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…
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Manchester Cathedral in Resistance: Fall of Man