Dragon Age: Inquisition hits store shelves today, enabling thousands of UK gamers to jump into the latest adventure in the world of Thedas. Early reviews are positive and it seems set to make EA, the publisher, a extremely good profit.
In the game you play as 'The Inquisitor' charged with safeguarding the realms against the emerging power of evil, dragons and all. It's a simple enough story, though I'm doing injustice to the finer details, and is easy to explain thanks to a reliance on established fantasy norms and one suprisingly prominent gaming one.
What norm is that? Why, the Catholic Church.
I should probably expand on that, obviously the Pope isn't suddenly handing out blessings on stories of pixelated sex, mead and violence. However, gaming seems to hold a certain fascination for the power of religion and its attendant vocabulary. For example, alongside the Inquisitor, one of Thedas' main factions are the Templar; another word with distinct religious (and specifically Catholic) connotations.
Many games, particularly fantasy games, also fall back on Catholic, or certainly Christian, phrases and Iconography. While wandering in worlds inhabited by elves, dragons and gravity-defying castles we can nevertheless often spot a church and know instantly what it is, and who is likely to be found inside.
Of course, other games just take it to a whole other level...
So why, in a world moving increasingly away from faith and an industry dominated by excactly the sorts of young and educated people supposedly leading that cultural shift are there so many religious motifs?
To put it simply, it's a cheat code. The Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, dominated the social, political and moral world of Europe and North America from the collapse of Rome all the way into the twentieth century. That sort of cultural penetration doesn't just disappear in the fifty years or so that congregations have been falling.
Stories come from the cultures that spawn them, and ,like it or not, we live in a culture undeniably shaped by the Christian faith.
When a game uses 'Inquisitor' or 'The Church' the mind of your average British or American gamer instantly fills in the blanks. You know what to expect even before the story expands on it.
The best example of this is probably the Templar I mentioned earlier. Chances are, on reading that word, most peoples minds instantly drew up the image of a knight in heavy armour with a fervent religious motivation and, possibly, a healthy amount of grey in their moral compass. Sure enough, Dragon Ages Templar are a devout sect who exist to stamp out demons and, in the process, tightly control the mages who have contact with them.
Oh, and they look like this:
Hmm, seems familiar...