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Killing God in Video Games

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*Warning: some spoilers for God of War, Xenoblade Chronicles and Breath of Fire to follow.

Since Kratos has killed just about everyone else in the Greek polytheistic world by the end of the six game God of War saga, it's perhaps not a surprise that at the end Kratos kills Zeus himself. Set in the perspective of the Greek polytheistic world, Kratos is the video game's protagonist who has suffered greatly under the dominating power of the gods. In the first game, he lost his family as a result of his work for the god Ares. But as the games progress, so does Kratos' thirst for vengeance. By the end of God of War III, the player must assume that Kratos has even lost himself.

The recently released God of War: Ascension tells the origin story of Kratos and his early encounters with the gods and the quasi-divine. This theme in God of War of "killing God" is by no means a unique one. This is a theme popular in narrative games, particularly role-playing games.

In Xenoblade Chronicles, released this time last year, the heroes fight their way through the anxiety of a post-human near-apocalypse only to find that the God who sent them on the journey, Zanza, has a sinister scheme behind his actions. Zanza is the creator God for all organic life and worked in partnership with the creator God for machines -- Meyneth -- until a falling out. And thus, after players put in the 80-plus hours necessary (it took me 100), they can defeat him.

Similarly, in the classic Super Nintendo role-playing game Breath of Fire II, Ryu and his friends journey through a world populated with churches of "St. Eva." Those churches are just a cover for an evil, world-dominating plot of which they are a part. By the end of the game, Ryu and his friends have killed enough goblins to challenge and defeat St. Eva.

And if you consider such subversions to be simplistic and childish, consider this from blogger Tom Auxier. He discusses some these depictions, particularly noting the depiction of religious leader and good guy-turned-bad guy "Ray" from the game:

[Breath of Fire II] follows in the grand Japanese tradition of evil, monolithic churches ... I could see myself in this character Ray: someone who, through no fault of his own, ended up in a religious family, indoctrinated into something they didn't fully understand or even agree with. I imagine it's a character a lot of people could empathize with, whose blanks they could fill in without even trying. Here's a guy who represents the best and the worst of religion, in one breath: he was a fantastic, kind individual, but one who was, at his core, utterly destructive, utterly ruined and ultimately destroyed by this adherence to a wretched god forced upon him by another person.

I can't say Breath of Fire II changed how I think about religion, but it was definitely in the back of my mind, a kind of formative experience that to me has stood the test of time.

The other Breath of Fire games feature similar themes: In the original Breath of Fire, the heroes must kill the God Tyr and in Breath of Fire III they must kill the "Goddess."

In the video game world, "God" is limited. G/god is weakened and gaining power, is unable to operate at a distance except through his or her agents, or has only recently attained godhood. Or perhaps he or she simply doesn't understand humanity. There is always some reason G/god can be defeated.

What is implied in these situations? First, as a critical medium, video game narratives tend to call to question the relationship between religion and power. A video game god/God is the quintessential narrative figure for questioning the use and misuse of religious power.

But even in BioShock: Infinite, the religious, nationalistic leader Father Comstock is, well, kind of crazy. And the religious depictions were such that creator Ken Levine altered them after some feedback. One employee considered resigning as a result of the religious imagery. Here again a game questions the confounding of religion and power.

Second, fighting G/god addresses a key discrepancy in the gameplay. You, the player, spend 20 or 30 hours (or 100) mastering a game -- learning the game's system, strengthening your characters. A G/god has the proportional power to your characters and you never had to touch a button for them to get there. It is only right that your hard work pays off.

After all, killing G/god seems like it should take a lot of work.

Top image: Screenshot from God of War III, courtesy of Gamespy.

Middle image: Screenshot from Breath of Fire II, courtesy of Vovatia.

Bottom image: Screenshot from Bioshock: Infinite, courtesy of Mashable.