Outside the law court stands the goddess Justice, also known as Themis, sword in one hand, scales in the other, and sometimes blindfolded to show her impartiality. The city is London, or Brasilia, or Frankfurt, or Memphis, or Brisbane, or Hong Kong. She was placed there by modern hands. As adornment? Not merely. She represents the highest principles that should govern the proceedings within. Secular rationalists do not believe the statue represents any real, supernatural being with magical power to affect what happens in this world. Instead her image functions symbolically by personifying ideals in a memorable human form, in a similar way to a role-model.
Lady Justice is what’s called a tutelary deity, supposedly acting as tutor to all those who work in the legal profession, especially judges. She gives hope to plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses who pass within the walls of the court that justice will truly be done therein. The need for a personification of Justice is strong enough for her statue to reappear around the world. Fallible, vulnerable human beings, whether religious believers or not, need inspirational images such as these to remind them of sustaining values and reassure them of the possibility of a better future.
What are the highest ideals of videogame developers, critics, educators, and players? This question matters if we assume that gamers, standing on the shoulders of all previous generations, in some way hold the promise of a better future for humankind. What are the darkest hours when someone involved with gaming might seek a personified ideal to call upon for help? Can we adapt existing symbolic figures for the purpose, or do we need to create new ones?
Consider the function of patron saints – originally a religious term but now used more broadly. Catholicism recognizes hundreds of these angelic ex-humans, whose purpose is to intercede with God on humanity’s behalf to seek answers to its prayers in times of need, either one’s own or others’. The saint acts as patron (champion, spokesperson, and sponsor) for particular aspects of life, including occupations and activities, with which she or he was associated as an historical person. It takes centuries for the Church to recognize new saints, but in principle there’s a saint for every occasion, even the most modern. Thus a Catholic astronaut might carry an image of St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers, since the historical Christopher allegedly carried people safely across a dangerous river.
In popular usage of the term, any famous person can potentially become the patron saint of their particular field. Nominations for videogaming’s patron saint might include its pioneers and leading figures who devoted their lives to the cause. To adapt the Catholic Church’s criteria for recognition as a saint (canonization), we’d require candidates for gaming’s patron saint to – metaphorically at least – be dead, have lived an exemplary life, and either have been martyred or have performed miracles. These achievements testify to the person’s elevation to the heaven of gaming and closeness to its divinity, however we might imagine those.
Muses, on the other hand, are sources of creative inspiration. Strictly speaking, Greek mythology recognized only nine of these goddess-like figures. They were patrons of the forms of art and literature, such as lyric poetry and tragic drama, that existed and were highly regarded in ancient times. The muse herself (always female) spoke or played through the human individual, who served merely as a medium.
Members of a game development team, if so inclined, would each need to approach a muse appropriate for their creative specialism. Her image might watch discretely from a corner of their workspace, say. Players, too, can be creative as performers in some games. Might Terpsichore, muse of dancing, inspire great players of rhythm games?
Within the fictional world of a videogame, any number of deities, saints, or muses might be appropriate to call upon, depending on the kinds of place and activity being simulated: defending a city, navigating booby-trapped terrain, charming the villagers with your lute playing, and so on. I wonder, though, whether these would instead all come under the patronage of a single, more general personification, namely the ideal gamer, who inspires you to play beyond your abilities whatever the game.
Videogames incorporate an eclectic variety of mythical, legendary, and supernatural beings from around the world in their storylines and characters. Often these are misappropriated, in other words taken out of their original cultural context and blithely reinvented for the purposes of the game’s fantasy. Any real power of ideals they originally embodied then tends to be lost. In action-adventure games, for example, abandoned temples styled as ancient Egyptian, Buddhist, or Aztec serve as little more than picturesque climbing frames. The power of a whole people’s centuries-long worship is supposedly downloaded into a single magical relic which the greedy try to remove. This is the myth of the Holy Grail, among others. Videogame stories and imagery thus testify to our continuing hunger for mythological and spiritual meaning.
In role-playing games the priest is a staple character class, typically skilled in healing and protection rather than attack. In the real world this term is usually restricted to religious contexts, but metaphorically has wider application. Priests guard and mediate the power of high ideals and sacred images within any particular field. To become a secular priest or priestess of gaming, whether as a player, developer, critic, or educator, you’ll need to give up any ideas of possessing special powers for yourself. That way lies corruption, as we know from cartoonish stories of evil, power-hungry high priests. Your service must be selfless and devoted to the best interests of gaming and gamers.
In any church, the ratio of priests to congregation is low. Few are those called to the ministry. Fewer still are those mystics and theologians who formulate our understanding of the holy and evolve it over time.
As the judge embodies the Law, so you’ll embody Gaming in your very person. Where the judge wears a wig and gown, what might you wear as the uniform of your office? Where the judge sits in court, what is gaming’s temple? Where the judge bows before the figure of Justice, whose image will you set up to honor? As the judge’s loyalty is twofold – to the Law and to humans passing before the bench – so will you serve both the ideals of gaming and those who apply to them in time of need.
These final few missions consider what philosophers call teleological matters, in other words the endpoints and ultimate purposes of any activity.