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.