Bioware’s Treatment of Religion in Video Games

Every year, Anita Sarkeesian and Feminist Frequency compile data on the genders of protagonists shown at E3. Their goal is to show how video games consistently prefer male protagonists over female protagonists. The desire is clear: they want more inclusivity, including more women protagonists in video games.
When Persona 5 was released in the West, there was an outcry over the fact that, while there were a myriad of female characters for the male protagonist to start a relationship with, there were no male characters to pursue. The desire was clear: people wanted more inclusivity, such as more members of the LGBTQ+ community in video games.
Many developers hear these cries, adding in all sorts of diversity, be it racial, gender-based, or sexual. Arkane Studios even revealed that Sarkeesian’s critiques of the original Dishonored were a catalyst in rethinking the way women were handled in the sequel. One group, however, seems to be often left out in the cold: religious people. It seems that most often in media, religious people are either represented by Christian zealots (who despise the gay community and science) or Muslim terrorists. In video games, religious people are underrepresented. Persona 5, a game released just a few months ago, was the first video game I played in which I heard Christ explicitly referenced. One developer puts their money where their mouth is however, and includes people of different races, different genders, different sexualities, and well-developed religious characters. That developer is Bioware.
While Bioware does not explicitly reference any real world religion, they still manage to successfully comment on religious issues through their characters. Suvi Anwar of Mass Effect Andromeda and Sebastian Vael of Dragon Age II are shining examples of this. While discussions on non-Christian religions can be found within many of Bioware’s games, for the purposes of this article, I’m only focusing on Christian parallels.
While the original Mass Effect touched on the subject of God and religion, it fumbled it. One team member, Ashley Williams, an Alliance soldier, expressed her belief in God and the player could discuss the topic with her a bit, but Ashley did not go on to represent God in the best fashion. She was one of the most hot-headed, judgmental characters in the series while also being xenophobic.

Suvi was handled in a much better fashion. Suvi is the science officer for Andromeda’s Pathfinder team. As such, she has a strong appreciation for the universe and the way it functions. One of Suvi’s major character traits is her ability to find the beauty in everything. She will mention how she finds beauty in creation to the protagonist, Ryder, (and again the player may respond to their choosing) in addition to how she always feels like she has to justify believing in God whilst being a scientist. She is relieved if Ryder states that s/he also believes in God because she finally feels like someone understands that science and religion do not have to be at odds.
Ryder can later discuss the topic with Suvi further, asking her when she started believing in God. She will tell Ryder that her pursuit of science is exactly what convinced her of the existence of God, as she kept seeing patterns in the universe. She explains that to her, God is not someone who is concerned with making sure you follow all the rules to the dot, but rather is someone who creates beauty in the universe.

While Suvi never specifies if she is referring to any particular god, she does use the capital “G,” for God. Regardless, her character serves to rebut quite effectively, the common idea that one must throw science out the window in order to believe in God. She served as a breath of fresh air in media that so often neglects to represent those who are religiously minded.
While Suvi’s faith was just a small part of her character, the faith of Sebastian Vael is really the cornerstone of his character. His character deals with topics like the existence of God in the face of evil, and letting one’s life be the witness. It is important to note at this point that in the world of Dragon Age no real world religions exist. That being said, the fictional religion, Andrastianism, is an obvious parallel to Christianity.

Sebastian was really far down the line to become the next ruler of Starkhaven. Not wanting him to compete with his brothers for the throne, and tired of his lavish lifestyle, his parents sent him away to the Chantry (an Andrastian church) in Kirkwall. Wishing he could leave initially, he eventually decided to stay and serve with the Chantry. Hawke, the protagonist of Dragon Age II eventually meets up with Sebastian during their journey and Sebastian joins the team (assuming you bought the DLC that adds him into the game).
One of the features of the Dragon Age series, is that your party members will have side conversations with each other as you play through the game. It is through these conversations that Sebastian’s wisdom really shines through. His strongest interactions are with Fenris, an escaped elven slave. As Dragon Age II takes place over the span of several years, it becomes clear the effect that Sebastian has on Fenris. In one of their initial interactions, Fenris discusses his faith in the Maker (their God) with Sebastian:
  • Sebastian: Are you an Andrastian, Fenris?
  • Fenris: If I say no, will you attempt to convert me?
  • Sebastian: Many elves believe in the Maker. I ask only because I wonder if your experiences… soured your faith.
  • Fenris: My faith was never strong. It’s difficult for a slave to have faith in someone who abandoned them.
  • Sebastian: The Maker didn’t enslave you, Fenris.
  • Fenris: He didn’t help me much, either.
  • Sebastian: And yet you stand here, free. Perhaps He helped you more than you think.
This conversation really highlights how so often people can feel like God isn’t around or just doesn’t care, while ignoring blessings received. This is also one of the first times the player will really start to see Sebastian’s character and his ability to answer the tough questions that many Christians still often ask.

In later conversations, Sebastian helps Fenris understand why the Maker would allow bad things to happen in the world if he is good:
  • Fenris: The Maker didn’t free me.
  • Sebastian: I see you’ve been thinking about what I said.
  • Fenris: I freed myself. If the Maker did anything, He watched. Why should I thank Him for that?
  • Sebastian: Is it so hard to believe the Maker cares for you? Maybe He gave you the chance to escape.
  • Fenris: It doesn’t feel like the Maker cares for me… or anyone.
  • Sebastian: We all make our own choices, to do good as well as evil. That is our doing, not the Maker’s.
  • Fenris: Perhaps. It’s… been a long time since I gave it any thought.
  • Sebastian: It’s not too late to start.
In this conversation, Sebastian touches on how many of the evil things that happen in the world are a direct result of the free will of people. Again, this is a similar to questions that many people have about Christianity. This topic is expanded upon further when Fenris discusses blood magic (magic that is fueled by life) with Sebastian:
  • Fenris: Terrible things do happen, Sebastian.
  • Sebastian: But what we see is only a piece of the puzzle. Only the Maker can see the greater picture.
  • Fenris: The guilty prosper. Innocents die.
  • Sebastian: And then they are brought to the side of the Maker. Their suffering ends. There is always a greater purpose.
  • Fenris: Danarius once killed a little boy to fuel blood magic that let him impress his fellow Senators at a party. What was the purpose there?
  • Sebastian: Perhaps it was witnessing that which will give you the strength to prevent it ever happening again.
This is a very interesting conversation, in that Sebastian challenges Fenris to push back against the evil in the world, that instead of blaming the Maker, he can be part of the solution. Sebastian also touches on how often people don’t understand God’s plan because they cannot understand how a certain event fits into the grand scheme of things.

Sebastian also has some interesting conversations with Isabela, a pirate who is notorious for drinking excessively and sleeping around. In one conversation, she wants to know why he has never tried to tell her that she was living her life incorrectly:
  • Isabela: It’s been years, and not once have you tried to get me to repent or turn to the Maker.
  • Sebastian: Preaching seldom works, Isabela. To change a person’s heart, one has to lead by example.
  • Isabela: Huh. That makes sense. I can respect that.
  • Sebastian: I grew weary of the strings of nameless lovers and the nights full of mindless pleasure. You will, too.
So often it can be easy to get caught up in what people are doing wrong and it seems like the best thing to do is just tell them that they’re wrong and need to do better. Of course, there are situations where that is called for, but Sebastian demonstrates here how it is often better to let one’s life be the witness and let people see the change.
While they are only two characters, Sebastian and Suvi show that Bioware is serious when they talk about inclusivity. Sebastian and Suvi do not come off hollow or disingenuous in their claims about their faith. They live it out, often providing wisdom about real life scenarios. And frankly, video games could use more characters like them.

 

 

Matt Cronn

Matt is a big proponent of games that tell deep stories. Mass Effect and Persona are of particular interest to him. #putyourloveglasseson

5 Comments

  1. Gareth Michael on July 11, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    I enjoyed reading this, Suvi is genuinely the main reason i haven’t given up on Andromeda yet. I was super excited to have a character who, like me, has a grounding in science while exploring their faith.

  2. Danielle Crowder on July 10, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Wow! I honestly didn’t know about this. I enjoyed Bioware’s works already, but they had not only talked about the subject of God, but they gave us two characters which are good examples of what a Christian is and I honestly hope we see more examples like this in video games, because Christianity doesn’t get a good representation in video games and I’m glad Bioware has done this. I am however a bit curious you said that in Persona 5 you said that Christ was referenced how so was it referenced in the game, because I not entirely sure if you guys talked about that in your Persona 5 review

    • Matt Cronn on July 15, 2017 at 4:08 am

      Apologies, I didn’t see this comment until now. I also wrote the Persona 5 review and mentioned in it that Christ is referenced, in the “positive content” section. The actual scene is just a side scene and is very easy missed. It’s just one of the conversations you can optionally have with your party members.

  3. Worm Army on July 5, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    This was honestly the biggest (maybe only?) thing that frustrated me in Wild Hunt. Religion was pretty much limited to druidism and the Church of the Eternal Fiery Stake. Especially annoying given the books and previous games treat religion much more fairly.

    I’m interested to see how “Sacred Fire” treats Christianity, since I think there’s supposed to be a Roman Christian character.

    • Zero Tolerance on July 6, 2017 at 8:44 pm

      IDK, I think Church of the Eternal Fire is accurate. There is *legitimate* sorcery in the Witcher, and the Salem Witch Trials (& etc) actually happened IRL.

      Have you read our Witcher reviews?

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