When games take on religion, it is usually from a cultural standpoint. Games like Fallout, Dragon Age, or Red Dead Redemption tackle religion’s influence on culture but they don’t actually tell us much about any particular god or goddess. Game worlds rarely give us interaction with the gods or goddesses of their worlds, save for games like God of War where the goal is to kill them. Of course, we know that none of the gods and goddesses of such games actually exist–these are purely fictional worlds so we approach them in a detached manner, as cultural artifacts rather than characters or beings.
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is brimming with lore, most of which is tied to a complex pantheon on goddesses and gods. The country is currently in the midst of a civil war because of religion. Thus I looked upon the pantheon of Skyrim as examples of how religion can and often does misguide people and even results in deep seated conflict.
As I was exploring Skyrim, I was attacked by a band of cultists dedicated to the god “Boethiah.” Upon defeating them, I learned of the location of their cult and out of curiousity, decided to go investigate it. When I found the priestess of Boethiah, I learned that the cultists had been luring innocent people to their shrine and killing them in worship of their god.
There was no option to report the cult to the governing authorities, so I decided it was time to bring some vigilante justice to these murderers. I carefully planned out each of my attacks and took out each of the 6 cultists who were stationed near the shrine. Just as I took down the last one and was beginning to feel as though I had helped protect the innocents of Skyrim, my screen blurred and I heard a voice from the heavens shouting, “WHY HAVE YOU KILLED MY SERVANTS!”
It was disturbing to say the least. In a moment, a “god,” who in my mind only existed only as a cultural artifact, came to life. I couldn’t have a detached relationship to Boethia because in the world of Skyrim, he actually exists and I found myself face to face with him.
Boethia threatened to kill me if I did not perform a horrible and murderous deed in worship of him. Because I was so taken aback by this transcendent experience of communing with a pagan deity, there was no way of knowing whether he was bluffing. I accepted his offer while thinking in the back of my mind that I would simply run away and never come back.
Of course I know Skyrim is just a game and there is no reason for me to take this experience personally. However, in this moment, Skyrim was working to encourage me to take this personally, to deal with the existence of a personal deity and determine how I would interact with it. While this was certainly a disturbing moment, I applaud Bethesda for including it. By doing so, the game is forcing players not only to recognize its spiritual realities but to respond to them. Detachment is not an option.
Drew Dixon is co-editor of Christ and Pop Culture, he also writes about games for Relevant, Paste Magazine, and Think Christian. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Steam: Drizzoo703 XBL: Drizzoo82 PSN: Drizzoo