Finding Religion in Video Games «
Today — whenever that day is — is always the most technologically and culturally advanced period in all of history. Because of this, it’s easy to entertain the notion that “modern” society bears no fundamental ties to its philistine predecessors. However, we can often find shockingly similar parallels between “ancient” and “modern,” media which go beyond the realm of explanation that the definition of “a coincidence” can provide.
One place where this is evident: the curious correlation between the events which occur after a video game ends, and the common religious views of what happens after one’s life ends. By “curious correlation,” I mean “holy crap, game endings and the afterlife are exactly the same… where’s my thesaurus?”
Please understand that I am not referring to the actual endings themselves, but rather, the state in which the player finds themselves once the ending’s over and the credits have finished rolling. After one completes a video game and sees the ending, what happens next can be grouped into one of four categories — each of which mirrors a common religious belief about the afterlife.
1. Free Mode is the Same as Heaven
Notable Games: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, Lego series, The Elder Scrolls series, Grand Theft Auto series
Notable Religions: Christianity, Judaism
The notion that one is working towards a blissful plane of existence, free to enjoy anything, is quite common in many of the Abrahamic religions. The notion is simple, whether one is fighting the final boss or attending Church/Temple: If one does “good,” one can progress to an ethereal plane, free to enjoy all of the previously restricted aspects of their existence.
I remember beating Dragon Warrior back in 1987. My Uncle Bob had spent several dollars playing verbal joust with the always-indirect people manning the Nintendo Game Counselors hotline, and he’d finally managed to ascertain where to buy a freaking key. After he shared the information with his nerdy gamer nephew (yours truly), I was able to beat the Dragonlord and bring peace to Alefgard. Once you accomplish this task, you are free to wander around the world. Everyone you talk to only says two things, both of which relate to how great you are. Plus, all the enemies vanish and swamps don’t damage you. This would be a lot more useful if Dragon Warrior actually held any secrets that didn’t involve beating enemies.
2. New Game Plus is the Same as Reincarnation
Notable Games: The Legend of Zelda, Chrono Trigger, Tales of Symphonia, Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil 4, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Notable Religions: Buddhism, Hinduism
“New Game Plus” refers to the gamer starting over after completing the game, except with a slightly different set of rules. These rules may be that enemies are harder, that the player might retain some of their original knowledge, or that new paths open up.
Buddhism and Hinduism share the common belief that when one dies, the soul transmigrates into another body. This new being may share all or just some of the characteristics of the previous being. This is a lot like when you start over after beating a video game, but you still remember some of the spells you’ve learned. It’s even more like when you wake up with complete amnesia, but you still have a pounding tequila headache.
Some religions advocate repeated reincarnation ad infinitum. In contrast, the Hindu and Buddhist outlook — generally speaking — is that one’s soul is working to overcome all forms of desire and thus achieve eternal peace. The discrepancy between the terminal and infinite forms of reincarnation is also clearly delineated in video games: Sometimes the game is repeated forever (Super Mario Bros.), and sometimes an “ultimate ending” is received once the game has been beaten enough times (Eternal Darkness), followed by the game’s cessation.
3. A Terminal Video Game Ending is the Same as NO Afterlife
Notable Games: Fallout 3, most of the Final Fantasy series, BioShock series, Dragon Warrior I-IV, Castlevania I-III, pretty much half the games ever made
Notable Religions: Atheism
It isn’t uncommon for one to hold the belief that when one dies, Porky Pig pops up and screams, “Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!” No reincarnation. No Heaven. The infinite void which happened before one came into existence sweeps one back into the tide of oblivion. This is not unlike when a video game pops up an ironically never-ending screen which reads “The End!”
It’s interesting to note that the percentage of games which feature this type of ending seems disproportionately high when compared to the other endings. After all, just a casual glance would indicate that terminal video game endings are more popular than all the others combined. Interestingly enough, one can find statistical evidence to support the hypothesis that this is a direct reflection on the culture from which they were spawned. Studies indicate that almost two-thirds of Japan does not believe in a specific God.
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