Religion in Video Games

ArsTechnica’s review of the new computer game Civilization V highlights an interesting phenomena with the role of religion in video games today. Here’s a quote from the review that illustrates my point:

After a bold implementation of religion in Civ4, players will notice that the concept has been removed almost completely. The closest Civ5 comes to any religious leadership is one of the adoptable social policy trees, called Piety, which cannot be active at the same time as Rationalism.

In this example, the game forces users to make a decision: if you’re pious, you can’t be rational. If you’re rational, you can’t be pious. That, to me, is absolutely remarkable. I’m not sure whether this was a subliminal message intently crafted to shift players’ perceptions of religion, but nevertheless the message is still present.

What effect does that have on the minds of young children, adolescents, and young adults who play this game? In fact, how has religion been portrayed in video games for the past ten, twenty, or even thirty years that could have already resulted in significant shifts in attitude towards it? How does that affect society?

*Footnote: the writing of this post led me to stumble upon a publication known as Game Studies that bills itself as “The International Journal of Computer Game Research.” I found no scholarly work that referenced the Civilization series and its depictions of religion, politics, and government.

Rabid Ponderings: A Collection of Recordings of Intellectual Infestations Upon the Conscious Mind

Part I

The Evolution of Religion and the History of Belief Systems
A Commentary by Michael Sinanian
[a recording of a discovery of knowledge in progress]

Consciousness is biological. The fact that you sit down and question what you believe in, perhaps even question the belief of what consciousness is in the first place, is not a valid pondering to begin with. The only reason human beings believe in anything is because cognitively they attempt to reason out the world around them. That doesn’t mean that that is what the world around them really is. It’s just what their brains have reasoned it to be. Human beings are out looking for that ‘missing piece’ that will solve the final riddle of life. The fact is that the missing piece is an illusion of reality. It’s not there. It’s just part of the appearance of nature around us that is so convincing to our cognition. There is no missing piece. There is only reality. There is only biology. Biology is the cause of metaphysics. Without a brain, you wouldn’t think, and without thinking, you wouldn’t ponder existence, but because you can, you can also ponder that existence was meant to be pondered according to some higher order of the universe, perhaps some blueprint that has us set on a course to discover the true meaning of life and the workings of the universe, just like the other blueprints we are slowly learning about (ex. nuclear energy, the idea that mathematics governs everything). In short, we only ponder because our minds are large enough to ponder. It doesn’t mean that we are supposed to ponder or that the pondering will get us anywhere. If religion were to be an explanation for the discoveries we seek to make in this universe, then that explanation is flawed from the very beginning: the fact that it is a train of thought, it is simply an offspring of a stream of consciousness. The mind wanders and jumps freely from thought to thought, abandoning what it last thought of. Religion and spirituality is merely one of those thoughts along that train. In my humble opinion, if natural selection really were to work at its best, over the course of the next several thousand years, human beings, through the process of natural selection, would somehow eliminate the biological component of the brain which seeks to find answers to notions about God, religion, magic, superstition, and spirituality. In the end, it’ll do us more harm than good. If life were to really engineer itself to perfection, we’d get rid of those notions. Then again, perhaps it is trying to do that, and this part of our brains is only going to get larger till the ‘truth’ of the universe is revealed. Perhaps there are higher levels of consciousness that will allow us to see beyond what we now perceive as reality? For after all, all we know of reality is what we see, feel, and smell through our senses. One cannot help but ask why we see only our specific visible light spectrum from all the fields of the electromagnetic spectrum. Why is this our reality? Perhaps there is so much more out there, and we don’t even know it. What will lead us to discover ‘true reality?’ Will it take the destruction of religion, or the enhancement of it (all biologically, of course)? In the end, are we not all biological beings? Are we not all animals? It seems more and more that we are no different than animals except for the fact that we have culture and society (the two major concepts that entail values, beliefs, religions, virtues, etc…).

Some animals have societies as well, such as wolves. Are they on their way to becoming human-like beings? The strongest proponent of a purely biological evolution of all beings would surely argue for such an evolutionary conclusion. And more and more, I feel as if I would agree with such notions as well. It makes perfect sense, but is that perfect ‘fitting of the puzzle pieces’ a part of the grander illusion that is set to deceive me? And it is with that final blow, the one inflicted by the thread spun by my own meandering mind that has come to wrap all around me, and slowly choke me to death, for the abundance of knowledge is not always in the best interest of man. It is interesting to see that such a statement is one that could be echoed by a Christian priest, who would say that the knowledge of God’s workings are so complex and beyond the necessity of being understood by man, for it would be far too burdensome. But this parallel of thought would be contradictory to all that I said because I feel as if religion is biological and thus baseless in the first place. How could something so concrete such as biology spur things that are so baseless, such as religion? Perhaps this is the way the universe plays out. Perhaps this is the entrance to a higher level of consciousness, one that bypasses the need to ponder spirituality and religion, and takes us straight to the ‘true reality’ of nature and the world around us.

Over a century and a half ago, a man by the name of Edward Burnett Tylor published a book that attempted to explain where religion came from. In fact, it was called “Primitive culture: Researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, language, art, and custom.” He was a staunch evolutionist and all his assertions stemmed from evolutionist principles and ideals.

Now i’ve been pondering this for a better part of 2 whole days now, constantly trying to wrap my mind around the issue, and I’ve reached the following conclusion: Religion is biological. It is there because our brains support such a thing. If our brains were larger, who knows what other superstitious hoopla we would believe in…. maybe sometimes the way things are exist for a reason and we really shouldn’t be greedy about such things as intellectual capacity because in the end, it might harm us more than help us, as is the case for religion. But it’s not so much religion that is biological, but rather, dreams. the roots of religion are coincident with the roots of dreams. For a long time, our ancestors had no dreams. Then, when the cognitive ability to dream came about, things began to change. People woke up from dreams and interpreted them as some sort of spiritual force. There was no spiritual force, however, just a continuation of thinking through unconscious thought instead of consciousness. These beliefs from dreams grew more and more complex, eventually reaching the point of monotheism we know today starting about 2,000 years ago. But somebody should have gone back and told those guys writing the great book shared by all monotheistic religions (the first testament of the Bible) that what they were interpreting wasn’t even real. No body did, and everybody took what they were saying for face value, pound for pound, word for word, miracle for miracle. After a while, people didnt know any other way but the way of religion. It all seemed so real to them, just like when you wake up from a dream and go ‘i coulda swore i experienced it’ but it wasn’t an experience. This could be even more helped by the fact that the brain never interprets memories as ‘facts’ but rather emotions which are subject to change. When you wake up from a dream, you can’t recall everything as it happened in a list of facts. You gain impressions and emotions, and this is what religion seems to be all about. Now a days, we are born into societies that are blind to the fact that religion is biological. It’s not really there. It’s only ‘there’ because a part of our brain supports a little theater, but the kids in the theater (that’s us) don’t have any parents to tell them what they’re seeing ISN’T REAL it’s just filmed in a studio (our brains) and broadcast all over (Society of us). Generation after generation people think religion is this whole other world out there…. there’s this ‘divine level’ that exists. It’s NOT there. and this time, there’s proof. This time, you can’t turn around and say ‘Oh well Christians can say there’s God because atheists can say there’s no God. You can’t prove either one.’ That’s not true. you can DISPROVE religion because it’s scientifically proven that religion stems from dreams which stems from our own brains.

The only thing that trumps ALL OF THIS, is the philosophical field of study known as metaphysics, which seeks to explore the nature of reality under the curtain of appearance as it exists in the form of the world all around us. Basically, even though the theory of how religion stems from evolution of the brain, and how everything fits into place perfectly, this could all just be a trick that isn’t  really there. One would be naive to take it for face value, but then again…. you can’t be naive about everything after the hypotheses proves it wrong.

I refuse to end this entry by saying ‘i dunno’ or anything like that. I feel good about this assertion about religion and I shall stand by it. My dad accuses me of being ‘liberal.’ and lately, my response to him is not that I am liberal, but that i am something that even liberals would come to dispise. I tell him i am ‘detached.’ a sort of level beyond liberalism. Liberals still go to church, don’t they?

….this should put even the deists, and even the atheists to shame. STOP PONDERING what’s OUT THERE. start pondering what’s INSIDE…. (your brain) This also goes for all the other notions of ‘the soul’ etc….it’s not THERE. It’s only there because of your goddamn cerebrum.

All this talk of the birth of consciousness and the evolution of the belief systems of humans and how we interpret dreams is a venture into a dark alley, an alley in which I am now frolicking in. As a child, the dark would scare me away. But how fun it is to frolick in the dark, and not be afraid…

Finally, I still like the concept of religion because it greatly enhances culture. It binds people together, but at the same time, pits them against one another. This is all really foolish because all religions share the same basic concepts. I guess it’s fun to have common enemies. Religions are no different from university football teams. Everybody’s got a team they cheer for and the ‘classic rivals.’

There’s just two more interesting concepts to go over before I conclude this part of the entry. The first is that Eastern Religions have no notion of God or gods. They are based upon philosophical guidelines and codes of law that have been preached by great philosophical teachers. They use intuition as their form of interpreting the world around them and accessing the ‘higher truth of reality.’ They stray away from reason. This is interesting because beyond reason, intuition is far more mysterious. Where does THAT come from? That’s cool and would definitely be included in the ‘metaphysics trumps anything I just said’ category of arguments. The second concept is one based on Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” (excellently interpreted here: To quote the site, “This book built on the pioneering work of German anthropologist Adolph Bastian (1826-1905), who first proposed the idea that myths from all over the world seem to be built from the same “elementary ideas.” Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) named these elementary ideas “archetypes,” which he believed to be the building blocks not only of the unconscious mind, but of a collective unconscious. In other words, Jung believed that everyone in the world is born with the same basic subconscious model of what a “hero” is, or a “mentor” or a “quest,” and that’s why people who don’t even speak the same language can enjoy the same stories.” This is all connecting back to the fact that human beings all over the world share these archetypes because they share the same basic anatomy, the same brain structure. Biologically, it becomes easy to explain a lot of ‘complex’ stuff, and it’s got all of my attention at the moment. I’m so interested now that as my veil of ignorance has been lifted, I could never return to the ‘dark.’ Once your educated, once you gain knowledge, it’s impossible to go back. You become, essentially, a different person, and I can feel the changes already… Look for psychobiology to be the next big thing for philosophy and metaphysics. It’s gonna answer a lot of questions. (And also throw in Quantum whatever because you can’t say the word “metaphysics” without mentioning Quantum anything anymore…)


Part II

A Normal Journal Entry Would Go Something Like…

The ‘Live For’ Question
…was reading a book and couldn’t help ask this question repeatedly and in different ways:
Who do you live for? Do you live for the children you will someday have? Do you live for your parents? Do you live for the spouse(s) that you will one day have? Or, do you live for yourself? Who do you live for?

The Destruction of the Face-to-Face Society
I recently observed that most of my older cousins’ friends have MySpaces. This has now confirmed the fact that MySpace is here to stay for good, unfortunately. When 26 – 28 years old are maintaining these pages, you know society has digitally doomed itself.

The Journalism Respite
If I go into journalism and communications and what not, then I will have Mike to partially thank for. If I do not, then I will have Mike to partially resent and blame for planting the seed of self-loathing and regret in my heart.
Wreckless427: i really admire ur writing skills mike
Wreckless427: u have great potential
Wreckless427: as a author or a journalist
Wreckless427: u should follow up on that