Insert Coin (Level 0)
Ultima VII: The Black Gate, Religion, and Richard Garriott
Today I got an email reply from Lord British!
Here is the exchange:
Dear Richard Garriot
Hello there! I do not know if this email will ever get to you, but I've been thinking about writing to you for a long time.
My name is Obi and I am studying philosophy in BC, Canada. Classes are finished until January, and during these breaks I generally try to play the video games I had been thinking about all semester. Typically I don't feel good playing video games while papers and stuff are due, but right now I have a lot of free time.
I've fired up some old Ultima games that I haven't seen in years. I am enjoying them a lot, and I wanted to thank you for them. I feel fortunate to have had such deep and interesting childhood experiences.
The idea of writing to you came after I read a book that you left in Ascension. It interested me, because moral theory is something that I think about a lot. In fact, I wonder if you are familiar with Virtue Theory. It's an unusual moral theory, but I kinda like it. In fact: here is Rosalind Hursthouse's definition of what a morally right action is:
1. An action is right if and only if it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically do in the circumstances.
2. A virtuous agent is one who has, and exercises, certain characteristic traits, namely the virtues.
I've always kind of wondered if you had virtue ethics in mind when you developed the Avatar. Did you?
Anyways, about that book you wrote in ascension... You started off by saying how you could develop a good foundation for ethics without religion. I've been obsessed with this idea as well, and I've wanted to talk to you about it. You see, I've had a few interesting experiences with religious bigotry earlier this year. You could say that I've been radicalized. I've always been opposed to religion on philosophical grounds, because I feel like religion somehow escapes the demand for justification that other beliefs are expected to meet. I've never understood the concept of faith. I find it a bit intellectually lazy. And as I've said earlier, some bad things happened to me as I tried to reach out to religion, and now I am a even more jaded than I was before. But anyways...
I wanted to ask you about Ulltima 7 The Black Gate. I fired this up again recently too. So many good memories of this game. Yet now, as an adult, I see Britiannia a little differently. As I walked into the fellowship branch in Trinsic I could not help draw the sharp comparison to a modern-day church. It was so obvious to me. Why didn't I see this before?
Anyhow I looked up the game on wikipedia. They describe the fellowship as a 'religious organization'. I'm not sure if this is accurate. It certainly has that appearance, but there was no mention of any god, or afterlife, or supernatural world. I think even an atheist could have joined the fellowship and believed everything in there.
But this is what I've really been wanting to ask you: Did you intend the fellowship to be a critique of christianity? It certainly seems that way to me. I first felt convinced of this during the Avatar's initiation ceremony. When Batlin asks the present members to talk about how their lifes have taken on positive changes since joining, several of the townsfolk respond with eactly the kinds of sentiments we hear from christians. "My life has greatly improved" "I have found inner peace" "I now see things more clearly", and other things. This wouldn't yet be a criticism, but when the Avatar's companions hear this, they all comment on how sorry they feel for these truly deluded people. It wasn't just one or two of the Avatar's more grumpy friends that said this; They all had something to say about what BS the fellowship was.
As I played the game more, I came across something unexpected. It seemed to me that there was no clear distinction between fellowship members and those that did not join. I would have expected the members of the fellowship to all be morally weak, intellectually weak, or have some reason to make the 'mistake' of joining. But I did not feel that way. Even intelligent and morally good people became members of the fellowship. This also seems to find a parallel with religion. I see intelligent and good people become religious also. Religion would be an easy thing to dimiss if this were not the case. But what this suggests to me us that the fellowship is something that can seduce even the best of us. Even if there's a few examples of good fellowship members, the whole thing is still deeply rotten.
I saw how the fellowship appeared to be charitable in Paws, yet their charity was contingent upon conversion. I saw people hoping to hear an 'Inner Voice', rather than relying on their own reason. I saw people who claimed that the fellowship made them more honest, generous, or happy people, but in reality they were the most dishonest, mean, and miserable people. And all the worse since they were lying to themselves.
This question has been eating me: Did you intend The Black Gate to be an implicit (or explicit!) critique of religion in general, or Chritianity in particular? Again I am not a friend of religion, at least not the way it is traditionally practiced. I wonder if this game had some profound effect on my development. Did you worry that the game would be perceived that way?
Curious thing... I have heard the Jerry Falwells of the world condemn some games for being a bit too violent or sexually explicit. But I do not recall hearing anything about Ultima 7. I think they ought to have worried more about this one, since it's attack on christian values was much deeper and philosophical.
In fact, here is another curious thing: Ultima 8 Pagan. Could you have been more inflammatory than that title, or that box art? Was this deliberate?
Anyways I really hope that you read this one day and satisfy my curiosity. Thanks again for all those awesome memories. You are kind of like an old friend to me, but you just did not know it. I'm going to do something productive today, and I hope you have a good day as well.
Take care my friend.
Thanks for your very kind note!
I am glad you are enjoying a replay of the old works.
Much of the fiction was meant to be a direct challenge or discussion of current events, politics and religion.
I hope to be soon making the successor to my previous work.
I hope you will join us in the new world when it is ready!
- Richard “Lord British” Garriott