Saturday, August 29, 2015

Iconoclasm Online?

"Bring down the angels
Cast them from my sight
I never want to see
A million suns at midnight"

Sting - When the Angels Fall

Fantasy games cast rationalism in a weird light. On one hand, your character lives in a universe (or multiverse) in which people shoot lightning from their fingertips, fairy dust is five silver pieces at your local apothecary and praying for something actually makes it happen. Demonstrable, interactive divinities would render atheism irrational. You can't damn well deny the existence of Thor when he's downing a pint of ale across the table from you.

But if we can't be atheists (unless you somehow specifically create an insane character) antitheism gains a very literal meaning. As usual, I'm mostly concerned with cRPGs since I'm not directly familiar with tabletop games, but I've noted an alarming dearth of deicide.

The subject's rarely touched upon. I did enjoy deliberately antagonizing the Lady of Pain in Planescape: Torment, though that was both merely symbolic and ironic given her preferences. The Antediluvians in the two Vampire: the Masquerade games I've played were set up as appropriately antagonistic stand-ins for supreme beings, in loco deis as it were. By and large however, game designers cower before the threat of fundie protests. Most go the route of Dragon Age: Origins which rather literally demonized the invaders of the divine realm in its introduction video. Oblivion: Shivering Isles allowed you to join the pantheon but not shatter it. The only cRPG I can think of on the fly in which you had the slightest option of rebelling against the tyrannical masters of the universe was Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer. I've heard of the God of War action series but its descriptions hardly qualify Kratos as making a rational informed choice to "fight the power" (pun intended) and tear down the system of divinity.

If divinities were real, if someone were setting up the cruel and ludicrous conflict and waste of reality, running the freak show, then the noblest act would be opposition. Sing more of man's first disobedience, of taking the fruit, of accepting no supreme authority. Isn't it sad that in our interactive power-fantasies we nearly inevitably condemn ourselves to run around as servile toadies maintaining the status quo? Can the hero's journey not admit a more deviant slant? It's blatantly self-serving for the upper classes to push such propaganda and must seem natural to the rich investors who rule entertainment industries... but then it should seem equally natural to us, the lowly consumers being bilked to support our own indoctrination, to demand more rebellious fantasies.

It would make an especially good setup for a cooperative PvE MMO. The over-arching plot should be a chain of deicides. Mine resources, grow stronger, build an army, build Babels after Babels all to assault the heavens. With each autocrat that falls, with each Zeus, Ra, Vishnu, Jehovah or Odin whose throat we slit, we should be rewarded with new areas of gameplay, new powers freed from divine hoarding for human use - and therein you have your endless chain of expansion packs. Come on you ersatz designers, someone pick this up.

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