Update: The study’s author Greg Perreault responded to a number of questions we had about the methodology he used to come to his conclusions. When asked how much time he put into each game chosen for the study, he said:
"I spent somewhere between 30 and 70 hours with each game. I clocked in the longest with Final Fantasy XIII because it just took so darn long to figure out what was happening–if anyone actually knows.
The method I used was to play through each game, taking notes on key themes that emerged. Then I went back through and performed a visual analysis on specific scenes that had significant religious content."
We also asked if he included any games that weren’t rated T or M by the ESRB in his study. He said:
"Not for this paper, although I've been doing some research on Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword which is rated E10. What I've seen thus far supports my findings."
We wondered if game writers were simply following the same kind of story-telling methods that are typically employed by Hollywood and the Television industry. His thoughts on that:
"I think that writers in general find religion to be an interesting topic because it is something that is key to people's motivations, to their lives. There's a vast literature in Western society in books, movies and television about what religion and what role it has in society. As video games are telling deep and more compelling narratives, I think they're just tapping into that conversation."
Finally, Greg explained why this study is important to him and why it should be important to the public:
"This is part of some ongoing research that I'd like to continue and maybe eventually make into a book–looking at religious depictions in different eras of video games. Yes, I found that there was this connection between religion and violence, but that's a conversation that's been happening in Western society for centuries. In early games like the Atari, it was hard to tell those stories. With the dominance of Nintendo and their licensing process, we didn't see alot of those stories–religious elements were mostly censored out of the games. So it's fascinating to see how video games have entered the conversation.:
Thanks to Greg for his willingness to fill in some of the blanks we had about this study.
Original Story: A new study authored by University of Missouri School of Journalism doctoral student Greg Perreault comes to the conclusion that video games often present religion in a problematic light, or as an obstacle that must be overcome through violent means.
Perreault, who recently presented his findings at the Center for Media Religion and Culture Conference on Digital Religion, found that some games used narratives and plot lines that equated religion with violence – or required violence as the solution to problems involving religion. Often a religious group must be overcome through violent means in order to succeed in these games. For his research, Perreault examined Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy 13, Assassin’s Creed, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Perreault came to the conclusion that – in one way or another – all of these titles "problematize religion by closely tying it in with violence."
"In most of these games there was a heavy emphasis on a 'Knights Templar' and crusader motifs," Perreault said. "Not only was the violent side of religion emphasized, but in each of these games religion created a problem that the main character must overcome, whether it is a direct confrontation with religious zealots or being haunted by religious guilt."
At the same time that Perreault draws these conclusions, he also emphasizes that he does not believe that video game developers are trying to create any kind of intentional commentary on religion.
"It doesn’t appear that game developers are trying to purposefully bash organized religion in these games," Perreault said. "I believe they are only using religion to create stimulating plot points in their story lines. If you look at video games across the board, most of them involve violence in some fashion because violence is conflict and conflict is exciting. Religion appears to get tied in with violence because that makes for a compelling narrative."
We have contacted the University to learn more about the methodology Perreault used to come to his conclusions, including how long he spent with each of the games mentioned.