Note: this opinion piece (which was first posted at Gaming Bytes Galore) is meant to reflect and inform readers on a subject matter (religion) that continues to be unreasonably disrespected by some gaming media outlets and site visitors. I’ve written it based on my experience with a particular editorial that preaches a particular belief and mocks others in the process, which shouldn’t be run on a respectable gaming outlet like GameFront.com in the first place. I’m simply offering the point of view from people like me who have faith in God and believe in the history, morals, and teachings of certain monotheistic religions. This piece does not force-feed or preach my faith as this is not the right outlet to do so. Also, it goes without saying that the commentary offered here is this author’s sole responsibility and is not meant to reflect Project COE’s actual opinions as a site.
It’s been one heck of a month in video game news. We had a Tekken veteran who harassed a fellow female fighter player on live ’stream’ TV, and a indie game maker (of Fez) who bluntly stated that Japanese games suck without justification. Tremendous backlash ensued after both developments, as both of these individuals came under heavy fire from the gaming media and site visitors alike. After all, they chose to act without thinking of consequences and the audience involved. Joking is all fine and dandy because humor is what makes the gaming community an awesome place to kick back and hang, but being a hateful jerk is another story. In turn, there have been some extreme opinions of these two individuals, most of which involve criticizing the whole fighting game community for acting hostile towards fellow females, and calling the developer of Fez a racist. Some people even went as far as claiming that all indie developers have a bitter holier-than-thou attitude. Of course, I completely disagree with this extremely warped attitude, but that’s the internet for you. In the end, there are morals that we should’ve learned from these stories by now:
1) It’s unwise to generalize an act of a few individuals to a whole community.
2) There’s a fine line between free speech and plain disrespect. You will always be held responsible for what you say in public, especially when your comments are hateful with no grounds to back them up.
Imagine what kind of trouble I’ve gone through when I simply tried pointing out these two morals for another controversial news piece that was reported during early March. The Binding of Isaac is a videogame which attempts to examine and re-tell the old biblical story, yet not word for word as many fictional elements are added in between the lines, pretending to be facts at times. It was released on Steam last year, yet Nintendo decided not to release it for their 3DS e-Shop due to ’questionable religious content’. It’s unknown whether Nintendo’s referring to a few scenes, the game’s whole premise, or the entire game including gameplay…but it’s apparent that they’ve found enough content to deem the whole package ’questionable’. This bit of news originated from the developer’s twitter, visibly upset by Nintendo’s stance on the matter. Of course, this led to a domino effect in the gaming news media and site visitors as they voiced their opinions on ’censorship’ and how religion should be examined freely even if the media in question conveys the wrong morals and goes out of its way to offend the parties involved.
While actual reports of this story have been reasonably tame and open to some good discussion, some of the comments went out of hand, which is not unusual given the degree of anonymity site visitors have. As I hinted at in the last paragraph, my personal experience with the whole ordeal has been colorful to say the least as I was part of the vocal minority which supported Nintendo’s stance on the matter. After reading one particular editorial, I felt compelled to reply before its author spreads the wrong message to like-minded readers. It was written for GameFront.com by Jim Sterling, a darling of today’s gaming journalism thanks to his witty writings at Destructoid and humorous video series for The Escapist. I don’t know Jim personally so I have nothing against him…he portrays himself as a fun person to converse with in real life and has a unique approach to gaming journalism, hence the large amount of attention he receives. Unfortunately, I think that he made a series of oversights and rushed mistakes in his recent opinion editorial, most of which involved blank statements on Christianity and religion in general, coated with bitterness and mockery. He has been blinded by his beliefs offering little to no merit to his exact opposing arguments, which is not a suitable act for a game-oriented site and editorial. I rationally and respectfully called these errors out and followed up with my own opinions on Nintendo’s stance and the game in question. In turn, I got attacked by other commenters. Some responses against me were just as rational as mine which created some insightful back-and-forth debates, yet most were blank statements which were rather hateful towards religion. The first wave of comments (a total of 71) were deleted on March 6th and GameFront’s official stance is that they were erroneously ’lost’ as the staff were revamping the site’s infrastructure for a new front page. They claimed that they would try to bring them back up soon, yet as of this writing they have been unsuccessful in doing so. Fortunately, I’ve kept detailed records of the old conversation just in case, which I will share with you shortly. You can, however, sample my opinions and other responses if you wish as the current comments reflect everything nicely. I will also reiterate my responses here as it is the main purpose of this editorial.
Let’s talk about Jim’s tone first. To my knowledge, opinion pieces should at least examine the big picture before backing one’s reasoning with subsequent commentary. Additionally, mockery and cursing aren’t exactly ideal methods to get thoughts across in opinion pieces. Since we’re on the net and this is the gaming community, Jim’s piece gets a free pass…but keep in mind that such writings would never be allowed to run in a professional newspaper, magazine or website unless it’s for humorous purposes. I’m not saying that GameFront is an unreliable media site, but frankly it was rather unprofessional of them to run this piece as is for reasons I will elaborate on. Right off the bat, Jim starts with things like, “I’m not a religious person. In fact, all I can do is avoid that kind of thing, which is pretty hard as a British man living in the middle of Mississippi. Perhaps my being in state where half the population wants life to begin at conception and for miscarriages to be treated as potential murders has embittered me towards the Christian set, but I have to say that I am pretty fucking sick of religion being treated with kid gloves”. Soon after, he goes to mock the actual story of Abraham and his son, calling it “fucked up”, not to mention bluntly claiming that The Bible is ”a source of so much confusion, anger, and pain in the world, and everybody has a right to examine why.” So let me get this straight; after he claims that he stays away from religion and is embittered exclusively towards the Christian set based on his own experience in one state in the United States, he confidently feels that he can examine all religions of the world as if he knows every little detail inside and out? No. You’re not fit to make those claims. You may think it’s your right based on free speech, but it’s my right to defend my beliefs especially when it comes to blank and hateful claims. I’m not Christian, mind you, but I believe in this story as much as they do. Questioning religion and its contents is okay and not offensive at all, as long as you do it respectfully. Claiming things about religion is all well and good too as long as you have logical grounds to back them up and prepare yourself to engage in a debate. This brings me back to my first moral; stating your opinion with little to no grounds whatsoever in a hateful manner is wrong. This is what Jim’s editorial has conveyed to me. Again, you have the right to say what you wish. I’m not against free speech at all, but when it’s hateful with no merit, people also have the right to point that out and defend their grounds. Jim didn’t even delve into why The Bible was the source of confusion according to him, nor did he attempt to explain how religion interprets the story of Abraham and his son. Even though he clearly acknowledges the fact that there are other interpretations of this tale, he only conveniently types up his version (with questionable added commentary and attitude I might add)…that’s still just one side of the story which some non-believers claim to be right. There is no right and wrong when it comes to this story and faith in general, but Jim is so passionate about his beliefs he practically preached them in his supposed gaming-focused editorial. It’s good to be passionate and confident about what you believe in, but GameFront is not the right place to preach your religious, agnostic, or atheist beliefs because it’s focused on gaming. But for future discussions pertaining to religion, one should at least try to use less colorful language and make his grounds clear before shooting blanks. After all, this isn’t a simple topic to casually skim along, especially if your beliefs are cluttered and disguised within a gaming editorial. I and other people who believe in faith (Christian and otherwise) should respect the opinions of non-believers and vice versa. We can try to convince one another in debates (providing that it’s the right time and place for such topics), but from a bird’s eye view there’s no right or wrong. If you don’t believe in religion or have faith, fine by me as you’re free to state those beliefs but don’t try to force-feed them as non-negotiable and absolute. Sadly, Jim stepped on that line without even realizing.
In the midst of all the bitterness and blank statements about Christianity and religion in general, the editorial attempts to get across two main points: 1) Nintendo’s stance to refuse The Binding of Isaac for 3DS e-Shop release is wrong, and 2) More video games should reference real-world religions without being afraid to offend the parties in question.
To the latter conclusion I say: absolutely! In fact, a lot of games have already referenced real-world religion in an innovative and respectful manner, including the Zelda series, the Xeno series, the Castlevania series, El Sheddai, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, and many others. It’s excellent stuff when it’s done right. Since religion is an enormous topic, developers should be cautious of tackling its contents in games. Fear shouldn’t be the approach to religion because if you examine all sides in detail and cut no corners, everyone will be happy. The problem lies when a developer decides to take a one-sided and twisted approach to religious material in games, which is certainly the case with The Binding of Isaac. Again, that clear line between free speech and plain disrespect is obvious here, too. Similar to Jim’s interpretation of the biblical tale, the game puts you in the shoes of Isaac running away from his mother, who intends to murder him because God tells her to do so. It uses graphic and violent material to tell its tale, basically emphasizing that God and the son’s mother are murderous villains/antagonists. It has been said that the developers have been raised in a Christian household, and for some inexplicable reason, they’re conveying God and the mother as murderers and implying that The Bible allows parents to kill their children. Reality check; the morals are the total opposite for people who believe in the real story of Abraham and his son. We may never know the ultimate intentions of the developer’s interpretation of this tale, yet it’s safe to conclude that the game’s general moral mirrors the developer’s own beliefs in some ways. In that case, they’re also spreading their version and beliefs to other people who play the game yet don’t know a thing about religion. Even though they’ve been raised in a Christian household, the moral of murder has never been the belief of Christians…so something is amiss with the way they were educated. Other religions which believe in this tale also regard its actual moral as a positive message.
So in essence, although the developers are ”examining” the tale, they’re sending a negative and wrong message about it in the process, portraying people who believe in it as being okay with killing and murdering sons. This is what ticks me off and rightfully so. Again, you can examine anything you want providing that you explain your background and state your merits, but to implement your beliefs onto my own is wrong, which what this game attempts to do. If the developers claimed or tried to hint that this game was made from a non-believers’ point of view via disclaimer or actual plot points, then that would’ve made a world of a difference. It doesn’t do so, however, hence why I’m being vocal about it. People who don’t know any better will play this game and immediately get the negative—and perhaps everlasting—impression that religion sucks, it’s all violent, and people who believe in the real tale have no morals or ethics…which is unfortunate.
Now, onto how believers interpret The Binding of Abraham’s son. It’s never been about murder or sacrifice. It’s the ultimate test of faith. Abraham and his son were special people who attained complete faith in God. So when Abraham received the revelation of binding his son, he never interpreted it as murder or sacrifice. He simply trusted in God’s word and that everything would turn out okay in the end. Divine commands are common themes in most religious stories, this one included. So when Abraham bound his son and he appeared not to resist, the whole act was negated via divine/angelic intervention, hence the ultimate test of faith and the moral of the story; acting upon God’s order without questioning and trusting that it would turn out good in the end. If this story was told in any other way, like Abraham refusing or questioning this act or his son running away, the moral of ultimate faith in God would’ve been lost in the process. Additionally, if the moral of the story has always been murder, then The Bible and other Holy Books which tell it would’ve claimed that it’s okay to murder your son or daughter in the name of God…and that has never been written literally or implied. Thus, if a parent today goes about claiming that he/she killed his/her son just because God said so, I would declare him/her as insane. Everyone should. Believing in Abraham’s story doesn’t interfere with common sense and general ethics unless you’re insane. If you don’t believe in this story, its morals or God, it’s no problem and you have every right to take that stance…but don’t project your interpretation of the tale onto my own and twist it so that I look like an unethical fool. Sadly, this is what Jim’s editorial and this game are doing, whether they meant it or not.
As for Nintendo’s stance on the game, I fully support it. Keep in mind that many people have wrongly thrown in the word ’censorship’ when in fact Nintendo has not taken that stance. It’s been already released in full glory on Steam for a year, so what’s the use of censoring an already-released and established release? All Nintendo did was refuse the game for e-Shop release, not censor it. Nintendo opted to take a neutral stance on the game as releasing it may imply that they’re supporting the content advertised within it, which is wrong for business and from a logical perspective if you read my aforementioned analysis. They chose not to step on the toes of certain groups for all the right reasons. Sensitive issues vary from country to country, from group to group, from religion to religion. I may not understand them, but at least I should respect them until I attempt to comprehend them. For example, Japan continues to frown upon and even censor beheadings, limb severings, and graphic torture in their games. They even cut some scenes from the domestic release of Final Fantasy XII because it had torture. I don’t know why, but I respect it. It’s something relating to their culture, and I may not truly understand it unless I live in Japan for awhile. All this applies to religious content in games including The Binding of Isaac for Steam. Mature developers who know that they’re tackling religious material in a one-sided manner should expect controversy and take it like men, not create further controversy by going to twitter and whining about not getting accepted to e-Shop.
Another point which readers should have in mind is that in today’s world, gaming hasn’t done it all. It hasn’t tackled all sensitive issues. Violence was one sensitive issue in the 80s and early 90s, but broke free as gaming grew bigger. Religion, race, sex, and sexuality haven’t been fully exploited in the gaming medium and rightfully so. Because if a developer has a homophobic character or a homosexual stereotype in a game, they’ll be called out for it because they portrayed the idea incorrectly. What happens when we finally (God forbid) get a game which is offensive to homosexuals, women, or a certain race? Will you scoff it off, yell ’free speech’ and applaud it for having the guts to freely talk about these topics, however offensive it becomes; or claim that the developers have crossed the line? The latter is how most rational people will react. So following that logic, religion is basically in the same realm. How come religion shouldn’t be off-limits while race, sex, and sexuality cannot be examined in contrast? If you actually come close to that line of thought, then you may have some inherent Religionophobic ideas so take a deep breath and re-evaluate yourself.
In conclusion, if want to hate on something, hate on the individuals who represent their groups incorrectly, not the group itself…whether it’s religion, sex, race, or sexuality. We live in a world where people immediately judge a book by its cover, a world where the wrongful acts of a few individuals represent a whole community, sect, or group; a world where the little things you don’t understand can collapse a whole belief system in your eyes…a system which is followed by millions of other people who understand what they believe. Once more, questioning religion to fit your logic is not wrong and is in fact encouraged, yet it needs to be done respectfully. Also, expect certain questions not to have direct answers, such as the infamous, ”why do you believe in God when you can’t see, hear, or communicate with Him?” That’s like inquiring about the meaning of life. What’s the point of faith if you question it? I can sympathize with the fact that we are all influenced by the environment we’ve been brought up in, so we easily come to conclusions based on what we watch on TV or what our parents, family, and friends think and discuss. These thoughts and opinions may seem right from your point of view, but as soon as you meet up with an outsider or get to travel and live in another country, you start seeing the opposing views, removing those filters off your lens so to speak. Not everybody has this blessed opportunity, but thankfully the internet has made it somewhat easier to learn from and listen to other people’s opinions. What I can’t sympathize with, however, is being hateful with little to no grounds just because you have anonymity. This has always been the internet’s curse, something that no man or woman can change. Reading and replying to Jim’s article, reading rebuttals against me, being initially shocked by the hateful commenters, writing this actual editorial — it’s been quite a learning experience, a personal social experiment in gaming journalism. While I’m thankful for being brought up in an environment that allows me to think before judging, to consider opinions of the other side before forming my full thoughts, I’m still guilty of jumping to conclusions at times. Slowly but surely, through this experiment and hopefully many others, I continue to remove these filters from my eyes. I hope that by sharing my experience here, gamers would join me in this process of clearing blurred visions and breaking down walls.