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
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?
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.
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
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
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
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?]