Red Dead Atheism

The other day, I caught a pretty cool video over on The Friendly Atheist. The topic is one I have discussed before with people, but doesn’t get much press: Religion in Video Games.

The first time I remember specifically running into a religious video game, it was one of those early Jesusploitation unofficial knockoff deals. And man, those games were bad.

More to the point, there is an interesting increase in deep storylines in video games. Sometimes, religious conflict plays a large role in these tales. I’m not going to parrot the video, but I do want to point out a specific game it overlooked: Red Dead Redemption. Here is an excerpt from a review that popped up over at Gamasutra:

“Whenever Marston runs across explicitly religious characters, both the player and Marston judge them immediately. They are foolish, misguided, and pitiable. One poor girl finds herself stranded in the middle of the desert, waiting for God to save her. A group of nuns seems to take an unfeeling, apathetic stance when it comes to saving the life of a reformed prostitute. A tee-totaling pastor turns out to be a compromising coward … Red Dead Redemption tips its hand in its opening cut-scene, demonstrating its disregard for traditional religion. As John Marston is sent to begin his journey, we are treated to two overheard conversations. These conversations exist to serve as a contrast to the more substantial Marston and Bonnie, both of whom listen in with visible disdain. As the two ladies explain away the savage treatment of the natives with a religious justification, a holy man patronizingly explains theology to his daughter, Jenny. How does the priest justify the unjust and unfair treatment of “innocent” victims? “There is a great deal of difference between an innocent and a savage.” Stunningly, the daughter is grateful and replies: “I never thought of it that way.” Yes, Jenny. In fact, there are quite a few religious people who have never thought that way, but they exist in reality, far removed from Rockstar’s world.”

This particular review chastises Rockstar (the publisher) for their portrayal of religion and religious people. Of course, the author is also the editor-in-chief of “Christ and Pop Culture”, so I’ll take my grains of salt in pillar form, please.

A shaker will work in a bind. Not this one though; too creepy.

Regardless, the game does make a point of the protagonist’s apparent agnosticism, as well as it exposes the hypocrisy, cruelty, and foolishness of the many religious characters around him. At one point (as mentioned above), the player comes across a woman stranded in the desert praying for God to save her. You have the choice to either leave her there to her prayers, or return to help her. Predictably, if you choose to let her do it her way, she dies. There are a number of points like this throughout the game. Although the issue of religion / materialistic morality is not explicitly the central point of the game, it is certainly cognizantly wound into the game’s theme of redemption for past deeds.

The game is notably materialistic, and perhaps exceedingly dark: there is no whimsy or poetic ending to be found here. The world is grimy, tough, and ambivalent to your concerns. It seems to be, for many people, too realistic. People often want to see things work out well in fiction, just as doesn’t happen so often in our own real lives. If you are looking for an escape from this world through gaming, (as so many do) this is not the work for you.

As a complete aside, I absolutely hated the marketing for this game. Rockstar has a long history of making outstanding video games, but has equally been rather shitty in its portrayal of women. This is typically exemplified in their choice of marketing tactics:

A glowing history, to be sure. Moreover, the decision made absolutely no sense given the style and tone of Red Dead Redemption. There wasn’t any sex involved in the game, and prostitutes didn’t play any role in the game whatsoever. What few they shoehorned in seemed to even bother the protagonist with their needless inclusion, but they were thankfully never forced into the story-line (maybe they could have created an interesting tangent story with that, but somehow I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt). Anyway, that was by far my biggest gripe with the game’s production. They did seem to change their direction with the advertisements after a while to a more appropriate gritty western-style emphasis, but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that they had that advertisement up at all in the first place.

If you haven’t played the game, I suggest you borrow it from someone and give it a shot. It wound up with its fair share of awards, and is one of the better releases of the past few years. The mateialistic / atheistic overtones are just icing on the cake. Also, the game is absolutely beautiful.

Peace be with ye, heathens.

About Gordon Maples

Writer of the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog and the (Plot)opsy Podcast. A bad movie expert, if there ever was such a thing. Movie nerd, professional organizer, and political progressive.
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