Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
August 20, 2014
arrowPress Releases
August 20, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Analysis: A Tale of Two Crucifixions
Analysis: A Tale of Two Crucifixions Exclusive
December 23, 2010 | By Richard Clark

December 23, 2010 | By Richard Clark
Comments
    31 comments
More: Console/PC, Exclusive



[Gamasutra columnist Richard Clark, who writes on the intersection of Christianity and pop culture, examines two instances of crucifixion in recent bestselling games, and the impact they can have on the player. Warning: minor spoilers for Fallout: New Vegas and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood within.]

Every culture has its ways of putting one another to death. Some are more humane than others, but no execution technique is quite as horrifying as the crucifixion.

While most cultures today tend to attempt a “humane” death for those who are deemed to deserve such a penalty, the crucifixion was inflicted on criminals particularly because it was inhumane.

It was known, not just for its incredibly painful and slow nature, but also because of the amount of shame the act brought onto the barely clothed recipient of such a death.

The depiction of this highly-unpleasant cultural practice that Christianity maintains as the centerpiece icon of its religion. And now, this practice is a primary factor in two recent blockbuster video games.

Fallout: New Vegas

In Fallout: New Vegas, the relevant encounter comes along early in the game, just as we are beginning to discover the nature of the world.

In fact, the crucifixions in New Vegas serve primarily as an indication as to just how totalitarian and excessively cruel Caesar’s legion is as a faction. Until that moment, the various factions in New Vegas seem pedestrian. That all changes when the player makes their way toward that billowing pillar of smoke in the city of Nipton.

Immediately, the members of Caesar’s Legion make their case for such cruel treatment, and their case is primarily a moral one. They claim that those who have been killed or crucified had it coming. In fact, they seek to use the residents of Nipton as a sort of “object lesson” because of the “degenerate” nature of the population.

Because the town was made up of thieves and prostitutes, Caesar’s Legion saw it as perfectly reasonable to make an example of them. Ultimately, though, it becomes clear that Caesar’s Legion aren’t interested in justice. The real motivation for the crucifixions is to strike fear in the hearts of the surrounding factions. They had the desire to conquer, not to maintain social equity.

And really, this is the typical use for crucifixion: fear-mongering. The act lends itself naturally to public display, and doesn’t really make sense as an efficient form of execution. In Fallout: New Vegas, the player has the chance to experience something unique to both the modern world and the various video games we play: the intentional, shameless display of pure, methodical human cruelty. Even if the cruelty is carried out against criminals, the modern world looks down on their “inhumane” treatment.

Typical video game enemies don’t shy away from such treatment, but they do seem to be either too hurried or lazy to go to the trouble of actual inhumane treatment. After all, the crucifixion takes a lot of deliberate work, and is always premeditated.

You need a specific type of equipment, and you need to be knowledgeable of the proper technique. Hammer the nails into the wrong place, and gravity will simply allow the nails to rip right through, letting the body fall to the ground. It takes several men to not only hold the convicted man to the cross, but to lift it as well.

The interactions we are allowed with those on the cross may seem overly limited at first, but they manage to instill in the observer the perfect reaction to such a circumstance. When we try to interact with those on the crosses, we are told that to attempt to take them down would only prolong their suffering. You don’t have a lot of choices. In a game that’s characterized by constant choice, this lack of agency actually instills in us an accurate amount of helplessness and horror.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

The crucifixion in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is framed in an entirely different light. The first, most noteworthy difference is that it is, in fact, not a real crucifixion at all. Instead, it’s merely a part of a passion play, wherein actors reenact the most famous crucifixion of all: the death of Jesus Christ.

In this case, the part of Jesus Christ is played by Pietro Rossi, a prominent actor and, incidentally, the target of an assassination by Micheletto. It’s this secondary designation that actually drives the narrative of this scene which, in fact, doesn’t have much interest in the crucifixion at all.

In general, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood manages to let its predecessor speak for it in regard to its thoughts about organized religion and the “myth” of Jesus Christ. In doing so, it avoids the dreaded fault of preachiness, and the story is vastly improved as a result.

Rather than presenting us with dialogue that sounds remarkably like propaganda (as was often the case in AC2), the game manages to remain relatively subtle throughout, even when the the circumstance seems to cry out for some sort of blatant acknowledgement of the religious surroundings. After all, what begs for comment more than Jesus himself on the cross?

It’s to the credit of the writers that they refrained from anything more than the story requires, and trusted the reader to make their own inferences, whether consciously or not. Of course, this isn’t to say that an editorial hand wasn’t at work. In fact, it’s the framing of this circumstance that sets up the entire theme of the Assassin’s Creed series.

In this scene, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the central event of Christianity is portrayed as merely an act, carried out for the benefit of the privileged. Meanwhile, oblivious to those involved in the act, the real struggle for mankind is taking place all around.

As the words of Jesus Christ are spoken (and if you have subtitles turned on, they’re displayed on the bottom on the screen), Ezio glides and crawls through the Colosseum, seeking to accomplish actual change. Quite literally, there is a false struggle featuring a weak, oblivious man, and there is a true struggle with real stakes featuring our protagonist. The scene is so carefully and evenhandedly carried out, that the moment the man playing Jesus asks Ezio who he is seems earned and powerful. Ezio replies: “I’m your savior”.

Grappling With the Spectacle

Both the Assassin’s Creed and Fallout series are known for providing the player with an opportunity to explore actual locations in a way that they would be unable to do otherwise. By placing us in existing environments under unique circumstances they allow for an experience that not only entertains and surprises us, but challenges us with iconography that we often only have a distant or abstract relationship with.

As someone who considers Jesus’ death on the cross to be a foundational part of my beliefs and outlook, to be confronted with a concrete representation of that killing device in a digital space was at once surreal, shocking, instructive, and inspiring.

In Fallout: New Vegas, the crucifixions felt scandalous in their prevalence. Much like overusing an exclamation mark eventually renders the punctuation meaningless, to kill almost all citizens of Nipton in such a way made crucifixion seem rote and pointless.

Still, I found myself wandering up to these individuals one at a time and feeling sympathy for them. I lingered on every one, observed his garments, speculated about his place in his faction, and tried, every time, to take them down from the cross. I looked around for those who might care for these individuals and only found those who care about themselves.

Meanwhile, in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, as I slowly made my way across the Colosseum I heard Jesus’ words spoken out loud, and read the subtitles on the bottom of the screen. I took a moment to think about what was truly being represented in that play: a man attempting to save the world by dying. And then, I took action myself. I killed those who stood in my way, one by one. By way of force, I executed the plan, and yet the plan faltered.

Unlike in Fallout: New Vegas, I was able to take this poor man down from the cross and save him from a needless death. As Ezio carried him to a doctor and declared himself the actor’s savior, the game contrasts two possible ways to save the world: the humble, unassuming death and the proud, proactive use of force.

I know of no games in which the player dies by crucifixion, and besides the inherent controversy that would follow, I think there’s a more ludic reason: games thrive off of direct, satisfying action. They require a proactive protagonist that makes his own decisions and thinks primarily of himself in the moment.

There is simply no way that such a hero would find himself in a position to be crucified, lying, hands splayed on a cross. Even if he did, the player would likely just grow bored, restart the level, and try again.

[Richard Clark is the editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture, where he often writes about video games. He and his wife live in Louisville, KY. He can be reached at deadyetliving at gmail dot com or followed on twitter (@deadyetliving).]


Related Jobs

Piranha Games Inc
Piranha Games Inc — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
[08.20.14]

Lead Artist
Piranha Games Inc
Piranha Games Inc — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
[08.20.14]

Online Software Engineer
Piranha Games Inc
Piranha Games Inc — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
[08.20.14]

Systems Engineer
Cloud Imperium Games
Cloud Imperium Games — Santa Monica, California, United States
[08.19.14]

Art Outsourcing Manager










Comments


Christopher Myburgh
profile image
I can think of no idol more morbid than a corpse nailed to a Roman crucifix. Christianity is a highly disturbing religion.

Gil Salvado
profile image
Yes, it first may seem like that, but it's not the image that matters for the christian religion, it's the symbol and intention. The savior of humanity dies the death of a criminal and becomes the martyr of his followers. It's actually an ironic symbol.



I left the church years ago for a diffrent reason. The only feeling I get when confronted with this symbol are still sorrow and pity.



But the point is, games using this symbol need to use for a reason. To give a statement and both examples do. At least to show off the inhumanity of a person or faction and the consequences.



Well, never the less this is very good article. Reminds of the difference between beeing religious and believing.

Matt Marquez
profile image
You could play Persona and get the same message, no?



All I'm getting here is sacrifice. If it were introduced in game, like The Sacrifice campaign in Left 4 Dead, then I'd say there was something to give the player something to rationalize playing by choice's laid out by the designers and playing by virtue.

This is just a scene to. Maybe because I'm distant enough from religion and church, but Mike from resident Evil 4 and the "green biker dude" from one of the Mega Man games held more meaning to me.



Wasn't there a PC game that had players go online and stand around a crucified Jesus? How did that come across with players?

Gil Salvado
profile image
One needs to differentiate between crucifixion as means of execution and the crucifixion of jesus christ as a sacrifice or martyrdom to be more precisely.



In the case of FO:NV its execution and with AC:B its martyrdom in the sense of theatrical dramaturgy.



So, the least one get out of watching a crucifixion is the intimidation of this kind of public execution - which is original is meant to be.

To say a crucifixion is generally a idol of roman catholicism is like saying a swastika is a neosocialitic symbol in the first place than a buddhistic.

But by saying this being a german myself I can understand that people tend to see the current meaning of a symbol first, before the original context of it.

brandon sheffield
profile image
Agreeing with Gil here!

david paradis
profile image
All symbols hold various meanings. The vast majority of Americans see the swastika as the sign of a very, very bad time and peson......as we do not have much experience with budhism (sp?)



The same goes for the cross, or a crucifixion.



I don't think the original meaning of a symbol has to be the one people think of first, they will think of the symbol in the context of their past experiences. It is human nature. It is silly for anyone to think a person should go look up every symbol they see, so they know the history of it......thats a whole lot of symbols and a whole lot of wasted time.



And none of it would change the fact that the vast majority of society sees Jesus in a cross, and Hitler in a swastika.



666 is the sign of the devil, but are they really any more than numbers? yet I doubt you would put "666" on your license plate, because the original meaning is just a number.

david paradis
profile image
@ Matt



I'm pretty sure his article is written with the religious, or semi-religious in mind. It really doesn't need to be said that if you are not religious at all, it won't effect you the same way.



That is probably why he pointed out he is a christian.



I myself am not religious at all. So I am not shocked or awed by such seens. I am perceptive enough to get the message trying to be delivered however.



For me, I tend to play as the character, as opposed to pretending I am in the game myself. (it is why I don't like FPSs) so if the scenes being presented would shock the character I am playing, than i can get into it, and "feel" the impact they have on the characters being created. I know I am a little different here, a lot of people want to feel like they are actually in the game.

Eric Schwarz
profile image
Aside from these two games, there's very few that actually come to mind that actively portray crucifixion - the only one I can think of immediately is the original Quake, but even then it tended to use that as "background decoration" as a sort of juvenile shorthand for "this stuff is messed up". I suppose not all games have to use the same symbols the same way, or with the same degree of importance.

brandon sheffield
profile image
scads of japanese games have crucifixions.

Eric Schwarz
profile image
Thanks! I don't play much in the way of console titles, and even when I did, it was mostly Nintendo stuff. It'd be interesting to see an examination of how non-Western games use decidedly Western symbols, and how the contexts and uses differ.

gus one
profile image
When I see crucifixions I just laugh because it reminds me of 'The Life of Brian'.

Evan Bell
profile image
"Bah! Crucifixions a doddle. At least it gets you out in the open air."

James Patton
profile image
There was a crucifixion in BioShock, at the beginning of the Fisheries level. It's how the mob dealt with smugglers. I always thought there was something deeply ironic about a city founded on essentially atheistic, material lines falling back on a symbol with such religious overtones.

Richard Clark
profile image
Yeah, James, I actually thought about that the other day. It's a pretty fascinating moment in that game, I think. Lots of baggage in that symbol that fits right in with the mythos of rapture.

Josh Foreman
profile image
Very good reflections.

Aaron Truehitt
profile image
A torture scene with the players character can be quite an effective motivator in the game or with a character the player has grown to really enjoy. When I first played MGS on the PS1, when Snake was tortured I think most players felt sorry for him, then wanted to kick someone's tail after it happened. Well I know this is about crucifixions, but it has relevance to how a player might not be bored with. Especially if they have to interact with the scene itself, and depending on how well you do in that scene determines how much health you have or what happens in the rest of the game. Maybe I'm thinking off topic, haha.

brandon sheffield
profile image
As a non-religious person, this looks to me like just another dead body in a genre that's full of them. So it's interesting to hear the perspective of someone who's still capable of being shocked by something that is to outside eyes, pretty much unidentifiable from any other sort of death. Of course I understand the iconography, but it has no more or less impact than a body lying on the ground. Well, aside from being elevated, I suppose.

Morgan Ramsay
profile image
When I walked around the corner and saw the crucified Powder Gangers, I thought, "Thank goodness for historical ties." Then, "Why are there so few?" The ancient Romans, as well as Alexander the Great, crucified slaves and criminals by the thousands. At that point, your reaction was mine.

dan m
profile image
Has Jericho been totally forgotten? I recall the later levels in the game being eerily disturbing, lots of crucifixions as well as other things. Pretty much everything in that game was somehow centered around religion or the dark sides of the church. Seeing Caesars legion in Fallout: NV really reminded me of my play through Jericho.

Jordan Laine
profile image
The crucifixions in Fallout NV helped drive home the guilt I had for blowing away the lotto winner for his ticket. I generally play as a very selfish character with no concern for anyone else, so when I approached the town and he came running out declaring he won the lotto, I shot him in the face with a shotgun and looted his corpse. When I found the runner up and heard what happened to the town my stomach dropped. I have never felt remorse for killing an NPC in a video game before, and I mean never. Children, wives, husband, whole towns, air force bases, super mutants, if they have something I want, or if they lipped off to me, BOOM!



That was the first time I have ever had true remorse for my actions in a video game. I reloaded a save point, told him I was going to kill him and shot at him once to get him away from the town faster, then killed every Legionnaire I could find the rest of the game.

Kevin Reese
profile image
Crucifixions? No prob. A breast? Big huge problem. Isn't our society odd ?

david paradis
profile image
Theres a lot of games with crucifixion. I dont think anyone is saying its a problem. If anything, they are pointing out the positive impact (even if they cause negative emotion) when used effectively in a game.

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
profile image
Special offer for next year, two plastic boards and a pair of bracelets with electroshock for Xbox360. Commercial slogan, every good Christian should suffer with Jesus, Total suffering 2011 from Evil arts sports:)



Sorry, but some of the debates are really sick..

david paradis
profile image
What??

dan m
profile image
lol.

Christopher Engler
profile image
In an age where designers and gamers alike celebrate more and more grotesque ways to die, I doubt many gamers- aside from those already sympathetic with the Christian story- would flinch at the the horrific nature of a crucifixion. In fact I think many gamers write this sort of display off as little more than a narrative or visual device designed to establish "the bad guys." The beauty (and divinity) of a hero like Christ is his seemingly ungodlike irony: strength through humbleness, leadership through servanthood, life through death. It'd be interesting to see if a videogame could explore the concept of a hero who sacrifices him/herself for the betterment of the world without that said hero having to kill everyhing in his/her path in order to do it.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Aaron Casillas
profile image
What was strange to me was the usage of the telephone/electric poles, I always imagined them as being cruxiforms. I tried to rescue every single person I saw crucified and couldn't (sans any missions) so I mercifully executed them anyone that I came across. Most starting tho was the cleanliness of their depiction in the game, Rome would crucify tens of thousands at a time (that would bring the framerate down allright:O)... depending on the style of crucifixtion, your shoulders and arms come out of their sockets.



When I was child, the church I attended had this giant Christ on a cross, I remember asking if the man was real and my grandmother saying "yes." That led to me believing some poor chap was sacrificed and poured in plaster in the making of the sculpture, thus explaining why every Church had a different looking Christ.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Joshua Popkes
profile image
As designers we attempt with every drop of creative nerotoxin we have to inspire emotion in our games. We want the player to stop and go "holy HELL in a handbag is that a (insert icon)" and the crucifix works. I (like the author) literally stopped my train of thought when I stumbled upon the Legion's "billboards" I wondered to myself "what did these poor saps do to deserve this?". I must say I am a Christian and the thought of Jesus on the cross didn't even cross my mind. The writers/designers/artists couldn't have made the scene more thought provoking (considering it is POST APOCALYPTIC, thus not millions of people around so I assume the few on the crosses works if you do the math :D). I think they got exactly what they were aiming for here, the dudes on the crosses made the average gamer stop and think about how horrible it would be, to be in their shoes.

Joshua Popkes
profile image
And on a side note* if you don't believe me look at the number of comments this article has recived compared to most of the other "Front Page" stories on Gamasutra.


none
 
Comment: