Cults in games have a long, proud tradition of getting to go full wackadoo. Mostly, they’re a really nice device to lean on, especially in a game where you want to fill the world with collectibles and audio logs and you need some narrative to build that space. Also, they’re pretty easy in that, if you don’t give a flip about collectibles, you can generally parse that cults are evil and cultists deserve to die. I may have learned a few things about that the hard way this year. That said, Far Cry 5 releases this week and focuses on a cult in America that uses religion and being pretty crap people in general to take over an entire state. In preparation, we look back at some of the wackier cults to be featured in games’ proud lineage of brainwashing.
1. Unitology (Dead Space)
I’ve written at length about Unitology because it shocks me how obvious games can get when roasting a real world “religion” that is less than mainstream, but how rarely games have gone after a bigger religion in the same way. Ostensibly, Far Cry 5 is one of the few to take this on directly, and we’ll see how they handle it. Unitology is based on a group of Earthfolk who find an alien artifact and become convinced that it will bring about peace in the galaxy by merging our DNA with alien DNA. It turns out that is exactly what it does, but Unitologists never seem to notice the puzzle-of-flesh downside here. The Dead Space spin-off comics, books, and animated films dig into Unitology to such depth that I fully believe you could practice it as a religion. It’s bizarre cultwork but world-class world building.
2. The Order (Silent Hill)
Matriarchal sects sure get a bad look from their work in this town. Women run this doomsday cult and often force other women into birthing monsters, while demons seem to help or hurt the cult at their whims, there’s plenty of rustbelt small-town economic anxiety to make this relevant in modern contexts. Also there’s a connection to pyramids… you know, this one is complicated.
3. The Echidna Empire (Sonic Adventure)
I’m not sure I can tell you the plot of any of Sonic’s Adventures, but there’s an ancient civilization of echidnas, who worship a giant green rock on a floating island temple to house both the Master Emerald and their civilization. Sure, I mean, that’s normal. The Emerald picks its own messiah and travels into the future but no one involved gets told the entire story, so it’s kinda hit or miss whether any of this gets resolved? Anyway: echidnas are cool as hell.
4. Children Of The Firehawk (Borderlands 2)
There’s a suicide cult that is led by Incinerator Clayton. You’re tasked with burning a few disbelievers into ash and then bringing the ash back to prove that you did the job — as if anyone can tell one pile of ash apart from another pile of ash. A number of followers begin to go worshiping Lilith as a god, you wind up helping them meet untimely ends.
5. The Saturnine (BioShock)
Whoof. This underground city is already populated by a cult, so to make a cult that’s a cult the other cult fears but within the cult: that’s street cred. Named for the Roman god of Saturn, the group wears makes made from trees and their plasmids of choice are based in human blood. They seek enlightenment but maybe a pineapple under the sea is the wrong place to start that journey.
Bonus Entry: Epsilon Group (GTA V)
Would just like to add that I took the time to rubber-band a controller to cross the desert for a Scientology group (and really, to get an achievement.) This one indoctrinated me by my mere participation, and you know, that’s worth a hat-tip. Praise money! Kifflom!
Bonus Bonus Entry: Whatever it is (Outlast 2)
I couldn’t make it through the first level. I assume this was very good.
What are your favorite gaming cults? Or.. I dunno, favorite is the wrong word? Who makes the best argument for why you should join up with their cause? Which cult is the worst/scariest to you?