Playing 'Black & White' from a Historical Theological Perspective
by Jennifer Diane Reitz
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is an article about the god
& White' by Lionhead
Studios, the game company founded by the
originator of the 'god
game' genre, Peter Molyneux. Molyneux created the original 'Populous', the first deity simulation game. Published by Electronic Arts, Black & White will be released at the end of March, 2001, in a few days from the writing of this article.
It has been suggested by some that the game, Black & White might serve as a means to determine the moral philosophy, the overall ethical alignment, of a large random sample of the human race, thus answering one of Man's oldest questions, whether humanity is overall good, or evil. I contend that this cannot be the case, because game players by and large will not approach Black & White as a serious test of themselves, but instead will, like any game, be played to experience every whim of curiosity, and thus ultimately can say little about the player, save that they are playful.
However, Black & White can teach something equally profound, something that few people would dare to even question: the moral alignment not of the human race, but instead of the gods it chooses to worship.
Simply by examining the myths of various religions, and using those myths as guidelines for game play, it will be possible within Black & White to test not one's self, but one' deity. using any given holy book as a manual for acting as a god, one must simply act as that god, and watch the results to clearly see the alignment of a deity acting according to that script, a moral litmus test of any religion.
To this intriguing end, I submit some sample mythologies, and a quick overview of how to begin playing as the gods that dominate them. From this beginning, one may simply expand, making use of the actual written mythos of the given religion itself. I should also note that these methodologies for acting out the roles of various deities are based entirely on the given actual written mythos of, and actual historical events associated with, the religions in question and not on the commonly perceived ideas about them. Cultural ideas about religions differ greatly from historical fact, and even religious texts. Thus some uneducated people may be upset by the concepts expressed here.
Judaism and Islam
Judaism and Islam, as well as the original Zoroastrianism from which they were derived, can be considered the quintessential monotheistic desert religions. Both Judaism and Islam make primary use of the text of what is called the 'Old Testament', a document which comprises over half of the Koran of Islam, and which, in combination with the Torah, defines Judaism. The Old Testament also forms the first half of the primary text of Christian mythology.
The fundamental essence of these early desert religions revolves around a single god, who uses displays of power and violence, alternating with moments of kindness designed to promote the survival of a singular people. Monotheistic religions are almost exclusively warfare based, and thus fit most perfectly within the gameplay scope of Black & White.
How to play as Jehovah or Allah:
The player should constantly keep in mind that one is waging a war, and as such, actions should serve two primary purposes. The first purpose is to promote the successful domination of the world, and to that end, the minion population should be made to feel fear and awe in equal measure. According to Old Testament mythology, Jehovah in particular describes Himself as both a "god of wrath" and a "jealous god". Throughout the mythology miracles are most commonly used to destroy, and only rarely are used to benefit. The object is clearly to create worship by terror, and to destroy opposition whenever possible.
I suggest that the player put one fourth of the population to breeding, to provide the requisite "Warriors Of God", one fourth to construction and resource gathering, and the remainder expressly to nearly constant worship and prayer. The deaths of individuals mean little under this mythology, rather the goal is the survival of the faith, and of the "Chosen People". Monotheistic desert religions tend to place emphasis on highly religious, even fanatical believers that are well disciplined and highly self sacrificing. Miracles should be used to terrify believers and to crush external opposition, and beneficial miracles should be reserved for matters of survival: food and defence. In answering prayers, a study of the available texts suggests a somewhat haphazard approach, with a slight emphasis on those tasks that ultimately benefit the population, and the faith as a whole. The player should occasionally threaten or punish their own believers on occasion, arbitrarily, to "test their faith", and more importantly, to gain power though fear. Of all the religions, these two offer the most latitude for over the top use of violent power.
In making use of the Titan in this role, the Titan should be used sparingly, taught to express roughly equal measures of support and punishment towards the minion believers. The Titan conceptually serves the function of Old Testament 'angels' and thus can be seen as helper and as the 'divine sword of god'. If one is representing Islam, an emphasis should be placed on the Titan being more kindly, and if playing Judaism, the emphasis should be on punishment, as this reflect the relative bias of angelic beings under both religions.
In general, however, the Titan should play a minor role only. The initial choice of Titan is perhaps best represented by the Tiger, later being switched for the Lion.
The Historical Tactics for both Islam and Judaism are straightforward open warfare alternating with quiet indifference.
The Cosmological Premise for both Judaism and Islam is essentially the same: a single, all powerful, fairly demanding god who works directly upon the world to enforce His will. Occasionally 'prophet' or 'angelic' messengers act on the god's behalf, as needed, but the focus is squarely upon the primary deity.
The Prospects for the Player of these religions is good: warfare based, they will tend to dominate and subjugate the world.
The Real World Conquest Success Rate for Judaism is 14 Million, making it a very minor player in the modern market. Islam rates 1.3 Billion people, making it the second most successful religion on earth, and growing. Zoroastrianism rates less than 1% of the world, essentially it is out of the game.
The Christian religion, currently the number one religion on earth, though starting to fall behind Islams' growth, is a direct offshoot of Judaism, with some elements taken from the even earlier Zoroastrian faith. This is most obvious in an emphasis on the equivalent of the Zoroastrian "dark god", 'Tamuz', an equal to the good god 'Ahriman'. In Christianity this role is taken by a 'fallen angel', 'Satan', originally the Old Testament 'Lucifer' who acted in the role of a 'faith policeman' for the Old Testament god. In New Testament Christianity, this being plays an adversarial role to the primary deity. Other opposing gods can effectively fulfill this role whilst playing the game.
The defining feature of Christianity is the addition of a savior figure, in the personage of a demigod, called 'Yeshua', the name later corrupted by western translators to 'Jesus'. Depending on the given sect of Christianity this savior is considered to be either the son of the primary god, or an actual incarnation of the primary god on earth. This defining feature is best served by the Titan in the game. The Christian variant game of Black & White must therefore put the heaviest weight upon the use and development of the Titan. The primary god, derived from the Old Testament, is seldom directly involved in the affairs of Men, apparently preferring to leave intervention up to the savior figure. Thus the game should be played as the inverse of Judaism, with the Titan being trained to do most of the work, and becoming the central focus of actions, rather than the primary deity. The idea here is to play in a more removed fashion, less hands on, as it were.
How to play as tag team Jehovah and Jesus:
The best choice for Titan in playing Christian would initially be the Cow, since the emphasis of the player should first be in the nurturing of the population. When the choice becomes available, the player should switch to the Lion, which has, after the fall of Rome, for centuries been the traditional animal symbol for the Christian savior. This also reflects a change in play, midgame, towards heavy conversion tactics. In general, the Titan should be taught to equally care for the population, and alternately savage the opposition. The primary symbolic weapon of Christian mythology is fire, so it is recommended that fire be the primary tool for forcing nonbelievers to conversion. The Christian player should alternately entice opposing people with gifts, and blast them with fire if they fail to convert. Under no circumstance should the Christ-Lion be allowed to harm allied believers, but He can be permitted some calculated destruction of opposing believers.
Direct, primary, godly intervention should be kept to an absolute minimum, except when the Titan savior is in any way threatened, at which point it is reasonable for the player to pull out the stops and bring on full scale damnation. Additionally, a constant threat of the potential for Old Testament style destruction should always be a threat to non-believers, so the odd bit of fire and brimstone can be judiciously used on occasional whim. If the player is instilling fear into their own believers, the Titan-Christ should never be allowed to see it occur, thus keeping the "Good-Cop Bad-Cop" style of Christianity intact. In effect, Christianity depends on this game, with believers living in fear of the larger god, and seeking protection from the son of the Big Angry God. The game itself will actually take care of the inevitable martyrdom of the savior-Titan, at the end.
I suggest that the player put one half of the population to breeding, the remaining half to construction and resources, using them for prayer only as needed. If constant worship is needed, never use more than one fourth of the population at a time. Christianity is historically a low-magic religion.
for Christianity are hit and run terrorism and enticement.
The Cosmological Premise for Christianity is that of a single primary deity that plays a background role of fierce and terrifying enforcer, while a foreground savior acts as an intermediary between the faithful and the angry god. Essentially a blend of "Good Cop, Bad Cop" mixed with a sort of cosmic "protection racket".
The Prospects for the Christian styled player are very good indeed, because it tends to cover both punishment and reward fairly equally, and has a strong drive towards the conversion of others.
The Real World Conquest Success Rate for Christianity, taken as a whole, without consideration for the countless sub-sects, divisions, and factions that exist, is a hefty 2 Billion, making Chirstianity the current leader in the game, going neck to neck with Islam.
Paganism, Shinto, Wicca, and Nature Religions
The oldest of all religions, the many and varied pastoral polytheistic faiths all have some common and defining elements. All believe in the capacity of the individual (minion in game terms) to do minor miracles, all believe in multiple gods and goddesses as being valid, and all avoid conflict. One of these qualities are not possible within the Black & White engine, as minion populace cannot perform even minor miracles. However, the other two are possible.
The Pagan player should always strive to create cooperation with other player deities, and avoid warfare. To this end, the Cow is a perfect choice for the initial Titan, which may then be upgraded to -any- other creature, as all Nature is considered valid. Wiccan players may particularly prefer the Wolf Titan, because of the traditional associations.
The Pagan player will concentrate on nurturing both the members of it's own faith, and the members of other faiths. Healing and benevolent miracles the main focus, and the Titan should be heavily trained in magic. The titan in particular should be taught to supply resources to those actually performing worship. Attack magic can be acquired, but the emphasis should be on benevolent magic as most nature religions have very strict rules about the ethics of destructive magic.
I suggest that one third of the population be put to breeding, one third to construction and resources, and one third used for both construction and worship as required by the situation. Every individual life should matter, and an effort should be made to prevent the death of minions.
In every case, the Pagan player should work to form community and to generate an environment based on co-existence with other gods. This clearly puts the pagan player at a distinct disadvantage in many ways, and must rely on clever acts of kindness to hold its own, to sway others to it's side. When under attack, the Pagan player is free to attack in kind, but not to press the advantage beyond tit-for-tat defence. Historically, Nature religions did not try to convert or dominate, relying instead on the idea that kindness alone would win in the end.
for Pagan, nature-based religions are displays of kindness and
support, healing and pleasure. Expansion and conqiest are not
important concerns, and the operating principle is essentially that
kindness will win out in the end.
The Cosmological Premise for the Pagan player is that the Universe itself is alive, that life matters, and that there are many gods and goddesses of varying types, ranks, and forms. All faiths are considered to have validity in the scheme of things, though some may arguably be more productive than others. In effect, life itself is worshipped, a concept that extends to the metaphysical level.
The Prospects for the Pagan player are terrible, as they will most likely follow the example of history and be quickly annihilated by more aggressive religions. However, this can represent a challenge to the player, to see if they can actually make paganism survive and work. Consider this as an Advanced test of playing a god.
The Real World Conquest Success Rate for all forms of paganism, nature religions, and indiginous beliefs combined is roughly 240 million, taking up all of 7% of the world's population. Of this, any one belief system, such as Shinto or Wicca is all but insignificant in the mix, putting all such religions essentially out of the game altogether.
Perhaps the oldest religion on earth, after basic nature religions, Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, and it shares much in common with the pastoral nature religions above, but adds the bonus of some teeth to the mix. The Hindu player should make the effort to honorably create community, but when attacked, pull out all the stops and engage in the most powerful and violent magically based combat possible. Hindu mythology is actually outdoes the Old Testament for number and scale of miracles, so the Hindu player should focus on the most powerful magic possible.
Although multiple gods in one religion are not possible in Black & White, the titan could conceptually be considered a minor deity to the primary one controlled by the player. As such, the Titan should be accorded special respect. The initial choice of a Cow is cute, but the Tiger or the Ape would actually be a more accurate choice. The Ape, if fact, could even be used to represent Hanuman, a simian god in the Hindu pantheon. It is regretful that there are no human Titans in Black & White to take the role of, say, Vishnu or Shiva.
The player can actually take remarkable latitude within the Hindu Pantheon by focusing on only one deity from it. Thus a destructive player could choose Kali, or the clever player Hanuman, or the compassionate player Lakshmi, and so forth. Essentially Hinduism provides a vast banquet of possible playing styles, but for the purposes of this article, I will blend the whole into an overall style.
In that vein, the player should put one third of the population to only breeding, one third to only construction and resources, and one third only to constant prayer. The player or the Titan should support this 'priest caste' with food and such, all the time. The Hindu player should value animals very highly, and see that no harm come to them. This same reverence has not been historically given to minion humans, however.
Miracles should be flashy and powerful and when aggression is called for, only by an actual attack against the player, then the response should be total, unrelenting and absolute.
The Historical Tactics for Hinduism are esentially "live and let live", forming a vast marketplace of diverse sub faiths and sects. However, if pushed, the Hindu faithful are permitted to respond with determined force, and often have. Hinduism is peaceful, but once engaged in war, seldom backs down, and will press every advantage.
The Cosmological Premise for Hinduism is that there are many gods and goddesses, but that behind all of this is a unified 'godhead' or supreme one-ness that defies description. Religious activity focuses then on the various gods that can be understood, and worship is performed with the usual expectation of blessings in return common to all religions.
The Prospects for the Hindu player are superb, though there could be some difficulty with extremely aggressive opponents. Combined with a Pagan player, the two might provide a cooperative benefit to each other.
The Real World Conquest Success Rate for Hinduism is 900 Million, making it the third ranked religion in the world. At number three, this often overlooked religion is quite a contender.
Buddhism was once the dominant religion of mankind. This is no longer true. Originating in India roughly 3500 years ago, the religion is interesting in that there is not the direct focus upon a dominating god figure seen in most faiths. Rather, the goal of Buddhism is less the worship of a god or gods, and more the elevation of the individual soul to escape what is seen as the entrapping nature of reality itself. The universe is seen essentially as a trap for souls, and ultimately, a place of torment. Escape from this reality is accomplished by focused contemplation and renunciation of the world, to achive a state known as samadhi, or enlightenment. Many sects and sub-sects of Buddhism exist, just as in any other religion.
A focal point of Buddhism is that of the Buddha, both an indivdual (the originator of the religion, Sidhartha, an ancient Prince who supposedly discovered the secret of enlightenment), and a state of being to strive for. In game terms, the Titan can conceptually represent a Buddha, and the best initial choice would surely be the Cow (later upgraded to any manner of creature, especially the tiger, if possible later in the game). Within Buddhism, the Buddha is the vey embodiment of compassion, and thus the Titan should be taught to support and to care for the population constantly. All prayers should be answered as best as possible, and the Titan should be encouraged to offer help whenever possible.
Buddhism is not without teeth, however, and while some sects revere all life to the extreme, others incorporate martial practices as a path to enlightenment. The Titan, in particular, should be made especially powerful in hand to hand combat, in preference to miracles.
Like Hinduism, Buddhism accepts the concept of reincarnation, and thus the individual life is less important than the overall goal of the soul. Thus the Buddhist player can make use of the population to accomplish goals of conversion or domination, and indeed should, as direct intervention by spiritual forces on a mass scale is less common in Buddhism. Miracles should be made judicious use of, but not overwhelmingly. Buddhism can be considered only a moderate level miracle religion.
The Historical Tactics for Buddhism are gentle persuasion and education, but if attacked, large scale force can be used.
The Cosmological Premise for Buddhism is that the universe is essentially an unhealthy place for a soul to be, and that the goal is universal enlightnement and thus escape. To this end, conversion is seen as a tool to end suffering.
The Prospects for the Buddhist-style player are moderate to poor, because of a constant drive to expand using gentle persuasion backed up with a powerful iron fist if required, but lacking any real 'hook' to attract new followers.
The Real World Conquest Success Rate for Buddhism is 360 Million, putting it in fourth place in the game. it is a fairly distant fourth too, having suffered a terrible drop over the last many decades. It is expected to continue it's decline.
Because the game Black & White itself will change the appearance and nature of the game world to reflect the playing style, it should prove interesting to examine the result of following the pattern of any given religion. In this way, some moral judgement can be made about the overall ethos of any given deity or belief system and answer a question more dangerous than whether mankind is inherently 'good' or 'evil', and answer whether a cherished deity is inherently 'good' or 'evil'.
Current Real World Conquest Success Scores:
NO 1. Christianity: 2 Billion (dropping)
NO. 2 Islam: 1.3 Billion (growing)
NO 3. Hinduism: 900 Million (growing)
NO. 4 Buddhism : 360 Million (dropping)
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