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Atheism in Dragon Age: Origins

Posted on 28th Jun 2010 at 11:22 by Joe Martin with 58 comments

Joe Martin
I’m playing Dragon Age: Origins in my spare time at the moment. My character is a Common Elf Rogue and I’ve had a hard time getting back into it since our review. That’s partly to do with the fact that I’m just not as enamoured with swords and sorcery as I used to be (nowadays I prefer lightspeed and lasers), but it’s also that I have a problem with the way the in-game theology is presented to players as a foregone conclusion.

I’m anxious for this not to become a real-world religious debate, but I will say that I’m an atheist and that that’s something I wanted my Elf, Jacob, to share. It seemed to make sense that a Common Elf character should be atheist too – the history of the Alienage Elves has them completely detached from their old gods and culture, while also being relegated to second-class citizens by a Chantry-led society. An Elf in an Alienage wouldn’t have grown up with the Dalish religion, but would likely have been spared the attention of the Chantry too – at least, that’s if the Origin story is anything to go by.

Dragon Age’s fictional religion obviously plays a big part of the story, with the Chantry cast as alternately oppressive and supporting of society and constantly near the centre of attention. Whether you’re helping rogue mages resist what could be seen as religious persecution or collecting ancient texts for Chantry scholars, the religion of Andastre and the Maker is pretty much unavoidable – and when it’s like that, I don’t have a problem with it. Just as in real life, I’ll let people believe what they want as long as they don’t try to make me do the same. It’s on that last, italicised clause that Dragon Age and I start to have problems…

Atheism in Dragon Age: Origins
Sacred Urn of Andastre or Magical Grey Sand?

It all started with the mission where you have to collect the ashes of the prophet Andastre from an ancient temple, with the overall aim being to use the reputed healing power of the ashes to save the life of a nobleman. I sought out the ashes with no problems or qualms, not really concerned with the religious significance of my characters actions in any real sense. In fact, I was treating the ashes not as a holy relic but as just another magic item to be collected and used.

The key word there is: magic. Ferelden is a world where magic definitely exists and is used regularly. The Chantry god though, is not. The Maker never comes down himself to give you a +2 Sword of Archdemon Slaying, he acts in mysterious ways instead. There are lots of references and legends about miracles and holy powers, but who is to say that these aren’t either natural or magical phenomenon? To me (and my character) those options seem far more likely than supposing that the Chantry’s religion is correct (and that the Elvish and Qunari religions are therefore invalid or possibly forming a larger, less possible pantheon).

All of this was unspoken though; there was no way for my character to voice this opinion upon the world, so it wasn’t something I bothered too much about. Instead, I got the magic ashes of Andastre and returned them to the Chantry scholar who had discovered the temple, Brother Genitivi.

Brother Genitivi marvelled at the ashes I had bought back with me and asked me what the experience had been like, with my available responses pretty much limited to saying that it was an incredibly holy experience or dismissing it as an errand to find a burnt woman in a stone box.

Atheism in Dragon Age: Origins
Randomly distributed unholy power or a rare, but natural phenomenon?

I didn’t like either of those options. My character wasn’t touched spiritually by the task and I personally had found the temple to be little more than an over-long dungeon grind with some obvious, predictable puzzles tacked on the end – so no holy revelations there. The nonchalant answer seemed even worse though, as while dismissing the ashes as nothing but ashes may have distanced my character from Chantry doctrine in some regard, it would have also passively reinforced them by confirming them as Andastre's ashes more blatantly. The line offered wasn't "I got what appear to be magic ashes while remaining unconvinced about the validity of your convictions", its "I got the most holy proof of your God, but I'm too cool to be moved by that fact."

This mediation is typical of most interactions with the Chantry throughout Dragon Age, I realised. Occasionally you get a chance to speak out against Chantry methods (such as the regulation of mages), but you’re never really given a chance to tackle the underlying theology. It's always a choice of choosing to say either "Praise the Maker!" or "The Maker exists, but I don't want to praise him right now." I want the third option which says flatly "Actually, I don't believe in the Maker and would prefer it if you just told me how many Deep Mushrooms you want me to collect and spared me the rhetoric, thanks."

For me, this is a problem because it directly affects some of the larger quests in the game. I don’t want to tell the Chantry to leave the Mage’s Circle alone for a bit; I want to tell them they have no more right to monitor the Mage’s Circle than the Dalish Elves or the Quanari. I want them to realise the hypocrisy of the situation when they, with one hand, claim that the Maker watches over all things, then with the other condemn anyone born with magical aptitude.

More importantly, I want to know why my character is apparently the only sceptic in the whole of Ferelden and why even apostate mages like Morrigan temper their hatred of the church with fear of the Maker (albeit cloaked in sarcasm). If Ferelden has room for priests, elves, mages and golems then why doesn’t it have room for sceptics and scientists too?

Read our review of Dragon Age Origins

58 Comments

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Spiny 28th June 2010, 12:37 Quote
"claim that the Maker watches over all things, then with the other condemn anyone born with magical aptitude. " she'sawitch! Burn 'er! :)

Nice post. The game probably does more to reflect the hypocrisy & assumptions present IRL. I guess.you could side with the game by saying that RPG world reflect an essentially medieval ethic so religion is omnipresent, unlike today's more advanced societies.

It's always the same archetypes rolled out for RPGs eh? I want a steampunk scientist/ engineer :)
Jezcentral 28th June 2010, 12:41 Quote
I've never played a game that has given such scope to being an atheist. You never have to say "Amen" to anything. You can say "It's all hogwash in a variety of situations. I have to say I disagree with this article.
Jezcentral 28th June 2010, 12:43 Quote
Sorry, to clarify, I meant I've never played a game that gives you such an opportunity to play an atheist as Dragon Age.
CardJoe 28th June 2010, 12:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spiny

It's always the same archetypes rolled out for RPGs eh? I want a steampunk scientist/ engineer :)

Try Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcanum_(video_game)

And let me know if you do. I've always wanted to try that out.
_Metal_Guitar_ 28th June 2010, 12:55 Quote
Spiny brings up a good point. It's set in a medieval time, or at least it appears to be. Go back a few centurys and you wouldn't be an athiest.

That said, as a character trying to unite the lands and fight a horde, it might just be easier/better to nod and smile for the time being.
CardJoe 28th June 2010, 13:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by _Metal_Guitar_

That said, as a character trying to unite the lands and fight a horde, it might just be easier/better to nod and smile for the time being.

To clarify, I've nothing against the fictional setting and the idea that in that situation everyone would be religious, but the dialogue and most of the portrayals don't support that. The Chantry isn't at the stage where it's regularly burning non-believers, just as it isn't questing against the Quanari or the Dalish. If you read some of the supporting fiction, like The Stolen Throne, then there are main characters (like Loghain) who are vocally anti-Chantry on a regular occasion. Atheism obviously exists in the world.

What's more, you are occasionally given the chance to refute the Chantry - but never in a major way. It's nearly all in conversation with Leliana, the bard. I've had quite pointed debates with her about it and said that I think her visions etc are nonsense...and yet, when I talk to the Chantry or Templars themselves (or even Alistair most of the time) then it's all, as you say, nodding and smiling. It's that which I find grating; the nodding and smiling. If there's room for a Nice/Nasty approach (if not outright Good/Evil) everywhere else, then why not here?

That said, it's not grated enough to stop me playing - it's just something occurred to me, as it's always a little annoying when you find a game won't let you play the role you thought you could create for yourself.
DbD 28th June 2010, 13:01 Quote
This isn't second life?

It's a game, it's made up - and you play a character in it, not yourself.

You have no trouble with magic, or dragons, or wearing silly clothes, or being a different race/sex so why worry so much about this?

To try and force your religious (un)beliefs into it makes you sound more like a religious zelot then all the religious zelots you almost certainly make fun of if they'd got upset because the maker wasn't Christian/Muslim/Buddist/whatever - although as far as I know none of them have got so upset as to bother blogging about it.
bob 28th June 2010, 13:34 Quote
Seeing that the game is set in a medieval fantasy, and most of (our) world is religious, it's only sensible to have religion throughout the game. If you can shoot fire out of a stick and have ashes cure a dying man, there'd be very little scepticism.
Just because Loghain has anti-Chantry view does not mean he lacks belief in the Maker.
LeMaltor 28th June 2010, 13:34 Quote
I didn't notice any of this religious stuff in the game lolz O_o
mighty_pirate 28th June 2010, 13:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by DbD
This isn't second life?

It's a game, it's made up - and you play a character in it, not yourself.

You have no trouble with magic, or dragons, or wearing silly clothes, or being a different race/sex so why worry so much about this?

To try and force your religious (un)beliefs into it makes you sound more like a religious zelot then all the religious zelots you almost certainly make fun of if they'd got upset because the maker wasn't Christian/Muslim/Buddist/whatever - although as far as I know none of them have got so upset as to bother blogging about it.

Equally then, why bother with a character creator, or choosing a class, or even being able to choose what armour or weapon you use? Why not just bark "Shut up & play with what you've been given" & give the player no mutiple choices or customization options at all.
Probably because that would be a bit **** in an RPG. People enjoy imposing personal preferences on their characters. Sometimes you want to be a Barbarian, sometimes a thief, sometimes a goody goody, others a *******, why not sometimes religious evangelist & others an athiest?
I don't think it's the most important of multiple choice options & it didn't really effect my gameplay, I played as an overly cool, dismissive, berserker. But it's an interesting criticism & something I could genuinly see them, or other writers, considering in future games.
CardJoe 28th June 2010, 13:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mighty_pirate
Quote:
Originally Posted by DbD
This isn't second life?

It's a game, it's made up - and you play a character in it, not yourself.

You have no trouble with magic, or dragons, or wearing silly clothes, or being a different race/sex so why worry so much about this?

To try and force your religious (un)beliefs into it makes you sound more like a religious zelot then all the religious zelots you almost certainly make fun of if they'd got upset because the maker wasn't Christian/Muslim/Buddist/whatever - although as far as I know none of them have got so upset as to bother blogging about it.

Equally then, why bother with a character creator, or choosing a class, or even being able to choose what armour or weapon you use? Why not just bark "Shut up & play with what you've been given" & give the player no mutiple choices or customization options at all.
Probably because that would be a bit **** in an RPG. People enjoy imposing personal preferences on their characters. Sometimes you want to be a Barbarian, sometimes a thief, sometimes a goody goody, others a *******, why not sometimes religious evangelist & others an athiest?
I don't think it's the most important of multiple choice options & it didn't really effect my gameplay, I played as an overly cool, dismissive, berserker. But it's an interesting criticism & something I could genuinly see them, or other writers, considering in future games.

I remember reading on RPS recently about a man who played Deus Ex as a hardcore vegetarian - only healing himself with water and soy food.
javaman 28th June 2010, 13:49 Quote
Quote:
It's always a choice of choosing to say either "Praise the Maker!" or "The Maker exists, but I don't want to praise him right now." I want the third option which says flatly "Actually, I don't believe in the Maker and would prefer it if you just told me how many Deep Mushrooms you want me to collect and spared me the rhetoric, thanks."

For me, this is a problem because it directly affects some of the larger quests in the game. I don’t want to tell the Chantry to leave the Mage’s Circle alone for a bit; I want to tell them they have no more right to monitor the Mage’s Circle than the Dalish Elves or the Quanari. I want them to realise the hypocrisy of the situation when they, with one hand, claim that the Maker watches over all things, then with the other condemn anyone born with magical aptitude.

A bit like real life. Insult someone about their religion and Im sure they would be less likely to help you or ask you for help. Take Muslims, theyre hardly gonna get a certain Danish cartoon illustrator to do work for them are they now? I could argue that the maker is very centra to how everyone in the game thinks, yes you can take the view of I don't believe anything religious, but characters in the game are very religious that their day to day lives and actions are effected by what their maker thinks. I highly doubt that a group of people who think that if someone insults the maker and that his continued favour is needed to even exsist is gonna take kindly to "Libral"views of "everyone is entitled to their opinion". Would it be nice to see more options, actually yes it would, I would love to see that. I put it down to karma systems tho. Three options seems to be the limit of designers and maybe if designers do spend more time on even more dialogue options rahter than focusing on story and the action element of gameplay we may see it one day. I almost wonder if including all those options is possible just from a logistical point of view. Having to have each option effect not just "good" or "bad" but some other "meter" and a group of meters effects people attitude and other dialogue options. As great as it would be I just don't think it is possible due to the logistical nightmare. Maybe a basic scale it would work tho. Just my thoughts on the subject.
_Metal_Guitar_ 28th June 2010, 13:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Quote:
Originally Posted by _Metal_Guitar_

That said, as a character trying to unite the lands and fight a horde, it might just be easier/better to nod and smile for the time being.

To clarify, I've nothing against the fictional setting and the idea that in that situation everyone would be religious, but the dialogue and most of the portrayals don't support that. The Chantry isn't at the stage where it's regularly burning non-believers, just as it isn't questing against the Quanari or the Dalish. If you read some of the supporting fiction, like The Stolen Throne, then there are main characters (like Loghain) who are vocally anti-Chantry on a regular occasion. Atheism obviously exists in the world.

What's more, you are occasionally given the chance to refute the Chantry - but never in a major way. It's nearly all in conversation with Leliana, the bard. I've had quite pointed debates with her about it and said that I think her visions etc are nonsense...and yet, when I talk to the Chantry or Templars themselves (or even Alistair most of the time) then it's all, as you say, nodding and smiling. It's that which I find grating; the nodding and smiling. If there's room for a Nice/Nasty approach (if not outright Good/Evil) everywhere else, then why not here?

That said, it's not grated enough to stop me playing - it's just something occurred to me, as it's always a little annoying when you find a game won't let you play the role you thought you could create for yourself.

Fair enough. I just kept telling myself that city my elf was very manipulative. Telling everyone what they wanted to hear, doing everyone little favors, gifts here and there. Little does Alistair know that I play to kill him and take the throne. Ferelden will burn.

That is some DLC I would be interseted in.
pimlicosound 28th June 2010, 14:04 Quote
Joe, you make some good points, particularly that Dragon Age goes some way to opening up avenues for scepticism but then closes them off before they can become truly interesting.

However, I think that if games go down the route of offering players more opportunity to express potentially controversial opinions within the game, then the games ought to be made so as to accommodate those opinions in a more-of-less neutral way, unless they're willing to be seen as projects in social engineering. For example, if I were to choose to play as a Christian in a game, it would be nice if the game didn't keep prompting NPCs to tell me that I'm an idiot.

I think a good example of this done badly is Fable 2, where if you choose to eat meat you get fat, whereas vegetarianism is rewarded. It's a moral statement on something that many people don't necessarily see as a moral issue.

Personally, I would like to see opportunities in games to support companies who are trying to turn a profit. It seems that in so many games (and films, etc.) today, big companies are always "the bad guy" - invariably corrupting or oppressing someone or something. Wonderful, perhaps, if you're inclined to believe that companies often commit evil acts, and in real life you're sitting in the Gulf of Mexico holding a "BP must die" banner, but if, on the other hand, you have a more capitalist disposition, it would be nice to have in-game opportunities (beyond, say, Civilization) to find yourself in a position where companies and profit are not the root of all evil.
Kiytan 28th June 2010, 14:19 Quote
I did notice that a lot in playing dragon age as well. My main problem with RPGS with a good/bad morality type thing, is that often being evil means being a complete arse to everyone.
There is a lack of lawful evil options, and when i think of lots of great villians (especially from sci-fi) quite a few of them are lawful evil. Palpatine, Lex luthor, Scorpius (or commandant greyza).
CardJoe 28th June 2010, 14:23 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by pimlicosound
repworthy post

+rep
WildThing 28th June 2010, 15:12 Quote
Interesting read Joe. I too am playing through this atm (Steam sale ftw), and I must admit I never noticed there not being an atheism option in the dialogues. While I am a believer in there being a God, it does seem like a good idea to have that extra option for people such as yourself to have a more immersive experience. Looks like a missed oportunity on Bioware's part.
Jezcentral 28th June 2010, 15:16 Quote
And Joe, don't forget that the Ashes ARE special. They heal Arl Eamon. You can't write them off as non-magical ashes.

The game hints later that, instead of being the Maker's bride, she may just have been a powerful mage. (Ironically, that fact is in a book that is a special gift for the Chantry member, Leliana).

You can spend time ahlting the spread of the Chantry into the Dwarven kingdom, too.
DbD 28th June 2010, 15:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mighty_pirate
Quote:
Originally Posted by DbD
...

Equally then, why bother with a character creator, or choosing a class, or even being able to choose what armour or weapon you use? Why not just bark "Shut up & play with what you've been given" & give the player no mutiple choices or customization options at all.
Probably because that would be a bit **** in an RPG. People enjoy imposing personal preferences on their characters. Sometimes you want to be a Barbarian, sometimes a thief, sometimes a goody goody, others a *******, why not sometimes religious evangelist & others an athiest?
I don't think it's the most important of multiple choice options & it didn't really effect my gameplay, I played as an overly cool, dismissive, berserker. But it's an interesting criticism & something I could genuinly see them, or other writers, considering in future games.

For the same reason you don't get the option to fly a space ship and use a blaster pistol. They don't fit within the context of the game. Joe's Atheism is almost certainly based on his knowledge of science - a knowledge that not only does not exist, but has been replaced by magic in the dragon age world. It's a world where everyone believes in the maker and the rules of science are trumped by magic. It wouldn't make sense to have a strong atheist dialogue choice.
Eriku-Kun 28th June 2010, 15:58 Quote
I think the point is that they may be magical ashes instead of divine ashes.
greigaitken 28th June 2010, 16:11 Quote
morrigan is def an atheist. She even has a scripted chat with alister about how it's all made up nonsense. and a few times i got options to say something like "i dont believe in the maker"
to me - everytime religion came up in the game the religious chars just made religion seem useless.
pimlicosound 28th June 2010, 16:46 Quote
Having thought about this some more, I've realised that - in general - games don't really "do" arguments in dialogue trees. What I mean is that your choices are rarely the equivalent of "I agree with you, because...", or "I disagree with you, and here's why...", or "I agree with your sentiment, but I disagree with your solution, because...". Instead, you're usually presented with a choice between "I agree with you because I'm being nice" or "I disagree with you because I'm a jerk".

The choices we actually get are undoubtedly there because they're much easier to write, and fall nicely into the standard good / bad morality structure of western RPGs. But how much more interesting would game dialogue be with real argument?

I'd like to hear people's suggestions for how this could work. I wouldn't expect developers to offer a completely open-ended argument structure, where the player can insert his own response and argument in detail; but perhaps the available options and arguments could be a function of the player character's stats. Perhaps players could be given the opportunity to respond positively or negatively, and then get to choose from a list of reason-types: eg. loyalty, sentiment, rationale, selfishness, etc., with a bias appearing over time based on your past choices.

Or, maybe - just maybe - I'm over-thinking this, and the answer is just that the developers should dedicate more time to thinking through and writing the arguments for and against every proposition the game gives you.

Ultimately, I'd love to play a game where I feel like my reasons for choosing are as important as the choice itself. I'd like the option of being an accidental hero - making the right choices for the wrong reasons; or the kindly fool - making the wrong choices but with the best intentions at heart.
thehippoz 28th June 2010, 16:53 Quote
thing I thought was funny.. mage went both ways in the brothel =E
Hovis 28th June 2010, 17:49 Quote
The problem with Dragon Age is that while it's staggeringly well written it tends, in my experience, to be staggeringly well written if you're a good guy, ideally the human noble archetype, and ideally if you're a bit pious too. Whenever I tried to deviate from the path of shiny heroes with my characters, for instance trying to create evil characters, the game dialogue often felt like a really bad fit. By giving the player more freedom than for example Mass Effect 2 the writers left themselves unable to cover all the bases.

For all it's faults though Origins is probably still about three or four times better than Awakenings. Phew that was a stinker.
sheapearce 28th June 2010, 18:05 Quote
I dunno. I actually think you are misconstruing the nature of the storytelling paradigm of any sort of non-pnp rpg.

Put it another way: religious people aren't just theists, but theists with specific beliefs about the divine, what godhead is, what being human is. Playing a follower of the Chantry in Dragon Age is in no way enlightening; it doesn't tap into any religious feeling to speak of.

The game simply isn't about religious experience one way or the other.

Other comments about the context of the story are also important (ie, this ain't Second Life). And this gets to a fundamental rpg dilemma that you encounter in plenty of pnp games. Some players want to spend the whole time pretending, talking, acting as if they were their character. Most other players find a happy medium that usually works like this: comfortable talking in first person, but happy to discuss things in a sidebar, ask mechanics questions, etc.

And finally, this gets to the fundamentals of good storytelling. Does it make conceptual sense to have your hero be an atheist? To be honest, I was irked by how critical DA:O was of its own religion; while you couldn't be an atheist, it was pretty hard to see why anyone would be a believer. It felt like a pc sort of compromise between an honest approach to medieval religion (which would make an amazing backdrop for a game given how crazy and diverse it was) and wanting to adopt a more modern, skeptical approach to belief. It feels like the devs decided that they needed to put religion in, but none of them knew much about religion or particularly cared for it. So I guess my point here would really be that if you think DA:O fails to flesh out alternatives to its religion I'd suggest it also fails to flesh out the religion itself.
pimlicosound 28th June 2010, 18:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Quote:
Originally Posted by pimlicosound
repworthy post

+rep

Thanks!
eddtox 28th June 2010, 19:11 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by pimlicosound
the available options and arguments could be a function of the player character's stats

I think the original Neverwinter Nights did something of the sort, where you would get different or additional conversation options based on alignment, intelligence, wisdom and even strength and stealth.
fatty beef 28th June 2010, 19:17 Quote
i agree sometimes during conversations i get a little frustrated that my ideal response isnt there at all not just the religion based ones

however, regarding the conversing mechanics and decision making stuff it is probably the best game ive played

theres a central story and a certain amount of code and voice acting and paths they can fit in. i was surprised how open it was to be perfectly honest with you and its a mainstream game so i can understand why they err'd on the pc side.

making the most people happy whilest giving the most options taken into context i think they did a pretty good job hitting a solid middle ground and made it fun for everyone

im more aggrevated with the DLC/microtransactions they offer to be perfectly honest with you
CardJoe 28th June 2010, 19:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by eddtox
Quote:
Originally Posted by pimlicosound
the available options and arguments could be a function of the player character's stats

I think the original Neverwinter Nights did something of the sort, where you would get different or additional conversation options based on alignment, intelligence, wisdom and even strength and stealth.

The first Fallout games did that very well too. If you didn't have high enough perception, for example, you might not notice if someone was lying to you. If your Charisma was too low then some people would just flat out ignore you.

My favourite was that if you had an intelligence of 4/10 or lower then you'd be literally incapable of sensible communication. Whole portions of the game changed, so that you'd end up getting brand new quests as people tried to exploit/help you, while at the same time losing out on massive portions of the game. Major quests could just pass you by and your dialog choices would literally be reduced to grunts and basic words.
Dar Anurin 28th June 2010, 20:12 Quote
Dalish religion is animistic and Fade with its spirits is an animistic concept.

Morrigan is pragmatic, not an atheist and consindering her feelings about nature she seems to be pantheistic.

Monotheism and polytheism are only two religious concepts of many.
Elton 28th June 2010, 21:09 Quote
Most game developers I would daresay don't think of that though. Most aren't too concerned about making things a shade of gray, opting for a simplistic system of Black/White.

With that said, I can see why we'd want more complexity, but remember, not everyone is inclined to think.
Sloth 28th June 2010, 21:34 Quote
Interesting read, Joe!

Religion seems to be something that a lot of games simply brush over, even if they're a pretty integral part of the game. Developers rarely consider just what they're really putting into their world.

I'm a big fan of the Warhammer universe because of its religions. All the different races and factions have their own Gods, but the trick is: they're all real. It adds a whole new level to the world and all of the related games. There's little claim that Khaine, for example, simply does not exist. Only that some embrace him, and some oppose him. It's a pretty different take on divinity in games which I enjoy.

Also, Joe, you might enjoy Demon's Souls. Some interesting shades of gray story elements in there. More interesting takes on religion and holy power vs. magical power under a different name.
Star*Dagger 28th June 2010, 22:10 Quote
I wonder what would happen if we could wipe peoples memories of Xianity and present it as "A religion with no original symbols/concepts which takes as its main rite the ritual cannabalistic ingestion of the crucified Messiah's flesh and drinking of his blood. The main symbol of this faith being an instrument to apply the death penalty. In addition the main figure died to "redeem" from an earlier error, but his people are still seen as flawed and in need of weekly confession and consumption of his flesh and blood.
Side beliefs include his mother being involuntarily impregnated by the some vague divine figure. (Messiahs mother was not defined until 451 years after the fact)

The list goes on and on, in any case, I doubt anyone would choose this pile of (insert your own expletive) on their own.

As to the main point, people in Medieval times were not allowed to be atheists, even people who didn't goto the local temple of evil were shunned or marginalized, bringing this into a game set in a fantasy medieval society with modern norms and such is problematical at best. There is already too much relativism and post-modernist dreck in PC games, I'd like to see more harshness (more severe deaths and hard decisions) rather than "make you feel good" junk.

That is all for now (if this actually gets posted, lol)

S*D
Kris 28th June 2010, 23:11 Quote
Excellent read as usual. That is one of the things i have pondered about with DA. Also, for one of the worst things they did was making you able to have relationships without giving any motivation to talk to your girl - meaning, that it very quickly came down to repeat one liners after the „fireplace fun”. Smost like the developers want the player to be a slut, because as soon as you talk someone into bed, there is nothing interesting left.
pimlicosound 28th June 2010, 23:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Star*Dagger
I doubt anyone would choose this pile of (insert your own expletive) on their own.

Actually, it was as bizarre, controversial and counter-intuitive to believe it in 33AD as it might seem today, and yet people were convinced and they did believe (not all of what you said, though, since much of that stems from later traditions of Roman Catholicism).

I think writing off faith as a product of simplistic and conformist minds does a great disservice to the depth of various religious traditions. It's very easy to see ourselves as having "outgrown" our past, but I think it's that very mindset that has led to such a shallow exploration of subjects such as religion in games thus far.
SoulRider 28th June 2010, 23:55 Quote
The Question I'd like to ask you Joe, is;

Why can you not delve into the fiction of being a believer in the maker? Is that really a design flaw on the teams part, or could you agree that you're limiting your experience of their designed gameworld with your choice to let your aetheist beliefs affect your immersion?

I quite easily submerge into the fantasy battles of killing people, but that goes totally against my real world beliefs, but I manage to suspend them long enough to enjoy the game :D
Cool_CR 29th June 2010, 00:32 Quote
Should have taken the dwarf then they really dont belive or just always take Sten and Morigan they slap Prayer mumblers left right and center.
For those with the in game chars of the we believe type just remember although the chantry says the maker is watching he dosent believe in you. Although that said i did come back from the ultimate final death maker be praised or just an oversite in the programing me thinks.
Neogumbercules 29th June 2010, 00:32 Quote
I see what you're saying, but the game does offer an alternate explanation. Wynne, if you talk to her long enough, is pretty open minded about the possibility of Andraste being nothing more than a powerful mage, whose ashes still possess the power she held when she was alive. I believe this conversation is initiated after gifting her a controversial book that is banned by the Chantry that tackles this issue.

I do seem to remember having the option to tell people I don't believe in their religion in a non "screw you" way playing as my elves, but I couldn't recall a specific place for you.

I think another final aspect of this may be that the existence of an unknown power is practically a foregone conclusion. Your character goes to the fade, sees the power of andraste with his own eyes, talks to spirits and demons. It'd be like me responding to this blog post by saying "i don't believe in the internet." However, I did just remember that in the expansion pack, Awakening, you get a spirit in your part in the form of a possessed corpse who states that some spirits believe there is a life after the fade.

However, if you want to talk to a fellow skeptic, strike up conversations with Wynne. When you're in Ostagar you can find her near the Templars and the Circle doing a ritual. If you talk to her about the darkspawn she tells you she isn't sure of the story about the golden city and finds that the story may be more of an allegory about human corruption, etc.

I see what you're saying, and while the game may not provide too many options for your character to project skepticism without sounding like an a-hole, they did provide an outlet for exactly what you are talking about in the form of Wynne. Although if you want complete a-hole-ness about the religion of Ferelden talk to Sten.

Oh and I guess it's worth pointing out that ONLY the Fereldens and Orlesians worship Andraste in the way presented in-game. The Tevinter Imperium claims she was simply a mage who took advantage of them being weakened by the Darkspawn, and who knows what the other nations believe. It does seem, however, that at least most nations recognize The Maker as god.
mighty_pirate 29th June 2010, 00:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by DbD
Quote:
Originally Posted by mighty_pirate
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Originally Posted by DbD
...

Equally then, why bother with a character creator, or choosing a class, or even being able to choose what armour or weapon you use? Why not just bark "Shut up & play with what you've been given" & give the player no mutiple choices or customization options at all.
Probably because that would be a bit **** in an RPG. People enjoy imposing personal preferences on their characters. Sometimes you want to be a Barbarian, sometimes a thief, sometimes a goody goody, others a *******, why not sometimes religious evangelist & others an athiest?
I don't think it's the most important of multiple choice options & it didn't really effect my gameplay, I played as an overly cool, dismissive, berserker. But it's an interesting criticism & something I could genuinly see them, or other writers, considering in future games.

For the same reason you don't get the option to fly a space ship and use a blaster pistol. They don't fit within the context of the game. Joe's Atheism is almost certainly based on his knowledge of science - a knowledge that not only does not exist, but has been replaced by magic in the dragon age world. It's a world where everyone believes in the maker and the rules of science are trumped by magic. It wouldn't make sense to have a strong atheist dialogue choice.
But those examples are over the top & not like for like. I get what you're saying & I would disagree with Joe as far as to say it was a problem in the game. It's just a little limiting, but then, so are a great many things in a great many games. But I don't think it would be entirely out of place. Godless philosophy has existed since presocratic Greece in around 500-600 BC & before that even in Taoist China. It wasn't the majority belief, but it existed. And scientifically speaking those cultures were only in their early iron ages, a stage which the main cultures in Dragon Age are clearly past. Magic might augment or even replace science in certain aspects of their culture, but we know they have science. The Dwarven culture in fact is highly scientific. So, why not allow for the possibility of atheist or agnostic characters?
Saivert 29th June 2010, 01:06 Quote
there are just going to be things we can't ever explain. if people want to make up stories in the intent of "explaining" stuff let them. As long as they don't go on a crusade because of it I'm fine with whatever beliefs people have.
metarinka 29th June 2010, 05:37 Quote
TBH I don't think the developers thought about it. The religion is a backdrop and a sort of setting for a portion of the story. The game isn't outwardly about atheism vs theism or skepticism vs faith, so putting in an athiest option is kinda going against the grain of the game. I mean In sci-fi games you can't decide to be a luddite, so why would a magic game decide to allow you to be atheist.

I have no doubt at some point that a game will promote that or make it a strong central point (and I would be curious to play that) but I think you're adding your own agenda to the story that the writers probably gave no thought.

likewise this is like complaining about the lack of gay characters and homosexual conversation options in the game. RPG convo trees are a lot more limited than most realize.
metarinka 29th June 2010, 05:43 Quote
I would just like to add, I would be interested to play a game that was specifically about one major theology, like a game based on catholism or bhuddism. A few skirt the issue or use raid them for material like painkiller, but none of them are really IN the setting or rely heavily on it for major plot points. It would be nice to have a constantine like game where you're chatting up angels and there's a big component of atheism vs theism.

perhaps a game specifically about that where you can choose the world of magic and religion, or choose the world of science and technology. It would be interesting to see how that could work.
void 29th June 2010, 07:21 Quote
Haven't had a chance to read the comments, but very interesting blog post.
domein 29th June 2010, 07:34 Quote
Writer don't seems to get the point here - Maker in the world of DA is not an optional abstract "god", he existed and created all the spirits that inhabit the fade, and all those spirits acknowledge his existence. However Chantry and their chant of light, advertising "maker's return when all the world will chant with us", is very optional thing, and that is what "nonbelivers" is talking about. Chantry is all about influence and power, using maker as an excuse to make all the crusades and other things. And this is why Chantry so afraid of mages, who can learn from spirits about faulty of their claims and spread the word to common folk. And so indoctrinations take place in the circle, to "prepare" mages not to listen and dismiss spirits as "lying demons". And there you go why Chantry says "apostates" are dangerous and must be destroyed.
CardJoe 29th June 2010, 10:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by metarinka
I would just like to add, I would be interested to play a game that was specifically about one major theology, like a game based on catholism or bhuddism. A few skirt the issue or use raid them for material like painkiller, but none of them are really IN the setting or rely heavily on it for major plot points. It would be nice to have a constantine like game where you're chatting up angels and there's a big component of atheism vs theism.

perhaps a game specifically about that where you can choose the world of magic and religion, or choose the world of science and technology. It would be interesting to see how that could work.

Again, I've not played it, but I believe Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura does this best. It goes deeply into the matter of magic (and by extension paranormal phenomena) and science or engineering. It's sorcerers versus steampunk, essentially.
Quote:
Originally Posted by metarinka
TBH I don't think the developers thought about it. The religion is a backdrop and a sort of setting for a portion of the story. The game isn't outwardly about atheism vs theism or skepticism vs faith, so putting in an athiest option is kinda going against the grain of the game. I mean In sci-fi games you can't decide to be a luddite, so why would a magic game decide to allow you to be atheist.

I have no doubt at some point that a game will promote that or make it a strong central point (and I would be curious to play that) but I think you're adding your own agenda to the story that the writers probably gave no thought.

likewise this is like complaining about the lack of gay characters and homosexual conversation options in the game. RPG convo trees are a lot more limited than most realize.

The Tech/Magic comparison is flawed. In Mass Effect, for example, technology is an definite part of the world. In Dragon Age, The Maker's existence isn't a proven fact - that's why it's a belief, not a fact. Either way, the religion is a prominent part of the game and the Atheism angle is one you can occasionally see the writers have considered and allowed for (such as with Wynne and Leliana's conversations with the player) - but it hasn't been made consistent. They provide enough wiggle room for the topic to get broached, but not enough for it to be explored.

Also, there are gay characters in the game. Several. I'm in the middle of a gay relationship right now (even though I meant to pursue Morrigan...)
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoulRider
The Question I'd like to ask you Joe, is;

Why can you not delve into the fiction of being a believer in the maker? Is that really a design flaw on the teams part, or could you agree that you're limiting your experience of their designed gameworld with your choice to let your aetheist beliefs affect your immersion?

I quite easily submerge into the fantasy battles of killing people, but that goes totally against my real world beliefs, but I manage to suspend them long enough to enjoy the game :D

Oh, I could, but enough wiggle room is there for the topic to come up and let me explore it, it seems. If you had to be a straight up Chantry member then I'd happily explore that. In Vampire: Bloodlines, for example, I could have just consigned myself to Gehenna, the end of the world event that they talk about a lot, as a fact - except I didn't, because they allowed you to question that idea. Which I did.

If the writers are going to allow a bit of room to let players explore an idea then they have to go the whole way, IMHO. DA:O lets you occasionally dismiss the Chantry, which lets me take a role as an atheist - but it isn't consistently done, forcing me to switch in and out.
Journeyer 29th June 2010, 13:41 Quote
Excellent article!
I was troubled by the same at numerous times during my first playthrough as well.
bpdlr 29th June 2010, 15:39 Quote
Good post Joe. I felt the same way about the game, although I'd disagree with you re: Morrigan, (" apostate mages like Morrigan temper their hatred of the church with fear of the Maker (albeit cloaked in sarcasm).") - I don't think she was fearful of the Maker, I think she straight up didn't believe in Him. Sure, she was also opposed to the Chantry as an institution, but her contempt for believers was enough to convince me that she was an atheist. Part of the reason she was far sexier than the pathetically girly Leilana.

However, the thing that bugged me more than not having a straight up "atheist" response was not having a truly evil response - the "evil" path in the game was more the "asshole" path as far as dialogue was concerned. A truly evil person would talk sweetly and then stab your in the back. Like some games where you see:

1) Promise to get the artefact for so-and-so
2) Promise to get the artefact for so-and-so (Lie)

Far more realistic.
Bauul 29th June 2010, 16:14 Quote
I think this basically comes down to RPGs not fully exploring potential points of view that it hints are available.

It doesn't matter how many view points are actually available, just that if they are, they're fully explored. In Mass Effect, the options are quite limited, but you don't mind because they're so well developed. Likewise with the Fallout games, you can be all sorts of player types and each one feels complete.

If in Mass Effect you could have a conversation with a squad member about a potential mission that you can't actually do, the game suffers by its inclusion. Sometimes less is more.
dylawesome 29th June 2010, 17:35 Quote
DA is clearly not a game where there's a big question about whether there are entities of great power that can travel between planes and perform magical acts. Atheism, if used to say, "there is no Maker, Andraste, Archdemon," would be an odd-ball stance for a character to have, not well supported by the evidence in the worlds. Atheism for a character, in the form of, "There probably is Maker, Andraste, Archdemon, etc, but they exist on the same power continuum as everything else and I don't worship them," is much more reasonable approach to atheism for this setting.

Kinda like Gozer the Gozerian from Ghostbusters. It exists. It's a deity by many mythologies' metrics. Worship it if you like, or not. Keep it from destroying the world, if possible.


As for there being no scientists, I feel like the game's backstory of the guys who went into the golden city and tried to see how far they could bend power to their will were kinda like scientists in so many other stories that inevitably reach too far and unleash trouble.
mark_dsp 30th June 2010, 09:35 Quote
Off topic rant really. Don't particularly read bit tech for atheist zealotry. Do we now have to have another pointless article on the Christian undertones of Lord of the Rings?
CardJoe 30th June 2010, 11:09 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mark_dsp
Off topic rant really. Don't particularly read bit tech for atheist zealotry. Do we now have to have another pointless article on the Christian undertones of Lord of the Rings?

I don't see how this is either a rant (when I say it's not something that ruins the game, just a curiousity that occasionally grates), nor zealotry (when I say that it's a personal choice and not one I'd enforce or usually take issue with). If you think the article is pointless, I've got to question why you'd read it - unless you didn't and are taking a knee jerk reaction?

It's a blog about game design and role-playing, on a (at least partly) games website and by a games journalist and which actively and explicitly seeks to avoid discussion of real-world religion...hard to see how it could be construed as being off-topic, really.

That said, I did study the Christian undertones and imagery of Lord of the Rings (and the other works put out by the Inklings) at Uni, so if you want to have an a discussion about that then I'd be more than happy. This isn't really the place though - so I'd say that that conversation is actually a bit off-topic...
ryall 30th June 2010, 12:18 Quote
I agree entirely. I was livid when the developers of pacman forced their beliefs on me. I find it impossible to agree with the concept of life after death, and yet the game's main antagonisers are ghosts. And the whole you-must-be-reincarnated-3-times-before-you-reach-nirvana-and-the-game-ends thing just pisses me off!
CardJoe 30th June 2010, 12:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ryall
I agree entirely. I was livid when the developers of pacman forced their beliefs on me. I find it impossible to agree with the concept of life after death, and yet the game's main antagonisers are ghosts. And the whole you-must-be-reincarnated-3-times-before-you-reach-nirvana-and-the-game-ends thing just pisses me off!

+ rep
ThunderBob 30th June 2010, 17:49 Quote
As DbD said. Its a game.

You dont like the religion in it. Walk away.

I dont like coffee. Doesnt mean i yell at Nescafe for putting adverts on my TV.

Pfffft. Well written but utterly pointless.
mark_dsp 1st July 2010, 01:24 Quote
Sad as it may seem I read mostly everything posted on here as the articles aren't pumped out at a rate like engadget, which is no bad thing. My reading the article is perhaps more down to habit due to the overall quality of bit-tech articles. I place little value on titles as they're just the billboard to get you to read the article in many cases.

Whilst at uni I had a trick for my SSCs where I would pick an aspect of a topic and cover it from that angle so making the paper almost entirely about a subject I was actually interested in. For example an essay on the medical efficacy of counselling can be turned into an essay on the reason people commit suicide as long as you constantly tie back into the requested theme.

To me the overall theme of the article would come accross as an expression of distaste for religous matter being encountered in every day life without a caveat to make sure atheists feel comfortable. Having not played Dragon Age: Origins I can't say I've learned a great deal about it from the article, it feels more like window dressing for a theme you're more interested in ie the removal of religion from your life.

With Lord of the rings, being a game and all, I think it's Christian undertones and the implications of adopting such themes for games could in my opinion be equally as relevant for gaming articles as this. Of course by equally relevant I mean not really relevant at all...
DoubleTouch 2nd July 2010, 11:34 Quote
Kudos on this article as this is something that has been knawing away in the back of my mind for a while now.

When I played through Dragon Age I did so as an Atheist, as I usually do (consciously or sub-consciously) whenever I play an RPG as I am one in real life. This, I feel, is a natural consequence of giving player's the ability to create their character, as in order for the user to connect with their virtual representation it helps immersion if you can understand better their motives, beliefs and choices. It helps guide these choices in the adventure to follow and allows a more three dimensional character to exist – negating somewhat the usual 'click this dialogue strand to be good, click this dialogue strand to be bad (Just a quick note on this: Star Wars games have set back RPG considerably for their over-reliance on completely polarised choices – light and dark side, no shades of grey). That is not to say for one moment however that players are always restrained to playing a version of themselves when in game, far from it, it is just easier for them to connect and construct a character based on personal experience. For example, it is easier for me to create my atheist male and understand him as a well-rounded character, than it is for me to create a female theist, as I am neither female or religious in real life and have no experience of being in either of these states.

However, this choice in crafting your character – no matter how detailed the construction tool is – MUST be partnered with equal depth in-game (i.e. dialogue, action and belief structures), which as I aforementioned with my Star Wars analogy, often is far from the case. As pointed out in the article, this is where Dragon Age falls short, and unfortunately from my experience with it, left me cold and disattached to the world – a stunningly realised and deep world, but a cold one none-the-less for me and my character.

As noted in the article, the choices that my character would logically have taken, were not available to me and this left me making continued compromises to my character's integrity and solidness. It left my character permanently in flux, never being able to be pinned down and that broke immersion and believability, something that is crucial for humans to connect to a story or character. A quick example of my meaning: In the film Gladiator, the viewer is allowed to connect and learn who Maximus is throughout the film: you watch his wife and children die, you watch his mentor die, you see him fight and understand why he is fighting (both for and against the Empire), you hear him speak his thoughts on politics, on his religion and beliefs and learn his motives for the actions he commits. By doing this, when he is faced with almost unimaginable adversity, and triumphs in the face of it – finishing off the Emperor despite being mortally wounded – the entire narrative is lifted to a place impossible if we knew nought about him. When he walks off in to the fields of Elysium and meets his wife and children again, the viewers – despite if they are religious or not – understand how poignant this is, how it is such a fitting end for this man.

In Dragon Age though, the limited choice in terms of dialogue, available actions and possible beliefs, forces you to play a character who you may not know (one who at least begrudgingly accepts The Maker's existence) and it distances you from that character as the story progresses, constantly making you take decisions that you would not take. This may be a little spurious but: Would we support and understand Maximus if halfway through the film he suddenly accepts that their is no afterlife? THat there will be no 'vengeance in this life or the next'? No, we would not, as it is that belief structure that drives his motives, shapes his character, takes him to that final showdown.

When I played Dragon Age, as an atheist / realist, come that final showdown, I was so detached from my character that I didn't care less whether my character sacrificed themselves or not, because I didn't know them and didn't know if it was something they would do or not. After all, why not throw myself onto the Dragon, as over the past 60 or so hours my character has made it perfectly clear (albeit begrudgingly) that The Maker does exist and that there is an afterlife.

An addendum: I am currently replaying the game as a female human noble theist (a role I am completely unconnected with), and funnily enough, my characters progression has not being compromised once.
Blackie Chan 9th July 2010, 08:44 Quote
I have to say that I disagree with this post. In this world, the maker isn't some faith based deity like in our world, he is fact. It isn't really a religion so much as the history of bioware's fiction. there are demons and evil spirits in abundance. If you believe in ghost IRL then i think you're nuts, if you don't believe that ferelden has ghosts and demons... then you're missing the point.
Blackie Chan 9th July 2010, 08:45 Quote
And besides the "maker" is admittedly absent and doesn't effect or listen to his creation anymore. So really, who gives a damn about the chantry.
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