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Christmas is a time when Jesus becomes prominent in our media consumption. However, you may not be aware that Jesus appears not only in films that explore his birth and death, but is also widely present in the trope of the Christ-figure in film, television and perhaps surprisingly, video games.

Video games have matured since their early days when they were perceived as entertainment made for children, and specifically male children. Nowadays the UK video game market boasts a population of 3.2 million people, and was estimated to be worth £4.33bn in 2016. There are 2,175 active games companies in the UK, and here in Sheffield we have over 40 active games companies. [1] The use of historical people or events—and the more or less accurate ideas people have about them—is widespread in video games.[2]

Christ-figures in older games

Christ-figures have been a part of gaming history since the early 80s with games such as 1981’s Ultima, and later in the 90s-00s with iconic video game character Gordon Freeman of Half Life (1998) and JC Denton in Deus Ex (2000). However Christ-figures are most prominent in role-playing games (RPGs) and games in which the player can ‘embody’ the player-character. Unlike in film, Christ-figures in games are often women, and some are also portrayed as LGBT characters.

Final Fantasy X (2001)

Final Fantasy is a long-running series of RPG/Science fiction games made by Japanese studio Square Enix. They are well known for their immersive and dynamic worlds, their long play time, and their very specific set of in-game tropes. In 2001 their tenth instalment was released, Final Fantasy X, which featured Yuna, a female Christ-figure. Yuna is a Summoner who, by sacrificing herself, has the power to defeat a gigantic monster named Sin. Yuna can be identified as a Christ-figure not only through this intended sacrifice, but also by the “priestly” actions she performs, as well as through motifs such as a battle against corrupt governments, dedicated disciples, and her ability to walk on water.

Mass Effect (2007-2017)

The first game in the science fiction Mass Effect series featured an interactive narrative in which the player could control the character of Commander Shepard. Shepard was one of the first Christ-figures within games where players could chose to play them as LGBT. This was a massive step forward in video game design, let alone depictions of Christ-figures in media.

Bioshock Infinite (2013)

Irrational Games’ Bioshock: Infinite told the tale of ex-soldier, now Private Detective, Booker DeWitt. Set in 1912, the player controls DeWitt as he journeys to the fictional city of Columbia, a place steeped in religious zealotry, racism and danger.

DeWitt himself, along with the lead female characters of Elizabeth and Daisy Fitzroy can all be read as Christ-figures. Elizabeth is a literal damsel in a (metal) tower and Daisy is a radical revolutionary. All three characters are determined to take down the theocratic leader of Columbia, Zachary Hale Comstock.

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Sadly, whilst Infinite attempts to present an anti-American Exceptionalism allegory, in the end it fails when (similarly to Final Fantasy X), it restricts female characters by not allowing them to carry out their heroic sacrifices. Both Elizabeth and Fitzroy (who is killed by Elizabeth) take second chair to the player-character of DeWitt, who sacrifices himself in a scene that resembles a Christian baptism ceremony.

Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

Inquisition is made by the same studio behind the Mass Effect series, BioWare, and like Mass Effect, Inquisition features a lead character that can be read as a Christ-figure. As much as Mass Effect flirted with the Christ-figure trope by referencing the “good Shepard”, Inquistion is less subtle with its references. For example, the promotional art for Inquisition featured the cast of game characters in an image that reinterprets Leonardo di Vinci’s L’Ultima Cena (the Last Supper).

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As well as this clear reference to the life of Jesus, Inquisition makes repeated references to Jesus through the game’s narrative (a heroic saviour figure who must use their ‘God-given’ abilities to save humanity), and its promotional materials which suggest themes of leadership and courage.

Inquisition, like Mass Effect, provides the opportunity for players to play as lesbian, gay or bisexual. These romantic story lines, however, are often prone to problematic stereotypes (such as gay narratives that portray homosexuality as inherently negative in the eyes of family members). Despite this, Inquistion is one of the most diverse Christ-figure games within the ‘blockbuster’ genre of AAA games.[3]

The presence of Jesus in video game media (as himself or in the Christ-figure trope) suggests that the view of the historical Jesus as an example of sacrifice and heroism through altruism still has importance in our collective cultural narratives. While many of the games that feature a Christ-figure still rehash negative stereotypes, they are continually pushing the Jesus trope into new and interesting pathways.

Emily R Marlow is a 2nd year WRoCAH (AHRC) funded PhD candidate at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) at the University of Sheffield. Her thesis looks at Jesus & Christ-figures within video games. Her research has covered games such as Bioshock: Infinite, Mass Effect, DragonAge: Inquisition and The Witcher 3.

Header image and image 1: DeWitt and Elizabeth in Bioshock: Infinite [via Flickr].

Image 2: Promotional art for Dragon Age: Inquisition, reinterpreting Leonardo di Vinci’s L’Ultima Cena (the Last Supper) [via FANDOM].

[1] “The Games Industry in Numbers” Ukie.org, [https://ukie.org.uk/research] accessed 13/12/2017.

[2] See, for instance, this recent discussion about the role of World War II history in the popular game Call of Duty: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/41848521/why-call-of-duty-ww2-bosses-wont-shy-away-from-history

[3] A “triple A” game is a game released by a mid to large sized games company, it is used to designate a games’ quality of production and promotional release.

Tags : Bioshock InfiniteChrist-figure tropeChrist-FiguresDragon Age: InquisitionFinal Fantasy XJesus in Video GamesJesus mediaMass EffectVideo Game historyvideo games
Emily Marlow

The author Emily Marlow

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