Religion and Video Games: The Great Debate

By Joel Taveras

May 3, 2010

People say that there are two topics that you shouldn’t ever talk about in front of mixed company. The first is politics, which can represent a man’s (or woman’s) position in his (or her) society, but can also reflect ideals instilled by the second topic, religion. Besides science, it seems as though all faiths have issues with the various forms of media. Whether it’s works of literature or feature films, religion has a history of resenting various forms of entertainment. And guess what medium has been the latest to fall victim to this? If you guessed video games then you’re right! If you want to know more as to why then you’ll just have to read on.

What originally piqued my interest on the subject was the banning of Quantic Dream’s psychological thriller “Heavy Rain” in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). When I had learned of the banning, like the God of War series and Grand Theft Auto series before it, I thought it occurred because of the country’s Islamic government influence. As while this is partly true, the real reason certainly isn’t what you think it is.

While researching the subject I decided to call in the some reinforcements who would help decipher what’s going when it comes to gaming and religion in general. All three of them are gamers and all three of them from different faiths.

The first is a colleague of mine. Mohsen Mohsen, a 21-year old pre-med student from Brooklyn NY, who is a practicing Muslim and also a gamer. He actually found it funny that I would ask him questions about his religion and the “Heavy Rain” situation considering that he’s waiting to borrow it from me.

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The second is actually another writer from DualShockers. Who, when he isn’t writing reviews, he’s writing sermons as a Youth Director at his local Pentecostal, Assemblies of God church. So whom am I talking about? The always-sarcastic, contributing editor Francois Chang, that’s who.

The third is by far the most outspoken of the bunch. With his “One love and God Bless” line as part of every wrap up he does, the man who wears his Christian religion on his sleeve. I’m sure you know whom I’m talking about, but in case you don’t it’s’s favorite son, Gerard “HipHopGamer” Williams.

I asked all three guys about their respective views on religion and gaming, and whether or not they agree with these practices and views. Here’s what the three had to say.

(Quick note: I threw Mohsen a few curve balls in order to further uncover what exactly is going on in the UAE and just gaming in Islam in general, and he smacked them out of the park).

JT: Why do you think games like God of War and Heavy Rain are banned in the UAE as well as other Middle East nations?

MM: For the simple fact that anything that depicts fake or gives god-like powers to a human or object is considered wrong in Islam.

JT: How about super hero movies? Or stuff like the Matrix?

MM: They aren’t banned. I watched the Dark Knight 2 years ago when it came out in Egypt.

JT: Are some nations more liberal or lenient than others?

MM: Most definitely. The stricter ones are Saudi Arabia and Dubai (UAE), the easier going ones are Lebanon and Syria. However, when I think about it I don’t know if there is any other [religion] that would ban games other than Islam.

JT: Do you think Heavy Rain was banned because of the nude scene?

MM: Well, I didn’t play it because someone hasn’t lent it out to me (He’s talking about me here) but yeah, just like supernatural powers, it’s considered “haram” or forbidden in Islam. Women are covered from head to toe in that country, so nudity is a no-no.

JT: Speaking of women being covered from head to toe, is it a control thing, an equality thing, or a respect thing?

MM: It’s a religious thing, Sexuality is a reward. So, a woman should only be exposed to her husband.

And here I am thinking Kratos is banned in the UAE because he kills Gods from Greek Mythology and meanwhile all he actually did wrong was have Athenians run around with their nips showing. Go Figure.

JT: Last question. Do you, living in 2010 (and a gamer yourself), agree with the censorship or bans?

MM: No I don’t, and not because I think they’re wrong or following a religion based on theory (and governing that way), but because banning stuff like this only suffocates the youth in society who are already too worried about doing the wrong things like sex and drugs instead of being focused on the right thing like school.

JT: So in other words, too much focus on what not to do and too little on what should be done?

MM: Yeah, that’s it.

I then directed similar questions to our very own Francois Chang as well as Mr. God of War III himself, the always entertaining HipHopGamer. Here’s how it went down.

JT: What do you think about religion and gaming in general? Is there a certain line that shouldn’t be crossed? If so, what is it? What makes games (with religious undertones) different from movies like, let’s say “The DaVinci Code”?

FC: I believe that video gaming, like all entertainment, is what it is, entertainment. If you’re at the age where you know the difference between reality and fiction, and aren’t easily impressionable, for the most part it is fine. I believe the problem occurs when children or people under the recommended age are exposed to games such as Dante’s Inferno. However, I also believe some games that market off the violence and the cursing, and have absolutely no substance otherwise should be passed on.

FC: Matthew 6:22 says “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” As adults, we know what we’re playing and we recognize what we’re watching. There is a clear difference between Rated M games such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Halo 3. We know the difference between something that simply promotes evil and something that has substance.

FC: I play Modern Warfare 2 and I have fun every night playing with friends. Would I prefer less blood? Yes. Less cursing? Absolutely. But is that all the game has to offer? No way. There is community, competitiveness, strategy, and brains. For a game such as Grand Theft Auto IV, I just don’t see anything worth my time or anyone else’s.

I’m not sure what was more impressive. His well thought out answer or the fact he pulled a quote from the Bible so quickly. Either way he made a great point. It’s really all about guidance than anything else. I then directed the question over to HHG who had something similar to say.

HHG: “I feel that games like that are banned because those countries and governments find it to be more of a personal distraction with spiritual development. They don’t understand that games are more about interaction and entertainment.

HHG: See the thing is, images, videos, art, are all created for our enjoyment; created to make us do things we may not want to do, and feel ways we may not want to feel but it’s all about the interaction (or the experience).

HHG: The difference is about knowing what’s real and what’s entertainment.

HHG: Some people believe that both can’t co-exist because some people’s minds are weaker than others. If God of War is banned then so should the Terminator movies, and the Matrix and stuff like that.”

JT: Well said HipHop. Well Said.

Well there you have it. Three different views from three different walks of life, yet as gamers they all managed to come up with a very similar conclusion as to why religion frowns upon video games. All three also managed to come to a solution as to why it shouldn’t be an issue in the first place. Whether it was Mohsen talking about there being bigger issues at hand; or Francois, a devout Pentecostal, who finds Modern Warfare 2 only as bad as the person who plays it makes it to be, or even HipHopGamer who thinks games should be held to the same standards as other mediums such as film. One thing is for sure: Even if it’s a negative backlash, as gamers, it’s nice to see games being taken more seriously.

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Joel Taveras

Joel Taveras is one of the founding members of DualShockers. He hails from New York City where he lives with his wife and two sons. During his tenure with the site, he's held every position from news writer to community manager to editor in chief. Currently he manages the behind the scenes and day-to-day operations at the publication.

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