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Spirituality in Video Games

Posted: 23rd November 2013 11:16

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This game, above all other Final Fantasies, has a theme of holiness and spiritual purification. Cecil is a pilgrim, essentially. This is a mucho mucho uncomfortable subject in the fandom, and I know why, because many of us (myself included) said "skip church, I'd rather play Final Fantasy." Whether it's just my Jesus freak parents being worried about my soul, or the people out there holding signs that say "GOD HATES FAGS," the church's reputation with me is quite literally shot to hell. I consider myself a believer in the gospel, but I feel extremely distrustful of organized religion.

But then I get misty at this music, and I wonder why...

So...discuss?

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Posted: 23rd November 2013 19:55

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I have always thought of it this way. Cecil has all these problems, but he seeks redemption through Paladinhood, just like how a real person might seek redemption through following Christ.
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Posted: 23rd November 2013 20:11

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There's a tendency to Messiah-tize the main character in any epic fantasy tale, but this game is rather unique in that it starts out by showing you that Cecil has some pretty squishy feet of clay! I remember the day I realized that the first thing the game tells you is "Cecil is a sinner."

Blew my mind...

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Posted: 23rd November 2013 20:12

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I always just took the scene to mean that he faced what he had become in the name of his king and what it could become in the future. Instead of continuing his path the way he had, he opted for a higher path. Sort of a switch from neutral good to lawful good, if you will. I never saw any religious correlation, but I can see where it can be found. Huh, I'm going to have to ruminate on this one. : )

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Posted: 24th November 2013 16:10

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Well, the religious angle is an interesting one for sure, but FFIV, like so many Final Fantasys, and so many video games based around characters; is a Bildungsroman

=]

And central to FFX's plot is a huge critique of organised religion and unquestioning faith to a church, which has always been awesome to me.

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Posted: 25th November 2013 20:46

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I was a lot more fond of the series before it made me question my faith, on the other side of the coin.

But then, it's at least had the good grace not to make me question the veracity of the space-time continuum. (Illusion of gaia, I'm looking at you).

Having a religious debate is outside my purview, as I am fond of saying, you'll have to speak to management, I only advertise.

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Posted: 27th November 2013 03:17

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Quote (Spooniest @ 25th November 2013 15:46)
I was a lot more fond of the series before it made me question my faith, on the other side of the coin.

I assure you, there is nothing wrong with fantasy. Some people think of it as "witchcraft", but sitting on the couch pressing buttons definitely will not encourage real-life sorcery. The closer the magic is to real-life witchcraft, the more "dangerous" it is, spiritually, but those videogame effects are nothing like the real thing. Some people may consider this a touchy subject, and in some cases that may make it a bad idea as it might be a "stumbling block" for others (for example, my family does not play D&D even though we would have a lot of fun with it because my parents teach children's Sunday School); but in your case, I think you just need to find a different church.
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Posted: 27th November 2013 18:14

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Oh, it wasn't the sorcery, really. It was the St. Ajora stuff in Final Fantasy Tactics that weirded me out...

But enough.

Cecil goes through the game to learn one important lesson...the best way to bring about justice is to forgive.
Possible spoilers: highlight to view

I've always found it somehow ironic that it's Edge's prodding that finally gets Cecil to tell Golbez that he forgives him.


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Posted: 27th November 2013 20:19

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Quote (St Khael @ 23rd November 2013 16:12)
I always just took the scene to mean that he faced what he had become in the name of his king and what it could become in the future. Instead of continuing his path the way he had, he opted for a higher path. Sort of a switch from neutral good to lawful good, if you will. I never saw any religious correlation, but I can see where it can be found. Huh, I'm going to have to ruminate on this one. : )

This is strange to me, actually, because it seems so implicit that I have to wonder. I don't say so in any pejorative way, but merely mention it as a curiosity to me. If anything, this says more about my religion addled psyche than anything. tongue.gif

I dunno if he could be considered neutral good before, what with his being a DK, the rape and pillage of Mysidia, etc. FFIV had a lot of little implicit things that made it great, and I think the transition of the hero from a knight of Darkness with an evil sword that couldn't be used to take down his number one foe, to that of a Paladin, the holy knight with the power to combat evil, is one of the cooler things they threw in.

Also, as usual, I think Blinge makes some excellent points, particularly as regards FFX, and Spooniest does well to mention St Ajora, both as interesting religious critiques in the series.

So far as Edge goes, that's rather interesting that you point that out, Spooniest. It makes Edge a character who's development and growth matches up both in combat and out of it, considering when you get him he's a revenge obsessed snob, who dies every other turn.

This post has been edited by MogMaster on 27th November 2013 20:20

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Posted: 28th November 2013 00:08

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Quote (MogMaster @ 27th November 2013 15:19)
Quote (St Khael @ 23rd November 2013 16:12)

So far as Edge goes, that's rather interesting that you point that out, Spooniest. It makes Edge a character who's development and growth matches up both in combat and out of it, considering when you get him he's a revenge obsessed snob, who dies every other turn.

Ahehehehehe...made me lol

Yes, Edge at that point shows that he's learned what family means, he's accepted the deaths of his parents, and he now is for the first time assuming a role of leadership by speaking this way to the Commander of the Party...you notice that while he is a revenge-obsessed snob, he never questions Cecil's authority until that moment, unless you count his objection to Kain's return to the group, which isn't really a situation in which Cecil is asserting his authority (yet, anyway).

This brings up another interesting point; Cecil orders Rosa and Rydia home. Now, the tradition of "women and children first" comes from sailing ships and naval vessels. But many simply revile this particular scene as outdated chauvinism. I think it's actually kind of touching that Cecil is saying "only us men should be on this mission," or at least I did when I was a kid.

Now that I'm older I just think it's the WORST bit of strategic thinking I've ever heard. Send the healer and the damage dealer home. Yeah.

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Posted: 5th December 2013 22:10

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I admit Final Fantasy IV shows this the most but all Final Fantasy games for the most part show spirituality in one way or another.

Final Fantasy I,III and V I think V at least Warriors of light

Final Fantasy IV the redemption speak of Cecil

Final Fantasy VI a self proclaimed mad god of destruction creates Christ in his image antichrist

Final Fantasy VII The only hope against Sephiroth's meteor is Aerith a savior somewhat casting holy and dying in sacrifice almost.

Final Fantasy Tactics yes Tactics the church brainwashes people in fear much like I've been many times in the past in obtaining purity from God. While the church is trying to release an unholy Armageddon with the Zodiac stones similar to real churches trying to envision a perfect utopia were only people of certain values and power $$$ can make it to heaven. One scene in Tactics promoted the good in God when the Zodiac stone was used by Rafa and Malak when Malak was dying the stone was used in true faith to revive him with no negative backlash.

A bit off topic I've grown to hate the church and don't care if I ever find or step foot in another one because mine lured me back multiple times taking my stuff and burning it or dumping it in the trash dump. The last time they left me babysitting kids at a lake party while everyone else was having fun I was the only adult that wanted to swim but they put me in charge of kids since they were the only others who wanted to swim too.

I was beat and almost drowned by them and asked during lunch if someone would help me with the kids multiple people offered but in the end not a single one came through next day I was in severe pain and vowed I'd never step foot in that church again. that was a couple years ago I'm more faithful to God than ever found a LGBT support group online that supports me in being transgender and I don't care what people think of me as far as being Transgender or as a Christian. I've turned away numerous offers to go to other churches that don't support LGBT and I see God as same as Rafa and Malak saw the Zodiac stone a new life but I refuse to see organized religion as anything but like one in the same as the church in FFT. They want power and they want to pick and choose what sins they think are right.

Finally saying my view sin is more a disease than an action but I see the blood Jesus shed on the cross as the only cure. Backing this in the Bible it says the only unforgivable sin is to deny Jesus Christ. I'm not gonna go further because I don't wanna shove beliefs down anyone's throats I know it only causes turmoil as I've learned in the past especially here where I've done enough damage in my past.

But all in all many Final Fantasy games have spiritual stand points and I'm sure I've missed plenty but if I can think of anymore I'll maybe post them. Sorry if I got too off topic but I thought it was somewhat relevant.


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Posted: 14th August 2014 03:19
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I always took it as standard fantasy stuff. A black knight becoming a white knight is pretty archetypical. In Japanese stories (and western ones too sometimes) climbing a mountain in order to gain strength/purify yourself is common. Fighting a mirrored dark version of yourself as a purification ritual is also a common archetypical element.

Also, the Japanese don't really have a full grasp of Christianity. For example, the christian terminology of Neon Genesis Evangelion was included because they thought it was cool and exotic sounding, and there are other games and anime where christian terminology and symbolism is used in ways that don't make any sense.

Add to that that none of the creators, and the Japanese market that they made the game for, are Christians, so there's nothing in their worldview to motivate them to have any meaningful Christian themes, although it is possible that the western archetypes they used originally had christian themes.
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Posted: 15th August 2014 02:41

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Quote (Jasoncw @ 13th August 2014 23:19)
I always took it as standard fantasy stuff. A black knight becoming a white knight is pretty archetypical. In Japanese stories (and western ones too sometimes) climbing a mountain in order to gain strength/purify yourself is common. Fighting a mirrored dark version of yourself as a purification ritual is also a common archetypical element.

Also, the Japanese don't really have a full grasp of Christianity. For example, the christian terminology of Neon Genesis Evangelion was included because they thought it was cool and exotic sounding, and there are other games and anime where christian terminology and symbolism is used in ways that don't make any sense.

Add to that that none of the creators, and the Japanese market that they made the game for, are Christians, so there's nothing in their worldview to motivate them to have any meaningful Christian themes, although it is possible that the western archetypes they used originally had christian themes.

I disagree that it makes no sense. In fact, this is where the series gets most interesting, is when we become privy to the eastern skew of western culture; the opposite of which (the western skew of the eastern) is so totally immersed in our culture that it's hard to recall it's existence.

Also, I'd say it's inaccurate to say that the Japanese have no basis in Christianity. Portugal showed up in the 1540's, and things were never the same, even if only 1% of the population identifies as Christian; especially after World War II. So much of the westernization of the country has roots in Christian culture that I feel their unique interpretation of Judaeo-Christian symbolism is worth paying attention to in an age where, as Bertrand Russel put it, "we shall have to admit Asia to equality in our thoughts, not only politically, but culturally." In other words, the diffusion of East and West is inevitable, so it's less worthwhile to call it nonsense than to really take a strong look at things, given an understanding of the the cultural heritage that is interpreting it.



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Posted: 22nd August 2014 20:59

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Some good stuff in here. I'm in agreement with what I take to be the general consensus - that spiritual themes, rather than outright religious, are borrowed and used in the series in order to augment other aspects of the process of bildungsroman (the formation/education/growth of the protagonist to maturity), which itself augments the heroic quest of the RPG.

FFIV is the best example of this, with the Paladin or Holy Knight being a spiritual step that Cecil must take - saving himself - before he can save the world. He has done spiritual evil, committing murder, and he must show regret and purge that evil from himself before he can purge the same evil from the world. Further, this is the essential purification required for him to be an appealing protagonist or alter-ego for the player; by undergoing the process with Cecil, we accept alongside him the higher aims that the game's plot will fulfill, helping bond player and character.

FFVII places a similar spirituality in parallel with the environmental aspect of the quest. The result is recourse to the idea of "natural" - that is, there is some type of spiritually innocent state of human beings to which we must return, and that this state is still present around us in the spiritual innocence of nature. The fact that the original cause of all this mess, JENOVA, is an unnatural creature of other-worldly origin reinforces this fact. Aeris is found in an old church - which like the natural world has been forgotten in the rat race of Midgarian capitalism. As a relic of the race that lived before the unnatural invasion of JENOVA, she possesses all the spiritual innocence that Cloud lacks, and it is of course with Holy that she return it to the world. Ultimately, she is too good, must undergo sacrifice.

In these titles and in others, though in smaller ways, borrowing the language of spirituality adds a new dimension to the characters' journey while also elevating its significance. That way they're able to tap into these powerful reservoirs of story and philosophy without making it uncomfortable.

Ok, I was gonna add FFX to this, but it got too long so I'll save it for now smile.gif

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Posted: 22nd August 2014 21:17

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Interesting topic, considering the following youtube vid I want to show everyone.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLhiWw3pzQk

Apologies if I inadvertantly broke a rule.

oh, yeah, SPOILERS IN VIDEO!

What do you think?

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Posted: 26th August 2014 18:46

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Late to this thread, but here are my thoughts, worth perhaps what you paid for them. wink.gif

Regarding FFIV and Cecil's transformation especially:

Redemption and transformation isn't necessarily exclusive to Western thought. Buddhism, and especially Mahayana Buddhism, as it was transmitted through China to Japan, has this as a theme as well. Personally, I don't know that you can say, definitively, that Cecil's story is a Christian story or a Buddhist story or what have you (after all, FFIV, unlike earlier Final Fantasies, lacks a church that anyone might ID as Christian), but I think there are definite influences from both.

The mountain climbing element of his purification strikes me as very Japanese-Buddhist since (as an earlier poster noted), climbing mountains is an act of worshipful purification and penance in some traditions in Japan. Going up Mt. Fuji was originally a religious pilgrimage, for instance, and there are still holy places up top at the summit that one visits.

It's also worth considering Final Fantasy's roots inasmuch as the idea of a Paladin is one of those things that you could argue filtered into JRPGs through their contact with early tabletop Western RPGs...and those tended to draw on the Arthurian tradition, among other such influences. The literary origins of Western RPGs in that sense are heavily steeped in Christianity, so you get some iconography and some concepts from the same.

As for what it means for the player, I'd say that's ultimately up to the player. For me, Cecil's transformation is more about recognizing that we cannot kill our outrun our past; we can only accept it for what it is and strive to do better. For me, that's the takeaway, but I am fairly unreligious, so your mileage may vary.

Regarding religion in Final Fantasy in general:

Religious content of a sort has been with the series since the start. This isn't always clear for Western players, since Nintendo's censorship policies saw to the removal of things like churches (complete with crosses and priests in miters) from the NES release of FF1 (they became clinics and doctors, respectively). FF2j and FF3j also had religious symbolism and imagery, and one can gather, from the leaked prototype of FF2: Dark Shadow Over Palakia, where those things were removed, that they would have been scrubbed from any NES release as well.

Earlier games (specifically the NES/FC releases) seem to treat religion as a necessary background element, and I'm thinking that this probably has a lot to do with influence from Western RPGs and is not any kind of attempt to make a Christian game. Dragon Quest still maintains the presence of churches in its games and also seems to have gotten the idea of them from Western RPGs and literature (though, again, they were censored into something else during the NES days).

Later FF games tend, IMO, to question assumptions about religion. FF6, for instance, deconstructs the idea of gods and divinity and the need for such things. FF Tactics, as an earlier poster noted, poses the question of "What if everything your faith is based on is a distortion of the truth, and the real truth is something you thought was heresy?" In that regard, Tactics seems to flirt with Gnostic thinking, but I don't know enough about that to say definitively.

Regarding Japan's Understanding of Christianity and Religion in Video Games in General

I think it's fallacious to claim, broadly, that the Japanese people don't or can't grasp Christianity. It's true that most Japanese are not practicing Christians, but as an earlier poster noted, Japan has been exposed to Catholicism for half a millennium, and Japan has and currently does have its own interpretations of Christianity, just as every culture on Earth does. Christianity as practiced in the European and Europe-colonized West adapted elements from European Paganism and classical-era mystery cults in its practice, for example, so it's not unusual at all to see other culture groups doing similar.

One thing that I think may unnerve some Westerners of faith, however, is that in Japan there is no cultural taboo, at least that I am aware of, regarding incorporating religious (and especially Christian) elements into fantasy stories. In the US, though, there tends to be a substantial population that will view such things as an affront to their faith or, worse, a dangerous deviation. I'm not making a value judgment here about such folks--I come from such a family originally, and I have nothing against people who believe in that way.

However, my personal theory as to why some folks may find that kind of playfulness with religious imagery offensive is one based in the concept of perceived truth. For a pious believer of a particular faith (my background here is Baptist Protestantism, so that's my baseline), there is a sense that unlike other belief systems or mythologies, one's own beliefs are true and accurate--so making use of those things in a fantastical way could be considered a distortion of truth, which, to a believer, could have serious eternal consequences. On the other hand, if a person does not, say, believe that the Greek or Roman god are real and deserving of worship, he or she might have no problems with a playful take on that pantheon because perceived truth is not at stake. (Though a modern Hellenic pagan might beg to differ.)

The concern that some folks have about games weakening faith or tempting players to dabble in the occult is, even decades after the initial moral panic about D&D and such, still a sensitive issue in some areas and among some populations. Again, I'm not making a moral judgment about those things: if you have concerns you feel are valid, I'm not one to tell you that I think you're wrong. I only will note that I've never seen any evidence to suggest, say, that religious imagery in games is put there to attack or weaken faith. As I noted above, it's just, IMO, that the Japanese feel much less bound by cultural taboo to play with religion--and they do this even with their own beliefs.

So at the end of the day, I suspect what we see here is evidence of a difference in cultural attitudes about truth, religion, and dogma for the most part. The Japanese seem much more comfortable than Americans when playing with sacred things and taking them apart for the purpose of a story or to explore a theme.

Still, if you find particular spiritual significance in a game, I'd say so much the better, especially if it adds value to the experience for you.

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