God is Real and it Wants us Dead: The Religious Terror of Bioware’s Biggest Games (originally posted at Polygon, 12/12/2014)
By Tauriq Moosa
OPINION text didn’t translate from copy-pasta on original article.
Games are often better at conveying horror than most other mediums, due to our direct and real-time responses.
This year, we’ve experienced the constant dread of Alien: Isolation and the grotesque physicality of The Evil Within. Overlooked, however, is the cosmic horror in BioWare games.
“We impose order on the chaos of organic life. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it.” These are the words of Sovereign, the first Reaper you encounter in Mass Effect. At this point, you discover that all life has been essentially created and guided by these godlike creatures. Now the Reapers are coming to end what they created.
The entire Mass Effect trilogy is preparing for war against beings who are more powerful than anything in existence because they, essentially, created existence.
Here, all of life is told their creator wishes it to end. This isn’t nihilism written in the stars, it’s death row on a cosmic scale as everything marches towards the gallows. To fight seems futile; as Harbinger puts it in Mass Effect 2, creation seems to be “dust struggling against cosmic winds.” The entirety of existence is little more than the ant farm for uncaring gods.
BioWare’s love of cosmic animosity toward creation found a new twist in Dragon Age as well.
According to the dominant religion in the games, the Maker is the all-powerful deity who has, many times, turned away from his creations. However, mages committed the most heinous sin of entering the Maker’s holy space, The Golden City, to try and usurp the Maker’s throne. Due to their presence and “sin of pride”, they fundamentally tainted the City.
What was once a space for the Maker and an afterlife for the Maker’s worshippers became one of corruption, due to mortal pride and greed. Heaven, then, became Hell.
The Maker cursed the mages to become Darkspawn, the source of evil that hangs over much of the series, upon their return to the world. The Maker once again turned from his creations. He answers no prayers and grants no wishes; he is a god who is indifferent to his creations. He punishes all for the sins of the few.
This idea of an all-consuming God stretches across both of BioWare’s most popular franchises. The Reapers destroy by design, whereas the Maker does so because of its creations’ greed. The Maker is Victor Frankenstein, whereas the Reapers are children with an ant farm and magnifying glass. Both have little regard for what they’ve created after they decide to destroy it.
THE MAN IN THE SKY IS A GUN POINTED AT OUR HEAD
There is no comfort to be found in BioWare’s idea of a deity or deities. These games are pulling away from most religions’ teachings of a loving, or at least tolerant, god.
This realty also makes the idea of atheism laughable. Atheism is the belief that such a god does not exist. As an atheist, you can’t help but confront an indifferent universe. If there is no god answering prayers or granting wishes, we’re free to create a world in which we’d like to live.
While the religious find comfort in the arms of a loving god, atheists may find power and morality in the idea that if this is all there is, a worthy goal is to make it livable. Both ways of thinking aim for some sort of comfort.
But BioWare games offer a terrifying vision of a god-filled universe. Indeed, they point to the sky and say that not only does god exist, he or she is coming to get you. You will not be saved by any outside intervention. At best, the gods of these worlds are uncaring. At worst they are our ultimate destruction. In these stories the Maker only intervenes to send literal monsters our way.
Dragon Age at least gives some hope. It was human action which led to the Maker’s antagonism; but it is also human action that can win back his favor. From Dragon Age: The World of Thedas:
“The [Prophet] Andraste taught that evil exists because of humankind’s pride. For this reason, [the world] brought the darkspawn upon itself. When the Maker returns, he will destroy all evil.”
Though this victim-blaming language also touches on many Creation myths (humans anger a god or gods, deities overreact with banishment, floods, plagues, etc.), it does secure hope into mortal hands. The trope of “Devil But No God” is fastened into stories to allow mortals, like us, to overcome seemingly impossible odds.
Regardless of how difficult the struggle, the point is that some kind of salvation is achievable by mere mortals.
Yet, I can’t help at wonder at the temporal futility of it: How long will it last? Why keep fighting? This is a question rightfully posed to the Commander Shepards and Inquisitors of BioWare’s games. The best we can hope to do in these worlds is to create a small pocket of peace before the next wave of titanic, otherwordly forces decide they want our heads.
BioWare has created terrifying universes where creators wish ill of their creation; there are few things I find more terrifying. Fear arises from the unknown — as perAlien: Isolation — but here what’s terrifying is based on exactly what is known: God is coming to kill us.
ALL OF LIFE IS TOLD ITS CREATOR WISHES IT TO END
The futility of it, the apparent impossibility of response, would make me numb. I could never understand why Shepard bothered, why she fought so hard and so long to take on what, in retrospect, seems ridiculously overwhelming. I can’t understand the point of living in Dragon Age’s world where my own Creator wishes me ill.
Not knowing if there is a higher power is preferable to knowing for sure one exists, and that this all-powerful being wants to set fire to everything they created.
BioWare should be recognized for creating some of the most terrifying worlds in gaming. Worlds where the odds, not to mention the deities, are stacked against us.