Visualisation of Ecclesiastic Architecture- Appropriate in Gaming?

It’s been a very busy few months on my masters degree so haven’t had chance to post on here since October, but it has got to the important thinking-about-dissertation-topic stage and it has got me wondering about the benefits and downfalls of representing and exploring heritage locations through computer gaming.

In gaming we encounter many real-life locations, still standing today, lost or even mythologised – when else will we get to free run inside the Santa Maria del Fiore (Assassin’s Creed II), go tomb-raiding at the lost city of Vilcabamba (Tomb Raider (both original and Anniversary) or traverse up Mount Olympus to battle the gods? (God of War III)

It is when we start depicting locations or buildings in games which people today regard as sacred when controversy arises, for example in the depiction of ecclesiastical architecture.

For a seminar I had to select an example of 3D visualisation, contemporary or dated, which I considered to be “iconic” in related to heritage.  I decided to incorporate this with my love for computer gaming environments and I chose the representation of Manchester Cathedral in the 2007 Sci-fi game Resistance: Fall of Man. The representation of the cathedral itself would be considered dated in terms of today’s computer graphics, however to me it was the controversy it caused that made it “iconic.”

The Church of England made a series of legal accusations against Sony (the game’s publishers) that the game desecrated the Cathedral by promoting violence, particularly gun violence, in a city that was trying to lower it’s high gun crime statistics. Sony reacted by stating that the game was a work of fictional entertainment, making comparisons the television series Doctor Who which often incorporated real locations into its story lines. It was defended by one of the game’s designers, Ian Bogost, that the use of an accurate depiction of the monument instead of an anonymous location encourages players to pay attention to it as a structure that “demands respect.”

“Resistance adds a fictional homage to the church’s resolve, this time in an alternate history fraught by an enemy that neither understands nor cares for human practices like religion. And it survives this as well. The Church of England sees their cathedral’s presence in Resistance only as a sordid juxtaposition, the sanctity of worship set against the profanity of violence. But when viewed in the context of the game’s fiction, the cathedral serves a purpose in the game consonant with its role in the world: that of reprieve for the weary and steadfastness in the face of devastation.”                                                    Ian Bogost

The Church of England wanted from Sony an apology, a substantial donation, complete withdrawal of the game or modifying the segment featuring the interior of the cathedral, and financial support of Manchester groups trying to reduce gun crime in the city. Sony pledged to not include the Cathedral in another game.

Despite the Church of England’s reaction to the representation of the Cathedral in the game, the controversy has resulted in a significant increase in its visitor numbers according to David Marshall, director of communications for the Diocese of Manchester. Teachers tell him that teenagers in particular are interested to see a building which they thought was fictional and that tourism has increased since the broadcast of pictures taken inside the Cathedral.

All of this had me wondering whether it is appropriate to depict authentic sacred locations in gaming when placed into a context that would not be acceptable in the real-world? Does the depiction of genuine ecclesiastical heritage have a place in the gaming world? Just some questions to consider…

For more architecture in gaming click here!


Manchester Cathedral in Resistance: Fall of Man


8 thoughts on “Visualisation of Ecclesiastic Architecture- Appropriate in Gaming?

  1. Excuse me my terrible english but I’m italian, so about your final questions I can rebut sayng: why these representations are possible in novels, film but in videogames a church cause controversy? Itsn’ a scenery? It’s sacred place, yes, but critics should be addressed to “enemy that neither understands nor cares for human practices like religion” in our reality, not in games. Then I ask: do we censor all film and novel?

    1. Hello! I agree that games fall into the same category as film and novels, yet maybe it was the degree of interactivity with the building that the critics disliked.
      Maybe it reaches out to the wider problem that people have with videogames- that the person is controlling what happens on screen? This does not happen with films or novels where the viewer/reader has no freedom to really explore the environment.
      So I think it may be a problem with gaming in general that interacting with the scenery will be an issue.

  2. My spouse and I stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might as well check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to finding out about your web page again.

    1. Gah, I don’t even know how I went from posting the blender tab to this one….X___X
      Feel free to clean that up

      But while I’m here, I agree that there is a difference that people often fear in gaming, whether it be violence related or setting wise. As a level designer though, in our work, we constantly reference and work from actual structures for their design and inspiration. While I can agree with offensive desecration of a location’s people (Put in a GTA setting maybe) its hard to see resistance as a truly “attacking” use of the medium.

      Cool topics btw Loving the Blog 🙂

      1. Thank you! 🙂

        That’s great- thanks for the luck with Blender! I’ve been messing around a lot in Virtual Reality class using the sculpt tool, and some of the modifying tools- it’s a great piece of software and gets easier the more I use it!

        I agree with you about Resistance, I think it’s a compliment that the game decided to use real-life locations and the Church of England also missed out the fact that the scenes depicted in Manchester Cathedral were also depicted throughout the game in other locations too, such as York. Also we were shooting aliens, not humans.
        I read elsewhere that as a result of the game Manchester Cathedral actually got more visitors (in particular younger visitors) who were saying “wow it looks like just in the game” and that to me is a good thing 🙂

  3. Hi Hannah — you have a great site here with some very thoughtful pieces. i stumbled across your site searching the web for some nice high-rez screenshots of the Manchester Cathedral — i never took any of my own. This led me to write in and tell you I was the artist that not only did the 2 week photo reference trip to England, but actually chose the cathedral as a location and built it (along with many of the assets in York). When considering the subject of a game space, i have always thought context and sense of place were the artist’s most important contributions to support the design. The mantra I’ve tried to carry through all of my work is that the fiction follows the function. While at the time, we were all surprised to see the controversy, personally i was happy that a debate was sparked. What is the value we ascribe to architecture and why do we hold certain buildings in reverence more than others? One of the comments I liked best was from someone in Manchester who wrote that they grew up going to the Manchester Cathedral and even served as an altar boy. If it was ever attacked by an invading force, they said, you better believe i would be in there defending it.

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