Religion is a tricky topic to tackle. On the one hand, it can bind people together and inspire them to conduct themselves in virtuous and selfless ways. On the other, it divides nations, instigates war, and incites horror. The religions themselves, however, are hardly ever the catalyst for destruction; but rather the people who misinterpret them. Many people who are culturally informed are aware of the religious tension that grips the world. They may also remember quasi-religious sects known as cults, such as Jonestown and the Manson Family. There are many examples of a cult executing acts of indescribable evil on innocent people. Media have been known to grasp this concept of turmoil and weave it into a story; often in terrifying ways. Video games are no exception.
Eden’s Gate – Far Cry 5/New Dawn
Cults are a driving plot device in many games. Those familiar with the two most recent entries in the Far Cry series will be privy to a cult’s ruinous influence. You’ll find that cults often promote the traits found in many truly great villains. Every cult needs a menacing and charismatic leader and an army of followers who are willing to die at their word. In Far Cry 5, Joseph Seed, “The Father”, is that leader. Joseph Seed believes that he has been recruited by God to deliver the people of Hope County, where he and his cult reside, from calamity. Using fear and hallucinogenics, he commands the people of Hope County to follow him, or face destruction.
“Something is coming. You can feel it, can’t you? That we are creeping toward the edge… and there will be a reckoning.”
–Joseph Seed, “The Father”
Unitology – Dead Space Series
Many horror video games feature a “religious” group that gathers under sinister circumstances. However, the church of Unitology, featured in the Dead Space series, offers its followers unity and harmony. Said to be the fastest growing religion in history, Unitology rests its faith in objects known as Markers, which are responsible for infecting humans with a disease that turns them into Necromorphs. They believe this transformation cleanses the individual of the destructive properties of humanity. They idolize a leader who condemned the religion yet was immune to the Marker’s effects. As a result, they consider him a prophet of the Marker.
“Prepare yourself Brothers and Sisters. Convergence is nigh.”
–Unitology publication, Altman’s Footsteps
The Covenant – Halo Series
The Covenant are a council of aliens in the Halo universe that call themselves “the High Prophets”. After declaring that humans should be exterminated for the sake of their gods, the High Prophets declare war against what they perceive to be a weaker species. Their radical beliefs stem from a revelation that humans may be descendants of a cryptic ancient species known as the Forerunners, which would contradict the beliefs of their own closely held religion.
“Your forefathers wisely set aside their compassion; steeled themselves for what needed to be done. I see now why they left you behind.”
–Prophet of Truth
Testament of the New Ezekiel – Outlast 2
The Testament of the New Ezekiel of Outlast 2 fame is a cult that is frightening, if only for its gritty realism. Sure, no monstrous entities are running rampant in the forests of Arizona. However, the idea that a group could be led by a religious extremist who is willing to commit acts of violence on innocent people under the guise of religious fear is all too real. This cult is led by Sullivan Knoth, who believes that God has chosen him to abort the unborn Anti-Christ. In his madness, he has killed an unknown number of children, and you’ll encounter a mass grave of infant bodies as you navigate the protagonist through the cult’s cursed structures. The Testament of the New Ezekiel is inspired by the People’s Temple, the religious sect that eventually ended with the infamous Jonestown Massacre.
“I killed my children. All of them. Every last one. There’s no more perfect faith than that. And still, God is silent. Kill that child if you can. If you love anything at all, crush its skull under your heel. I know God doesn’t hear dead men. But I expect He answers them…”
–Sullivan “Papa” Knoth
Religions may clash and divide, but there is one thing that they all typically agree on: they all want to abolish, avoid, or crush evil. However, conflict often arises when their definition of evil contradicts another. Sometimes those beliefs turn radical and lead to acts of injustice that cannot be sanctioned by those with even a strand of morality. The line between good and evil is often blurred as we try to empathize with humans who are simply following their beliefs. Video games define that line for us a little more, often giving us a focused view of wrongdoing. They hand us the controls and allow us to feel, at least for fleeting moments, like we are conquering evil. Cults will likely remain a plot device in video games, and storytelling in general, for decades to come.