give you a sense of accomplishment and power, it’ll have you defeat the most powerful thing the writers can think of- a god. Xenogears is a bit different in that instead of it just being like a Greek god (basically a super powerful person), it’s a super advanced bio weapon that created life on the planet to repair itself over millennia. If that was all there was to this god there wouldn’t be much to comment on, but what makes it different is the intention of the writers. From what I’ve read, during production of the game the intention was to make the villain explicitly the Christan God, but this idea was localized out when the western branch of the company got involved to avoid controversy. You can still kind of see traces of it here and there, from the superficial Genesis references that would then have a point to various names used to describe the creature over the course of the game (Deus being probably the most common one).
This kind of explicit reference to Christianity isn’t super common in games (probably to avoid controversy leading to lower sales) but it does show up every once in a while (the Shin Megami Tensei games being the most prominent examples). The problem that stories with this portrayal run into is that the way they try to portray God isn’t really what He is. This is actually a pretty common problem with media in general, not just in games. God isn’t a competitive being that only has power by keeping down humanity, but the act of to be itself. God doesn’t need humanity at all, whether for prayers or power or repairing a broken body, but still wants us as an act of love. It gets pretty hard to discuss what exactly God is without accidentally saying something wrong, so rather than try to continue explaining this myself, I’ll refer you to Bishop Barron who talks about this topic pretty frequently in his various Word of Fire videos and explains the topic significantly better than I do (for example, see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zMf_8hkCdc).
Overall, Xenogears is a decent game that seriously discusses religion even if it doesn’t do a great job at it. I don’t think I’d recommend it to brand new players like myself, but if they ever remade it with some quality of life changes and a finished second disk it might be worth checking out. I think a large part of the reason the game didn’t bother me as much as I expected it to is the fact that the whole “religion is secretly evil” idea is so cliche now that the game feels pretty par for the course at this point. The developers went on to make Monolith Soft whose games have similar ideas if you are interested in checking out some others. I personally think Xenoblade Chronicles 2 did a better job with religious themes than Xenogears did if you want to check that one out (although it’s been a while so don’t expect a post on Xenoblade Chronicles 2 until I finally get around to replaying it).