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Representing religions in game

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Tedthebug
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*. This is a serious question, not a troll attempt

I have a game prototype that started using noughts & crosses for player markers, has progressed to sheep & cows, & has slowly morphing rules based on player feedback. It occurred to me this morning that an interesting variant, & I say variant as I'm not sure whether it will develop as a seperate game at this point, is to make it asymmetrical & change the animals.

As the idea progressed I realised it could be used to represent various persecutions in history, most recently apartheid & the holocaust. I'm happy with this as it isn't in your face, makes no judgement etc, it's just something that could be read into it. The idea is to make the game wolves or foxes vs sheep as there is a natural affinity with those opposing each other. With the chance of people extrapolating the game to those historical events is there a risk I will cause upset with using animals? It isn't intentional & I know I can't control people's thoughts but at the same time I'm happy with it making people think about those topics.

Extending further, Animal Farm successfully used animals to represent different class structures without much issue. Is using animals, in a sensitive manner as to which animal represents what religion, far to dangerous to pursue? Can it only be done using people or aliens?

Thanks for any insight,
Sean

Willem Verheij
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I think it might be a bit too

I think it might be a bit too controversial to make a game about religious prosecution since I assume some players would be doing the prosecuting?

It might be better to go with something a little different in which people can still recognize that conflict.
People tend to be fine with playing the german army in games, their army did look rather unique and stylish after all but they wouldnt want to be building the concentration camps, rounding up the jews and such.

So yes, I'd advice going with a metaphor, or going further back in history.

Romans prosecuting christians could work perhaps, and might help to open some eyes considering how christianity later prosecuted others.

To avoid controversy, a metaphor could be used though, like seen in the movie Equilibrium. Where the world is made orderly and emotion is banned, where those with feelings are prosecuted.
Something similar with an opressive regime and a rebellion could work.

Tedthebug
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Thanks

That's pretty much what I was thinking. Not being religious I find it difficult to comprehend how its portrayal can cause more outrage than other things that cause general outrage (child abuse etc) so I have difficulty gauging how far things can go. I guess at this stage of my career I'll stick to abstract games & abstract themes & let people make of it what they will while using specific things to drive the design without overtly showing its influence.

I Will Never Gr...
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Avoid religion!

Tedthebug wrote:
Not being religious I find it difficult to comprehend how its portrayal can cause more outrage than other things that cause general outrage (child abuse etc) so I have difficulty gauging how far things can go.

With this, I would definitely avoid the subject of religion. It's far too much of a hot topic and no good can come of it unless it's been done extremely well.

I would leave religious topics to those with a deep religious understanding and historical knowledge, and even then it would need to be tempered by a lot of common sense (which is rarely common) and political correctness to avoid major outrage.

Arthur Wohlwill
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Animals

Wasn't this also the reason that most of Aesop's fables revolved around animals? "Aesop's Fables, The Game" hmmmmm.

ruy343
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If carefully done, it can be beautiful

There are many games that play on controversial issues of the day, but rarely do they succeed when talking about more recent events (within the player's lifetime). Twilight Struggle, however, managed to create the proper atmosphere with the Cold War, but it did a good job of not portraying either side as right or wrong.

With your particular game, I recommend that you follow a few guidelines so as not to offend those of the religious persuasion (such as myself, though I'm not easily offended. As an aside, I'm actually somewhat of a scholar of a variety of religions, so you can PM me if you have questions on anything).

-Avoid mention of specific religious figures(example, any mention of the Pope, of the Prophet Muhammad [Peace and blessings be upon him], of Jesus Christ, or other religious figures of prominence in scripture or of our day, should be done with the utmost reverence).
-Try to avoid events that a religion actively avoids discussing (I'll refrain from mentioning any here out of respect to those organizations).
-If the game is about a controversial event, make sure that you, the designer, thematically approach it from neutral moral ground (it's very easy to make the mistake of casting one side as "the Evil Empire" a la Star Wars).
-Be careful what you ask the players to do - if one side is supposed to do something that strikes the player as overtly wrong, the game stops being about fun and starts to be a documentary.

That said, is your intent to make the game an example of investigative journalism? Judging by your posts, I'd say that's not your intent. However, pointing out class struggles with animal markers and showing inequality in the player's forces isn't bad design, but if you do couch it in a religious/period theme, be careful in your presentation thereof.

chris_mancini
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The topic has been taken on,

The topic has been taken on, at times with animals (see Art Spiegelman's MAUS graphic novel). I think what it comes down to is story; if you're "going to go there," it had better be with respect, research/accuracy, and above all, an engaging story that teaches or otherwise illustrates the plight of the persecuted. Likewise if it's a co-op game where all players represent the persecuted, it could be seen as a more acceptable approach than some players being the ruthlessly evil entity.

The recently Kickstarted game Secret Hitler goes right for the jugular by putting the name right in the title, and I think players instantly know if they'd care to have anything to do with the game...or not. It deals more with the intrigue within a political party than religious persecution, and the "liberal team" always has the majority, but it's still called "Secret Hitler" and meant to elicit a strong response.

The "good news" is, humans have been persecuting and killing each other for as long as we've been around...so it doesn't have to be high-profile event like the Holocaust or Apartheid to convey the idea. Personally, I like the Spanish Inquisition for a historically accurate event...that would be a fantastically dark and rich setting for a game! Now you've got me thinking...

Tedthebug
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Thanks everyone

Interesting views & I agree with them all.

In my current case any references will be whatever the player makes as I'm not overtly referencing specific religions or events, it was just that I realised it could be used as a metaphor for certain events that have happened after I worked out the game, but I can see the issue with making a more overt game using animals as religious characters.

I don't think I will ever go that far but I might explore it as a thought exercise

jonathanflike
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Of course you can address religion and big name games do it

Religious extremism, persecution, and belief systems have all been analyzed and explored by many games, particularly video games. Mass Effect, Skyrim, Final Fantasy, and even Resident Evil have all delved into these topics. I think there is this false premise that you have to talk about a real world religion. But more directly with the use of animals Zootopia used animals to talk about discrimination, oppression, and xenophobia. Those messages are intentional, and using animals as a metaphor for meta-analysis of society is nothing new. The problem comes in if you are to heavy handed with your metaphors. I wouldn't worry about what people extrapolate from your game. The creator has no control over that, they call that the death of the artist. You can't predict what an audience will take from your work and trying to lead them via a bread crumb trail will actually turn them off, so go for it, I wouldn't worry about it.

Soulfinger
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Tedthebug wrote:That's pretty

Tedthebug wrote:
That's pretty much what I was thinking. Not being religious I find it difficult to comprehend how its portrayal can cause more outrage than other things that cause general outrage (child abuse etc) so I have difficulty gauging how far things can go. I guess at this stage of my career I'll stick to abstract games & abstract themes & let people make of it what they will while using specific things to drive the design without overtly showing its influence.

The sort of outrage you are talking about tends to be more the domain of religious fundamentalists, like evangelical protestants or what Biblical Christians would call "cultural Christians." If you want a good slice of life, look up Donald Trump's evangelical advisory board. Unless you are designing the next "Apples to Apples" then you really don't need to worry about their input. They tend to aggressively protest products that none of the individual members have actually seen or used, and baiting them has become something of a marketing technique in and of itself, seeing as how the negative attention from a group that isn't part of your target demographic to begin with generates inordinate media coverage and positive buzz among your intended consumer base (for example, look online for footage of Kevin Smith protesting his own movie). Any game designer should be so lucky!

Likewise, I doubt ISIL will track you down for doing an analogy of Abdul Hamid's 1894 government instituted genocide against the Armenians. That said, it is still a hot topic in Turkey to this day in spite of Adolf Hitler's statement, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" when justifying his own genocidal campaign.

In terms of your notion of representing various persecutions in history and why it would require some delicacy, my mother and grandparents were held in a concentration camp (not a death camp) during World War II, and I have friends who were persecuted by the SS, so genocide and persecution aren't intellectually removed topics for everyone. Just look at what is happening to the Jews in France today. So, in making a game of such things, which animal runs the Bosnian rape camps?

I do get a little edgy when someone handles the topic of genocide in a ham-fisted way, and I no longer consider it ethical to play Nazis in games. It's really not so much a matter of religion for me, seeing as how my family was persecuted for being Slavs, just as I have relatives who suffered under Stalin's regime. Rather, in most instances, I see such attitudes in the U.S. as symptomatic of privilege and the social concept of "whiteness," which is to say that it is easier for someone who is far removed from torture to write a game about it than for someone who has the experience in their orbit.

I think Willem Verheij's comment sums up what is irksome for the general 'religious' community: "Romans prosecuting christians could work perhaps, and might help to open some eyes considering how christianity later prosecuted others." Elementary simplification like that is . . . just . . . so . . . tiresome, even if it makes for great pop culture and fundamentalist-type rhetoric. Persecution throughout history is a rich and nuanced field of study, and the motivations for such acts are by far more a matter of geopolitics and economics than religion, even if the pre-Enlightenment landscape is somewhat unfamiliar for modern audiences. I do find it distasteful when people turn historic persons into caricatures, whether out of simple ignorance or to better fit their own ideological framework.

As to what animals represent what religions. Sheep are an accepted Christian analog. Camels are closely associated with the Middle-East for a general audience, and there is mention of Muhammad conversing with them and expressing fondness for his own in the Quran (although you would want to keep aniconism in mind). Judaism is tricky, because the lion and dove have been appropriated by Christianity, and then sacrificial animals, like the ram and bull, are respectively associated with paganism and transgression. I really can't think of one that is identifiable in the popular conscious. Cow for Hinduism. Definitely the eagle for Tengrism, which would technically be the religion associated with the most profound genocides. Of course, leaving out communist ideologies, exempts the massive body counts under Stalin or Mao, the latter of whose policies alone killed more people than any single religion's ascribed sum total. Maybe the bear to represent general atheism?

Feel free to PM me if you have an interest in the subject, as historic inquisition was a field of study for me in college that I have great interest in and can make several good reading recommendations regarding.

Soulfinger
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chris_mancini

chris_mancini wrote:
Personally, I like the Spanish Inquisition for a historically accurate event...that would be a fantastically dark and rich setting for a game! Now you've got me thinking...

I highly recommend "The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision" by Henry Kamen. Outside of having a professor who actually read through inquisitorial transcripts at the Vatican, this was one the more insightful works on the subject I've seen. I have long been fascinated by the economical implications that followed the sudden influx of conversos in Spain, and how the rooting out of supposed crypto-jews became such a money making institution for the Spanish state that it persisted for over three centuries after the Pope disavowed it in 1482.

Have you read about the inquisition against the Cathars? I also recommend "Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love" by Dava Sobel, which explores the surviving letters of his daughter, Maria Celeste, and also gives insight into Galileo's experiences with the papal inquisition.

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