Gaming News

Will Wright and the Militant Atheists

I’ve been keeping an eye half-lidded at the gaming news sites, and so I was surprised to see an item popping up hither and thither about Spore pissing off atheists. Not just atheists, but militant atheists. Y’see, in an interview with Eurogamer, Will Wright discusses how surprised he was at the backlash against the game’s religion module by “militant atheists:”

Eurogamer: You describe yourself as an atheist; take the so-called militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who see faith uniformly as a bad, negative and dangerous thing. Do you see it more benignly, even if you don’t necessarily believe?

Will Wright: Oh, I definitely see it more benignly. I see a lot of benefit and danger in religion like anything[…] I think our bigger fear was that we didn’t want to offend any religious people; but looking at the discussion that unfolded from this thing, what we had was a good sizeable group of players that we might call militant atheists, and the rest of the players seemed very tolerant, including all of the religious players.

And most of the atheists were very tolerant as well. I didn’t expect to hit hot buttons on the atheist side as much; I expected it on the religious side. But so far I’ve had no critical feedback at all from anybody who is religious feeling that we were misrepresenting religion or it was bad to represent religion in the game. It was really the atheists!

We have a number of team members that are pretty religious. And so in design, on the team, in our small, little microcosm of players out there, we tried our best to make sure we weren’t overtly offending any religious people, but yet we wanted to include the idea, the concept of religion in the game.

Now, I’ve seen these sorts of arguments before. If someone expresses disappointment over a particular feature or gameplay option in a game, suddenly they’re “militant.” So I decided to Google “Spore Atheists” to see if I could find any examples of these so called “militant atheist” rants against Spore.

Instead, what I found were page after page of Otaku blogs getting themselves worked into a froth because “militant atheist nuts don’t like our game.” There were no quotes from said militant atheists, just the above quote that Will Wright says “the militant atheists are the ones complaining the most about the game.” His quote is being rinsed and repeated… no examples, no links. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I can tell you that those atheist blogs don’t need the kind of attention that this story is gathering, but it would be nice if I could find one example of a “militant atheist” spouting off about what a horrible game Spore is for daring to put religion in the game. I found TWO non-clusterfuck articles. One Blog entry by the Amiable Atheist expressing doubt on the story and one forum for atheists talking about how excited they were about Spore but — it’s got SecureRom and they’re a little worried about that.

Instead, you find a bevvy of blogs and gaming news sites that are flipping their shit in predictable fashion that someone, somewhere said something not 100% admiring of Spore. Commenters, naturally, began to gangpile on those “militant” atheists, even self-described atheists were quick to throw these unidentified atheists on the fire. The usual cries of “it’s just a game” were to be heard.

The interview called out two specific high-profile atheists–Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Have either of these two guys played Spore and commented on it? Have they declared that the game is not worth playing because it dares to contain a religion module?

Now, if I put on my atheist hat, I suppose I would find it disappointing if I was attempting to create a society from the ground up, and there wasn’t a way of stopping the little buggers from worshiping me. I don’t really see that there’s something ironic about an Atheist playing Spore (Populous, yes), if they want to look at it as a scientific evolution simulator, there’s no reason to believe that there’s some hypocrisy going on there. But I think most intelligent atheists would see the development of religion as a sort of natural response to the limitations of the creatures’ understanding of their genesis and not get themselves too worked up about it.

But I’ll tell you who gets worked up: Gamers. When threatened with the possibility of actually thinking about how the game could be perceived by someone other than themselves, the reaction is to swiftly and mercilessly force out the “other,” and put up as many barriers as possible to keep the gamer group “pure.” It’s interesting to me that Will Wright, in trying to promote a game that’s all about the unique, the customizable, the preferential… has lobbed a bomb into the gamer world that will serve only to reinforce rigid hegemony and lock-step conformity.