When we create our worlds, there are many things that we can take into account: the setting, the system of government, values as a society and a long etcetera in which we find, of course, religion, which has been the basis of societies as we know them today and is undoubtedly a hallmark of our history.

Therefore, it’s normal that when we create our universe, we take this factor into account, since it completely affects the rest of the storytelling. From taking advantage of existing religions to creating their own, both options have enriched thousands of games as a thread of great stories.

Final Fantasy X and the deconstruction of religion

Each Final Fantasy has a main theme, in the VII it deals with environmentalism, the VIII of the war, the IX of existentialism and Final Fantasy X talks about religion.

FFX is set in a world known as Spira, whose everyday life is characterized by the omnipresent fear of a beast known as Sihn. The only thing that holds society together is the church known as Yevon, which governs this world through a theocratic system. Unlike conventional religions, Sihn's threat is real and palpable, so Yevon appeases the masses and maintains its power structure by insisting that sin will only truly disappear once all have correctly followed the teachings of the church.

Yevon is an indisputable part of the creation of the world of Final Fantasy X. The cities, cultures and different races of the game are basically defined by the relationship they have with the creed. The Al Bhed, technologists who believe in the power of forbidden machines, are rejected by a large number of the population and will be the basis of secondary conflict for much of the game.

Besaid Temple in Final Fantasy X

Tidus, the protagonist, doesn’t know anything about Yevon and he learns it during the game.

The game builds and deconstructs Yevon's religion as the game progresses. Tidus, the protagonist, comes to Spira abruptly, so he knows absolutely nothing about Sihn, Yevon, and their beliefs. Throughout the game, Tidus consider the weaknesses of a religion which is assumed by the general culture, exposing its incongruities and injustices from a point of view full of innocence, but that makes the flame of doubt in its fellow believers.

Final Fantasy X is a good example of a religion integrated into the politics of the world, led by an obvious theocracy. It’s a good reference if we seek to make a critique of something real through a fantastic world, dealing with topics of social interest, which can give a very interesting touch for our videogame project.

Horizon Zero Dawn, religion and geographic construction

The case of the Guerrilla game is interesting because we find a world divided by tribes and societies that try to answer the mystery of the origin of the world. Aloy, the protagonist, belongs to the Nora tribe, which is based in lands that are considered sacred because they are located where the Mother, creator, and protector of life, is supposed to be. This makes the different areas of the Nora tribe receive names directly related to it: Mother's Eye, Mother's Heart...

Emerging societies tend to fill the gaps of their knowledge with beliefs.

Spira was already distributed when Sihn and the religion of Yevon emerged, but the Horizon Zero Dawn world didn’t, and that Guerrilla reflects it by making the geographical situation of the tribes be distributed based on the remains of what is considered the war between the gods.

Being a society based on the cult of the Mother, we find a matriarchal society, where women are responsible for decision making and the government of the tribe. They are a very lonely tribe, their members rarely leave the Nora territory, so it’s based on hunting and gathering for their survival. Their place is with the Mother and they have no need to leave the territory.

Priests of the sun in Horizon Zero Dawn.

The Carja are sun worshipers and worship them.

We find other tribes within Horizon Zero Dawn. The Carja, worshipers of the sun as a deity, have a more open minded. They developed the construction technology that allowed them to build permanent human settlements (such as their capital city, Meridian) and build large cranes and elevators.

And so, every tribe we can find in the game has developed their society based on their beliefs. This type of coherence when creating worlds, these small points that encompass the societies (their location, their supply, their trade...), are details that can be converted into very strong advantages of our storytelling.

Creating a primitive civilization without thinking about its pantheon or its theories regarding the creation of the universe, although it would be interesting from the narrative point of view, would separate it a lot from the concept of humanity and the history of our collective imagination. Emerging societies tend to fill the gaps of their knowledge with beliefs. Creating them is a very important creative work that can be translated into high-quality games.

Twisting Christianity

The idea of an evil being, a devil, that incites us to sin and against which we have to fight to obtain divine salvation is one of the main themes on which the Christian religion is based. The devil persuades you, influences you in such a way that any decision makes you fall into sin. However, in the end, rejecting God is your fault, that you must seek penance and confession. This is something that games like Outlast 2 use.

Fear is a powerful vehicle for storytelling

Outlast 2 not only uses that as its main theme to drive the story, but it does so without making use of demonic possession or exorcism. Guilt and corruption of the soul are two very Catholic tropes that Outlast 2 uses to create its disturbing tone. He doesn't need to resort to the paranormal when it can use a society so eaten away with guilt to that they have deformed religion to his measure.

It’s based on fear to create a religion, one based on the existing, but new, after all. Fear is a powerful vehicle for storytelling and, finding the answer in religion, makes society not think about the details of it, so you can create stories with many conflicts. And those conflicts can be translated into great reflections and very rich worlds.

In addition, unlike in the previous cases, we are not creating a religion from scratch, but we are taking the myths, beliefs and direct references of one of the most professed religions in history that the player can easily associate, to create the environment of our video game.

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And in the same way that we can make a complete game based on a religion that is easily recognizable to the player, sometimes creativity exists in small details.

Although we have already talked about the religion of Final Fantasy X, it has many ideas taken directly from Buddhism. The temples of Yevon are full of their iconography and when Yuna, the team's summoner, appears out of the prayer chamber for the first time in the game we can see behind her the kanji "mu", which means the "total negation of the self", representing the rejection of the individual over the collective of his creed.

The Legend of Zelda drinks a lot of Celtic culture and religion, making Epona, Link’s horse, be named just like the Celtic goddess of horses. In addition, the Temple of Time is a building clearly inspired by the architecture of the Christian Gothic churches.

The Temple of Time in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The Temple of the Time of Zelda, inspired by the architecture of the Christian churches.

And like these, many video games use iconography and typical references of different religions to evoke directly the inherent knowledge of the player. Figures placed in cross denoting a great sacrifice or grabbing the wounded comrade like Michelangelo's piety. These are things that the player may not be actively processing but that his subconscious assimilates as something familiar and known.

Both create your own religions and use existing ones can give a very special touch to your game, but be careful, you are never free of controversy when these things are treated. Have you missed any famous reference? Bioshock, for example?

Tell us your favorite example on our Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!


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Marta Gil

Marta Gil

PR, Product Manager & Social Media in Gametopia. FemDevs Regional coordinator.
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