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Metaphysics in fictional worlds...


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     Metaphysics in video games has always been something that has interested me (36 Lessons of Vivec is amazing). I am not entirely sure why, but it is most likely the slight insight into the writer's mind and how their world-view(s) influence the story of the game that makes the topic so interesting for me. I was even more excited about P:E when I found out about the part that souls play in the world, and I am interested in discovering how they are explained in the story in more detail.

 

     So my question is, how do you feel about the inclusion of metaphysical topics in video games (and P:E in particular)? Do you think it strengthens the story and makes you consider things you have never thought of before? Or that it makes things overly complicated (which it can do at times) and only serves to confuse and make things even more obscure?

 

    Also, I understand this subject has the potential to lean toward more religious topics, so try to keep it civil... There is no need to make this something it isn't, so just to say it again, this is about metaphysics IN GAMES/FICTIONAL WORLDS.

 

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The key here is leaving a a large enough part of the "metaphysics" unexplained in the game world so that there can be actual disagreement on it. In fantasy games, usually metaphysics is overly explained and reduced to a mundane level and the room for actual metaphysical discussion becomes zero.

 

I would like religious beliefs to be thoroughly motivated (WHY do people believe certain things), and for more concrete specific practices to be either clearly based on shamanic tradition (for analphabetic religions), or motivated by religious scriptures whose content is roughly outlined. In the FR universe, lots of superficial stuff about religions are explained, but the concrete basis for it (which is the element which increases believability) is left entirely missing. We are are left with the questions: WHY does a god want their followers to perform rituals in a specific way and on specific dates, WHAT is the motivation behind gods wanting more followers (supposedly this increases their "power"... But over what exactly?), WHY the hell do gods have "favoured weapons" and how is that important, WHY does the organization of the clergy look the way it does? These are immensely important questions, yet the inhabitants of the FR barely seem to reflect over them. It's OK if any of these questions are left unexplained, but at least then you would see people discussing and arguing about them.

 

The early Christian church had very diverse views on matters most Christians today would consider entirely philosophical and unneccessary to discuss, se for example Gnosticism, Arianism and Nestorianism - and of course also the schism between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. These kinds of heresies and a diversity within any given faith seems notoriously absent from most fantasy worlds. There isn't a persecuted heretic as far as the eye can read. I think the various differences within Islam also confirms this fundamentally "heterogenuous" view of religions (Especially religions with a central organization - persecuted Hindi heretics are harder to find).

 

Later on, the heresies focused less on technical aspects of Christ's divinity and more on social issues and the organization of the church itself. Waldensians and Cathars in the 12th century, Hussites in the early 15th century, those known as the Lollards, and radical elements originally of the Franciscan order who are known by many names. Ultimately this dissent erupted with the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century, which broke the power of the Pope and the centralized church organization. Since this is more closer to the level of civilization PE wants to depict, it would be interesting to see similar movements within the game, supposing there is a strong organized religion revolt against to begin with.

"Well, overkill is my middle name. And my last name. And all of my other names as well!"

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Since this is more closer to the level of civilization PE wants to depict, it would be interesting to see similar movements within the game, supposing there is a strong organized religion revolt against to begin with.

Given the polytheistic nature of the world in P:E, there might be internal squabbles within this or that faith, but I doubt there'll be a hegemonic religion on the order of the Roman Catholic church of the medieval period. This precludes any world-shaking revolt or schism, but there could certainly be a smaller scale conflict or two to liven up the theological scene.

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So many different potential story lines and plots could have metaphysical tinges that I'm not totally sure how to answer the question. But I think you start by making mortals' connection to the divine very limited and ambiguous. This sustains the confusion that gives breathing room to these kinds of debates. If gods provide absolute answers that never contradict each other, I think it limits how much debate characters will plausibly feel motivated to engage in. I hope there is not only inter-faith, but intra-faith debate (with perhaps conflicting denominations of the same god), which will spring the player into considering important, difficult questions.

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Since this is more closer to the level of civilization PE wants to depict, it would be interesting to see similar movements within the game, supposing there is a strong organized religion revolt against to begin with.

Given the polytheistic nature of the world in P:E, there might be internal squabbles within this or that faith, but I doubt there'll be a hegemonic religion on the order of the Roman Catholic church of the medieval period. This precludes any world-shaking revolt or schism, but there could certainly be a smaller scale conflict or two to liven up the theological scene.

 

 

Well, world shaking can be a relevant thing. A rift in a state or regionally dominant religion can be devastating on a larger economic and social scale (a religious shift in a medium sized state could allow for a relatively obscure minority to come into power, cut off or reduce trade with other regions, give other, extra-state religions the chance to increase their own power in said state and so on). And these are just the larger, intra-state relationships. 

 

Metaphysics becomes an interesting and non-theoritical issue in a setting were actual commune with divine beings is possible. There are a number of interesting directions, but two pop to mind. You could go (the more boring way, but something that sets up an antagonist relationship between mortal and divine worlds) with the removal of confusion. Theological issues are easily resolved since you can just phone upstairs for the answer. Of course, this curtails discussion and compromise among the faithful and the crime of non-belief becomes even more heinous since there is explicit evidence supporting the party line. The other, which is more interesting, would be concentrating on the human aspect of religious organization. As I teach my students, religion is a human creation, it is a series of social organizations, and it would be a fascinating playground to explore when humans have some sort of recourse to a correct "answer". How does this affect interactions among different faiths? Organization and promotion within the church? Relationship with prevailing authority structures? At what point does the actual existence of a deity become immaterial to the health of the religion? Also, in the PE world, how does the fallibility or lack of omnipotence in deities affect religious belief as well as relationships between religious organization.

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So many different potential story lines and plots could have metaphysical tinges that I'm not totally sure how to answer the question. But I think you start by making mortals' connection to the divine very limited and ambiguous. This sustains the confusion that gives breathing room to these kinds of debates. If gods provide absolute answers that never contradict each other, I think it limits how much debate characters will plausibly feel motivated to engage in. I hope there is not only inter-faith, but intra-faith debate (with perhaps conflicting denominations of the same god), which will spring the player into considering important, difficult questions.

And the discussion should leave the player with greater self-knowledge. This is what made games like KOTORII great.

Remember: Argue the point, not the person. Remain polite and constructive. Friendly forums have friendly debate. There's no shame in being wrong. If you don't have something to add, don't post for the sake of it. And don't be afraid to post thoughts you are uncertain about, that's what discussion is for.
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Pet threads, everyone has them. I love imagining Gods, Monsters, Factions and Weapons.

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