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Living on a prayer: 17-plus cults and fringe religions in games

The church of the what now?

By Anthony John Agnello, Cory Casciato, Steve Heisler, Joe Keiser, Samantha Nelson, Derrick Sanskrit, Ryan Smith, Drew Toal, and Adam Volk • October 3, 2012

1. Church Of The Children Of Atom, Fallout 3 (2008)

When society crumbles, and its remaining few citizens are clawing for a meager pile of dirt on which to subsist, there will still be religion. It’s kept humans in line for thousands of years; it sure as hell isn’t going to let nuclear fallout get in its way now. Radioactive or not, people are people, and even the most flimsy or fleeting of beliefs brings them comfort. We catch a glimpse of this post-apocalyptic future in Fallout 3’s Megaton, the first town you encounter when finally exiting the vault in which you spent your entire life. It’s a ramshackle series of tin huts surrounding an atomic bomb that’s one poke away from exploding entirely, an unpredictable factor in an already unpredictable world. So, naturally, there are people who worship it and have built a church in close proximity. The Children Of Atom, in a desperate attempt to make sense of the Great War that started it all, have founded a belief system based on the splitting of the atom. When things are destroyed by this particular piece of human ingenuity, they say, entire universes are created. The war didn’t lay waste to everything; it allowed society to start fresh, imbuing its holiest of citizens with “The Glow”—totally not toxic waste or anything. After all, the only thing more unsettling than nuclear war in Fallout 3 is a lack of faith that it was all worth something.

2. Children Of The Firehawk, Borderlands 2 (2012)
Borderlands 2

The manic humor of the Borderlands series tends to rely on the juxtaposition of Southern-fried redneck caricatures found on an alien planet, coupled with oodles of random pop-culture references. But one tonally jarring side quest in the new game introduces a suicide cult just for laughs. You are sent by Lillith—one of the four heroes from the first game—to play undercover cop and infiltrate the “Children Of The Firehawk.” They’re a group of flame-obsessed bandits who worship the Siren as a god, and you’re supposed to find out “if they’re doing anything shady.” Turns out, plenty of what they’re doing easily qualifies. Over a series of four missions, you’re asked by the cult’s leader, Incinerator Clayton, to burn a few disciples alive, slay some rebels praying to a false god, and bring some ashy remains back with you for proof. Lillith, meanwhile, finds all of the self-immolation on her behalf flattering and relatively harmless until the cult opts to kidnap innocent “heathens” from Sanctuary with plans to murder them during a ritual. “I tell ya, being a God sucks,” she later sighs. Not as much as being a follower, lady.

3. Los Illuminados, Resident Evil 4 (2005)

Forget about your puny gods; Los Illuminados, the cult from the horror classic Resident Evil 4, worshipped only a virulent mind-controlling parasite that their local leaders wielded as a weapon. Federal agent and veteran zombie-fighting hero Leon Kennedy spends a lot of time roundhouse-kicking these guys in the head. But think about it from their side. It’s really a case where joining the club is the best solution in a bad situation—look, you could sign up voluntarily, or you could be infected with the plaga brain worm and compelled to sign up that way. Your choice. Except in this case “choice” means “you’re getting infected anyway, because that’s the only way the boss’ plan of kidnapping the president’s daughter to take over the world makes any sense to you.”

4. The Echidna Empire, Sonic Adventure (1998)

Sonic Adventure’s story wasn’t quite hard enough to follow, so Sonic Team went and added an ancient civilization of echidnas, who worship a giant green rock. They built an ornate floating island temple to house both the Master Emerald and their civilization, but as legends about the gem’s power spread, everyone from Dr. Robotnik to Tails started taking the holy emeralds away from their homeland for their own selfish purposes. The Emerald manifested its own natural guardian, Chaos, to restore some sense of balance, and—rather than embrace Chaos as their messiah—the chief’s daughter travels thousands of years into the future to help Sonic beat him up. Of course, none of the playable characters are told this whole story, so they see Chaos the way most of us would see Jesus if he showed up today: as a freaky magic zombie.

5. Templar Order, Assassin’s Creed series (2007-2011)
Assassin's Creed

Assassin’s Creed is actually about not one but two secret groups engaged in a deadlocked power struggle that rages across the history of civilization. The good guys are the Assassins, noble killers of oppressors and despots whose first members were the rebellious Adam and Eve that freed mankind from Eden. Eden was controlled by “The First Civilization,” a non-human, technologically advanced race that lived on Earth way back when. (Assassin’s Creed pulls a Stargate and casts ye olde gods as aliens, but it’s Greek deities like Jupiter and Minerva that pop up rather than Egyptians.) They fight against the Templar Order, who throughout time have worked to seize the technology of the gods—weapons called Pieces of Eden—to make themselves the new omnipotent rulers of everything. Their sinister tendrils cover the world, infiltrating the institutions behind widespread religions. The Templar final boss of Assassin’s Creed II is actually Rodrigo Borgia, also known as Pope Alexander VI. The Templars are an especially dastardly cult because they worship themselves, and they have the power to realize their goals. Fighting them feels justified, enough so to make you almost okay with playing as a hired killer. After all, you’re only doing all that stabbing to expose the hidden beasts keeping folks down. Noble work.

6. Templar Order, Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars (1996)

Those Knights Of The Templar Order get around almost enough to strip them of their “fringe” status. The Templars of Broken Sword are a little bit more traditional as a cult than those in Assassin’s Creed. They’re not so much about controlling all of civilization as they are about gaining power by exploiting mysterious supernatural artifacts given to them by demons. Broken Sword’s Templars are also pretty good at weaving a globe-spanning conspiracy, obscuring their quest for power behind a veil of murders and item-based puzzles. By the time journalist Nico and her adventurous boyfriend George encounter the modern-day Templars, the shadowy group has acquired a pagan sword with legendary evil powers. Which is why the unraveling of the Templar mystery is such a ripper: The past may be gone, but its secrets survive, and that group of nutters questing for power might just find it. Nico and George do put the order down, of course, and then celebrate by making out, because post-cult-dismantling sex is the best sex of all.

7. Mythic Dawn, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s film The Master might as well have been about Mankar Camoran, author of the influential work “Commentarium On The Mysterium Xarxes” and leader of Tamriel’s Mythic Dawn cult. Under Camoran’s visionary, insane leadership, the Mythic Dawn went from your standard daedra-worshipping celebrity fringe cult to major political player when it orchestrated the assassination of Emperor Uriel Septim VII. Not content to rest on acclaim from its high-profile stabbing, the Dawn immediately enacted phase two of its plot to unleash the daedric prince of destruction, Mehrunes Dagon, onto an unsuspecting world. Without the Emperor or a solidly humanistic social basis with which to counter Mythic Dawn, these deranged zealots opened gates linking Tamriel to the demonic realm of Oblivion. It remains to be seen whether consigning the populace to an eternity of infernal slavery will result in more mainstream appeal.

8. Angel Worshippers, El Shaddai: Ascension Of The Metatron (2011)
El Shaddai

The zealots you fight in El Shaddai: Ascension Of The Metatron take their reclusiveness very seriously. They live in an enormous tower built by seven fallen angels, a spire that is literally cut off from all of Yahweh’s reality. Now that’s devotion. El Shaddai is a weird little slice of religious-text-inspired storytelling. You play as Enoch, the great-grandpappy of ark building drunkard Noah, sent by the Lord to take out the fallen angels that have made their own creation so as to avoid flooding Earth. The angel-worshipping zealots you fight are distinct amongst video game cults: They’re engaged in direct combat between dueling omnipotent forces. It’s a case of “Our God can beat up your God.” This turns out to be an empty threat. Enoch cuts them down by the dozen, all while wearing skinny jeans.

9. The Church Of Inktology, de Blob 2 (2011)

The raydians of Prisma City were so happy before they started questioning things—before they sought spiritual fulfillment beyond their brightly colored lifestyle and street corner funk quartets. Their forced ink baptisms at the Church Of Inktology taught them a thing or two about self-exploration, turning them into “Blancs”—mindless drones that go wild and attack when they see color, like versions of the hyper zombies from 28 Days Later. Inktology is more of a brainwashing cult than a religion—this much becomes clear once the supposed spiritual leader Papa Blanc is revealed to be the first game—s military dictator, Comrade Black, in disguise. Bad enough that you’re getting L. Ron Hubbard, and then, boom, he goes all Stalin on you. Not cool, man.

10. The Order, Silent Hill (1999)
Silent Hill

The doomsday cultists behind the evil doings in Silent Hill sure do give matriarchal religions a bad name. Feminists might rejoice at first to learn that The Order, an organization that appears throughout the long-running horror series, believes in a female supreme deity and employs women in leadership positions. But the part about them secretly impregnating young girls with demon spawn certainly puts a damper on the gender politics. The original Silent Hill borrows from the playbook of classic horror flick Rosemary’s Baby. It focuses on a plan to force a woman into birthing a monster so that this hellspawn might speed along the apocalypse. The Order’s philosophy, apparently, is that it takes a village to raise a demon child.

11. Orange Clan, Indigo Prophecy (2005)

A bizarre murder in the bathroom of a New York City diner initially sets up Indigo Prophecy as a psychological thriller about an ordinary man’s surreal descent into madness. But the game plunges down a bizarre science-fiction rabbit hole after protagonist Lucas Kane learns he was mind-controlled by a priest of the long-extinct Mayan civilization, now part of a so-called “Orange Clan” attempting to learn the secret of the Indigo Child. Meanwhile, the Terminators—oops, that is, the Purple Clan—is a rival group of artificial intelligence beings who are also trying to find the child, in order to make human beings their eternal slaves. A third group, made up mostly of homeless guys called The Invisibles, make it their job to keep tabs on both clans to ensure that the Indigo Child keeps its secrets. It’s like you almost need An Idiot’s Guide To Secret Cults to keep track of who’s who.

12. The Shomonkai, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (2011)
Shin Megami Tensei

Lots of cults preach that the world is ending and judgment is coming, but the Shomonkai have plenty of evidence to back up their claims. It helps that they’re partially responsible for unleashing demons on Tokyo in service to their dark god. Their machinations continue throughout the game as they recruit followers and equip them with the ability to summon still more demons. When the primary alternative for Tokyo’s citizens is to flee in terror from murderous monsters, joining an evil cult is a pretty appealing pitch.

13. Unitologists, Dead Space (2008)

Building an entire religion around an evil alien artifact is never a good idea. (Xenu be praised!) Yet that hasn’t stopped the Unitologists of Dead Space from cooking up their own wacky, extraterrestrial-lovin’ cult. On the surface, Unitology preaches acceptance, peace, and universal harmony—a message that might account for its increasing appeal. Yet its obsession with the creepy alien relics known as the Markers means most Unitologists end up with a nasty case of necromorph plague (think, “zombie space herpes”). Of course, like all religions, being a Unitologist has an upside to balance the down. Sure, there’s a reasonably good chance you’ll get your face ripped off by a reanimated corpse-monster. On the other hand, you can’t argue with their sweet-looking robes, not to mention all the free Sun Cola you can handle.

14-16. Ironheade, Tainted Coil, and Drowning Doom, Brütal Legend (2009)

According to the lore of Brütal Legend, heavy metal music passes down the stories of the ancient demigod Ormagöden and the Titans, much as every other religious tome tells the stories of its gods and disciples. Also, guitars and hot rods are forged from the flesh of Ormagöden, making them the most badass wafers in communion history. Rival factions—the ultra-traditional Tainted Coil and the repentant, ceremonial Drowning Doom—have their own customs of worship, but the three camps are spun out of the same Ormagöden myth, in much the same way that Judaism, Christianty, and Islam spring from essentially the same well.

17-plus. Various, Star Control II (1992)

More than two dozen alien races play a part in Star Control II’s enormous world, and the religious beliefs underlying said races play a significant role in negotiating with each of the aliens—talking happens to be a big part of the game. As you explore the game’s massive space, you’ll discover a wealth of detail about what makes those beings tick. You learn about Dogar and Kazon, terrifying twin gods of the spider-like Ilwrathi. You discover the role of a cult called Homo Deus, founded by a former used car salesman, in the rebellion of the human-clone based Androsynth. The Pkunk will tell you of their creation myth, which involves a Mystical Egg Of Icelike Temperature. Nearly everywhere you go, the religious beliefs of the aliens are on display. Sometimes that knowledge helps you discover the best way to deal with an alien; more often it just lends context and verisimilitude to your interactions with the bizarre beings that populate the galaxy.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639797745 Christopher Paul

    At the end of Assassin’s Creed 2 your character throws aside his weapons so he can duel Borgia mano-a-mano. For all the game’s flaws, you have to admit: fistfighting the pope is a pretty entertaining boss fight.

    • Drew Toal

      Now I really wish I had played it all the way through.

      • vinnybushes

         The ending to AC 2 is really the best in the series. so much so that it compelled me through Brotherhood and Revelations. It really has an amazing hook.

      • HobbesMkii

         I thought it was actually kind of anti-climatic.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I had no idea about the whole Chariots-of-the-Gods-meets-cheesy-60s-Star-Trek premise of those games. It’s not like I was expecting decent writing from a AAA video game, but come on, guys!

        • Electric Dragon

          I have never played any of the Ass Creed games. It seems like every time I learn something about them, they gain an extra level of craziness. Like being on a bad date.

          - “So it’s a game about being a medieval/Renaissance assassin. And you get to punch out Pope Alexander VI.”
          - “Hey, that’s really neat. Tell me more.”

          - “Well, there’s this whole framing device where the protagonist is in the future, but he’s experiencing memories of his ancestors in the past.”
          - [slightly puzzled smile] “Oh, really? That’s  interesting. So what kind of films do you like?”

          - “The Assassins are noble killers of oppressors and despots whose first members were the rebellious Adam and Eve that freed mankind from Eden. Eden was controlled by ‘The First Civilization’, a non-human, technologically advanced race that lived on Earth way back when.”
          - [long pause] “That’s….certainly different….” [pretends to look at phone] “Sorry, I just got an urgent message and I have to go. Now. [motions to waiter for the bill] I’ll, er, call you sometime. Maybe.”

        • dmikester

          The first Assassin’s Creed game had one of the more infamous and crazy videogame endings I can remember, and created a dramatic cliffhanger that kept people waiting for two years.  So I think the second one felt pressure to live up to the first game’s ending and was sort of anti-climactic as a result compared to the first one, though I loved it and would probably agree that it’s the best ending as far as the narrative goes (it’s certainly the deepest and most thoughtful of all of the endings so far).  Brotherhood on the other hand got right back to the insane out of nowhere cliffhanger ending; I remember being completely stunned by it, which is not something that happens often when I’m playing a game.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus   The narrative pretzel of the basic game premise, just to have a secretive, insular group of premeditated murderers as the good guys simply because that’s more badass pretty much sets the tone for the game.   With that setting the tone for the series, it pretty much allows for any subsequent traipse into nonsense to occur unmolested.
             I was impressed very much by the in-game attention to detail.  The game world is built with loving care.
             But the story is pure Harlan Ellison on a tequila bender. 

        • HobbesMkii

          To be clear, I thought fighting the Borgia Pope was anti-climatic. As I recall, he’s still a big fat guy in papal robes, and you’re a bad-ass twenty-something assassin who spends his days climbing unassisted up the sides of buildings, stabbing people in the neck, and (in my case because fuck that stealth shit) sword fighting. The outcome seems more predetermined than the Calvinist interpretation of gaining access into Heaven (bam! How’s that for a religious simile).

          The aliens bit at the end is just plain bonkers.

        • Effigy_Power

          It’s doubtlessly crazy, but I didn’t mind. Sure, as the article reads, it ranges somewhere between Sliders, Stargate and Cadfael, but somehow I am willing to accept all of that. For all its insanity plotwise, they do tie it all together and it makes, dare I use the word, sense within the confines of the narrative.
          I can live with it. I can live with it real well.

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

          But Borgia had like… a magic god staff! 

        • GaryX

          You guys are leaving out the best part of the AC2 ending: when its revealed that humans are slave creations of some older race we subsequently warred with until some great disaster destroyed them and then the alien hologram turns STRAIGHT AT THE CAMERA and begins to talk to you (as Desmond) through the framing device as Ezio stands there and asks “Who are you talking to?” revealing that this all ties into FUCKING 2012 and that shit is about to go down.
          The series is bananas, and I love it’s seeming attempt to bring every conspiracy theory ever into one giant totality. Fuck the haters.

        • TheVisibleMan

          @GaryX Yes! That was my favourite aspect of the ending. I love the fact that Ezio’s ultimate destiny was to hear a voicemail meant for someone who wouldn’t be born for another 500 years.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           @GaryX:disqus : Wow. You may have turned me around on this. I feel like I could enjoy this in the same way I enjoyed reading all those schizophrenic  websites about ancient astronauts infiltrating the Illuminati and replacing all of our world leaders with reptilian aliens – an evil plot we’d all be well aware of if we only paid attention to the coded warnings built into the art and architecture of the Denver Airport by Satanic Freemasons.

        • http://twitter.com/MikoSquiz Miko the Squiz

          That reminds me of the way the beak-headed grim reaper/judge/referee characters in Pathologic ignore the player character and address the camera directly.

        • GaryX

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus That is EXACTLY the way in which I enjoy it. I don’t take it seriously at all. I just imagine the writers are smoking lots of weed and drawing lines and descriptions between the words “REVOLUTIONARY WAR,” “TESLA,” “NICHOLAS II,” “HITLER,” “MOON LANDING” or something.

    • Ghostfucker

      If Assassin’s Creed, Metal Gear, Batman, and virtually every other videogame in history has taught us anything, it’s that no opposition of ideas or philosophy can’t be resolved through a bout of bare-knuckle boxing.

      • HobbesMkii

        All of those games involve glove wearing protagonists, thus negating this “bare-knuckle” thesis.

    • Andrew_Ryans_Caddy

      It makes Ezio’s surprise at being attacked in the beginning of Brotherhood kind of hilarious.

      “You kicked the Pope in the nards like forty times. People are kind of upset about that.” 

      • Vervack

         The King of France thought it was funny as hell, tho.

  • caspiancomic

    I wonder if there’s ever been a video game religion that didn’t fall somewhere between “morally dubious” and “apocalyptically evil” on the moral scale.

    I’ve always found religion’s treatment in gaming to be a little odd, at least in the games that informed my experiences with the medium growing up. Most of the games I played came out of Japan, during the period where references to religion generally and/or Japanese religions specifically were written around or edited out in the localization process. But there were still a lot of bizarre remnants scattered about the place, and today I can’t really tell if that’s just tone-deaf Japanese appropriation of western religious iconograophy, or the result of pearl clutching translators, or what. (Also, I worked pretty hard to come up with a Pearl/Holy translation joke there, but it just wasn’t happening. Still, I want you all to know I put in the effort.)

    What mostly struck me in these games was that they appeared to have churches- or just a church- but no religion. Crono’s first showdown with Magus takes place in an unspecified temple. Churches were savepoints and all-purpose supernatural aid dispensers in Shining Force, but didn’t appear to actually have a congregation (although in fairness, SFII adds straight up Gods to the equation, so I guess it sort of makes sense). The battle against Neclord in Suikoden II takes place in the only church in the country. Aerith resides in not only the only church in the city, but the only church on the planet, and nobody ever refers to which religious order it services or what their beliefs would have been.

    You can probably chalk it up to a simple desire to create tone, or something about the law of conservation of detail (why populate an entire world with churches when you only have one vampire boss fight planned?), but it always struck me as odd whenever I would suddenly find myself in the only church on the face of the earth.

    • PaganPoet

      My favorite “church” area in a game is the Royal Chapel area of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s bright, colorful, with marble floors and velvety drapes, and has a heavenly sky with rolling clouds in the background, and yet it’s twisted, perverted, and evil. The mural in the area where you fight the Hippogryph shows quite a violent apocalyptic war between angels and demons, with the demons seemingly coming out on top.

      That, and the music in that section absolutely rocks (but, the same could be said of that game’s entire soundtrack): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RqGeEsXJWY
      I especially love the organ swell at 1:20

      • Fixda Fernback

        Yeah… there really isn’t much about that game that I don’t think is amazing and well-done.

    • Enkidum

      Hmmm… I don’t know how much this translates to video games, but your statement about having a church but no religion is a fairly accurate depiction of modern Japan. Shinto and Buddhism in Japan are generally viewed as very positive things for the society, but no one actually believes in them in the way that Americans believe. Japan is full of temples, all lavishly maintained, which are nice places to go hang out for a few hours, but only receive many visitors on special holidays or weddings (aside from the big ones, which have a thriving tourist trade).

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        Many of my religion professors/friends would question whether modern Shinto counts as a religion or merely a ritual, but, yeah, Shinto and Chinese folk religion are parodied, praised, reversed, revered, and everything in between.

        Also, no plot revelations, but Gabriel Knights is all about that Christianity.  Who would have guessed?

        • Enkidum

          Yeah, if modern Shinto is a religion, then I tend to think that there should be a Western religion that consists of Santa-and-the-Easter-Bunny-and-weddings-and-funerals-and-visiting-Lourdes-because-you’re-in-town. Which I guess isn’t that far off many Westerners’ take on religion, but there’s plenty of people who take their religion a lot more seriously than that. Which doesn’t seem to be the case with Shinto, except for a vanishingly small percentage of the population who are priests or monks (and even there it’s not clear that most of them actually believe anything beyond the rituals).

          Which isn’t to disparage Shinto – as you know, I’m not exactly a friend to religion in general.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Well put.

          Your examples made me wish for a western version of 1 of my favorite weird Famicom games, something like The Canterbury Tales.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dkaid%C5%8D_Goj%C5%ABsan-tsugi_(video_game)  Firework Thrower Kantaro’s 53 Stations by Sunsoft is the least reverent pilgrimage/love story imaginable, with scores of mercenaries, prostitutes, and meddling government officials trying to murder Kantaro/steal the secret of his awesome fireworks….?

          Now that I think about it, it’s more The Oregon Trail than The Canterbury Tales.  The scenery is quite nice, though.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1Re1ceNbWY
          I’d love something like a Day Of The Tentacle version of Chaucer.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           HOLY COW, do I love the stupid face on the protagonist of that game.

        • Patrick Batman

           @Enkidum:disqus That was pretty much exactly my experience of being raised Methodist.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus  If only that could be the new Trollface.  Prostitute Face would also work. http://retrogame.info/img/toukaidou53tsugi_0001.png

    • Cloks

      As my avatar might evidence, the first church I thought of was the ones in Shining Force. There was also that one where you fought zombies and got griffons on your team – two members I rarely used.

      For my uneducated guess, I’d say that Japan takes the idea of a church like they do a lot of western culture – a very basic understanding warped into something that only resembles the original in a glancing manner. Shining Force’s church are sterile images, holy buildings with no divine presence. It’s a place of reflection and redemption that doesn’t call upon a greater power other than a priest who can seemingly bend reality itself.

      • Captain Internet

        Well if we’re on avatar-related games, I’ll nominate the Rainbow Squirts from Psychonauts- an army of cute lil’ Girl Guide types who are sworn to make sure a security guard can never confront his tragic past or pyromaniacal tendencies.

        The Rainbow Squirt Pledge of Purpose:
        To promote niceness.
        To make the world prettier.
        To share candy with everyone.
        To obfuscate the true nature of the Milk Man.
        To protect the Milk Man at all costs.
        To destroy all who would harm the Milk Man, or threaten to reveal his secret objective.

    • LoveWaffle

      For what it’s worth, the Eight/Nine Divines in the Elder Scrolls series tend to come off as good.

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph

        True. All of the Divines seem to fall into the “good, but not frequently involved in mortal life directly” type. (I seem to recall there being an explanation for why, but I can’t remember what it was.)

        But not only that, but some of the Daedric Princes are actually pretty stand-up near-omnipotent-deities. Not most of them, but a couple, sure.

        • JMPesq

          Well Azura’s pretty decent, but almost all the rest of the Daedras are total assholes.  And you generally have to do some pretty nasty stuff for their quests, which give many of the best items, in each game.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

           @JMPesq:disqus Don’t forget Meridia, the Daedric Lord of life and the one who really, really, REALLY hates the undead.

        • HobbesMkii

          If you were a god, would you hang around with mortals that often? I feel like it would get really depressing really quickly. 

          “Hey guys, what’s going on?”
          “Well, we’re all worried about this plague that’s killing 60% of us.”
          “Oh…I don’t get sick…um…anyone wanna play some tetherball?”

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          I always find it funny when religions (real or video-game based) have good Gods who don’t show much influence, and Devils/Daedra/Demons who actively interfere.  “Satan and his demons are out there trying to get you to do bad stuff all the time!  God wants you to be good, but pretty much stays in Heaven and lets you decide for yourself.”

          So wait, the Big Guy who wants me to worship him lets the Devil actively mess with me, but isn’t going to actually help other than vaguely answering prayers?  How is that fair (or just or GOOD even)?

          I do like the Elder Scrolls Daedra, where some are basically good, some are pure evil, some are insane, but a lot of them are kind of in the middle.  Nocturnal doesn’t seem too bad.

        • SisterMaryFrancis

          Nocturnal is one of the Daedric Lords that seems to be kind of neutral. Her followers even admit that in order to gain her favor, you basically just have to pay her. Other Daedra that probably fit into the neutral area are Hermaeus Mora, Hircine, Malacath, Peryite, Sanguine, and of course Sheogorath.

      • dreadguacamole

         Most western RPGs feature pantheons/churches/cults that are good or good-ish, and stay out of the plot – maybe they give you a power or two.
         I think it’s probably the legacy of D&D.
         Hell, now that I think about it, that’s true of most JRPGs as well. As long as they’re in the background, it’s fine – but as soon as they factor into the game’s story, then it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll turn out to be the bad guys at some point.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4

       Actually, Christianity still exists in the fallout world and comes off in quite a positive light.

      • Vervack

         You know, that reminds me of something I’ve been wondering about for a while: has Fallout ever referenced A Canticle for Leibowitz? Considering that it probably is one of the best post-nuclear apocalypse stories ever written, I’d be pretty surprised if it wasn’t name-dropped or alluded to at least once.

    • HighlyFunctioningTimTebow

      Well, if the Templars can make this list, then how about the Mormon / New Cannanite missionary Daniel from Fallout: New Vegas’ Honest Hearts DLC for yours? He’s a pacifist,  teaches the tribal group of his religion, is generally abstinent from chems and alcohol, and isn’t above defending his tribe from attackers.

      I really like that the sanest group in the blasted wastes full of cannibals, raiders and abominations turns out to be the Mormons. Very South Parkian.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I think it’s a less successful manifestation of that lovely trans-Pacific baffled syncretism that gives us things like an Italian-American plumber jumping on traditional Japanese turtle-demons and eating mushrooms out of a Lewis Carroll story.

      I think the way churches are used in Japanese games is often more reminiscent of Japanese shrines as discussed elsewhere in the thread. They’re not a place where a congregation attends services, but a sort of spiritually saturated point on the map commemorated with a structure and possibly some monastic groundskeepers, where people can go for prayer, but not necessarily attend services led by a priest or whatever. Translating this mentality into Western (often Medieval) settings results in churches that the art director has based on cathedrals but which typically function as shrines – you get these large, empty buildings with maybe a monk or nun inside, and a chance to heal or save or whatever. Or places that act more as scenery than as a place that functions and has a staff and congregation and so on.

      I think that’s part of why the whole cult aspect of the otherwise great Silent Hill games always felt like a weak spot to me (and why SH2 is the strongest, in my opinion). You could tell they were trying to go for a “traditional spirituality, twisted and perverted” angle – headquartering the cult in a church, basing their god on Baphomet, etc. But they didn’t really have a handle on what a church is like, and how it would be perverted, so you just have this cult with weird superficial Christian elements that seem kind of tacked on because this is a game that takes place in the West, and those are the tropes of Western spirituality.

      Likewise, many games that include a Yahweh-figure kind of frame it as a pagan entity among many that has gotten uppity and placed itself at the top of a hierarchy of oni (typically manifesting a similarly hierarchical, medieval-catholic-looking church in the material world). Basically – intentionally or not – creating a gnostic spiritual system/narrative, which, in video game terms, makes Yahweh the final boss.

      • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

        You had to link to TV tropes, at the beginning of the work day…

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I had places to go and people to see thing morning, so I had to treat that link like radioactive waste. I didn’t actually click through to the page, just Googled it, copied the URL from the link, and pasted it in my comment. 

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        It’s not even just when hierarchical religion is negatively portrayed.  Dragon Quest’s Christian-ish churches, in form and function, are just Shinto shrines, and in VII: Warriors Of Eden, Melvin participated in something out of the Nihon Shoki AND you and your party TEST YOUR MIGHT against chillin’-on-a-cloud-couch “Jehovah.”  He’s more like a kami than anything else.

        That’s why I love stuff like Endonesia, where the religion is an odd but well-informed mix of Shinto, far Pacific folk religion, and Islam.

        EDIT: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_wrestling_with_the_Angel Okay, I guess that I forgot that, but that’s just superhumans, not the creator of the universe.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           I love the translations where it’s just Jacob wrestling God, because it conjures up a very funny but also kind of powerful image/scenario not unlike that DQ VII situation.

      • Vervack

         That is an excellent post, and it gets to one of the problems I’ve always had when studying religion (if by “studying religion” you me than class on Eastern religions I took in first-year uni and that book of Egyptian gods I read a few months back). Even if you haven’t been raised in a faith and have just osmotically picked up ideas from the general culture, when you jump into a completely different faith you often have to go all the way back to first principles. Even if two faiths have “gods” or “churches” or “an afterlife”, those words are often just shorthands that obscure the precise meaning of whatever concept is being references. Heck, I’m still trying to wrap my head around how the polytheisms of Greece and Egypt had a totally different concept of the divine compared to the Abrahamic faiths.

        Compared to theology, organic chemistry is a breeze.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           And even those seemingly fundamental similarities are often actually the result of late-coming cross-pollination not unlike that which occurs in video game culture mash-ups.

          Like the heaven/hell situation with a conscious immortal soul moving immediately on to an appropriate destination seems fairly ubiquitous in conventional Christianity, but it’s conspicuously absent from Torah texts (and, depending on your translation and interp of the Greek, from New Testament texts), and is likely a later import from Greek paganism. So on top of trying to sort out these contemporary interleaving cosmogonies, philosophies, pantheons, and worldviews, you have to acknowledge this history of interleaving and penetration over millennia and decide if that’s a knot you also want to untangle.

      • caspiancomic

        I like this explanation a lot, actually. One of my suspected explanations for this phenomenon was that these games were taking a Japanese cultural element and giving it a western coat of paint, and not necessarily understanding the sort of ghostly implications they were creating.

        See also- in the first Suikoden, like its sequel, there is exactly one church: Qlon Temple. But when I was compiling my little list up there, it didn’t occur to me to include it, because it doesn’t seem anachronistic or otherwise out of place. I suppose that its obvious Eastern influences made the fact that it was one of a kind, relatively isolated, and almost totally unpopulated seem not so unusual. By contrast, Suikoden II’s obviously Western style chapel seemed empty and bizarre. (Also worth mentioning for completion’s sake, in Suikoden III Chris visits a church in Vinay del Zexay, but the Zexen characters refer to their religion relatively frequently, so it felt better integrated into the game, and less jarring as a result).

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           I’m a day late, but it just (re-)occurred to me that a much better analogue to Japanese shrines in contemporary Western (American, at least) culture would probably be the roadside attraction. This may be the result of an adolescent enthusiasm for Sam & Max Hit the Road and Niel Gaiman’s American Gods, but I see more in common with numinous, charged spaces like the House on the Rock or the Mystery Spot that dot the landscape and inspire both casual visits by passers-by and feverish pilgrimages from zealous devotees.

    • Effigy_Power

      I’d argue that the Church of Andraste of Dragon Age fame is probably the most accurate depiction of what medieval clerical religion is really like, mostly because it’s not so homogenous.
      A lot of fictional religions are basically hordes of brain-washed and unified yay-sayers, whereas Andrasteans are going through some pretty deep issues, some akin to full blown schisms.

      Is the Maker gone forever or just testing us?
      Does faith have to be enforced to return the Maker or is that exactly what turned him away?
      Do we show acceptance of other belief systems or attempt to root them out with fire?
      Are mages evil and belong to be locked up?
      Are mages poor, cursed souls who need and deserve our empathy and supervision?
      Are mages blessed by Andraste and the Maker and we need to flock to them?
      How do we fit into political schemes?
      Do we support the struggle to liberate a country from occupation or do we support the more strictly Andrastean occupiers?
      Can other cultures be taught to follow our beliefs peacefully?
      Do we trust in Andraste as a messianic super-power or are we using her memory to con people to believe our claims?

      Andraste’s clergy is wracked with uncertainty and widely different ways to deal with that, not dissimilar to the early Christian Church during and after the fall of the Roman Empire.

      Apart from that the Chantries in their wide variance from small chapels such as the one encountered in Lotheringen to the brilliant and opulent cathedral-like structure in Kirkwall really represent the dissonance every religion goes through. Can’t wait to see the Grand Chantry in Orlais.

      • Swadian Knight

        I think I remember reading that there was an actual schism in the Chantry – their priesthood in Tevinter broke off to form the Imperial Chantry because they had a different, more liberal stance on mages and magic in general – which really resembles the early years of real-world religions. 

        Another thing I like about it is the way that the leadership of the Chantry is shown to have revised and changed their beliefs and holy texts to fit the times: in the first game, you can hear that all mention of Andraste’s elven generals was removed from the Chant of Light and considered Dissonant when the Chantry went to war with the nation these elves had built. 
         
        I really think the Chantry is one the best elements of the Dragon Age setting, and I’m really hopeful for Dragon Age 3 since all the information about it so far says the protagonist will be one of its members. 

      • The Guilty Party

        Yeah, I was going to mention the Chantry but you got here first and made a bunch of good points, you jerk!

        One thing I like about Bioware writing is that despite the black and white morality systems for the player character, they tend to make worlds that are full of shades of grey. Hell, they even managed that with Star Wars, which is so far down the Lawful Good vs Chaotic Evil path it’s ridiculous.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.deisinger John M. Deisinger

      I’d make the argument that one of the most positive portrayals of religion in an explicitly Japanese context is Okami.  Although perhaps it’s relevant that the story is meant to take place in a mythic past when gods and heroes wander Nippon without so much as a how-do-you do while they search vainly, so vainly, for those last. Spare. Beads.

    • http://www.facebook.com/a.j.woolston Adam Woolston

      To be fair, most of the time it’s largely governed by the economics of storytelling. Videogames designed to let / force you to do “Heroic” things pretty much require the introduction of some group(s) out to stop you. And often it helps if your antagonists have access to a seemingly limitless supply of unquestioning goons to throw at you to keep things interesting.

      It’s a trope that all media using “Hero” stories fall victim to, games slightly more than most because they go further to blur the line between you and the protagonist. Governments are treated just as bad- if you’re not rebelling or defending against an obviously destructive or tyrannical institutions, [and often even if you are] chances are the people you fight with or for will turn on you at some point. Largely though, it makes sense not to spend too many resources padding gameworlds out
      with groups you don’t either end up fighting for, against or both.

      On another note, games that don’t put you in the shoes of a single protagonist often do take a more optimistic perspective on religions. Strategy games like the Civilisation and Total War series use religions rather simplistically as a means of keeping populaces happy and [to be cynical] more willing to fight for your cause… [whatever that might be].

  • vinnybushes

     I would have thought the Gaea Cult in SMT: Nocturne would be a better choice considering they end the world within ten minutes of starting the game. Say what you will, they get results.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph

       Shin Megami Tensei seems to have a thing for cults. Well, being a series ABOUT the occult and seemingly weekly Apocalypses (Apocalypsii?) that’s probably not too surprising.

      -Persona 2 has several, some trying to bring about the end of the world
      -Persona 3 has the Nyx worshipers who, for a change, aren’t the ones who bring about the end times.
      -Nocturne has the Gaea Cult as you mentioned, but then immediately AFTER destroying the world, it feels like cult-building becomes the world’s favorite new pastime. All your friends are doing it! Join a Reason today! (Or just go join ol’ Smokey)

      • Travis Stewart

        The only thing worse than a cult in SMT is an actual religion. Just ask the cast of SMT2!

  • PaganPoet

    No mention of the Cult of Kefka?

    Fair enough, though, as the idea isn’t really explored in any kind of depth. I just love the scene of foul-mouthed little Relm knocking some sense into Strago.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I actually think the Cult is well-drawn, if not well-articulated.  It’s more than that scene and your knowledge of Stragos’ personality.  There’s Dancing Mad, the final boss design, the changed World Of Ruin map, http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Warring_Triad , the demeanor of the towns that survive, and so on.

      It’s a stellar, well-executed example of showing through gameplay rather through telling through text, even though I usually prefer the latter.

  • Mike Mariano

    I am a devout member of the cult of Happy Happyism from Earthbound.

    I will now go around and paint this website blue.

    • PaganPoet

      Blew! Blew!

      Oh, excuse me, I’m practicing how to whistle. I’ll go practice over there.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       ctrl-F-ed “happy happy.” Was not disappointed (well, a little disappointed it didn’t make it into the feature proper).

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    The experience of being a video game character in a cult was really well depicted in that movie from a couple of years ago; Mario, Mike Haggar, M. Bison, Mega man.

  • blue vodka lemonade

     The Order in Silent Hill is pretty fascinating for me, because so much about it is suggested and inferred and pieced together from this text and that tombstone. It’s spelled out a little more directly in The Book of Lost Memories, which is a kind of supplemental text to the first three games. The translation available online is serviceable, and makes the plot (especially 1 and 3) much more comprehensible.

    I like to compare and contrast The Order with Dead Space‘s Unitology, since they have a roughly similar agenda and achieve comparably horrific results in furthering that agenda. Unitology seems more fleshed-out but also far less intriguing, since it pretty much puts it all out there and what’s out there is pretty silly. Instead of feeling compelled to think about the group’s motives, beliefs, and history, I pretty much ignore that part of the series entirely.

    • HighlyFunctioningTimTebow

      I was really hoping that the Unitologists from Dead Space would make the list, because the intersection between space-faring corporations, dogmatic theocracy, and interplanetary subjugation totally does it for me. Plus anytime a religion hides its death-cult roots behind an apocryphal firewall is morbidly fascinating.

      Thanks for the link; it would have been nice of Konami to release a supplemental with their HD collection to the same effect…

      • blue vodka lemonade

         I was surprised Unitology isn’t on the list, since it’s fairly recent/from a popular series.

        I really like their imagery and some of their little sayings. Everything has that creepy cult-in-the-woods vibe combined a little slick new-age-iness and some good ol’-fashioned batshit insanity.

        Their whole package of symbolism and architecture and all is pretty beautifully fleshed-out.

        The Book of Lost Memories is great in that it not only explains the timeline and the plot of each game, it features all kinds of absolutely pointless trivia that in no way affects the games, or could be deduced from the games. James is 29! He’s a store clerk! Angela’s name is a reference to The Net, for some reason! The devs apparently didn’t realize that Julianne Moore has eyebrows! It’s all pretty bizarre/fun crap to know/think about.

        • GaryX

          It is on the list. Reminded me I should play Dead Space 2.

        • blue vodka lemonade

           @GaryX:disqus Oh, from what @HighlyFunctioningTimTebow:disqus said I thought it wasn’t and I’d just hallucinated reading it. I blame the Marker.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    I know that Yasumi Matsuno’s games seem too obvious to mention, but I think Kiltia had a fantastic arc (as far as mainstream video games go) from cult to mainstream faith to cult to evil cult.  http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Kiltia

    Mother 2.  Final Fantasy VI.  Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers.  King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow.  Come on.  Classic.

    Lunar: Eternal Blue is dear to me, obviously, and its takeover of Althena by the “destroyer Athena” cult set the stage for 1 of my favorite game characters ever, Leo.

    Lovedelic: Moon: Remix R.P.G. Adventure had Adder’s psychedelia, and Endonesia has a cult that’s not all that it seems.

    Holy Sword Legend/Mana reused a city for the Mana goddess’ fringe religion, right?

    It’s also very clear from certain games like Order Of Ecclesia/The Stolen Seal, Dracula’s Curse/The Vampire Legend, and a few others that Castlevania/Demon’s Castle Dracula is church versus cult.  And NOTHING is more important in that series than the storyline and timeline canon, obviously.

    • Citric

      I love the Happy Happy Cult and their obsession with painting the world blue.

    • PaganPoet

      I never actually finished Vagrant Story. I think the story was far too political/mature for me at the time I played it, as stories set in the Ivalice universe tend to be (I played FFXII at the age of 22, and for the life of me, I could not recite the plot of that game to you with any kind of detail).

      That, and the gameplay mechanics were odd. Superficially, they were very fun…reminded me a lot of Parasite Eve, but with swords and axes instead of guns. But the way your strength and magic leveled up was pretty confusing. I remember getting to a point where I had to fight an enemy that was only weak to something that I had neglected in the game up to that point. And there ended my journey.

    • blue vodka lemonade

       Ah, I’d forgotten about Gabriel Knight.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        I use “voodoo hounfour” whenever I can now.

        • blue vodka lemonade

           I once got spectacularly drunk and started texting DJ BRING SEKEY MADOULE to my sister over and over, not remembering that she’d never played the game. I think she just thought I’d finally cracked.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          @green_gin_rickey:disqus My own personal comment cat chooses you.

  • LoveWaffle

    Cheating a bit, but the Sith.

    • Effigy_Power

      I was thinking that too, but then a lot of StarWars fans are still debating in what capacity the Sith fit in. Formerly a race, then a religion, then a political agenda, and whatnot.
      I guess the religion would be “The Force” with a schism between at least the factions of Light and Dark side… Which of course doesn’t necessarily mean the Sith in that regard, since not all Dark side users are Sith.
      It’s a confusing and convoluted thing, those Sith, so I get why they aren’t featured, but they certainly warrant mention.
      Which you did.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

        “A race, then a religion, then a political agenda”? So the Sith are basically Jews? Subtle, Lucas.

        • Effigy_Power

          I thought that was Hebrews, the race, Judaism, the religion and Zionism, the political agenda.
          Well… I guess there are some correlations or should I say… corellations… (bad SW-pun). Jews have been misappropriated as caricatures for a lot of fiction, I doubt something as wide-ranging as SW is out of the loop there.

          I may be simplifying the Sith thing, I don’t know a whole lot of the extended universe there, but that’s how I remember it.

        • LoveWaffle

          Nah, dude.

          Toydarians are Jews.

        • HobbesMkii

          Uh, I believe Lucas broke the bank on unsubtle allusions to Jewishness when he created the character of Watto, the greedy, big-nosed, black hatted, untrustworthy junk dealer from Episode 1

      • LoveWaffle

        I see the difference between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force in the same way we would view Judaism, Christianity and Islam – while they worship the same deity and share many of the same key players, they have fundamental differences that make them unmistakably different religions.  

        Meanwhile, the Dark Side, unlike the Light which is more or less synonymous with the Jedi, is broken up into various organizations varying in size that could be considered different sects of a religion.  Catholicism is to Protestantism what Sunni is to Shia what the New Sith Empire is to the Brotherhood of the Sith.

        As for the whole “race, then religion, then government” thing, that’s definitely true of the Sith as a whole throughout the EU.  However, the Order of the Sith Lords, the line of Sith that includes Palpatine, Darth Vader, etc., is undeniably a cult.  Therefore, if you’re playing any Star Wars game that takes place between The Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi, you’re going against that cult.

        Unlike previous iterations of the Sith religion that were open to Force sensitives and non-Force sensitives alike, controlled large sections of the Galaxy and was the state religion of Sith Empires, the Order of the Sith Lords by definition  could only feature two force-sensitive individuals and they had to remain in hiding.  If a religion that only consists of two people in an entire galaxy who had to publicly hide their religious beliefs isn’t a fringe religion, I don’t know what is.

  • tedthefed

    What about the Pagans, the Hammerites, and the Keepers from the Thief series?  A nature cult, a technology cult, and a “balancing forces” cult, all in conflict with one another, and all of which go evil, one by one, in each of the three games int he trilogy?

    • Vervack

       Don’t forget the Machinists, who appear to be the result of a sect of Hammerites undergoing a reformation.

      On a related note, I’m kinda curious to see what Dishonored is going to do on the whole divinity angle. Most of the ads seem to imply that the setting is fairly secular (as would befit a mid-industrial society), but there’s been these references to something called “The Outsider” who appears out of nowhere and grants magical gifts that can be used for good or ill (I think it’s implied in a recent promo video that the plague that’s eating through the world is the result of one of his gifts gone awry). He seems to be sort of a trickster archetype to me, and I’m wondering if he has a cult or not.

      (By the by, that’s the second of three backstory-promos for Dishonored. Number 1 is here, and this is Number 3.)

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    I’ve got to put in a word for the Enkindlers – the religion practiced by the Hanar – from the Mass Effect series. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have this exchange.

    • HighlyFunctioningTimTebow

      Gotta love that part from Mass Effect 3 where you show up on the Embassy Deck of The Citadel with the Prothean Javik, and he’s all like “Sup, bro?” to a Hanar, who then proceeds to lose his shit.

      • Effigy_Power

        I was marginally ticked off by how hard a time everyone had to accept Javik for what he is (especially with those busts in the Asari-temple being dead on), but the Hanar restored my faith by restoring his faith.
        I guess it takes a sort of jelly-type brain to come to grips with the fact that you’re shooting the shit with your god.

        • GaryX

          I never played 3 due to lost game saves then a fried computer, but did they ever explain why the statues on Ilos/photo in codex look nothing like him?

        • Effigy_Power

          -pokes @GaryX:disqus’s nose-
          Nnnnnnnnnnope.

    • LoveWaffle

      Personal favorite Hanar has to be Blasto, whose catchphrase is “ENKINDLE THIS!!!

      • Electric Dragon

        “This one has forgotten whether its heat sink is over capacity. It wonders whether the criminal scum considers itself fortunate.”

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    the weirdos in Dead Rising.

  • Staggering Stew Bum

    Unitology in the first Dead Space seems to fit the bill for this Inventory, but by the time Dead Space 2 rolled around it was portrayed as a mainstream religion with big political influence. I believe Dead Space 3 will deal with fringe elements of Unitology (it will also have co-op because apparently people want to play creepy claustrophobic survival games with their buddy).

    Anyway, loved those games, but still have no idea what the hell was going on with all that Unitology/reanimated corpse business. Unitology planted the markers but they actually didn’t and necromorphs are caused by them except they’re not and my head hurts so just shoot and stomp everything. Isaac Clarke is a great role model for me — a fellow engineer who is surrounded by incompetents, begrudgingly does his job usually under orders from some faceless person, is actually suffering from a severe mental illness, and puts himself through lots of shit to impress a girl who only exists in his mind. Oh, and in DS2 can shoot the heads off reanimated babies with a plasma cutter! Good times.

    • Enkidum

      Hey, that reminds me of you too!

    • Effigy_Power

      There was this quick cartoon movie they used to explain the fate of the Ishimura before Isaac (anybody else sick of biblically named protagonists?) goes there, in which the Church, as far as I remember, got a pretty bad light.
      I didn’t play DS2, shit’s too fucking scary for me. Not the gore or horror, but the constant “BOH!” effects which I find cheap and make me jump like crazy. You can dismember a truckload of toddlers for all I care, but if someone bounces out of a dark corner I will empty any weapon I have in said direction without looking.
      Anyways, I don’t know how that develops in DS2, but the movie, while vague, made it fairly clear that Unitology isn’t exactly benevolent.

      • Staggering Stew Bum

        DS2 relies less on cheap scares and atmosphere than the first and is basically an action game. Isaac has basically been through all this shit before so knows how to handle himself. At this rate, since the third game will be set on an ice planet, I’ll be mighty disappointed if at some point Isaac doesn’t burst out of an ice statue and deadpan “ICE to see you” before slaughtering a group of necromorphs.

        As for being biblically named, I think he’s named after Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. What shits me is thousands of games and movies referencing Icarus. It’s EVERYWHERE.

    • Vervack

       I personally didn’t think the shift from cult to mainstream faith was as jarring between the first and second games was as jarring as you did. The first game did seem to imply that the whole reason the Ishimura was out there was due to  the Unitologists trying to surreptitiously get ahold of a hidden Marker, and that the whole mining operation was a cover story. I always saw them more like Scientology, not a lot of actual adherents, but they are manically enthusiastic about fundraising and they vindictive in their dealings with others.

      Also, I was wondering if you, as an engineer, were at all bothered by the fact that Isaac had to spend his time looting foot lockers so he could get enough money to use the Ishimura‘s stores. When I was playing it, I was wondering why Isaac (and while I don’t know the precise field he was trained in, he seems to be generally pretty competent in most basic mechanical matters) couldn’t rig up a device to hack the stores or set them into service mode or something. Given his situation, I think violating his contract is the last thing on his mind.

      (And yeah, I know it’s a gameplay mechanic, but having to use money to use stores in a postapocalyptic setting makes no sense to me. You could replace stores with a mixture of storage lockers, machine shops, and recyclers and get most of the same effect with things that make more sense in the setting.)

      • Staggering Stew Bum

        What bothered me was the existence of mining equipment vending machines in the first place. What, the big mining corporations can’t supply their workforce with their equipment? They prefer their employees to look for space credits by stomping on corpses? In DS2 they have these vending machines in the train stations….are people grabbing a couple of ripper blades on the way home along with milk and bread?
        I think Isaac is a mining engineer. However, the Ishimura wasn’t his ship, and he didn’t work on Titan station either, so it kind of makes sense that he didn’t have service access to the vending machines (though he did have access to all of the Titan service tunnels in DS2).  I suppose the lesson here is it’s best not to poke holes in the plot when the plot also includes a dude fighting alien zombies that consist of reanimated human corpse parts. In space.If I was in Isaac’s boots, as soon as that first necromorph popped up I’d throw a stack of drawings at it, run back to my desk and write an OH&S report, then go home and call in sick for the rest of the week. I don’t get out of the office much these days to learn those practical zombie killing skills.

  • Swadian Knight

    Well, there’s that one particular quest line in Dragon Age: Origins where you investigate and then confront a cult that believes the prophet Andraste had returned to life as a High Dragon, which is just about the best way to come back from the dead.

    They pretty much hit every evil cult trope – their main base is an unwelcoming, Innsmouth-like town that shuns strangers (and kills the ones that are too inquisitive), they’re devoted enough to throw themselves at the main group even though they have very little chance of surviving that, and their leader clearly needs to talk to a professional about the state of his mental health. 

    • HobbesMkii

      That’s what I like about BioWare’s RPGs. Every time I think I’ve discovered the craziest, stupidest person in the game, I run into someone even crazier and stupider. Dragon Age 2‘s ending is literally a conflict between the two craziest and stupidest people in the game for the title of Supreme Crazy-Stupid, and they both lose when a dark horse third-party candidate enters in and makes them both look like sane geniuses.

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4

         foreshadowing for tonight’s debate?

        • HobbesMkii

          No, because I believe the Secret Service has orders to shoot Ron Paul with elephant tranquilizer should he come too close to the building the debate is being held in.

        • Effigy_Power

          I am still waiting for Newt Gingrich to waddle into the debates and declare himself Overlord of Americana, only to be challenged to a mud-wrestle competition by Al Gore. The winner gets to drink mead out of John McCain’s skull.

          I imagine the lives of political losers probably a lot more interesting than they are. I suppose they just go back to being rich and just a little powerful instead of rich and really powerful.

        • HobbesMkii

          @Effigy_Power:disqus The mental image of pasty, bloated Al Gore mud-wrestling with pasty, super-bloated Newt Gingrich has put me off the concept of mud-wrestling forever.

    • Effigy_Power

      I had forgotten all about the cult of Andraste.
      First of all, the fact that they shut themselves off in a xenophobic little mountain town… that doesn’t exactly bode well. Not only were they capable of murdering a knight but then too dumb to feed his corpse to one of the hundreds of drakes they had, they also had a male priest…
      When it comes to hide yourself while advertising your weirdness at the same time, they really topped out. They even hired a child actor to stroll through the village firing off disturbing nursery rhymes.
      Final point: If your cult lives in a ruin and cave system inhabited by monsters, you are probably not as virtuous and good as you might be led to believe.

      • Swadian Knight

        And that’s not to mention they let you drink dragon blood to unlock the Reaver specialization if you join them, giving you talents as wonderful as using corpses to regain HP and giving off an aura that causes constant damage to anyone nearby. Kind of a red flag.
        Seriously though, I actually love the way that their existence quietly add another layer of uncertainty to the Chantry’s already conflicting history – through subtle things like the sheer amount of mages in their ranks and the way their ruins are guarded by Ash Wraiths, which would seem to indicate that the early Chantry had a hell of a lot more magic to it than its current counterpart would have you believe.

    • http://twitter.com/MikoSquiz Miko the Squiz

      I want to see a cult like that who actually turn out to be totally right and also the good guys, in the end.

  • AHyperkineticLagomorph

    Hugh Bliss would be DELIGHTED to welcome you to the Church of Prismatology!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA6Zf20-AEY&feature=related

    • Effigy_Power

      I do love me some Prismatology, especially since all the references are so very, very…

      One second, door.

      Apparently I have been sued by Tom Cruise for even thinking that. Bummer.

  • stakkalee

    There’s the Cult of the Unseeing Eye from Baldur’s Gate 2.  Sure, it’s not a mainstream religion like Lathanderism or the Helmites, but if you want your eyes put out by a bunch of beholder-worshipping freaks, the Cult is the only way to go.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I can’t think of a less-responsive deity to hitch your devotion wagon to than a Beholder.
         And it’s especially strange, since while tough, they’re still a mid-range creature.
         I can understand a Tarrasque cult.  The creature will be equally indifferent to your prayers, but is an elemental force of animal consumption and destruction.
         When you worship a Beholder, you worship a god that can still be killed with a +3 short sword and a cloak of elvenkind.  

      • Effigy_Power

        Well… that all depends now y’hear.
        Beholders are, as a creature, fairly spread out in level range. The Beholder that once ran the Thieves Guild in Skull Port, the Xanathar, was an Eye Tyrant, which according to the Monster Manual ranges more in the “We are thoroughly fucked” category of levels, something around 27 or so…
        That said, the Beholder that led the Unseeing Eye was not one of those and kind of a push-over.
        Then again, it was nice not to have yet another Dragon Cult, because they really are a dime a dozen fantasy-wise.
        In one of the campaigns I played in college a tribe of giants was worshiping a massive elemental that they thought was frozen in space, but eventually turned to be pretty much just a massive snowman built by a frost titan… with a tree for a penis.
        People will follow the stupidest things.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plZRe1kPWZw

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4

         ”I can’t think of a less-responsive deity to hitch your devotion wagon to than a Beholder.”

        I can.
        Oh, you mean in a video game.

        • HobbesMkii

          Hey! He helps people who help themselves. Now, that may sound like just a fancy way of saying He does nothing but…wait a minute…that is just a way of saying He does nothing!

        • Effigy_Power

          The moment Beholders figure out how to make every good thing a sign of their benevolence and power and every bad thing your own fault for not being faithful enough, they’ll be in the money. And I mean money.

    • http://www.facebook.com/george.s.louis.73 George St. Louis

       Taking those

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

    And you didn’t even touch upon corrupt, ubiquitous religions in video games. There’s a bunch. Off the top of my head, there’s Yevon from Final Fantasy X. St. Eva from Breath of Fire 2. Marcello’s ascension in Dragon Quest VIII kind of counts.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      Yevonintes, I tell ya… Though the “Hymn of the Faith” from that game is the most convincing religious piece of music in any game. Every time you come into a temple and it cues up.  *Chills down my spine*

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaUCP6NpqY0

    • PaganPoet

      Kudos for mentioning Breath of Fire 2. I remember playing that as a child and being kind of freaked out that the end boss was the god of all the churches throughout the world. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with that particular plot devide.

      Looking back on it now after years of exposure to JRPGs, I now recognize what a cliche it is. I actually just played through Alundra, a pretty solid action-RPG with brutal puzzles for PS1 which has a pretty similar plot.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    No love for Xenogears? The game was crazy about religion! They crucified an anthromorphic hamster! What more crazy-cultness could you ask for!?!

    • duwease

       That was my first thought too, but I guess the religion in the game was too popular to be considered a ‘cult’.  It sure had the crazy, though..

  • William Hume

    No church of Unitology?!

  • Justin Wheatley

    This shows my lack of videogame savviness, but Eternal Darkness’s Lovecraft-lite (or -heavy?) amalgam was always pretty funny to me. 

    • GaryX

      Liking Eternal Darkness should always fall under video game savviness.

  • SteveHeisler

    You may be asking yourself, “Didn’t the list have the number 16 in it at first, and now it’s 17?” You would be correct. We inadvertently left off an entry, so now our inventory about freaky cults and fringe religions has one more thing to entice.

    • HobbesMkii

      Would you say you’ve fixed a problem with “dead space” in the article there, Steve. Ahahahahaha–I’ll show myself out.

  • Justin Wheatley

    This shows my lack of videogame savviness, but Eternal Darkness’s Lovecraft-lite (or -heavy?) amalgam was always pretty funny to me. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/HotsyHotcakes Leslie Russell

    What about Bioshock 2′s Rapture Family (Sofia Lamb’s followers)? That was the first one I thought of.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.slone James Slone

    So where’s the Fellowship from Ultima 7 (the definitive in-game cult)? The cultural memory is short. 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Great pull.  I thought religion in Ultima was way better on paper than how it was implemented. but that was fantastic and genuinely threatening.

  • Patrick Batman

    I vote for the Dark Brotherhood, those lovable, Sithis-worshipping contract killers. 
    I can’t speak to how they appear in Skyrim, but what struck me in Oblivion was how…nice…most of the members were when I joined.  Everyone was so…welcoming.  Most of them came from backgrounds of abuse or neglect, and you could tell that the Brotherhood was the first family they’d known.  I found it scarily reminiscent of how actual,real-world cults recruit & operate, right down to the use of family terms to encourage emotional imprinting.

  • chuntian32

     http://al.ly/zvK

  • BigBoote66

    Just to get my pedant on, Jupiter & Minerva are Roman gods.  The Greek equivalents are Zeus & Hera.

    • Electric Dragon

       Just to get my pedant on, the Greek equivalent of Minerva is Athena. Hera was identified with Juno.

  • HilariousNPC

    Sigh… How many people here have even heard of Star Control II? It’s one of the greatest games of all-time, and it’s relegated to footnote status.

    • gobaers

      I still get weepy when I think of those valiant Shofixti Scouts. Or murderous kamikaze terrorists, depending on your politics.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/F4HP4DTBQ2IBCTQU5TTBVXKJTY Andy

    I feel like there should be a little religion that worships Raiden from MK. he is a god and some kind of bullshit religion would make the story mode a bit more interesting