Questions and discussion on how to put Christ at the center of what we do.
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Postby Mherrera » Tue Apr 19, 2016 5:43 pm


If a game (like Skyrim) was to include the spiritual aspect of life (including worship), how would you like to see it implemented so that it was fair and well represented?

Edit clarification:
The Sims allows you to do pretty much EVERYTHING in everyday human experience, from paying bills, to writing novels, to cleaning, to WooHoo. But you cannot pray before a meal. You can go to the gym, the nightclub, the store, but never a place of worship. They chose to completely exclude it.

Civilization 4 allows you to found a religion. It then, at your choice, allows you to intertwine your religious faith with geo-politics, or ignore it. You can create missionaries that spread "the word" even to hostile countries. If you do, there are costs/rewards built into the game. The faith of different countries matter when it comes to diplomacy, for instance. I think they did an excellent job representing religion well.


Ryan Green don't make it a mechanic.

Thomas Henshell What does that mean?

Ryan Green perhaps it's a way to see the world, not a ritual or activity

Thomas Henshell how can you represent a world view in a game without it being a mechanic?

Ryan Green well if I knew that...

Ryan Green I'm just saying consider how the world sees religion and how we see religion

Ryan Green or how a game designer sees religion versus a world builder

Thomas Henshell exactly, that's why I'm asking it HERE

Ryan Green a world builder infuses his creation with himself

Ryan Green a game designer gives activities

Ryan Green Proverbs 25:2 - It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

Ryan Green perhaps the answer is not to give the player activities to accomplish, but the space to express worship themselves. which is a lot messier cause it allows idols.

Thomas Henshell There is not just one faith in my world, just as there is not one faith in our world. And yes, I plan to give the player space to express themselves (mechanically)

Ryan Green I guess my point is, that spiritual practice is not just the activity it's the way of seeing the world. And so for it to be meaningful to me it's not just a ritual practice. I think it's admirable that there's not just one faith in your world, but I think it would be very compelling if there was a creator of your world meant for the creatures to discover. one that interacts with its creation in meaningful ways. for me the point isn't belief, it's the seeking out of something knowable and unknowable all at once.

Ryan Green and allowing for all the messiness that occurs when we miss it.

Ryan Green it makes room for Grace.

Thomas Henshell Someone just pointed out to me how in Dragon Age they have the Maker but he has zero involvement in his world. That's a Greek mentality of religion. We, as Schaeffer says, have A God Who is There and Is Not Silent! Meaning that it is a two way relationship. And I think that is what you are getting at.

I have no idea how I can implement the creator having input/relationship with the player.
And while there are multiple faiths in the game, only the "Christian" one would be the two way relationship one.

Ryan Green I dunno, I'd personally find it more compelling if the creator was in a constant state of invitation to the player and the two way dialogue was available. There are stories in the OT of kings acknowledging the God of the Jews even serving their own false ones.

M Joshua Cauller Once Thomas completes That Dragon, Cancer this conversation will change a little, I think, even if it's just that he sees discovers Ryan's approach to the faith-mechanic conundrum. Though it might take a bit to process. I think it was a couple weeks later that I finally understood the Cathedral scene.

Chris Skaggs the notion noted above as worship being "expression" caught my eye. From a game design perspective elements of expression include things like clothing and pets and names - specifically things that do not have any effect on gameplay - they are game-neutral and purely for the sake of the human player and maybe their human friends. But is that how Christians think about worship? That it's life-neutral? I certainly don't. I may take a view that worship changes me which might be expressed in gamer play terms as something that impacts my stats (healing, morale, fatigue, whatever) and I've seen games do that which isn't a bad idea. And in Archmage Rises perhaps all "religious" activities provide that kind of benefit in the same way scientists have suggested that all prayer, regardless of its denomination, offers health benefits.

But if you wanted to go Christian worldview then you would need to go beyond that so that the activity has a reciprocal effect that is God's RESPONSE to worship. If all religious activity in Archmage Rises did A, B, and C but then there was this one thing that was different somehow - that could be interesting and could address the difference between idolatry and 'true religion' - that could be interesting... though perhaps didactic and even ham-fisted. It draws a line between real religion/god and false religion/gods.

Or, you could add an entirely different line between religion and relationship which could also be really interesting but runs the risk of being so difficult to model and even recognize as to make God to familiar and loose his divinity.

Thomas Henshell Chris Skaggs Yes. There are game play benefits to religious/spiritual activities. If I weren't to do that, if it were just pet dressing, then the struggle wouldn't be so hard.

Peter M Yang To be honest I've thought about this a lot and I don’t think an open world with free choice is the best way to do it. A linear storyline is the best way to tell a story, the quality and gameplay have to be the selling point.

Josh Larson M Joshua Cauller It wasn't just Ryan's approach, so I feel I can speak to this as well. Grace is a good example, because there's an invitation to love when that love isn't fully reciprocated mechanically. So in Spiritual Skyrim, you could have characters that you'd have a relationship with that the game invites you to love, even though they don't always give you something beneficial.

In my small group on Tuesday, someone told the story of a husband who wanted to separate from his wife, so they were sleeping in separate beds and he was dating other women. The wife decided she would make his bed and continue to care for him, despite him acting out against her in an incredibly hurtful way. At first he was furious that she was still loving him like this. It eventually destroyed him. As in he died to himself, they stuck together, and now their marriage is largely healed.

In game design terms, the wife took a risk, hoping her reward would be the continuation of their marriage, and this was AFTER it had seemed all was lost. Her love was not being reciprocated, so that meant she was being gracious.

So to conclude and compare, you want a karma system for some Eastern religions, you want quantitative works-righteousness for Islam, and then you want non-quantitative, radical, grace-filled love for Christianity.

Josh Larson I actually have more to say about this, as it turns out! Others here have recommended various stat systems for depicting spirituality/religion.

For some religions, Islam and Judaism being the best example, you should lean into that approach as much as possible because those religions are about the law. But for Christianity, it's essentially founded on seeming anti-law at first, although really "the fulfillment of the law". So you need to communicate that the Christian characters in the game realize they have stats, but they explicitly live their lives not by those stats, but knowing that Jesus has overcome the need to live by those stats. So you'll have characters with "low performance" from a Jewish/Muslim sense, but you need to communicate that spiritually, they're actually excelling.

So definitely don't focus on living by stats or mechanics when it comes to representing Christianity, because obviously that's anti-Christian. You may still need to use them, but those characters should definitely not be living by them! Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, after all.

Thomas Henshell This is one reason that I chose to use inter-testament Judaism as my "true" religion in the world. It is easier to quantify/systemized. But it is an informed Judaism, meaning their beliefs represent the truths we know NOW that they didn't know then, even when the outward motions are the same.

Josh Larson Cool, thanks makes sense. That seems like people could relate to that in a Biblical way as well, because you could set up Christianity as a new way of thinking in that world and have it parallel the same problems Jesus had to face in terms of trying to get people to think in a new way.

Ryan Green That confuses me a little Thomas as to the intent of the world you’re creating. Is it to have a genuine depiction of Christ and His church or to have the practice of religion as a feature of your world.

I'm not sure how informed Judaism is different than a works based gospel. Or how a grace based gospel meshes with a quantified and systemized practice of religion?

Does this in game religion live under the law? Is there a messianic figure? How does the messianic figure change the practice of the religion?

And how does this informed Judaism escape the reformation that Jesus necessarily instigated? They weren't looking for a messiah like him.

Of course this is your game and your world. It just feels form the outside looking in that the religion is being formed to fit the necessity of mechanic rather than the other way around.

I'm genuinely curious.

Josh Larson I guess I was interpreting his response as informed Judaism was like the default religion, but then there would be Christianity introduced as this new thing that shook things up. If not, then I guess I'm curious as well. In that case, it seems like you'd have this danger where people would assume, since you're an outspoken Christian, that you're communicating your Christian faith in the game, so then they'd think that you're teaching them that Christianity was works-based and legalistic, and you'd always have to be explaining that really you're just including a different religion than what you believe, and more exploring the idea of religion in general.

Thomas Henshell Ryan Green My game world is like Narnia or Middle Earth. There is nothing from our world; no Judaism, no "old" testament, no waiting for a messiah. So it is clean sheet from that perspective. I can fill in and world build from this point.

I'm specifically avoiding the killed messiah and the gospel. It's too predictable, standout-ish.

It would be interesting to have a Messiah sprout a new (reformed?) religion of the world as part of DLC. I could see that being cool. But there is no intent on having that happen in the vanilla game.

Thomas Henshell Josh Larson On the confusion, my primary audience is general public so I'm not sure if there will be confusion. When a Christian plays it they will see truths and things that will make them really happy.

If Joe Q public can't pick out which religion the game developer favors, I feel like I've achieved my goal as a designer by being fair to all religions.

Peter M Yang ^As a Christian would that be a good thing to do? Not saying that that would be a non-Christian to do. Just that in this current generation a lot of people are making compromises and being untrue to scripture when truth is most needed. Not really sure what your intentions are but it does concern me a little as a fellow Christian.

Josh Larson I'd argue it's not like Narnia since that had many things from our world, like waiting for a messiah, the messiah showing up, killing the messiah, and of course the resurrection. And some of the gospel as well. But you're right that there are none of those things in Middle Earth. The allegory is, supposedly, hidden and deeper, although I find it rather...pagan? Wiccan? Something like that, I dunno
Peter M Yang The thing I like about the concept of Lord of the Rings is that it's placed in a world where you can easily tell the influence that the darkness has on the land and there is no dispute of it. It is what it is, within that you see a man with real struggles. I think it would've had a better if Frodo became a stronger character through the teachings of the elves or something. But I think in a way it reflecting the writer's experience in life how much he struggled with depravity and the temptations of sin. I think if we were to do something similar except involve the great being who brought existence into being to helping the character grow and eventually be the cause of the defeat of the great evil as the main character overcomes his personal enemy through the power of the creator or something.

Michael Steffen I've thought a little bit about prayer as a mechanic. Basically, it would need to have some discernible effect, but it could not have "vending machine" efficiency. To play off what Ryan Green was saying, there should be some creator that you get to know while playing. Perhaps at first you think the game is about accomplishing goals, but really it's about knowing the creator.

Jeremiah Atkinson I have often thought having in creator in the game who you come to a progressive realization is truly there in quite powerful is an interesting thought. And the further you progress in the game the better you know him, the better you know him the more benefit you gain

Irma De Leon I think you would make a distinction between spiritual aspect of life and religious activity. This way the spiritual aspect of life is more of a health life value that can increase and decrease by time spent in and away of a religious activity. All people have a spiritual side whether they pay attention to it or not. The spiritual health life value can range from 1 to 3 or 1 to 5 (ignoring it, being blind to it, seeking it, following it, thriving in it).

Irma De Leon Oops, I also forgot intentionally rebelling from it.

Michael Steffen Oh, and since you mention Skyrim, I always thought it would be cool to make a mod that involves spreading Christianity to the people of Skyrim. It'd a hard sell: "Talos is a false god, but have you heard about Jesus?" But then there could be the whole persecution element too.

Thomas Henshell Yes, evangelism on behalf of your religion is a mechanic I'm working on.

Raul Rivera Arroyo This is a good topic and one I would definitely like to talk about, but I'll give it some time to let my ideas settle. Kind of scatterbrained at the moment. But there is something I wish to implement in one of my passion projects, called Flames of Abathos. There is something of it also in N9NEHART, though I haven’t decided how much it will play in the game.

Michael Alan Herrera Bit off topic, but could you tell me if you have a name for your "studio" and describe a little more about the game you mentioned....

Raul Rivera Arroyo Hey Michael Alan Herrera sure! My studio (un-incorporated yet) is called Classic Concepts. And this is my vision and mission.

Vision - To tap into proven concepts of the past to create the classics of the future. To design and develop memorable, charming and fun games full of life, character and personality. It's about drawing from the deep well of inspiration and ideas within video game history.

Mission - To make each game a memorable experience through the creative design of characters, stories, worlds and packaging. There should be attention to detail in every facet of the game. Its entirety is the experience.

Classic Concepts, modern design.

Joel Carlson Man, it would be tough. If we're going by story, I'd lay it all out there without giving a name to the devices (sin, grace, Jesus, etc). Present an internal conflict within the player, provide a number of paths to solve said conflict, employ the help of another to eventually resolve the conflict. If the audience can relate to the character, and then arrive at the problem/solution on their own, I think that would be huge.

But, holy smokes, if I find a 'sword of the spirit' in a cave chest guarded by a troll, I think I'd turn that sucker off right away....

Shem Bingman Keep in mind, once players discover that there are game mechanic benefits to be had, most players will do ANYTHING to gain them.

The OT has a lot of "Do X and you'll be Rewarded" [see Job's friends, as an easy example]. However, the NT has a lot more about laying down EVERYTHING, for possible rewards in far [non-tangible from this frame of reference] future.

So, it comes down to MOTIVES. Why do we worship? How do WE see God?

Do we worship Him because otherwise He'll destroy us?
["Kiss the son lest he be angry ... " ~ Psalm 2:12 KJV]

Do we worship Him because that is the only response when we ARE exposed to pieces of who He is?
[Isaiah 6 / Revelation 4]

Do we worship Him because we want to appear holy?
["When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." ~ Matt 6:5,6 NLT]

[... There are likely others ... ]

OUR view of God will dramatically shape what we build. And if and when Christian Gaming really ever enters the mainstream, I expect to see "holy wars" there too in terms of wrestling over which is the "proper" theology espoused.

I recommend Harold Eberle as an author that digs into some of this.

Christianity Unshackled:

Here is one possible starting point.

Neil Sauvageau Comparing religion in a simple but real way would be cool to have implemented especially if you could show the real world outcome of the worldview of each religion over time.

Neil Sauvageau It feels that many other religions would have a negative outcome if taken all the way the direction they are heading.

Shem Bingman This is something Rohandara [a world Chan & I are fleshing out over time] does; however, live tabletop RPG handles a lot of mechanics much more easily than a computer does. For starters, we are actively praying/listening during all the sessions, and acting on a combination of what the dice say, what our story plans laid out, and what we are hearing at the time. [Not just the Storytellers either, many of our players are doing the same thing.]

I don't think you can model a lot of these mechanics in a non ritual way w/o humans being involved. This dynamic makes it not feel "preachy" to almost anyone because everybody is participating and everybody can be surprised at any time. [We just have different degrees of how much we can influence the story with a single choice.]

Chris Skaggs Something that seems like it needs to be said here: every game abstracts every real-world thing/system/though in order to make it a game. No game accurately depicts any system/thing/idea, not even plain old Newtonian physics. We're talking about an abstraction by nature so I feel like impulse to try to model Christianity somehow "accurately" is a fool’s errand.

Neil Sauvageau That’s a big point and it makes me think of how relationship focused God is so that is in impossibility to recreate it seems.

Thomas Henshell Totally agree Chris.


Punch Club is not an accurate modeling of training to be a prize fighter. It is inaccurate in pretty much every way. Yet when I play it i FEEL like I'm training to be a big fighter. Parts of it reminded me of actual workouts I've had. So without being accurate at all, they managed to have a sense of essence, or a scent, of the real thing.

My errand, is not to model Christianity or any other religion accurately. But to give the player a scent of it. I'm working from real world religions to my fake fantasy ones. But the IDEAS represented in those fake religions are real.

My goal as a Christian is to bear witness to, not sell, truth. If I make people think, to interact with some truths they may not have heard before, then I believe I have achieved my goal.

Neil Sauvageau Great goal Thomas Henshell! And that definitely is a way to make it work.

Ben Chhoa More clarification... I think there's an assumption (justifiably since this is a CGDC thread) that you're trying to represent Christianity in your game, but your initial question was just that it be a spiritual aspect of life. Are you looking for ways to represent spirituality/religion generally?

Thomas Henshell Yes.
As my example from Civ shows, they represented the world's major religions mechanically identically. They found that all world religions:
Have some kind of start
    Great prophets
    Locations of great importance
    Significant cultural impact

So yes, I'm trying to find a way to represent 4-6 religions mechanically similarly

Josh Larson Other things:

    describe how reality came to be
    describe reality as it is
    describe how reality "should be"
    describe how reality ends, or doesn't
    often describes the purpose of humankind
    usually addresses the supernatural

Ben Chhoa I'm also assuming we're talking about AR here, and if we are, what I would expect is that it would unfold similarly to the rest of the mechanics you have already in play. I.e. a town's predominant religion would be known as you explore the town (based on what kind of place of worship they had (temples/shrines/churches). Perhaps they have several, but one is clearly better than the others, as demonstrated by the percentage make up of the population in the town. As you interact with the townspeople, you would expect a higher percentage chance of encountering a practicing member of that religion, which would influence their relationship with you if your religion is known or based on your interactions. I'd expect that just as you could visit a tavern, you could visit the town's temple/shrine/place of worship.

Thomas Henshell Yes, all correct.

Ben Chhoa I'd imagine that regardless of your religion, you would have dialogue options to:

    encourage conversion to your faith
    encourage others that share your faith
    have some sort of rituals that strengthen your faith, which would erode over time if not maintained

I would imagine that NPCs would have various levels of resistance to changing their faith or being receptive to religion in general. And another measure that might be interesting to explore is how "public" everyone's religion is.

Ben Chhoa It would be an interesting player choice to decide if you'll publicly wear symbols of your faith to advertise your religion and face the pros and cons of social interaction as a result. And since you're a PC, you would likely have a reputation too so if you're actively maintaining your religion, then over time, it would be clear to all NPCs where you stand regardless of whether you wear the symbols.

Thomas Henshell All good thoughts, thank you!

Ben Chhoa I'd imagine in a game like AR where player choice is paramount, you'd also have the option to change religions throughout the game, which, depending on your reputation, how many times you've changed religions in the past, how long you'd been a follower of religion A before changing, all may have minor or great consequences in how people see you.

Thomas Henshell Good stuff, I hadn't thought of that. Putting into game design doc...

Ben Chhoa Finally, I think it would be very interesting to have major events centered around religious activity that you could respond to. Crusades breaking out, relics being discovered, etc.

Thomas Henshell See, this is what I like. Other people doing my work for me! smile emoticon And I'm not above taking all the credit.

Ben Chhoa Take the credit. I just want to play the game!

Ben Chhoa Oh! One more thought. Have you considered having "quests" based on the religion? Quest is the wrong word, but many religions will have rites that are considered either essential or beneficial for the believer. Pilgrimages, baptisms, that sort of thing.

Brook Warner Is religion the goal?

Thomas Henshell Representations of religion is the goal.

Josh Larson For some reason I thought you had at one time said you wanted various religions represented and then have the player evaluate how they played out, which could help show Christianity as more favorable. Is this right, and if so, is that still your plan?

Raul Rivera Arroyo Thinking on this, I'd imagine a god or divine creature/presence/spirit in the game interacting somehow with the character. This would provide benefits to the character through stats, abilities and opening possibilities in the interaction with the world (places of interest, characters, secrets). To impact certain people or places, you would need to have an experience with the divine. This would also aid in character reputation.

However, I would constrain it to a spectrum, where you as the player must be very perceptive to pick up audio, visual and even tactile clues present in your surroundings at varying degrees of intensity. Sometimes it’s a small, still voice, while other times it will be loud like thunder. Sometimes it will be a burning bush, other times a whirlwind. At certain places or moments, you could feel a slight feedback in your controller or screen, while other times it will be much stronger.

You could practice different spiritual disciplines and they could be implemented in several ways, from simple symbols to full character activity.

I've kept it quite general so to leave open the possibilities of creativity while reading this. If anything pops out to you, then great!

Thomas Henshell Yeah, my first thought is through dreams. Rest and dreams are important to the game. Another option is to hear a voice during a worship service.

Josh Larson Thomas Henshell Ah, yes, spiritual gifts, that's a good idea.

Thomas Henshell Thanks for all the comments and effort that has gone into this. And by all means, keep it coming.

The question posted was how would YOU implement spiritual/religious mechanics/aspects into a game. I am crowd sourcing my initial brainstorming session.

I didn't post my world, setting, current ideas, and plans of implementation. I think the next step is for me to take all this thread in, synthesize it, then write up my game design document for the religion/worship aspects. I will then post the doc for people who are interested to read, comment, critique, and challenge.

Neil Sauvageau Such a good idea and this is a perfect group to discuss that with. Win-Win!

Jennifer H. What has always struck me about the Sims games is that, given the mechanics of the world, the player is technically their god.

Jennifer H. Somebody-- Seth, maybe? shared an article about religion being well-included in the storyline of the latest Tomb Raider game.

Mark William Nations I would be very cautious about how you approach this in order to make it reflect actual human experience and be a fair representation for gameplay purposes.

1) first and foremost, you're building a game for entertainment, so if there are in-game benefits to be acquired by participating in a religion of some sort, you must make sure that those benefits can be found actually or functionally equivalent in each of the religions. Otherwise, a player may decide they wish to role play as a particular religion simply because they want the benefits that come with it, and not because they intrinsically wish to participate in it.

2) Modern life isn't so clear-cut as to have Demi-Gods and the like appear before us, so Raul's idea of having some communication directly from the God(s) in the story might not be a good idea. If you did, all religions would need to have that presence, so that people wouldn't think that the religion they chose to follow is somehow less appreciated (i.e. The game is telling them they made a wrong choice).

Thomas Henshell Yes. Even in our world some religions experience supernatural messages, they just aren’t from God.

Thomas Henshell I'm not a fan of the Greek pantheon concept that permeates every RPG I've played, including Pillars of Eternity which I'm playing right now:

There are multiple gods all of equal power.
They all have agendas that conflict.
They fight in heaven and earth.
No one will ever really win or really lose, so all conflict is meaningless.
The humans are the poor little kid that gets sucked into a fight by the parents, and has to pick sides, but really would just wish they stopped fighting and left him alone.
They make NO moral demands whatsoever. You can cheat on your wife as long as you pay your tithe, spread the word, help the god's agenda.
Who made the gods? More powerful beings (Titans). Who made them? More powerful beings. (Repeat infinitim).
Why don't those more powerful beings step in and solve all this? Because they took off for some reason and just don't care. So the gods are orphans.

This is a story & emotional dead end. One is just as well off ignoring the whole mess than trying to pick sides and sort it out. And isn't that the common view of the public today? So you can see how agnostic game devs end up here in their craft.

I plan to have a what I consider a correct Pantheon:
Elyon is God. He made everything, omnipotent, all powerful. Gives free choice, restrains himself.
Abbadon is Satan. Presents in female form. Rebelling against Elyon, tries to thwart Elyon's plans by getting his children to misbehave. Won't win in the end, but allowed to cause trouble for now.

Then there are the multiple religions which were created by Abbadon to confuse.

There are not analogous religions, but the real world religions or philosophy's are a data source point. I'm mixing multiple data points to create new religions.

I was reading Ptolus and its pantheon and it did A TOTAL RIP of Roman Catholicism for its major religion. First off: it didn't even fit in the world. Second, the source was so completely obvious that it was boring. There was no mystery to understand or explore and no creativity to appreciate.

Ben Chhoa If I'm not mistaken, the religions of your world will all be fictional. It's not necessary for them to be direct analogs to real world religions. I also figured since the world was procedurally generated, the religions themselves could be different from one game to the next. This could be interesting so players couldn't just "pick the one that is Christianity because obviously that's the best over since it's a Christian game". They would actually have to explore and learn about them (or be called/converted to them).

Mark William Nations Sure. I was just saying that these are effective ways of preventing particular religions from appearing as "favored" in some way. That applies regardless of whether the religions are actually real or not. No matter what, you'll have players that will perceive various in-game belief systems and will want to ally themselves with one of them, but I would assume that Thomas would want those players to make the choice because of the beliefs and not because the player gets a cool Holy Sword if they join THAT religion.
I mentioned the Demi-Gods thing because, for a realistic fictional world, people would naturally believe in a religion that has its religious figures literally walking around among them. So, either there shouldn't be demi-gods, or there needs to be a way of explaining why different demi-gods from different religions are all present on the planet, etc.

Josh Larson Another thing to think about is exploring identity, both in terms of how the character feels internally and that manifesting itself through various acts, plus how the character wants others to perceive their identity. For example, in more legalistic religions, people often want to show others their own good deeds, since those deeds are the manifestation of their faith. But others may see that as pompous or overly pious. In other words, you not only have people who believe in a religion, they also have some differing opinions of what is "right" to believe. And that could be a productive source for conflict. Denominations/sects are a familiar example here.

Thomas Henshell Interesting.

Neil Sauvageau That is very cool thinking and it could even tie into the concept of internal and I external motivations.

Ben Corum [Trigger Warning]: Long post

I read your post and, I felt like I should add my voice in as well (since it seems I’m pretty late to the party). I haven’t really read anyone else's posts because I wanted to provide my own thoughts, rather than parroting someone else’s.

Your question, as I understand it, is: How do I add in religion (worship + spirituality) into a world without shoving it into someone’s face.

If that was not what you were asking please let me know, because I’ll be answering to that interpretation.

Interestingly, over some time, my opinion on how beliefs should be integrated has changed. In my original version of my book, there wasn’t a “religion” per se. Almost everyone (save for minor groups of people) all believed in the great being known as the “Creator.” Everything was modeled after some aspect of Judeo-Christian and that was that. However, this didn’t serve me well. My book wasn’t about beliefs or religion, it was about the characters. My heavy religious overtones undermined the narrative I was building and led to it being awkward. Belief, worship, spirituality, are all personal things. Therefore, I was fighting an uphill battle by trying to make them universal.

In my writing I have taken a more nuanced approach. There is now a general adherence by most societies to a belief system known as, “The Way.” The belief is based upon an all powerful being known as “The Exalted.” There are, also, different beliefs that also trail back to the Exalted (based upon different races and their views), and groups that believe in more paganistic religions (i.e. pantheon religions). However, much like medieval Europe, most people are apathetical to the religion, save for the cultural aspects of it. Since each person has to grapple with his beliefs, so do the characters (we can see these struggles in different categories beyond religion).

I can’t really tell you the best way to handle it. However, I can provide some advice. Firstly, if you added in a belief system other than Christianity, let’s say Islam (close, but different), where would you start to feel uncomfortable based upon what is added in. Is it when people talk about Allah? You hear people praising his name? You have to pray to him? You have to worship him in some way? Finding that line will help you understand where most other people will feel bothered.

Secondly, with the line vaguely established you’ll want to think about the following questions, “Are there multiple beliefs?” “Why should someone believe (what benefits does one get)?” “Why shouldn’t someone believe (what drawbacks are there to a belief system)?” “How does one get said benefits (praying? works? inherent?)” With those questions answered you’ll should have the framework laid out.

Thirdly, how nuanced do you want religion to be (aside from the obvious occasional “zealot”). Does religion majorly impact every aspect of a person’s life? Or, do people have a more muted belief (not lukewarm, just more passive). Will there be religious orders everywhere? Churches? Temples? Cathedrals? Will there be preachers on the streets? Pilgrims on the roads? Discerning the impact of beliefs will help set the tone for your world (since spirituality is a major impact on people’s lives).

Finally, with all that done, I think looking at different examples of beliefs in other games might help. I prefer Japanese games (they have a nice objective view of Christianity and pieces appear in a lot of their stuff). I’d suggest Tales of Zestiria to start with. Also, a look at Warhammer 40k might help you with the more radical believers.

Hopefully, all of this will help you measure out how to add beliefs in. However, beware of preaching a belief, because that’s more likely to turn someone off than get him in. You’ll also need to do some balancing (obviously), so that no belief is too powerful. Lore/story/interactions is where you can make ground. Many people, interestingly enough, don’t like associating with schmucks. If you have any questions/comments feel free to let me know. Also, sorry about the really long post.
Ryan Green Ben's post made me think of something. I'm not sure if you're going to find it universally, some people might not even have a second thought, but if you put worship or ritual that is close to an existing worshipped deity, you may have people rejecting faith in the game all together.

I think of that man that returned his copy of Bioshock Infinite because of the baptism scene or one person that played an early build of one of our scenes and stopped at the pray prompt, because they didn't pray.

You can't forget people are still themselves with their own spiritual identity going into this game. I could see myself being very uncomfortable causing my character to bend a knee to a false god, even in a videogame.

If you have only contrived religions, you might not get push back, but short of atheist and agnostic players who might not care, unless a person can model the ritual in your game based on their own faith you may be asking them to serve another and in response, they may reject practicing your faith in the game wholesale.

I guess this shows my lack of experience in role-playing games. Is this usually not an issue?

M Joshua Cauller I think a lot that comes down to the nature of optional input. Like players certainly aren't obligated to make choices in RPGs unless they're essential for moving the core plot forward (especially in early stages). Especially when you get into giant open games where there's a ton of things to do.

It's like the complete opposite of a gated narrative, especially in Thomas' case.

Ryan Green sure that makes sense, but Thomas said only certain types of religions are in the game I thought and only one in game religion will have a two-way connection to the god of the game?

M Joshua Cauller Hmm. I don't know that I caught the two-way connection bit.

Ryan Green M Joshua Cauller I was going off of his previous comment

M Joshua Cauller I think generally, we're all thinking about how prayer is handled as a mechanic.

It's weird how some of the best I've seen is in the HP Lovecraft-inspired horror genre. Darkest Dungeon has prayer and meditation as a valid and important part of stress recovery, even though it never goes beyond the "higher power" ambiguity of whether or not God exists in this world.

Then there's Eldritch, which was made by David Pittman, who loves Jesus, though you get power-ups from evil "gods." In that sense, it gives you a likeness to each of those gods, which I think on a base level can be true: you become like whomever you worship. I know of a few Christians who bow to the "Christ" of their own preferences and can therefore become more stingy, racist, and generally unkind.
Ryan Green ooh, being conformed to the likeness of the god you worship. That's a cool idea. also speaks to how the image of God can be twisted to conform to our own desires.

M Joshua Cauller Yeah, I mean that's my reading of Eldritch, long after beating the game, and thinking long about it. There's just a lot of ways of reading into prayer mechanics. Like I didn't fully process your Cathedral until maybe after the tenth play-through. But when I got it, I was like, "Ahhhhh!"

Josh Larson I'd be fine practicing another religion in a videogame as long as the experience of playing the game was removed enough. I'm fine reading about other religions in the Bible, and that's because I don't feel fully immersed in the world and it's not visceral enough nor convincing enough theologically.

Ultimately I guess what I mean is if the game was not tempting me or becoming a stumbling block, I'd be fine with it, because then it's about education. And in other media, that's the case when I learn about other religions.

Raul Rivera Arroyo Ryan Green That does sound interesting.

Neil Sauvageau Ok so here is an idea about different religions in the game that is a little different. What if all the religions in Archmage Rises were showing different aspects of who God is? Like when we see unique parts of His character revealed in different cultures. This would allow a play to see different parts of who God is at work in your choice of religion, but also in other cities or areas of the game who chose a different "religion".

Thomas Henshell Interesting. I audited a course on world religions from Regent. At the beginning he asked his Christian students why study this?

Most answered to be better evangelists.
He said, what about to learn something true about God from them?
At which point they burned him at the stake.
Satan’s temptation in the garden was lies WITH truth.
And while many Christians would say other religions are 100% lies there are truths mixed in too.
So this is my approach to religions in my game. Which is not exactly what you said Neil Sauvageau but close.

Neil Sauvageau Very cool! And it's interesting that I have heard the same type of thing being taught in YWAM. It seems God is in all places even in those we least expect.

Michael Alan Herrera

Sorry for the late post; this took me a while to write down. I’ve thought about this extensively and will outline my ideas below. Feel free to pick and choose whatever works for you. Good luck on your project. Will be interested to see what you come up with. Looks like the size of this post will require me to break it up into multiple pieces.
11 Components of Most Religions:
Important because it establishes the place of the adherent in the Universe and his/her relationship to God:
A. Man as significant or insignificant (Children of Deity vs. created from dust and abandoned)
B. Deity as remote / hands off, personally involved, or somewhere in between
C. Likeness & inherited attributes vs. differences (e.g. Perfect God creates/allows imperfect beings)
D. Intent of Creation (Deity’s personal amusement, thoughtless action, or loving extension of self?)
E. One time event versus ongoing (with adherents as co-creators and/or destroyers)
Introduces main characters, partially answers “Who am I”, influences attitude of adherents towards Deity
Players can learn about Creation Story (all at once or piecemeal) through:
A. Reading Sacred Text (scroll, parchment, glyphs)
B. Orally (either formal telling or overheard, can be spoken, sung, or chanted)
C. Artistic Renderings (cave scratches, frescos, symbolic representations)
D. Revelation (dream sequence, haunting whispers, dramatic Deity encounter)
Once Creation Story is imparted, dialogue options with NPCs can force Player to make decisions about what his/her character believes. Acceptance of Player into any religion is contingent, in part, on Playing Characters acceptance of Creation Story. Player should have
ability to change mind on this (e.g. reject / renounce).
Important because it forces adherents to consider what their own biases are, for example:
A. Corporeal, non-corporeal, or a hybrid of both
B. Pantheism versus monotheism
C. Vengeful versus All Loving
D. Unfathomable versus Revealed
E. Approachable versus Aloof
F. Purely Abstract, Purely Anthropomorphic, Triune, or something else
Discovery of Concept of God similar to above. Once Concept of God is imparted, dialogue options with NPCs can force Player to make decisions about what his/her character believes. Acceptance of Player into any religion is contingent, in part, on Playing Characters acceptance of that religion’s Concept of God. Player should have
ability to change mind on this (e.g. reject / renounce).
Important because it reveals the actions that Adherents think is appeasing to their Deity. Also the “to do” part of each religion. Note that the type and frequency of each can be used as gameplay variables with rewards / consequences (if desired) as randomly determined by
Deity or Spiritual Leader (infrequent rewards randomization prevents player spamming). All of these are optional activities for the Player, but each Religious community may have participation norms for Player
to remain within community (see “5. Norms Expected of Adherents” below).
A. Offerings (spectrum can range from herbs / honey, Eucharistic communion, to human / animal sacrifices)
Adherent obtains / prepares object to be offered. Penalty for incorrect prep or wrong item?
B. Personal Devotions (other than Divine Communication, see next section). Examples include:
Create, maintain, recover, or repair religious paraphernalia
Provide pastoral care or spiritual direction to other NPCs
Provide catechesis, testimony, or apologetics to other NPCs
Engage in Spiritual Warfare (as defined by that religion)
Go on holy quest (e.g. jihad, pilgrimage, crusade, vision quest)
Ritualize everyday tasks (e.g. prayer before meals, ritual bath)
Correct past wrongs, offer penance
Practice asceticism, take vows, or live a hermitic lifestyle
C. Group Ceremonies (Adherent may need special garb, knowledge, or other resources)
Festivals / Celebrations
Conjurings / Invocations
Consecrations / Blessings
D. Rites Of Passage (Adherent may require special preparation and/or requirements met)
Birth / Initiation
Purification / Reckoning
Expulsion / Exorcism
Important because it allows for adherent to express him/herself and opens possibility for Deity response.
A. Song
Adherent can compose hymns, chants, canticles, and arrangements using various
instruments. Deity may choose to respond with nature sounds (e.g. bird chirps), weather phenomenon (e.g. lightning, ray of sunshine, gust of wind), or events
(e.g. solar eclipse, earthquake, mass blooming of flowers in meadow).
B. Poetry
Adherent can create simple or illuminated manuscripts in various languages (e.g. Latin, Druidic, Olde English). Deity may choose to respond with various effects upon that manuscript: spontaneous combustion, mold, glowing (letters or entire manuscript), crumples into ball, disintegrates, or lettering / ink smears.
C. Meditation / Contemplation
Adherent closes eyes and enters Mind Mode (Screen goes black, images occasionally flash on screen, background sounds optional, and unobtrusive DOS like keyboard input is available at screen bottom; User types “open eyes” or presses ESC to exit). Deity may choose to respond with various images, background colors, or sounds based on
length of time in Mind Mode or user input. Deity also has option to suddenly end Adherent’s Mind Mode.
D. Prayer
Adherent (kneeling, arms raised, clasping hands, fully prostrate, or head bowed) can utter petition, contrition, surrender, or thanksgiving (perhaps through keyboard entry). Deity may choose to respond by affecting Adherent’s mood (e.g. feeling of calm or dread), bodily
sensations (e.g. goosebumps, or shiver down spine), and/or putting phrase or image into Adherent’s consciousness (via thought bubble).
E. Sacred Dance
Adherent can perform a number of dance styles (e.g. Yemenite steps, Hora, whirling, aerial dance, Gurdjieff movements, circle dance) in private or in public. Deity may choose to respond by affecting the mood / temperament of humans / animals watching (e.g. enthralled, put
off, enraged, emboldened) or, if in private, temporarily bestow extra Charisma.
F. Sacred Hallucinations
Adherents can use various substances (e.g. Peyote, Jimson Weed, Henbane, mushrooms) to induce a trance and enter Mind Mode (see Meditation/Contemplation above) and Deity may choose to respond in similar manner to Mediation/Contemplation albeit in a more psychedelic in nature.
G. Vision Quests / Faith Quests
Adherents travel to an isolated spot and fast for an extended period of time. Deity may choose to respond with Mana for the adherents nourishment, whispered revelations, an apparition, and/or calling vestige.

Michael Alan Herrera
Important because it allows the Player to examine how adherents within a religion relate to each other. Each religion will have dogma that dictates rules for the following:
A. Conformity
B. Participation
C. Commitment
D. Resilience
E. Respect
If Adherent breaks any of these rules, sanctions up to and including expulsion may occur.
Important because it provides a framework / basis for interpretation of religious dogma and disagreements.
A. Sacred Texts
B. Holy Teachers / Messengers
C. Revelation from the Deity
D. Interpreted Phenomenon
E. Past Traditions / Precedent
F. Relics
G. Miracles
H. Disciples / Apostles
Discovery of Sources / Authorities similar to Concepts of God above. Once Sources / Authorities are imparted, dialogue options with NPCs can force Player to make decisions about what his/her character believes. Acceptance of Player into any religion is contingent, in
part, on Playing Characters acceptance of that religion’s Sources /Authorities. Player should have ability to change mind on this (e.g. reject / renounce).
This is important to help the Player recognize each distinct religion and the unique aspects contained within.
A. Clothing / Garb
B. Focal Points (e.g. altar, obelisk, tabernacle, statue, gong, fount, sacred pyre)
C. Worship Paraphernalia (e.g. chalice, censer, thangka, prayer flag, opele, mani stone)
D. Sacred Art (frescos, mandalas, labyrinths, sandpaintings, death masks)
E. Natural Symbols (olive branch, lotus, dove, water, fire, fish, lamb, milk, salt, cow)
Each archetype serves a gameplay function:
A. Spiritual Head: imparts norms and enforces rules
B. Saint / Exemplar: models the best of what each religion has to offer
C. Rebel / Sinner: models the constraints and weaknesses of each religion
D. Doubter: forces Player to evaluate beliefs ongoing versus once and done
E. Zealot: forces Player to consider boundaries of beliefs versus other’s rights
F. Blind Follower: forces Player to consider point of being adherent versus not
Player needn’t be told which NPC is which archetype. Finding out could be a quest in of itself.
Additionally for a Player to become a Saint / Exemplar they must (one or more of the following):
A. Rebuke / Exhort the Sinner, get them to Repent, also engage in Spiritual Warfare (e.g. Prayer, Fasting)
B. Encourage the Doubter with Testimony, Moral Support, and/or Apologetics
C. Inculcate the Zealot with Catechesis, Parables, and/or Catharsis
D. Inflame the Blind Follower with Faith Healing, Canticles, and/or Homiletics
…and each of the tests of Spiritual Growth (see next section).
In a game with advanced AI, if the Player exhibits any of the Sinner, Doubter, Zealot, or Blind Follower attributes, then the Saint / Exemplar NPC should model the above listed responses.

Michael Alan Herrera
For any religion to be effective its adherents need to experience Spiritual Growth including:
A. Faith: consistent belief despite hardships, doubts, or supposed evidence to the contrary
B. Hope: rejection of despair, understanding that good will ultimately prevail, living serene
C. Trust: reliance and confidence in something greater/other than ourselves, habitual surrender to God
D. Compassion: getting beyond self, loving others with little to no conditions, willingness to sacrifice, forgive
E. Wisdom: ability to discern, learn from mistakes, heed your conscience, and avoid temptation
F. Reverence: humility mingled with awe and gratitude that leads to obedience, intentional discipleship
In the game, as in life, there are trials that test these spiritual traits. These can be incorporated into the game as various quests, for example:
A. Test of Faith: Adherent is forced to choose between either renouncing his religion or being stripped of money (or other valuable item or attribute).
B. Test of Hope: Having fallen on hard times, Adherent attempts Divine Communication but receives no response from his/her Deity; will Adherent continue religious practices or abandon the Faith?
C. Test of Trust: Having obtained high concentrations of wealth or power or knowledge, Adherent is asked by Deity to give it up for some unknown future benefit.
D. Test of Compassion: Adherent is given choice between either personal comfort or providing need to a stranger (e.g. steed for personal travel or use by Village to plow crops).
E. Test of Wisdom: Adherent is given choice between either short term gain of high certainty or long term gain of lesser certainty but greater reward (e.g. sell potatoes to purchase equipment or store potatoes to protect against possible famine)
F. Test of Reverence: Adherent is asked by Deity to do a repetitive arduous task for no apparent reason (e.g. build a twelve foot stone wall spanning 12 miles) that is later used by the Deity (e.g. to protect the Village from previously unknown invaders).
Important for both growth of religion and ensuring continued existence
A. Recruitment (e.g. Evangelization, Missionary Work, Altar Call, Revival)
B. Modeling (e.g. Corporeal Works of Mercy)
C. Documentation / Translation (e.g. Scribes, Treatise, Codex)
D. Retention (e.g. Youth Programs, Elderly/Homebound, Hospitality)
E. Education (e.g. Madrasah, Seminary, Yeshiva, Gurukula, Dhamma School)
F. Proclamation (e.g. Morality Plays, Open Air Preaching, Door to Door Evangelism)
Important because Adherents of all religions are concerned not only about the personal mortality, but also the fate and future of their descendants. Knowing that a positive future awaits, promotes serenity and hope.
This can also have a profound effect on gameplay depending on the extent it’s implemented into the game. Since many religions have a concept of an afterlife, it may be interesting to consider the following in terms of Player character mechanics:

A. Permadeath - for Players with no Religious affiliation
B. Reincarnation - upon death, Adherents lose physical characteristics and possessions but maintain non-physical characteristics (e.g. Intelligence, Wisdom, Charm, Stealth) in a new body. For eastern type religions.
C. Divine / Angelic Intervention - Adherent, at point near death, is divinely saved with little or no penalty.
D. Immortality /Self (Miraculous) Healing - while Adherent cannot die, his attributes remain frozen after the first incident of self healing (e.g. he can no longer “level up”).
E. Play continues in Spiritual Realm / Specter – Adherent cannot be seen by others, has no body, and cannot interact with others, but can interact with objects and can use Means of Divine Communication with
F. Spirit Transfer / Possession – Adherent takes on the life/form of an NPC, inheriting their attributes and characteristics. For New Age type religions.
Finally, in terms of Eschatology, the whole “save the world” and “fire and brimstone” motifs have been largely overdone. I advise using them sparingly and concentrating on the “New Heaven and New Earth” portion
of Revelations instead. And please, stop using weapons as a means of salvation; the whole “Divine Sword” or “Sacred Hammer” is stupid and not based in any religion (that I know of). Consider using instead…
A. The Bread of Life
B. The Sacred Roar of the Lion
C. The Shepherd’s Crook
D. The Master’s Chalice
E. The Eternal Word
F. The Everlasting Water
G. The Divine Light
H. The Healing Mantra
I. The Blessed Lotus
J. The Angelic Harp

Thomas Henshell Thanks for this. I will review my doc with your doc when I'm done my first version.

Michael Alan Herrera Sure. Not all of it may be useful for your game. Of course, when you're done with ArchMage Rises, if you ever wanted to make a cleric simulator...

Mark William Nations Got to say, I appreciate you putting all of this together Michael. It feels like it'll be pretty handy down the road to have this.

Raul Rivera Arroyo Yup, this is a great conversation.

Michael Alan Herrera Not to sound weird, but just wanted to say how proud (and impressed) am I with all the thoughtful posts here. For us this is an important discussion and I love seeing all the lively debate and exchange of ideas. Thomas Henshell, not to put any pressure on you, but I definitely see a CGDC symposium / talk / panel in your future on all of this...

Mark William Nations (That's totally meant to put pressure on you...SO DON'T MESS IT UP)

Shem Bingman Oh come on!
Thomas is really good with his presentations. Why would he stress?

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Postby Mherrera » Tue Apr 19, 2016 5:50 pm

And Thomas, if you feel comfortable doing so, consider attaching (or perhaps linking a PDF to eliminate editing?) the Religion Design Document that resulted from all this discussion.

Didn't add the comments from that posting as they weren't as edifying.

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