How Video Games Become Religions

For a while the YouTube algorithm (monetized be thy name) decided that I liked video game cut scenes. Mortal Kombat and Doom mainly. And I guess I did. For me the fascinating thing was watching these games I’d last encountered as a child now play out as full-fledged religions.

Game Religions

I last played these games when they first came out, when the Mortal Kombat guys were just cool-looking and the Doom Guy literally didn’t have a name. Those elements still haven’t changed, but around them entire religious eschatology has evolved.

Raiden meeting the Elder Gods in Mortal Kombat

I won’t get into it too deeply, but Mortal Kombat has layers of humans, humanoids, Elder Gods, and Titans all battling over the balance of good and evil.

The Book of the Seraphs, from within the Doom Universe

In Doom the ‘Doom Slayer’ is now the member of some intergalactic knights order, part of a universe created by a father, inhabited by other powerful demigods, and balanced of course with fists.

Both of these games have Elder Gods or Ancient Gods and then varying layers of mythology leading down to why you need to punch that guy in the head.

What’s fascinating to me is that this all sort of spontaneously evolved out of paper-thin games that were initially just there for entertainment.

Doom started with a ‘Doom Bible’ which was initially discarded. Lead programmer John Carmack said “Story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but its not that important.”

Over time, however, the game evolved a ‘Bible’ on its own. Doom Guy became a space knight and the demons became part of a huge cosmology, with a father, dark lord, and angels.

Mortal Kombat started with, as developer Ed Boon said, people thinking “You know what would be a cool ass move?” From there, however, it evolved into movies, movies within games; all of it within a universe containing again, gods, demigods, and others.

Plots that started off as paper-thin in their early development are now Bible thick. You could, actually, believe in this stuff and find someone like Sub-Zero or Scorpion to suit your individual style of worship. The characters now all have immense backstory and meaning.

Someone stumbling upon our civilization’s artifacts might actually think that video games and superheros were actual religions. They certainly look like them. How would they know?

Ancient Religions

This all makes me wonder how ancient religions evolved. Is it possible that stories about Hercules and Zeus, Shiva and Ganesh were initially entertainment (possibly for children)? Could it be that they, like video games, evolved into fully fledged religions with popular demand?

Unlike prophetic and philosophical religions, ancient polytheistic religions don’t have a particular text. It’s just a bunch of stories, spontaneously evolving and adapting, season after generational season. We think of them in terms of people really believing in them, but they obviously didn’t start out fully fledged.

We think of them as being centered around meaning, but what if they’re really centered around entertainment. That’s certainly how we still experience these stories today. It seems likely that ancient religions started as a collection of folk entertainments that took on more and more meaning until they became a whole cosmology onto themselves.

Like language (which children can regenerate from almost nothing in one generation), I think religions may also be, literally, generational. Humans may be capable of generating them quite quickly (and preserving them quite long) all through our need for entertainment.

Like video games.