Getting To Believe In God Is The Ultimate Gaming Power Fantasy
Friend, have you heard the good word about our lord Zeus? How about Akatosh? Raiden? Well neighbor, I’m here today to have a little talk about the deities that are as real as you or me. How do we know they’re real? Glad you asked old pal. It’s because all around us, from the body strewn battlefields to the lightning bolts coming out of their dang eyes, is proof they exist. There’s no doubt these actual, hyper powerful sky daddies exist because they talk to us, we see them all the time, and occasionally they absolutely blow sh*t up. Today on Everything is Gaming: we go god mode.
Power fantasy is at the heart of every game play loop. The deep seated cycle of task, accomplishment, dopamine release is what makes us gamers tick. But there’s a more profound reason we are drawn to some of our favorite games. The narrative drive in many of the Pantheon of great games is a simple, fantastical premise: god definitely exists. Whether it’s the backdrop used to tell a coming of age story like Hades or an epically powerful narrative about fatherhood like God of War, laying the foundation that “gods totally exist” is a fantastic tool for game designers.
Gods existing does a ton of legwork for tricky to explain lore pieces that must plague every designer seeking true immersion. “How can the player come back to life over and over again?” “Gods exist.” “How come you can jump so high?” “Oh, it’s because god lets me.” But for the player, or at least for players like myself who grew up religious and later left whatever bizzaro cult passed for their church, getting to pretend god exists is the real fantasy.
Growing up thinking that there was always someone sympathizing with you, watching your struggles and sending you unseen strength, was pretty dang comforting. True religious bliss is feeling not alone. Cuddling up in our little pocket of game time and wrapping ourselves with the belief that some hot and possibly punchable deity gives a sh*t about us is good stuff.
Conquering death is a big part of it. In Skyrim, in The Witcher, in Dragon’s Age: Inquisition, we can see the spirits of the dead. We know that some version of our individuality extends beyond our humble meat sack of a body. Coming back as a Draugr isn’t so bad right? Even the most cursed souls will eventually be defeated by some enterprising Witcher and with a relieved sigh, be at peace. Proof that souls exist allows us to fantasize that we’re not just assorted chemical reactions set in motion by the sun’s warmth.
This is why it’s baffling to me that people are afraid of ghosts. Wouldn’t seeing a ghost be incredibly comforting? Having absolute proof that the dark finality is actually a doorway of golden light where we get to continue on, but this time we can totally fly and go through walls and stuff?
In games with gods there’s an order to society. You, the player, know your role in the pecking order. From the meager shopkeeper to the mightiest king, everyone knows where they stand. The cultural order has a top, and that top is god.
Part of the power fantasy of games of course, is that you’re so dang special. In games with gods, that’s even more true. The supreme beings in the universe of your game have their eyes on you because you buddy, are the chosen one. Sometimes that’s because the gods are your parents, sometimes it’s because you’re so great that they’ve chosen you to be their special emissary in the world, and sometimes, it’s because you gotta kill them. Sure, killing god poses some interesting cosmological questions, but for something to die, it’s got to be alive in the first place. When gods go insane and decide to take revenge on their creations, it can be rough for mere mortals. But you’re ensconced in the pillowy knowledge that you will never die, or in the case of Hades, that you can die a thousand, thousand times and you’ll only become stronger.
Growing up in the Presbyterian church (it’s like a more boring, less intense Catholicism), or in any religion where there’s an omnipotent deity, is in retrospect, pretty weird. You’re in a panopticon of judgment. Every move you make is watched, every word you speak is heard, and every thought you have is known. It’s pretty dang freaky. But also comforting. The fun parts of RPG’s where we get to choose to be righteous and know that we are doing the right thing is the same feeling religious folks get to have when they demand someone else acts or doesn’t act according to their chosen code. When we mow down an NPC and see our morality bar tick down a notch and know for certain we have made an evil choice, it’s like a sinner acknowledging their trespass.
When something terrible or wonderful happens, we can’t ask god “What’s up? What did I do? U mad bro?” But in games, we often can. Or if there’s battle music playing, we can shoot first and loot god’s body later.
The universe is something we can’t be sure cares about us, or is even aware of us. It’s a heavy burden to know that there is no ultimate reward or punishment, that each moment of consciousness is ours to do with as we will. Of course, I can’t prove that gods don’t exist; I also can’t prove that they do. Maybe there is no consciousness underpinning the workings of the cosmos. Maybe there is no hand guiding the fate of an indisputable good and an undeniable evil. But it certainly is fun to pretend.