While some game developers claim to want to stay away from challenging topics, some want the industry to embrace them. Bryan Intihar, Spider-Man PS4‘s creative director, is one of those people in the latter category. On a recent podcast, he explained how video games shouldn’t be afraid to tackle subjects that make people uncomfortable and ones that the player might disagree with.
When prompted by host and fellow Insomniac Ted Price on the most recent episode of the Game Maker’s Notebook podcast on what he would like to see change in the industry, Intihar said he wanted games to go after different subjects.
“I want to see more games that are tackling topics that may cause people to disagree on certain things or that may ask questions that we need to start asking,” he said. “You go to social media every day and you see another story about something happening in the world. I hope we have more games that start to explore those types of topics.”
But rather than keep it vague, Intihar went into specifics and brought up religion, a topic few games tackle in any meaningful way.
“For example, I’m very interested in religion,” Intihar stated. “More games that talk about spirituality and why you believe in something and why is there so much hate because we believe in two different things? Just more things like that. I’m not saying there aren’t games doing that today. But I want to see more games tackle harder subjects or show multiple sides to and let people talk about it.”
There are a few games that bring up religion directly in some ways like Bioshock Infinite or indirectly through allegory or other means like Iconoclasts and Halo. But others don’t pay the subject much respect or handle it as well as evidenced by Far Cry 5‘s widely panned attempt at displaying belief within a cult.
Far Cry 5 is big part of the debate that comes up when talking about anything political in games as some claim to just want “games to just be games” while others want games to have more nuanced takes or defined stances. Price hinted at that divide by asking Intihar if he thought players are evolving and interested in those deeper themes. Intihar agreed and stated that it didn’t need to be all one way or the other.
“There is a group of players right now that love those story-based single-player games,” he said. “I would imagine that audience would like something like that. That doesn’t mean the person who only plays Fortnite… I hope they will give those games a chance but I think that our society is starting to ask.”
Intihar seems aware of the implications of topics like this. He talked about how even he was getting a bit uncomfortable at the sheer mention of the word “religion.” However, he continued to speak on how going after subjects like this could help society as a whole.
“We need to show that more of that in our games and ask people to dig into topics that may be a little bit uncomfortable,” he stated. “Like I got a little bit uncomfortable mentioning the word ‘religion’ because I know it’s a very sensitive subject, right? But I want to explore that. I want to learn more about. I want to understand why there is so much hate around something like religion depending on where you live in the world, right? I think we will grow as a society and gain new perspectives if we start to explore those somewhat uncomfortable topics.”
He spoke about getting perspectives from other people by talking to friends over dinner over a few hours. That extended period of times allows deeper subjects to come out, like how they look at the world and life in general. Taking in these subjects and injecting them into the games is something he says he wants to see more of and that it is a “big thing” for him.
Critically acclaimed films such as 2018’s First Reformed and The Miseducation of Cameron Post were applauded for their takes on religion and the complexities of faith. There are other recent films that touch on similar subjects such as Boy Erased and mother!, while games can’t point to parallels as easily or in as great a quantity. Intihar echoes a sentiment felt by some who are looking for games to do more, while also saying the opposite of others claim to want.