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Author Topic: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)  (Read 1119 times)

Darkhawk

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Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« on: March 22, 2018, 01:12:45 pm »
So we had a thread about pagan representation in video games a while back, but now I'm thinking about the flip side of gaming representation of polytheistic systems.

Specifically: the way D&D handles pantheonic structure is weird, artificial, and fucked up in a handful of different ways that have no parallels in the real world nature of how polytheisms work.  And this carries over into a lot of other games, in the way things go.

I'm not meaning to point out the super-simplified stuff like the temples in ancient-civs citybuilder games, where for simple programming mechanics one has to have each one limited to only a couple of effects, likely one or two positive, one or two negative.

But stuff more like "pantheons are composed of good gods and evil gods, and at least some subset of the evil gods want to destroy the universe!"  Which, no, in terms of every culture in which I'm familiar with such things, one of the base qualifications for getting a job as a god is wanting to preserve and uphold the universe (not always kindly, and not always allowing for development, but existence itself is held as a goal).  Inter-pantheon struggles are not about differing opinions on existence being a good idea!  Something opposed to existence is not going to get a first interview for a job as a god!  Rowr.

Or "Yes, there are a bajillion different gods in the world, and you can pick one to follow!  What do you mean... worshipping multiple gods at the same time?!  NO ONE CAN LIVE AT THAT SPEED."

Or...

So, any other examples or rants about particularly stupidly portrayed polytheisms?
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EnderDragonFire

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2018, 08:58:31 pm »

Which, no, in terms of every culture in which I'm familiar with such things, one of the base qualifications for getting a job as a god is wanting to preserve and uphold the universe (not always kindly, and not always allowing for development, but existence itself is held as a goal).  Inter-pantheon struggles are not about differing opinions on existence being a good idea!

I suppose that depends one one's definition of God. There are certainly religious systems which feature powerful, immortal beings that seek to end existence.

For example, my understanding is that Angra Mainyu's goal in Zoroastiranism is complete nullification of the entire universe. I might be wrong on this, but he basically does represent a being that wants to end the world.

Now, the question is, is he a God? I don't know. Worship is a key part of most definitions of deity, and he was never worship. Most similar beings aren't, for that matter. That's my issue with the way fantasy handles evil entities, it gives them a place within the recognized and sanctioned pantheons, not that they exist.
"The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor-worshippers; to the Deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; My devotees come to Me." ... "Whichever devotee desires to adore whatever such Deity with faith, in all such votaries I make that particular faith unshakable. Endowed with that faith, a votary performs the worship of that particular deity and obtains the fruits thereof, these being granted by Me alone." - Sri Krishna

EnderDragonFire

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2018, 09:01:20 pm »
So, any other examples or rants about particularly stupidly portrayed polytheisms?

I hate the way Pillars of Eternity does religion, pretty much completely. It forces you to follow the teachings of your religion. Unlike real life, where hypocrisy is common, in-game being religious actually alters the choices available to you, taking away some and offering others. I suppose this is also true in most tabletop games, but at least there, the GM can waive silly and immersion breaking mechanics. In video games, they are set in stone and immutable. No house-rules.
"The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor-worshippers; to the Deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; My devotees come to Me." ... "Whichever devotee desires to adore whatever such Deity with faith, in all such votaries I make that particular faith unshakable. Endowed with that faith, a votary performs the worship of that particular deity and obtains the fruits thereof, these being granted by Me alone." - Sri Krishna

EnderDragonFire

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2018, 09:09:28 pm »
So, any other examples or rants about particularly stupidly portrayed polytheisms?

Sorry for the triple post, but also;

I hate how Crusader kings handles religion. It's dealing with real world religions, not fake ones, but it still manages to get ALL of them totally wrong. From the way it applies the cast system in Hinduism, to the way it addresses the Papacy in Catholicism, to the way it does nonviolence in Jainism... wrong, wrong, WRONG!

-Catholics and Orthodox are already split in the 9th century, when IRL they split gradually from 1050 onward, coming to full schism after the 4th Crusade.
-Hindus consider all foreigners, even foreign kings and emperors, low case... for some reason?
-Jains are forced to be vegetarian but can wage holy wars, commit mass murder, etc. etc. etc.
-All pagans are considered one religious family, from West Africans to Tengri to Aztecs to Hellenics.
-Some of the Christian Heresies are poorly researched, and are implemented the way their enemies wrote about them and not the way they actually were (Messalians, for example).
...Also, ALL pagan religons do human sacrifice, even Tibetan Bon (for God's sake!)

Generally, for a game which is meant to be a religion-centered historical simulator, it fails to understand the way most human religions actually operate.


"The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor-worshippers; to the Deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; My devotees come to Me." ... "Whichever devotee desires to adore whatever such Deity with faith, in all such votaries I make that particular faith unshakable. Endowed with that faith, a votary performs the worship of that particular deity and obtains the fruits thereof, these being granted by Me alone." - Sri Krishna

RandallS

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2018, 06:21:04 am »
I suppose this is also true in most tabletop games, but at least there, the GM can waive silly and immersion breaking mechanics. In video games, they are set in stone and immutable. No house-rules.

THis is one of the reasons that while I've been playing tabletop RPGs since 1975, I've never really been able to get interested in computer RPGs where I am limited to what the programmers put into the game. With a live person running the game, I at least try anything I want and the GM can change silly parts of the setting if needed. Or at least the only GMs I will play with can. I don't play with those who worship at the "rules as written" or the "canon is holy writ" altars.
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RandallS

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2018, 06:22:34 am »
Generally, for a game which is meant to be a religion-centered historical simulator, it fails to understand the way most human religions actually operate.

I have this game and have never had time to play it. Given what you say, I don't think making time to play it ever needs to be high on my lit of things to do.
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EnderDragonFire

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2018, 05:01:28 pm »
I've never really been able to get interested in computer RPGs where I am limited to what the programmers put into the game. I don't play with those who worship at the "rules as written" or the "canon is holy writ" altars.

You should consider modding computer games. It gives quite a bit of flexibility. Of course, some games don't support it, but it's quite common these days. All the Elder Scrolls games, the Witcher games, and the Fallout games have lively modding communities, and I know there are many other games that do as well.
"The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor-worshippers; to the Deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; My devotees come to Me." ... "Whichever devotee desires to adore whatever such Deity with faith, in all such votaries I make that particular faith unshakable. Endowed with that faith, a votary performs the worship of that particular deity and obtains the fruits thereof, these being granted by Me alone." - Sri Krishna

Castus

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2018, 01:29:42 pm »
I have this game and have never had time to play it. Given what you say, I don't think making time to play it ever needs to be high on my lit of things to do.

Don't let her fool you, Crusader Kings II is a masterpiece.

RandallS

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2018, 05:27:18 pm »
You should consider modding computer games. It gives quite a bit of flexibility. Of course, some games don't support it, but it's quite common these days. All the Elder Scrolls games, the Witcher games, and the Fallout games have lively modding communities, and I know there are many other games that do as well.

+I just never ave gotten into computer games. I got spoiled by tabletop RPGs early and computer RPGs don't even come close for me. I get bored after an hour or two and go do something interesting like read a book.

There are a few computer games that have kept my interest long enough to be worth the money I spent on them. Most of them date from the 1980s and 1990s -- back when game was more important that graphics, movie-like cut scenes, voice acting, etc. Civilization II, Simcity up to Simcity 2000, Simtower, Master of Magic, etc. You'll note that none of those are RPGs. :)
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Yei

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2018, 12:10:15 am »
So we had a thread about pagan representation in video games a while back, but now I'm thinking about the flip side of gaming representation of polytheistic systems.

Specifically: the way D&D handles pantheonic structure is weird, artificial, and fucked up in a handful of different ways that have no parallels in the real world nature of how polytheisms work.  And this carries over into a lot of other games, in the way things go.

I'm not meaning to point out the super-simplified stuff like the temples in ancient-civs citybuilder games, where for simple programming mechanics one has to have each one limited to only a couple of effects, likely one or two positive, one or two negative.

But stuff more like "pantheons are composed of good gods and evil gods, and at least some subset of the evil gods want to destroy the universe!"  Which, no, in terms of every culture in which I'm familiar with such things, one of the base qualifications for getting a job as a god is wanting to preserve and uphold the universe (not always kindly, and not always allowing for development, but existence itself is held as a goal).  Inter-pantheon struggles are not about differing opinions on existence being a good idea!  Something opposed to existence is not going to get a first interview for a job as a god!  Rowr.

Or "Yes, there are a bajillion different gods in the world, and you can pick one to follow!  What do you mean... worshipping multiple gods at the same time?!  NO ONE CAN LIVE AT THAT SPEED."

Or...

So, any other examples or rants about particularly stupidly portrayed polytheisms?

I've read through this paragraph a few times and I found it quite difficult to formulate a response because most video games portray polytheistic religions so anaemic that there is too little information to effectively criticise. In many cases, religion is barely touched, or reduced to a few quite generic and vague tenants. Even outside of highly abstract civ and city-building games.

If I could name an exception, I'd say the Elder Scrolls series, specifically Morrowind. In Morrowind there are several different religions, mainly the Tribunal Temple (TT) and the Imperial Cult (IC), which are separate but largely get along. Both are relatively well fleshed out. The TT has many religious texts, their own religious police, and connections to other factions in the game. They even have their own group of heretics, known as the dissident priests. The IC is a little more straightforward, but even they have their own cults, including the Talos Cult, who are also connected to the Imperial Legion. Outside of these 'hierarchical' religions there is a bunch of other belief systems, including the ancestor worship of the nomadic ashlanders. Plus there are a variety of Daedric cults, some of which are accepted, and others which are persecuted. Add to this the 6th House, a quasi-religious order which, though antagonistic, is nevertheless deeply intertwined with the setting's history.

What makes this portrayal of religions interesting is that they are idiosyncratic. The TT and Ashlander cults share a common origin, and have many similar beliefs such as ancestor worship. They are also linked through a set of prophecies that brings the two groups into conflict. The Daedric cults of Azura, Mephala, and Boethiah are accepted, while those of Sheogorath, Mehrunes Dagon, Molag Bal, and Malacath are persecuted. However, Boethiah is actually rather a nasty divinity, who's spheres include betrayal and murder. Mephala is also a god of schemes and plots. Even Azura is manipulative and arbitrary. Conversely, while Mehrunes Dagon and Molag Bal are clearly bad guys, both Sheogorath and Malacath have positive points to them. They are still not great dudes, but they are at least no evil than any other god, with Sheogorath being responsible for creativity and expression (and madness), while Malacath is the patron of the persecuted. Another reason the game portrays polytheism so well, is its lack of pretence. There is no attempt to portray an organised pantheon, or to narrowly define the gods. Multiple interpretations abound, both in game and without. The beliefs are just the beliefs.

The other games in the series are not as good at portraying religion. Oblivion is very simplistic, as the IC are reduced to a quasi-church like religion. The Daedric cults are just ... there. And the enemies, the Mythic Dawn cult are fairly generic. Bascially, it committed many of the errors of other games; simplifying theology, removing religious conflicts, and having only a single perspective on the gods and their identities.

Skyrim was better. An important part of the setting is a quasi-religious regime (the Thalmor) attempting to ban the worship of Talos in the Empire through a dubious treaty, and this creates a popular rebellion that shapes the setting of the game. Most people worship the IC, but some parts are Daedra worshippers. Plus, there is an ancient Dragon religion, that doesn't exist anymore but has a profound influence the game's history. Lastly, there is also the monastic Greybeards. I still feel as though Morrowind was the highpoint, but Skyrim has a reasonable portrayal of polytheism.
« Last Edit: March 25, 2018, 12:11:57 am by Yei »

EnderDragonFire

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #10 on: March 25, 2018, 01:30:19 pm »
Don't let her fool you, Crusader Kings II is a masterpiece.

I actually agree. It's probably the most realistic "historical" RTS on the market, and it does a great job of simulating the life of a medieval monarch, as well as simulating medieval politics and economics. It does war better than most other games as well, although I wouldn't say it's realistic on that count either.

It has its flaws, especially regarding some of the smaller religions, but it's still worth playing.
"The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor-worshippers; to the Deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; My devotees come to Me." ... "Whichever devotee desires to adore whatever such Deity with faith, in all such votaries I make that particular faith unshakable. Endowed with that faith, a votary performs the worship of that particular deity and obtains the fruits thereof, these being granted by Me alone." - Sri Krishna

Darkhawk

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2018, 05:00:16 pm »
So, any other examples or rants about particularly stupidly portrayed polytheisms?

Thought of another D&D thing:

Gods' packages of interests in tidy buckets!  If you have an interest in the sun, you worship <name of the one sun god>, unless you are also <race>, in which case you worship <racially specific sun god> (unless you're stuck with just <god of race>), who is basically the same except for a minor domain swap and some flavor text.

There are not, say, a god of the sun, a god of the power of the sun, a god one of whose eyes is the sun, a god of the visible disc of the sun, a god of the midnight sun, a god of the rising sun, a god of the setting sun, a god of the sun at noon, a god of the sun on the horizon, a god of protection from the sun, a god of solar strength, a god of....

(Okay, Egypt may be a wee bit solar-happy but still.)

If you want healing, you go to The Temple Of The Healing God <tm>.  There is only one specific healing god, maybe two, again for flavor text.  There isn't the god of plants who does healing, the god of binding and unbinding who does healing (and curses/cursebreaking), the god of righteous defense who specialises in surgery, the god of magic who knows every healing spell in the book and a few that are only in the secret book that only the god of magic owns, the god of I was totally an accident-prone kid and so I know all the healing for all the trouble I got into, the god of medical research and engineering, the god of awe and bounty who knows how to heal, etc.

(Again, that's Egyptian - and none of them are straight-up The God Of Healing. Gods of stuff that happens to include healing logically, and usually with a particular angle.)

Everything's neat and tidy.  If you want <thing> done, you go to The God Of <thing>, and there's only one or maybe two (possibly aligned 'good thing' and 'evil thing'), and there isn't a question of diagnosis.  "I've got a lycanthropic curse infection, but there's no cursebreaking healing specialist so I go to the same people who treat infected hangnails and the flu."
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we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #12 on: March 26, 2018, 07:17:24 pm »
Everything's neat and tidy.  If you want <thing> done, you go to The God Of <thing>, and there's only one or maybe two (possibly aligned 'good thing' and 'evil thing'), and there isn't a question of diagnosis.

Coming from the other direction: all members of a religion practicing the same way, with the same level of commitment. There's rarely any mention of, say, a character who only goes to temple to chat with his buddies vs the one who goes every sunrise even when it's pouring rain, or the difference between high and low church Anglicanism, or priests from neighboring temples debating the correct timing of the Spring Festival, or whatever.

Also, when random practices are tacked on for "weirdness" without having any coherent structure or at least a myth behind them. And conversely, when all elements of a fictional religion turn out to have some practical justification. Both of these are boring.

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Re: Structurally Bad Gaming Gods (and other media)
« Reply #13 on: March 29, 2018, 08:59:03 pm »
Thought of another D&D thing:

Gods' packages of interests in tidy buckets!  If you have an interest in the sun, you worship <name of the one sun god>, unless you are also <race>, in which case you worship <racially specific sun god> (unless you're stuck with just <god of race>), who is basically the same except for a minor domain swap and some flavor text.


I think this comes from a more general modern cultural understanding of ancient pantheons as X God of Y, where someone is God of the Moon, and someone is God of Fire, in tidy buckets. It doesn't map well onto either ancient religion or modern practice around those deities, of course, but school textbooks and little-kid Greek Gods books and movies all seem to operate on that model. Even when they have to be like, "Odin is the God of War! But not like Tyr is God of War. Or is he God of Wisdom? But this wisdom, not that wisdom. We have to decide which Thing he's God Of!" instead of "Odin is a God, and here are some things and stories about him, and here are some things people might pray to him for help with, or some things they might blame or thank him for." And then you get people trying to figure out whether Apollo or Helios is Greek God of the Sun, when they just both get to be gods, both with an interest and power in the sun, and otherwise have very different portfolios.

It's a sort of a lazy shorthand that makes sense to use and helps generate good Terry Pratchett jokes, but ultimately can muddle people's understanding of how gods work. Thoth is god of Thothness. Lakapati is Goddess of Lakapatiness. (And "Thothness" may include such things as, etc., etc., etc.)
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