Are we cool with portrayals of religion? It feels like we’re not

This article will be picking up where my blog about magic left off. Magic is, by its very nature, open ended, open to interpretation, and really kinda fun as a concept. In contrast, religion is just something we have to deal with if we’re going to portray history accurately. The trouble is, I’m not sure we’re doing it right.

Ben Hur

Back in the golden era of Hollywood, we couldn’t get enough of religion. It was a major feature of films like Ben Hur, or El Cid. Maybe studios weren’t conflicted about showing it. They loved them some piety, and they weren’t afraid to show it. Contrast that with modern films about religion, like Kingdom of Heaven. There’s that classic one-two:

Balian: “I will burn it to the ground. Your holy places; ours. Every last thing in Jerusalem that drives men mad.”

Saladin: “I wonder if it would not be better if you did.”

Kingdom of Heaven

Films are not alone. In almost every TV series, religion has a minimal role. In the BBC’s Robin Hood, Friar Tuck rarely visited a church, and even less often to commune with God. in HBO’s Rome, religion was just another way for the series to go ‘look how weird everything was back then’. Day-to-day lives seem to be divorced from the spirituality that was almost certainly a much bigger deal.

Similarly, games really haven’t figured out a mechanic for religion. What’s the point of it? Is it just a tag that defines allegiances, like nationality? Or is there something more? Many games do have churches and religious buildings as part of their architecture, but you can’t actually go *into* them. Why would you want to do that?

assassin's creed

Somehow, we’ve really gone off religion. We’re now almost scared of it.

Studios are trying to redress the balance. They’re attempting to build historic worlds where religion plays a suitably active role. But they are taking their sweet time about it.

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