Old Testament, Mr. Mayor! Real Wrath of God-type stuff here!

First of all, kudos to The Secret World for getting both a hair stylist and a plastic surgeon into the game relatively early in the life of this MMO — I know plenty of MMOs that put this way, way down on their bucket list.  It’s so easy to make an ugly or off-putting avatar in TSW and so hard to tweak one just right, so being able to fiddle around with looks and having more options regarding them is a blessing.  Yeti is now sporting a faux hawk with a significantly cuter face, and since players got a coupon for one free hair style and one free makeover, it cost me nothing but a little bit of time.  I also loved that both the barbershop and the plastic surgery area had their own theme and lore behind them.  Dr. Frankenstein’s great-great-great-whatever?  Good for him for finding work.

So every night I make it a goal to log in and get at least one to three quests done.  I like to savor them, because they’re all great little stories, and pushing myself to rush through them robs them of something special.  Last night I was moving on to a new quest-giver in Egypt, a mysterious immortal guy who has a brother who just so happens to be a burning bush.  And there’s a connection to the ten plagues of Egypt.  Draw the lines between the dots as you will.

It’s actually a great little investigation quest, nothing too difficult other than matching up Hebrew symbols with Arabian counterparts.  I don’t want to venture into spoiler territory too far, but I will say that there are a few great representations of the plagues (although, alas, not all of them) that happen to others who are not you.

But what I was thinking about during the quest and what I wanted to talk about today is the connection between The Secret World and faith.  I remember early on in TSW’s progress, I was already wondering just how the game was going to handle religious references, especially with its contemporary setting, pseudo-religious secret societies, and love of mythology and supernatural occurrences.  It was inevitable that Christianity would be a part of it in some way, and since I’ve never got the impression that Tornquist or his story team boasts a strong faith or respect for others’ faith, it was mildly concerning to me.  “Mildly” because I’m not on a one-man campaign to make everyone in the world fall into line with how I see things or else I get frazzled; the truth is the truth and that won’t be changed, and I can fully accept it when fiction writers tackle these subjects in their own way.

Still, I didn’t especially want to be playing a game where my faith was vilified or belittled, and there could have been a real possibility of that.  Instead, what I sense is that the writers are striking an interesting balance of skirting near subjects pertinent to religions but not going so far as to levy judgment on any of them.  There’s this sense of sampling the most interesting elements and then weaving those together in a bizarre tapestry that still doesn’t make sense to me.  It just seems bigger than what we can get a hold of, and I suppose that’s one of the goals of the game.

Plus, there does seem to be a wide sampling of faiths, including Native American, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Norse, Hindu, and probably tons of the Eastern ones over on the Dragon side.  If there’s a subversive agenda at work to subtly dig at any of these, I don’t see it.

But the question of belief and faith is quite prominent in many of the characters’ lives, and the events of the game certainly uphold the notion that there are forces at work that are quite supernatural in origin. There’s a real hell in the game, for example.  There are miracles.  There are genuine people of faith and there are false prophets and cults (such as the Morning Light).

At least for me, it makes me think about what my character believes and what her motives are more than in other MMOs.  I picked Templar because it not only looked more interesting than the other two factions, but because of its religious iconography and roots.  Sure, your handler early on makes a clear distinction that the organization has little to do with Christianity, aside from using the cross as its symbol, but that doesn’t mean my character is divorced from beliefs.  In fact, one of the things that the Bible makes clear is that there is far more going on around us than what we can see with our eyes, because we are spiritually blind for the most part.  Plenty of moments in TSW give me that same feeling, especially when we’re in ghost form and see different elements in the world than when we’re alive.

Agenda or no, pro-one faith over any others or no, what praise I can give to TSW is this: It’s not afraid to mention or explore religious history, events, or notions, even if it’s just cherry-picking the most visually or conceptually interesting.  Religion is a topic that most guilds won’t even touch with a ten-foot pole, but here’s an entire MMO that seems comfortable incorporating a wide variety of belief systems and topics into it without flinching.  It doesn’t have to respect what I believe, but I can respect that it’s bold enough to mention faith instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.

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6 thoughts on “Old Testament, Mr. Mayor! Real Wrath of God-type stuff here!

  1. Great post, brother! I am still waiting for Free to Play before “indoctrinating” my MMO time with TSW. The few times I have played it, Beta, etc., I have really enjoyed it. I think you make some excellent points, and I, too, was concerned about how they would handle Christianity. Sounds like it was done tastefully, which is good.

  2. Syp, your interest and commentary almost makes me want to play this game (which is a huge thing for me). Yay; I’m excited for you!

    I had to take a double-take on the title… lol! … “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” It is one of my favorite scenes. :D

  3. Given that Sweden is one of the most atheistic countries in the world there’s a good chance that “incorporating a wide variety of belief systems” was, as you say, quite simply a great way for the writers and designers to tap into a huge wellspring of rich and interesting source material that had the added benefit of having real world resonance. Of course for us atheists there’s no difference between the myths found in the Bible, Edda, Qu’ran, Odyssey, or Call of Cthulhu.

  4. I find that Faith is actually treated with a lot of respect and shown to have true power in TSW — one of your earliest quests is to pull zombies into a church, only to watch them all die as they cross the threshold. Sure, they do hand-wave that one a bit by saying that the church is magically warded, but the poer is still shown. The other faiths depicted also get moments to show off their “true power” too. If anything, it just goes along with TSW’s tag-line of “it’s all true” and just appends “even religion” to the end of it.

  5. I’m not a religious person myself, but even I have noticed the portrayal of faith and religion in the game. It stands out for being genuinely respectful and thoughtful and even, bizarrely for a game based on such a fantastical premis, believable.

    Part of the reason is how well written and rounded many of the characters are – their faith is just part of their life and taken as read. Very few of them push it in your face, but quietly mention it where appropriate and in context. I find the same goes for the sexuality and relationships for some of the characters. I guess the word that best describes how it is handled is “nuanced”.

    Great article Syp.

  6. I am pretty sure that someone deeply indoctrinated into a conservative sect of most of the modern mainstream faiths would be offended by some aspect of TSW if it was on their radar and they played through all of it. As TSW is not that popular and takes a lot of patience to make progress in, I don’t see a storm coming. Regardless, TSW does deal with old and modern religions in a way I find refreshing . . . they all have power according to TSW.

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