I grew in a fairly ordinary Lutheran faith, but if you want a honest analytic opinion, I've always considered myself an "eclectic believer". Intricacies and slavish following of the Scriptures matter less to me - what really matters to me are the Good Ideas.
Yet, for a long time, I have had this weird mental condition that prevents me from being open-minded. It's one of those weird things that have to be demolished if I'm really going to accept Good Ideas from around me.
The mental block is simple: Are computer games a valid source for religion, philosophy and ethics? Can the same thing be said about fiction in general?
<p>Perhaps it would be best to start from a long, long, long time ago
- when the computer games could first expose me to things that are different from the Plain Old Boring Christian Ideals. That was way back in the Commodore 64 era.</p>
Believe it or not, the first game to expose me to non-Christianity was... Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Okay, perhaps it was not just the game that did that. But the fact is, the Great Ninja Craze of Late 1980s/Early 1990s was the one got me interested of the Eastern philosophies - for real. I remember reading some of the eastern tales and thinking how profound that stuff was.
(Oh, and Shadow Warriors and The Way of the Exploding Fist and International Karate and someone even warez'd me PC Budokan and...)
Yet, here was this tiny little thing that conflicted with everything. Being a kid, it never occurred to me that it was actually okay to think for myself. I was learning about eastern philosophies kind of in secret. Yet, I'm pretty sure no one around me at the time would have minded if I had suddenly gone Zen Buddhist, it's just that it's not exactly conventional in where I lived.
Yet - no, conformity or peer pressure did not kill that budding clue that I had. What killed it was the plain ol' John 14:6.
Yeah. Here I was, learning all sorts of interesting and profound and completely harmless things about some very wise things other people had been saying about the Way of Things. And someone reminded me that the Wise Guy had said that no, his way is the right one and that way is the wrong one. Stated as plainly as possible. It didn't make any freaking sense, but there it was, written in the pages.
That kind of hurt, but I got over it with a shrug. Oh well. Time to strive for boring life, then.
But the episode left me one important lesson: It's okay that there are other cultures, there are other ways of thinking, and they can be pretty darn wise too. I feel I learned a lot of interesting things from that episode, and I am happy I did.
And most importantly, wisdom can be found from everywhere.
Now, flash forward to the 2000s. I'm playing very good old games, like the Ultima series and Thief: The Dark Project - and the odd thing is, I've noted that I really like game worlds with depth. The game worlds that I've enjoyed the most are the ones that put also thought in the religious and philosophical side of the world, because I like games that make us think.
I absolutely love Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle's Ophidian dissection of virtues, for example. Summarised, in each of us, we have tendencies toward order and chaos, and these are best left balanced. Order likes ethicality, discipline and logic; chaos likes tolerance, enthusiasm and emotion. From balancing these pairs, we find harmony, dedication and rationality. Favouring order over chaos leads to prejudice, apathy and ruthlessness; favouring chaos over order leads to anarchy, wantonness and insanity.
This was well put! The designers spent a good while thinking of a really nice system of virtue for U7SI. Wouldn't that make sense as a belief system for real people? The game also delightfully explores what misunderstanding of these virtues means: the Ophidian civilisation is gone, and one of the reasons for that was a great war between followers of Order and followers of Chaos. The Avatar, who has had to deal with misunderstood virtues before, takes the quest to figure out what really should have been done in the first place - understand the Balance.
What does this all have to say about us? We all know people who seem to favour one direction over another, even dangerously close to reaching the bad end of their scale. I'm a Chaos person, pretty clearly; looking at the game, I know that without self-restraint and common sense it'd be terribly easy to slide to anarchy, wantonness and insanity. Time to tiptoe back and look at the Order side for inspiration, it seems.
But this is not why I'm rambling here. The real reason is this: People can dismiss this as fiction.
It's a work of fiction.
It's a brilliant piece of thinking, but it's fiction.
That's the awful part. And my realisation, and New Good Guideline that I'm probably going to damn follow well, is pretty simple: Human culture - bless its vivid hues, its complex textures, its expanse and just plain brilliant complexity - can come up with profound wisdom every-damn-where.
I'm sorry, syncretism can creep up on you. But it doesn't change the plain facts.
I've been following Fundies Say the Dardest Things for a while now, and I've found out one thing: some Fundamentalist Christians tend to be annoyed if someone suggests the Bible is written by people. Yet, they wouldn't spend a second thought calling someone else's holy book a work of fiction. They certainly wouldn't spend a second thought calling a fictional book of faith a work of fiction (except when it's Necronomicon, which is obviously not, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary).
It's a problematic situation, all around. The Bible is written by people, that has been proven, and despite of not exactly being up to standards compared to what passes for brilliant prose these days, it has a few good bits in it. As, I'm saying, is the case with many other holy books out there.
Even fictional ones.
For example, I've kept reading the Principia Discordia for a while now - yet again, heavens know how many times it has already been - and, you know, it's hard to dismiss the whole thing entirely as a joke. It just proves what I've said above: You can find wisdom - touching wisdom - in weird places.
If a piece of fiction makes you think, for God's sake, don't stop thinking.
If it makes you laugh and think, for God's sake, pass it on and don't crush it as heresy.
We need to celebrate human culture. Not just our culture, but everyone else's, too.
At the cost of being a heretic, I have to say I made a small mistake of being restrained too much by a single freaking verse. I want to be a part of the world. I want to know its wisdom.
[Image from Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, by Retro Studios / Nintendo. Someone else is being political. Are you thinking about that possibility?]