To The Bitter End

Panzer Dragoon Saga

Riding With The Ghost

The ending of Panzer Dragoon Saga indirectly explains one of Christianity’s most vexing concepts.

By Anthony John Agnello • August 20, 2013

Games are often left unfinished. Sometimes they’re too difficult, too vast, or too repetitive to see all the way through to the closing credits. To The Bitter End is The Gameological Society’s look at those endings that are worth fighting for—or at least worth reading about.

The Holy Spirit’s a tricky figure to come to grips with. For those not down with catechism, the Holy Spirit is the binding agent in Catholicism’s three-formed conception of god. God the Father is the cell itself, a container for all things. God the Son is the mitochondria, a separate entity from the cell but a crucial engine. And the Holy Spirit is the nucleus, the ineffable spirit in all things, a binding agent, the cream in the Oreo. According to Thomas Aquinas, the Holy Spirit bestows seven gifts to mankind. Courage, wisdom, awe—all of humanity’s coping mechanisms come from the Spirit. One of the great challenges of faith is wrapping your head around how this wholly intangible figure fits inside reality.

Team Andromeda, the long-lost Sega Saturn developer, created an object lesson about the holy trinity in its revered 1998 role-playing game, Panzer Dragoon Saga. There’s the designer of the game, the creator of everything you experience, and there’s a hero in your control. Except supposedly, you’re not playing as Edge, the hero, nor are you the playing the role of the awesome dragon he rides. As the game explains in its closing moments, you fill the role of Holy Spirit. By shattering the fourth wall in a terrific, unsettling reveal at the tail end of the quest, Saga not only re-contextualizes everything that came before, but it also paints a full, meaningful portrait of the Holy Spirit in action.

Panzer Dragoon Saga

Before that moment comes, Saga is artful and fun but also too familiar. Taking place thousands of years after a nearly omnipotent civilization crumbled into dust, the story follows a mercenary named Edge who gets stuck between an evil empire and a peaceful agrarian people trying to get by in a harsh world. After discovering a young woman in some ruins—turns out she’s actually the ultimate weapon of that dead civilization—Edge is saved from the murderous empire by a giant purple dragon with tie-dye wings.

The dragon, it turns out, is the fated legendary savior of mankind. Edge sets out to get revenge, but embraces his role as hero, teaming up with the young woman from the ruins to rid the world of the Ancients’ legacy forever. It’s typical Joseph Campbell hero-quest stuff, even if it’s packaged in unique wrappings, and that’s likely why the player’s identity in it doesn’t seem like a question until the ending.

Panzer Dragoon Saga

Saga’s world, an austere place that looks like it was cross-pollinated by Jean Giraud Moebius and a mid-’70s fashion show, also doesn’t seem to leave much room for the player. Most of the action is also hands-off. You command Edge and his dragon pal in aerial dogfights that are all about spatial awareness, maneuvering around enemies and picking commands like “attack” or “heal.” Your control is indirect. And the whole game is like that. Flying over the oceans and forests in the game, you can go in certain directions but not forever, covering any distance you like. There are boundaries. In conversation, you can bring Edge to meet people but you can’t put words in his mouth. The character still speaks for himself. In battle, you can only pick the next attack and position the dragon in relation to your enemy.

You have purpose in all of these moments, even when it seems like you’re just getting pulled along by the nose to see a story to the end. When you beat the giant monster who appears inevitably at the game’s conclusion, the dragon speaks directly to the player. You are the Divine Visitor, brought in “from the outside world,” bestowing gifts on Edge as he fulfills his destiny—the destiny laid out by the game designer’s plans. In fights, the dragon explains, you give counsel to the character on how best to bring down some eight-winged neon bug. When meeting new characters to advance the quest, you provide Edge wisdom about who to speak to next. The game’s story won’t change from beginning to end depending on what you do; you can only push it forward. Edge is his own person, influenced by your decisions. This is how God and free will work in Catholicism, right here in Panzer Dragoon.

“Human virtues perfect man insofar as man is naturally moved by reason in the things that he does within or without,” wrote Aquinas on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. “Hence, in those things in which the impulse of reason is not sufficient, but the impulse of the Holy Spirit is necessary, then a gift is also necessary.” You are the flame inside Panzer Dragoon Saga’s bush. The catharsis waiting at the end of the game doesn’t come from seeing the world saved or beating some challenging boss. Saga has two great rewards. The first is knowledge: the revelation that the player was something more than just a mule for pressing buttons. The second is an understanding of how, from one point of view, faith works.

(High-resolution screenshots of Panzer Dragoon Saga: The Will Of The Ancients)

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

    GhaleonQ clickbait!  To further use The Will Of The Ancients: http://www.thewilloftheancients.com/encyclopaedia/the-divine-visitor .

    It would be easy to hand wave this as just another example of video games thanking “Most Of All, You: The Player” in the credits, except Panzer Dragoon has such an ornate and studied anthropology.  Cripes, read the lyrics of the ending song.  http://www.thewilloftheancients.com/resources/sona-mi-areru-ec-sancitu-lyrics

    I think my favorite implication of this comparison involves the ending.  As above, you absorb the “bad stuff” in your white light, disappear, and then purposely relinquish your hold over the world.  It’s implied that the world (and Orta) goes on without you having an active presence, just a passive one.  In essence, it’s Panzer Dragoon Pentecost.  There were still lesser miracles that occurred afterward in the Bible (Panzer Dragoon Orta!), but that’s the final peak of God acting on Earth.  Edge got his tongue of flame and that was it.  We are now in an era where God abandoned us, which, indeed, sounds a lot like creating Mario And Sonic At The Olympic Games until the apocalypse comes.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SEGA_Sports_R%26D

  • NakedSnake

    Truly, To the Bitter End is the best feature on Gameological. These articles come closer than anything out there on the net to really exploring what an individual game “means” and how it connects to our larger culture. AJA, this is a particularly excellent entry. Having never played the game, I can only comment off of the information here, but it sounds like the “big reveal” touches on an important dissonance in gaming. 

    Fundamentally, third person games have a strange disconnect between player, character, and actions. The player effectively tells the main character what to do and then the player carries out those orders. You wouldn’t think that it would make a big deal for the player, but you can see the effect of this disconnect in terms of what games are suited to what perspectives. For instance, virtually all sandbox-style games, in which the killing of innocent civilians by the player is a gameplay possibility, are third-person games. And in situations where a first person perspective game has sandbox-style gameplay – like Blood Dragons, for instance – killing innocents is not a possibility. Think about it: when was the last time you played a first person game in which killing bystanders was a gameplay possibility? The fact that everyone here probably though “Modern Warfare 2″ at the same time demonstrates that it’s the exception that proves the rule. 

    What I’m saying is that design choices affect not only how a player plays the game, but also how they experience the game, and how they connect to it emotionally. When an author starts writing a book, they probably think long and hard about what biases they will introduce into the book by using a 1st person perspective, a 3rd person perspective, or multiple perspectives. We analyse and debate these choices with writing because there seems to be an element of intentionality and forethought to the choice. But it’s rare that we see that kind of critical thinking in game design. It’s nice to see games like this come along from time to time that can challenge us with an unreliable narrator trick (similar to the last Bitter End with Bioshock). I think I’ll try to find a way to play this game.

    • fieldafar

      Excellent comment. “To the Bitter End” has also convinced me to actually finish off the games I’ve started, even if I’ve never played the games the feature covers. Kudos, Gameological.

    • EmperorNortonI

      For a game in which you really, REALLY should have had the blood of innocents on your hands as a result of going about the mechanics of the blood, I can’t think of anything even close to Far Cry 2.

      You’re a mercenary in an ugly African civil war, fought in shanty towns and villages.  Oh, but all the women and children and non-coms have been evacuated, of course.  Right.

      Imagine how brutal that game would have been with the exact same mission structures and whatnot (well, maybe minus respawning checkpoints), but the towns are filled up with ordinary civilians as well, who cower and hide once the shooting starts, and who inevitably get hit as high-powered rounds blast through corrugated tin walls.

      They’re not your problem, it doesn’t matter if they get hurt or not – they’re just there, and they are collateral damage to your quest.

      • Master Prudent

         That scenario would be a step forward but it wouldn’t really capture the nature of “new wars” (see Mary Kaldor) in which the object tends to be controlling populations and resources through rape, starvation etcetra and avoiding fighting other combatants as much as possible.

        • DrFlimFlam

          I think gaming could use more games that attempted that real kind of horror instead of zombies.

        • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

          These new wars can’t be that new, that’s specifically how chimpanzees conduct war.

      • CrabNaga

        What comes to mind for me is the scenarios in BioShock Infinite where you’re around innocent people going about their daily lives. However, that is usually shattered after about five minutes when someone picks a fight with you (or vice versa), and everyone scatters. I’m pretty sure you’re allowed to shoot up the place before having a valid reason to, but once you do the place becomes a ghost town. It would have been cool if, depending on the situation, people would decide to hide within the area, take cover, or what have you. Or, if once the shooting was done, people would start coming back into the area, visibly shaken and scared, and resume doing what they were doing before (assuming you weren’t killing innocents). Although, that sounds like a lot of work to make something like that happen, and I figure that most people wouldn’t even notice it.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      I don’t think camera and narrative mode necessarily align, but sometimes it’s hard to pin down. The simplest case is probably games with third-person camera and indirect control (point-and-click adventures, turn-based RPGs, Diablo clones), which fall into the third-person camp because you’re always that unseen hand guiding an on-screen character similar to what the article is talking about. It doesn’t even matter how much of a blank slate the character is, Guybrush is never me and neither is the Rogue, despite Diablo’s (the game, not the character) announcement that “You have died”. It gets murky when you have indirect control, but first-person perspective: I’d say Lords of Doom is third-person, Eye of the Beholder is second-person, and Xenomorph is first-person, but it’s hard to say why I feel that way. With Lords of Doom, it might be simply the fact that there are four
      named party members with portraits, one of which is obviously Sylvester
      Stallone. With Eye of the Beholder, it might be nothing more than pen & paper convention carried over. Xenomorph on the other hand had only one protagonist who was a complete blank.

      In short, I think narrative mode in video games is determined by controls, writing, and camera, possibly in that order but with some highly subjective weighting. Literature sure has it easy, huh?

    • SamPlays

      There are dozens, if not hundreds, of third-person games where killing innocents is not possible (alternatively, killing an innocent would end a level). I’m not sure that camera perspective is necessarily tied to ethics in games. But like any visual narrative medium, camera placement is no doubt a storytelling device and can significantly affect how the audience becomes immersed in what’s happening on screen. IMO, I tend to get more immersed in third person games, simply because I feel like I have better spatial awareness, which directly impacts my performance in a game. Maybe it’s just me but first-person games tend to feel unnatural because I’m supposed to be looking through someone’s eyes but the flat, static screen of the TV doesn’t jive with this perspective. I go along with it and enjoy first person games just fine but I generally prefer third person perspectives because it offers more interesting (or at least better implemented) game play.

      • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

        That and you have no peripheral vision or situational awareness from hearing sounds around you.

        • SamPlays

          Surround sound helps with the latter :)

    • dickwhitmansampler

       For first person games where you can kill innocent bystanders, the Elder Scrolls series comes to mind.

    • SamPlays

      Also, if like unreliable narrators (ditto) and FPS games are one of your things, you might like Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. The story is a bit silly but the game is interesting (and far less heavy-handed than Spec Ops).

    • HobbesMkii

      The irony of MW2 is that you can choose to gun down an entire airport of innocent bystanders, but shoot one guy in your squad by accident and it’s game over.

    • Jackbert

      You can kill innocents in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Or, in my case, knock them out and stack them into pyramids that are ceremoniously topped with a cardboard box.

  • caspiancomic

    Massive round of applause on this article AJA, I love seeing disparate topics united in interesting ways like this. Articles like this one of the main reasons I come to this site.

    (Also, I’m pretty sure Moebius had some kind of direct hand in creating the world of Panzer Dragoon.)

    I’m pretty sure you all know by now that I have a massive turgid hard on for games that explore the player/character relationship like this. I just recently finished The Walking Dead for the third time, and when I was finished re-hydrating to compensate for all the tears, I began thinking about how the final moments of that game represent a sort of extension of the player/character hoedown. Basically, in the same way the player usually controls Lee, Lee now controls Clem, pointing and clicking on nearby stuff and having Clem obey his commands like that, it makes the relationship between Lee and Clem basically identical to a player/character relationship, but all taking place textually within the narrative. There’s a whole lot of smart stuff going down in that scene actually, maybe I’ll throw it on the “maybe one day at Game Theory” pile.

    Another game I finished recently that deals with the involvement of the player in a very similar way to Panzer Dragoon Saga is Virtue’s Last Reward, which addresses the player directly in a secret ending, and implicitly states that it’s the player, rather than any of the game’s characters, who is advancing the plot and is responsible for the outcome of the game’s events. It’s a pretty fun little way of addressing the player’s inclusion in the driving of the narrative, and it always pleases me to see games play around with that paradigm and try to figure out what it really means.

    I suppose as a lapsed Catholic I ought to have something really insightful to say about the religious elements of the article. Maybe I’ll come up with something later. I do really love the angle you’ve taken here though, AJA. The idea of the game designer, player character, and player forming a de facto Holy Trinity of gaming is such a gloriously elegant idea that I’m surprised there aren’t more games that have explored a similar idea.

    • Ah_good_the_sea

      Re: Mobius – you are correct. The production designer for the series, Manabu Kusunoki, was strongly influenced by Moebius (and Miyazaki’s Nausicaa) and contacted him to ask if he would do some concept and production sketches for them. He also drew the cover art for the Japanese release: here

    • PPPfive

      I have never played it, but the DS game Contact seemed to be really interesting in that regard.

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

        *points to avatar*  Look it up!

        As does Sakura Note: The Future Connected To The Present.  It ends up somewhere between Earthbound/Mother 2 and this, and I’ll leave it at that.

    • CrabNaga

      Now I want to see a game where the game creator is the true villain. The first couple acts of the game should be fairly mundane with restrictive elements (such as forced multiple choices, “but-thou-musts”, unlikely roadblocks (damn you shrubs), and other nods to limiting game design of yesteryear), until the player character/player learn that the Developer is the true enemy, the shackles come off, and the gameplay changes into a cross between an action RPG and a coding simulation, where the Developer tries to impose new restrictions through new or altered code, and you have to write your own functions to thwart them. 

      • boardgameguy

        what a cool idea. this sounds perfect for a game jam.

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

        It’s happened a couple of times, but it’s never been explicit.  It’s often couched in pseudo-spiritual jargon.

        The most straightforward 1 I can think of, though not quite your idea, is Dynamite Headdy by Treasure.  You act as a puppet come to life who needs to save the theater.  http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/dynamiteheaddy/dynamiteheaddy.htm  The secret boss is the “theater owner” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ve3u1__6mXQ who wants you to star in a sequel that’s more action-packed and traditional.  MONEY MONEY MONEY.  Apparently, he was based on Sega’s president (or someone high up?) at the time, even though Treasure spun off from Konami.  I guess Sega must have been real jerks, but that didn’t stop there from being more Sega Treasure games.

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

        While it doesn’t apply any allegory to the relationship, Takeshi’s Challenge is one game that presents an unambiguously antagonistic relationship between the player and the game creator (Beat Takeshi himself).

        • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

          Oh man, Takeshi’s Castle was all that and a bag of chips. I loved the lunacy of those challenges. Was it actually Takeshi Kitano at the final challenge driving around in the bumper car spraying contestants with a water cannon or was it some stuntman dressed as him?

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

    I’d never heard of this element of Panzer Dragoon.  It’s a pretty progressive element to incorporate into a game, especially fifteen years ago.
       I think so many people’s first experience with the question of player agency remains Bioshock, and I think it’s telling that, though released less than a decade after Saga, the answer it offers is very cynical, and possibly more telling how that cynicism felt like the appropriate conclusion.
       The idea of being a force of good -not simply implicitly, by controlling a good character, but explicitly, as the player- feels foreign.  The idea of the player as a hero sounds hokey -a message best delivered, and summarily ignored, by Fred Savage and a power glove.
       Having completed Last of Us, I’ve been thinking more about games that essentially make you implicit in actions or behaviors you don’t agree with.  You can move the story forward, but this is what it’ll cost.
       Maybe it’s due to my own ambivalence about gaming, but that squickiness is more natural to me than a game that says to me; “Hey!  Great job!  You’re a sliver of the divine and your intervention brings a new age of peace and prosperity!”
       It’s one thing in a conventional game, where the character defeats the great evil and the kingdom is reborn.  That’s just reading a storybook.  It’s another entirely to say it is by my virtue as a player that it happened.   

    • MintBerry_Crunch

      To point to another game, though I’m not sure if the issue of player agency is as salient as Bioshock or Dragoon; Shadow of Colossus curiously framed the colossi as majestic, sometimes docile, sometimes wild creatures that died in cinematic cut-scenes, after which the player is given control that ultimately proves futile, again and again—you get pierced by the tentacles and are somehow returned to repeat the process. 

      You have no choice but to resign and accept, even as the game will seemingly present opportunities for you to get ahead of the tentacles. (The ending deals with this directly, having you get sucked by the vortex no matter how much you struggle to get to Mono, or simply away from the vortex, until you finally just let go.)

      • CrabNaga

        I think to add to this, once you’re in the Forbidden Land, you’re stuck there. You can actually get up to the entrance bridge again and run all the way back to the entrance, but strong gusts of wind will keep you from crossing that threshold, and the game goes to bloomtown as a punishment for resisting (or is that a bug?).

        It’s especially terrible when you consider there is absolutely nothing to do in the Forbidden Land: eat some tree fruits and lizard tails, find a turtle, perfect your sick birdjackings, or train your apparently drunk horse. It’s either this or murder some rock monsters, and a man can only eat so many lizard tails.

    • NakedSnake

      Not to sound like a crusty old dean or something, but I feel like cynicism is the mark of our times. Some time (it feels like 10 years ago maybe), people decided that optimism and goodness were unrealistic and lame, and cynicism was “mature”. And the floodgates opened and the anti-heroes spilled out. Don’t get me wrong, I find optimism/altruism to be boring and predictable in games. But I also think it’s a thing.

      Incidentally, it would be great to see more of the flipside of the cynical phenomenon in games, where “best intentions” lead to poor results, as they often do in life with people trying to save the world. The altruistic villain a la Watchmen has been done a lot, but what about a main character who is either a misguided messianic type or merely a bumbling rube who makes everything worse despite best intentions?

      • GaryX

        Cynicism and irony has been the mark of our times since around the time postmodernism got underway.

        • IzToo

          Babe II, the videogame?  Without the happy ending?

        • NakedSnake

          It’s the age old conundrum for a young adult: have I gotten more X or has the world gotten more Y?

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

          I don’t think cynicism is a necessary component of postmodernism. One the one hand, postmodernism has given us detached dada nihilism, but on the other it’s given us a sort playful irreverence that can provide optimism in the face of crushing Modernist edifices and hierarchies.

          Modernism, in its uncynical push for the Greatest and Best had a habit of discarding or dismissing the flawed, the imperfect, or the vulgar. Post-Modernism salvaged those vulgar forms (from urinals to superhero comic books to video games…) and asserted their merit alongside ‘high’ culture, which I think is a pretty positive, populist, and optimistic thing. There’s no way we’d have this feature – an earnest, thougtful exegesis of a video game – if it weren’t for the po-mo “cynical” erasing of the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘pop’ culture.

        • GaryX

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus I agree. I wasn’t necessarily describing those components as being terrible or unnecessary. Postmodernism, as a movement, needed to occur for precisely the reasons you mention. It, in some ways, let us rebuke a Modernist Ideal that had become to unwieldy and impersonal while allowing the language of discourse to expand widely. I think, though, that the current cynicism and irony that’s so in vogue is indeed borne out of postmodernism because a certain resistance towards ideals is built into its DNA. As a result, one child of postmodernism is what’s above: the sincere and thoughtful examination of a video game and its relation to religion. The other is the resistance to make any kind of statement except for a cheap “nihilistic” (I use scare quotes here because I actually think nihilism as described by Nietzsche is something fundamentally different, and I don’t want to conflate the two) worldview. Generally speaking, the latter is far easier to do, which has resulted in that proliferation of that viewpoint in pop culture at large–buoyed by a society that now views moral relativity and, to put it simply, “dark and gritty” as the height of “intellectual” writing. 

          To clarify my original statement: cynicism and irony do not equate to postmodernism, but they’re one potential result of it and w/rt to @baneofpigs:disqus ’s point, and to use a well known example of anti-heroes, it’s the fundamental difference between the work’s that appear to directly follow the example of Watchmen and something like Astro City. The latter is the true successor to the former because rather than writing simple anti-heroes, it attempts to take what we learned from those anti-heroes and build something better. That’s the promise and potential of postmodernism, but so many find it easier to only go halfway.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    deep, man

  • rvb1023

    As much as I love 4th wall breaking as a storytelling device for hand waving technical limitations on games (MGS2, Bioshock, apparently Panzer Dragoon Saga, etc.) most games should be approached in this manner, even without encouragement from the story.  One of the main reasons I feel video games can be art (as lame as that still sounds) is that regardless of how free or open a game may be, we are still shackled by the whims of the creators to do and feel what they want us to.

    I have never had the good fortune to play PDS, though this article makes me want to even more, a great read.

    • SamPlays

      Good point. Contemplating the design created by game developers is (or at least should be) one of the fundamental tenets of game analysis. Keep asking “why” and eventually you’ll get somewhere.

  • Happily LS

    The hell is this shit?

    • Jackbert

      Unless I’ve entered an alternate universe without my knowlesge, this is a feature called To the Bitter End on The Gameological Society.

    • ItsTheShadsy

      The Gameological Society
      The hell is this shit?

      • GaryX

        No.

        • ItsTheShadsy

          Fiiiiine, I couldn’t resist. :(

  • SaviourMachine

    ten years  ago developers seemed to be more interested in such delicate issues like “player-character” relationship. I guess, if a game with such a perspective were released now, there would be a big hype about this. I wonder how many interesting designer decisions that were used to be made in the past, came just from a simple desire to play with a genre.  Great article, btw

  • http://twitter.com/catvincent Ian ‘Cat’ Vincent

    In most kabbalistic interpretations, The Holy Spirit is the Catholicized version of the entity Shekhinah, whose role can be roughly described as “God’s Wife” (or at least the feminine element of YHVH). You can see why the Catholic interpretation of the concept got a little… blurry.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I’ve only lightly read about the origins of what Yahweh was (and that did include a brief mention of Shekhinah), but was fascinating.

    • Unexpected Dave

      In general, Christian theology is quite blurry. Some critics attribute this to the “mish-mash” nature of Christianity, that the Christ story is cannibalized from numerous other mythologies. 

      I think the main problem is that Christianity has never been able to build a consensus. Having four gospels doesn’t help. More importantly, Christian theology isn’t built on an academic tradition, like Judaism. It’s built on power. 

      For over 1000 years, the Catholic church had an effective monopoly on biblical interpretation. As the church’s power waned, both spiritually and temporally, Protestantism was finally able to become a movement. But still, the reaction to dissent was violence. There was no option to debate, only to split from the larger church. 

      The 20th century finally saw a reverse of this trend, as various denominations united. The temporal power of most denominations had grown so small that their survival could only be assured by learning to tolerate dissent. Dissent and debate are not exactly encouraged, of course. People are free to draw their own conclusions from the bible, but most people get uncomfortable when they must defend their views.   

      • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

        Sure, and a lot of the doctrine is actually just the result of political compromises. Is Jesus human or divine? According to the Council of Nicaea, he’s 100% human and 100% divine, that numerically impossible conclusion having been arrived at to appease the supporters of Arianism and Docetism.

        • PugsMalone

          He’s also 40% iron.

      • franklinshepard

        I’m not quite sure what you mean when you say that Judaism is built on an academic tradition and Christianity is built on power. What power was Christianity built on? Everyone in power for the first three hundred years of Christianity’s existence mocked it. Only women, the poor, and slaves became Christian (obviously, the appeal of a coming Kingdom of God where everyone was equal and loved each other reached them.)

        And what academic tradition was Judaism built on? Or are you just talking about the Judaism that we have today? Since there were many strains of it back in the second temple period.

        Anyway, I don’t necessarily think that all Christian theology is blurry. Some would say the Roman Catholics made it too sharp and defined. The Orthodox church is really where the blurriness survives.

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

          I would say @davedalrymple:disqus ’s interpretation is a little peculiar.  Like you said, the monastery and university system alone, along with theological leanings and ecclesiastical structure, ensured that Catholicism would be very influenced by the Greeks’ and Romans’ version of knowledge.

          Panzer Dragoon is a weird combination of Shinto and Orthodoxy, if I had to generalize.  It’s about receiving spirits, actualizing faith, and communitarian.  I think both faiths could support their waning numbers if they’d incorporate more dragons.

    • franklinshepard

      Shekhinah is a widely-known concept in mainstream Judaism as well, although it is understood as God’s dwelling on earth. It is a feminine word, so many Jews understand it to be God’s feminine attributes.

      I would doubt that most Christian theologians would agree that the concept of the Holy Spirit arose out of the Shekhinah. Many church fathers from the first centuries of Christianity were very familiar with Jewish concepts like the Shekhinah and no literature I’ve ever read has connected the two.

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

      In some Modern Orthodox Russian theology, that aspect is called “Sophia” (or “holy wisdom”), and is seen as a feminine aspect that complements the masculine trinity.

      There’s a really fun/fantastic book by a defrocked German Catholic priest (Adolf Holl) called The Left Hand of God, which presents itself as a “biography of the Holy Spirit,” basically tracing various pre- and post-modern accounts and traditions in this kind of free-wheeling historic survey. One interesting bit, related to the whole feminine thing, is the chapter on the Holy Spirit as the “friend to women” – a lot of medieval nuns/saints who had visions had visions specifically tied to the Holy Spirit, rather than the Father or Son. A lot of these ecstatic experiences were also really, really overtly sexual, which is kind of interesting. The women write these beautiful passages of this fiery thing and its fiery caresses and kisses etc. etc.

      That’s just one bit. It’s not all irreverent sex stuff. It’s a pretty fun book.

  • SamPlays

    Silly Dragon! Vexing concepts in Christianity (or any faith for that matter) are not meant to be rationalized without making fairly substantial assumptions about certain things. I think it was Albert Camus, or one of his ilk (Kierkegaard?), that concluded faith is by nature irrational. The God/Son/Holy Spirit three-stage boss battle doesn’t have to make sense – you simply have to accept it and believe in it. No evidence or logic is necessary. Of course, you can invoke all sorts of internal logic and rationality after making that leap of faith. Let’s keep the ball rolling and whip up some GS articles on other “God games” (i.e., Populous, Black and White, etc.).

    EDIT: There’s apparently a very fine line between Holy Spirit and mule.

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

      Strictly speaking, Kierkegaard didn’t say that knowledge and logic weren’t necessary.  They’re just a temporary support until you get to the REAL knowledge (faith).

      But, yes, I would LOVE a series on god games (and not just strategy ones).  Apart from Populous 1, it’s a underanalyzed subgenre.

  • MrTusks

    A man chooses, a slave obeys.

    • SamPlays

      And the Gameological Society is brought to you by Samsonite.

      *Announcer voice*
      Samsonite! Ready for anywhere!

      I knows Teti gots to pay deez bills.

  • duwease

    The old Gamecube game Baten Kaitos used your role as the “Guardian Spirit”, a guiding character outside the fourth wall, to great effect.

    You go through the game as the guardian spirit of a man named Kalas, who you instruct as normal in JRPG convention, but who also addresses and converses with you directly.  It’s really a fairly generic JRPG story, with rough dialogue and terrible voice acting, which makes it even more shocking when..

    *SPOILER*

    …you defeat the stereotypical “end boss but not really, here comes the real bad guy”, and the traitor in your party is revealed, and it ends up being….. Kalas??  A flashback reveals how he managed to turn over the MacGuffin to the bad guys earlier by abusing your limited camera perspective to do it out of your direct sight.  He needed the “Guardian Spirit” power to survive merging with some god or another, and now that’s accomplished, he sends you back to your plane, as the picture and sound get more and more noisy and disappear into the center, as if the tube TV were turning off.

    Honestly, it was such a good twist in such an average game that I never did play far after that, preferring to remember it that way instead of whatever inevitable JRPG Friendship Defeats Ancient Evil ending came afterwards.

    • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

      Wow, that sounds pretty awesome actually. It was me all along!

    • GaryX

      Man, this game sounds familiar. I think I rented it back in the day? Is it card based or something?

      • duwease

        Yeah, your options in battle were made by choosing a card from 3 or so you drew each turn from a deck you made.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dglassman1 Doug Glassman

    Is it weird that when I saw the title “video game explaining Christianity’s most vexing concepts”, my mind leapt to “El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron”?

    • DrFlimFlam

      No. No, it’s not.

    • boardgameguy

      nope, because that game wears its religion on its sleeves

    • SamPlays

      El Shaddai was totally vexing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

      Also, let’s not forget that El Shaddai is based almost entirely on apocryphal texts not acknowledged by any large church, Christian or otherwise.

      El Shaddai does, however, address one of the awesomest, most vexing part of how monotheistic religions came into vogue. The reason the Dead Sea Scrolls, and by extension the Book of Enoch, aren’t considered canonical is because they have Yahweh interacting with other gods like the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. It’s generally thought that texts like the Scrolls were used to “sell” monotheism to people. See, all the old gods are here hanging out with the big cheese!

      El Shaddai has all that, plus an angel doing Michael Jackson dance numbers. That game is amazing.

    • GaryX

      It’s more weird that I always read that as “Megatron” and then just really want a game that’s just El Shaddai but starring Chris Johnson.

      • DrFlimFlam

        Megatron is a transformer.

        He turns into the greatest Wide Receiver in the NFL.

        I always read it correctly but then assume they mean Alan Rickman.

    • TheMostPopularCommenter

      The bosses in El Shaddai really had it coming. I loved finally getting to finish them all off.

      • GaryX

        Phrasing!

  • TheMostPopularCommenter

    The main thing I remember about this game was that the UK Official Sega Magazine gave away the entire first disc for free as the cover gift.

  • jondavidthe3rd

    This is so overwritten.