Often as Christian gamers, we are confronted with views that conflict with our faith, which is partly why I decided to start writing on video games on this blog. Such issues include liberal views on sexuality as well as religious pluralism prevalent in America, even amongst some Christian Americans.
What I will be covering in this article is examining BioWare’s approach to sexuality and religion, particularly looking at their Mass Effect franchise. How do we respond to their views they promote in their video games as Christian gamers? As conservative Lutherans in the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod), we confess homosexuality and premarital sex to be sinful, and any who engage in either activity needs to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ for forgiveness as well as its call to repentance.
We also confess Jesus Christ to be the only way to salvation according to His own words in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Therefore, as responsible Christians, we reject religious pluralism.
The nature of this article is not an in-depth argument against homosexuality, premarital sex, and pluralism, but rather to edify the Christian gamer on how to properly engage with Mass Effect and BioWare’s other products where they endorse certain sins.
BioWare approaches sex and religion the same way in their other games like Dragon Age, but for the sake of brevity I will be using Mass Effect as the example in this episode, particularly covering three problems: their approach to sexuality, their pluralistic worldview, as well as general ethics. One other thing we must also keep in mind is not to expect non-Christian companies and developers to be Christlike. They want nothing to do with following the tenets of Christianity—let alone Christ—so we mustn’t grow too upset when they don’t promote a conservative Christian worldview since the worldview they hold is entirely antithetical to our Christian confession.
Mass Effect: Andromeda (MEA) was released in 2017 and the Christian gamer was once again confronted with sexual activity we confess to be sin. Like the original trilogy, MEA features the ability to romance any member of your crew, depending on their sexual orientation. If you decide to romance a crew member, you also have the option of having sex with this person. This calls four things into question for the Christian gamer.
First, the Christian is confronted with premarital sex. This is probably the most tolerated sin in American Christianity, unfortunately. (We are quick to condemn the world for its endorsement of homosexuality, as we should, but we shouldn’t be so surprised since Christianity worldwide has approved of divorce and premarital sex within its in church bodies.) A lot of our moral issues are indoctrinated by the pop culture we consume, including premarital sex. Yet Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality!”
Sexual immorality is interestingly the only sin Scripture says to flee from. If premarital sex extremely bothers you morally or it triggers you in some way (such as with pornography addiction or some other sexual addiction), do not go the romantic route! What you need to remember in games like Mass Effect is that romance is completely optional in the game! You don’t have to romance and mate with a partner in order to get the full experience of the game. The gamer does have the choice in each Mass Effect game not to romance a crew member. The same is true of Dragon Age.
Because of the romance option, there is nudity involved. If nudity is also triggering for you in some way, again, don’t go the romantic route. If you’re a parent and don’t want your kids to be exposed to this, don’t buy them the game! It’s rated M for 17 years and older for a reason. I’m going to be blunt here: If you allow your children to play a game that was rated as too old for them and it affects them, you have no one to blame but yourself. Parents put limits on their children for a reason; it’s for their own good.
I’ll be honest here: I’ve gone the romantic route in every game only because I wanted the achievement to add to my Xbox Gamerscore. I’m a semi-completionist when it comes to achievements, but once I got the achievement, I haven’t gone the romantic route again for the sake of my conscience.
Second, the romance option brings up a unique issue: having sex with an alien. It’s somewhat difficult to say what the Christian should think on this issue because, well, the Bible doesn’t talk about aliens. Probably because they don’t exist (sorry to burst your bubble). Would this be considered bestiality? Or is it not bestiality since they are also beings capable of rational and ethical thought and self-reflection unlike usual animals?
Humans are unique from animals because we are created in God’s image. That’s why we are capable of rational thought, making ethical decisions, having a cognitive awareness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and many other tremendous things unique to humans alone. Are these aliens, then, created in God’s image since they are the same as humans in every respect aside from physical appearance?
I don’t know the answer to these questions and I don’t think they can be answered. Ultimately, it is an irrelevant question because aliens don’t exist and they never will. However, having sex with an alien in this game would also fall under the same category as premarital sex. In this case, I refer to what I’ve said above.
As far as aliens being created in God’s image, I say no because again, the question is irrelevant since aliens don’t exist. This is science fiction, after all. It’s a fun, fictional universe to play in.
Third, it is possible to have gay sex with a crew member on your team. This isn’t possible with every crew member—only some, according to their pre-programmed sexual orientation. It’s obvious why this is an issue for Christians. Scripture explicitly says homosexuality is a sin (Genesis 18:20-21; 19:4-5, 24-25; Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Peter 2:4-10). Denying what Scripture says on it is nothing short of joyful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty.
Society, conversely, says it’s not a sin, and as such has thrown it into pop culture without a care for whom they offend. Obviously, for the Christian, do not go this route. If you believe homosexuality is a sin (and you should, considering God’s Word is inerrant and infallible and you say you’re a Christian), do not choose a gay romantic route. You may think it’s harmless if you do, but what’s the point in making a confession coherent with Scripture but not living according to that confession? Quite frankly, it’s hypocritical and needs repentance.
Fourth—and I just found out about this recently—there is apparently even an incest option in MEA, the most disgusting sexual option of all. Like all the other Mass Effect games, you can decide to play as a male or female, only with MEA, whomever you decide to play as, the other gender is your twin. There is the unique option in this game to romance your brother or sister. Even this sexual option is still taboo in our highly secularised culture, so fortunately, I don’t have to say much about this aside from its obvious sin. So, please, don’t go this route. It’s disgusting.
To summarise this topic, if BioWare’s approach to premarital sex really bothers you, don’t go the romantic route. However, if you’re a completionist like I am and want that achievement, by all means, get that achievement and don’t go the romantic route again. Obviously, if you’re going to go this route, don’t choose one where the gender you chose for Shepard has gay sex with someone since, again, it is hypocritical to our Christian confession. Also, hopefully incest with your twin sibling is completely out of the question in MEA. Why, BioWare? Just… why?
Like most Americans, BioWare seems to approach religion with a pluralistic mindset with the worldview that all religions are equal. BioWare is surprisingly more sensitive to this topic than they are with sexuality, considering their views on sexuality is fundamentally anti-Christian. On sexuality, they give no implication that homosexuality and premarital sex (even incest) are wrong. They are working under the assumption that they are normal and healthy, and like most liberals, anyone who challenges this ideology is a bigot or homophobe (never mind their bigotry toward Christianity and conservative views in general, making them Christophobes with their own poor logic).
On religion, however, BioWare gives no implication as to which religion is right or wrong. In this way, BioWare is much more respectable, which is something I think we can appreciate as Christians. In the Mass Effect lore, BioWare essentially created unique religions for each alien culture (which is really cool from a writing perspective). I’m not going to delineate what each of these are, but it should suffice to say that the characters in the game approach each religious belief system with respect, even Christianity.
Christianity isn’t mentioned much in the franchise (well, aside from the trope, “May God help us all” when a high-ranking military officer realises their impending doom). The most mention it gets is when a particular character happens to mention their belief in God. This doesn’t take place in any story/mandatory dialogue, so it isn’t inevitable that the gamer come across it. In fact, at least as far as I’ve experienced it, I can only recall two instances in which belief in a monotheistic God is brought up.
In both instances, the gamer has to choose to converse with each character often enough in order for you, the player, to get to know the character well enough that they feel comfortable enough opening up to you. (In essence, if you’re nice, they’ll open up; if you’re a jerk, they’ll close themselves off.) The first time is with Ashley in the first Mass Effect.
When conversing with her, she says (and I’m paraphrasing), “People are surprised that I believe in God. What, I can’t explore space without believing there’s a higher power out there?” As Commander Shepard, the gamer has the choice on whether or not to agree with Ashley. The gamer gets to express their personal atheistic or Christian belief in the game, or even pretend (for example, when I was playing as Renegade Shepard—the villainous, mean route—I pretended to be an atheist for the sake of different story outcomes). The same thing happens with Suvi in MEA, who says something similar to what Ashley said three games earlier, and the player as Pathfinder Ryder gets the choice again to agree or disagree.
Giving the gamer the choice to agree or disagree with these characters’ Christian beliefs is wise in the business sense. Forcing sexual dogma is one thing, but endorsing one religion over another is, for some reason, worse. (Nevertheless, this is unsurprising considering we live in a highly sexualised society and people treat sexuality as if it’s a religion. It is certainly an idolatry issue.)
If BioWare forced the protagonist to confess a Christian belief, atheists and other non-Christians would get angry and be offended. Conversely, if BioWare forced the protagonist to confess atheism, every non-atheist would get angry. So, to satisfy the masses, they are “tolerant,” per se.
It appears that in the Mass Effect universe, all religions are to be considered as equal methods of salvation. Neither one is outright rejected (aside from the player’s choice to reject the existence of God), and neither one is outright endorsed. So, as Christian gamers, what are we to think about religious pluralism?
I’m not going to say much on pluralism here. For a more in-depth article on pluralism, I recommend you read my article, Many Religions, One Truth: The Logical Incoherence of Religious Pluralism. However, it should suffice to say that aside from religious pluralism’s logical incoherence, as a Christian, stay true to your Christian confession. What do we confess? Following the Apostles’ Creed, we confess the following:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Religious pluralism rejects this confession. Religious pluralism rejects God the Father and Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord. It rejects His crucifixion and resurrection as the atonement for the sins of the whole world. As Christian gamers, we must not allow the idea of religious pluralism to appear attractive to us. Anything that contradicts the Word of God is a tool of Satan to lead us toward rejecting who Christ is and what He’s done for us. As Christians, yes, we should respect non-Christians. We cannot preach the Gospel if we don’t do it in love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; Ephesians 4:15).
Respect does not mean acceptance, however. This is the faulty logic of leftism. Leftists mistake “tolerance” as being complete acceptance of their practices. Tolerating what is bad, dangerous, and unhelpful does not mean acceptance. You don’t tolerate a child’s poor behaviour because you accept it, but because in their weakness, they don’t know any better until they learn and grow to know better. That is what we Christians do with non-Christians, only with love, not hostility and anger (and not all leftists grow to know better, just as not all children fully grow to know better as adults, i.e. infantile adults).
As one of my pre-seminary professors once said, “Suffer on account of Christ. Don’t suffer because you’re a jerk.”
So, that covers sexuality and religious pluralism. Lastly, as in every Mass Effect game, there are certain dialogue options you get to make, which also means you have to make some ethical decisions. This is a much more grey area than the previous two topics.
When I played the original trilogy, in my first playthrough I went the Paragon route because it matches more of who I am in real life. This is the route where Shepard makes reasonably sound ethical decisions. In my second plathrough, I went the villainous Renegade route where Shepard makes some arguably unethical decisions—decisions that are more pragmatic and logical than emotional, and others arguably evil. I wanted to experience the Renegade route in order to view alterations in the Mass Effect plot. Because the ethical decisions were, for the most part, black and white and easy to predict in the trilogy, the possible ethical routes didn’t bother me too much, aside from my first playthrough. Plus, the writer in me wanted to see different plot developments.
In MEA, however, the ethical decisions you have to make are more ambiguous; it’s not as easy to predict what the outcome will be. This is something BioWare did well with MEA, for all the things they did wrong with it (the game is considered a huge flop in the gaming community). Because the ethical decisions were more ambiguous than usual, I found myself constantly checking my conscience. I kept asking myself, “Should I go with my conscience, or should I go with what I think will create the most interesting plot development?”
Going with the most interesting result didn’t always agree with my conscience. Eventually, I decided to go with my conscience. If you find yourself in the same situation I was in when you’re playing any Mass Effect game or other games by BioWare where this decision-making is part of the game, I recommend you go with your conscience. You’ll find your decisions at the end to be less regrettable and the game more enjoyable (even in situations where no matter what decision you make, something bad happens). If it doesn’t bother your conscience, then by all means, do what you want.
Although quite brief, that’s all I really have to say on ethics in video games for now. I’ll leave the rest of the discussion up to you in the comments.
In the meantime: fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and game boldly.