On the Nature of Deity

by Uncle Pervy 

Warning: Contains spoilers for the Lunar series, the Breath of Fire series, the Seiken Densetsu series, Star Ocean, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy Tactics, Legend of Dragoon, LoZ Ocarina of Time, LoZ Majora's Mask, Valkyrie Profile, Grandia 2, Xenogears, and Magic of Scheherazade

Deities occupy an odd position in the various worlds in RPGs. Some deities are direct enemies of humanity and the world in general, existing only to destroy. Such gods are not uncommon in mythologies of the real world: destructive RPG gods such as Zophar of Lunar 2 and St. Eva from Breath of Fire 2 have parallels in the real world such as Sutekh of Egypt and Typhon of Greece.

Other deities are names only, like Tria of Star Ocean or the goddesses of Final Fantasy VI. Such gods have no conscious role in their respective game worlds whatsoever. At best they are like artifacts, tools to be used but never acknowledged as being divine. At worst, they are only a name, nothing more.

Few games have any real religion that humans in general devote themselves to. Only a few examples come to my mind instantly: the Mana Goddess of the Seiken series, the Dragon God from the Breath of Fire series, Althena from the Lunar series, the deity from Magic of Scheherazade, Soa of Legend of Dragoon, and Granas of Grandia 2.

Technically, one could also include the three Goddesses of the later Zelda games. But, the people of Hyrule seem to revere Time, not the Goddesses; the reverence of time is only a supposition as the Hylians built a temple honoring it, no other signs of faith are present. Also, Ajora's faith from Final Fantasy Tactics could be counted, but that will be discussed below, as will the Ethos and the Nisan Creed of Xenogears and the Aesir of Valkyrie Profile.

I find it odd that something found in virtually every society on Earth is so rare in RPG societies. Before I continue, let me declare that o have no intention of trying to convert anyone to any faith, nor do I wish to see RPGs trying to do the same. What I intend to look at is the roles that deities play in RPGs, and why that may be. These are only observations, not complaints. Even if you think your sensibilities may be offended, bear with me and perhaps you will discover something.

That being said, why are faiths so uncommon in RPGs? There are only two real reasons that I can think of which may explain why. Most RPGs feature a band of heroes facing a threat of incredible power. The threat in question generally desires to conquer the heroes' world or to destroy it. If there is a deity watching the world, why doesn't he or she move to stop it? Gods are supposed to be far more powerful than mankind, why wouldn't they stop the villain? Also, a majority of RPGs tend to advocate a humanistic philosophy. The idea that man is master of his own destiny does tend to conflict with idea that the universe runs according to a divine plan advocated by several western ideologies. Free will tends to interfere with plans; try arranging a meeting between several friends and observe.

However, these issues have been met and dealt with in the games I mentioned earlier. In Grandia 2, Granas is dead and the world was unaware of it. Althena of the Lunar series had renounced her power and assumed mortal form. In both cases, worship of the deities continued because the people were not aware of what happened. In the case of Lunar 2, it continued after the world learned of Althena's decision.

In the Seiken Densetsu series and the earlier Breath of Fire games, the gods were powerless to act. The Dragon God could not act against his own people, the Dark Dragons, in Breath of Fire. In the later Breath of Fire games, he had lost so much power from lack of worship that he could not act at all. The power and influence of the Mana Goddess depended entirely upon the state of the Mana Tree, and the Tree was usually suffering due to some abuse of its power, if it had not been destroyed already.

The only games with living deities in full power and with faiths devoted to their respective deities, as far as I have experienced, are Magic of Scheherazade and Legend of Dragoon. The former neatly dealt with the questions of free will and the deity's place in protecting the world by ignoring the issues entirely. The latter pitted humanity against the deity's plan to end the world, but not against the deity himself.

St. Ajora's church and the faiths of Xenogears are special cases. In both situations, the deities turn out to be false. The god revered by both the Ethos and the Nisan Creed turned out to be an incredibly advance weapons system. St. Ajora turned out to be a demon who took mortal form to masquerade as a savior, and planned to take over the world upon his return. Valkyrie Profile's Aesir are for the most part background, seldom mentioned by mortals in anything other than battle cries. Only once or twice do you see anything even remotely resembling devotion to the Aesir. However, they do act to preserve the order of Midgard, by fighting in Ragnarok and punishing the city of Dipan for trying to manipulate time.

Therefore, one can see that it is very rare to find an active deity in an RPG, and an active faith is not always a common sight. However, both have existed in games without conflicting with the heroes' actions, and a philosophy of freedom and self determination arose from nearly all the games above. So, why aren't deities a little more common in RPGs?

I doubt that social reasons are to blame. People do not seem too offended by the presence of deities in RPGs, if the lack of editorials cursing them is any indication. Also, every game or series I mentioned above have some kind of following, save for Magic of Scheherazade, so the deities and their faiths must not be too odious to them. Nor do deities necessarily interfere with the idea of free will. Not all religions advocate predetermination; Orthodoxy, for example, firmly believes that people have free will, and are responsible for their own mistakes and salvation. A few faiths believe that deities do not act to influence the world, they merely observe.

However, I must finish by arguing against myself a bit. Too much of anything is a problem, and this includes deities. I have no desire to see them in every RPG. Some games do run more smoothly without the presence of deities or faiths. I simply wonder why there is not a little more variety. As I said before, these are mere observations and musings, nothing more. Please remember this before sending me hate mail.

Uncle Pervy

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