Five in-game cults that are a far cry from Far Cry 5

Unitology_020

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.

201101271

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?

48 Comments

  1. rustybroomhandle says:

    Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion had the Mythic Dawn cult, which was pretty standard fantasy gamef are, but far more interesting was the Brethren of Hackdirt.

    • DEspresso says:

      I wonder, is the Dark Brotherhood a Cult?

      • empty_other says:

        \||/,
        We know…

        …That it is a cult: A group taking extremist action on the order of a charismatic leader who claims it can talk to a long dead zombie? Its a close to the many definitions of a cult as you can get.

        • brucethemoose says:

          Indeed, but it’s also a… Is guild the right word? Business?

          The brotherhood gets more paid work done than most pure “cults” do.

          The Assassins and Templars from AS have a similar problem. They’re quite cult-like, but the word “cult” just doesn’t do them justice.

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      And just to be that annoying guy who shows up in every thread about Oblivion to say “Morrowind did it better”:

      Morrowind did it better. Seeing some random NPC you’d passed by a hundred times suddenly running at you with a knife in his hand and an empty hole where his face used to be screaming about the return of the Sixth House was pretty effective!

    • funky_mollusk says:

      Don’t forget the Imperial Cult.

  2. Evan_ says:

    Planescape: Torment is full of them. Not sure if I was just young or they are presented -that- well, but whenever I met and studied one, I felt that they have the best approach and explanation for existence in Sigil. I joined as many as I could in order of their appearance during my first playtrough.

    Can’t say I was the most adamant and faithful cultist.

  3. Abacus says:

    The Pagans in Thief!

    • edwardoka says:

      No, the Pagans weren’t a cult. The Trickster was a real nature god with agency and powers of his own.

      The lore doesn’t specify whether the Master Builder was real or not, but on available evidence I think the Hammerites qualify more as a religion than a cult – and they kept the Pagans in check.

      The Mechanists, however, definitely WERE a cult.
      – Came about as a result of a power vacuum
      – Has a sole leader of a heretical sect, with Karras worship a close second to Builder worship
      – Promises the return of their lord
      – Twists and rewrites religious scripture to fit Karras’ deranged agenda
      – Forcibly converts the poor to unthinking transhuman slaves
      – Their end goal falls firmly on the Doomsday side of things

      The Mechanists are a far better example of a cult than any other that comes to mind.

      • Vilos Cohaagen says:

        Agreed, and also how great was the universe of the first two Thief games? I still can’t believe they threw the Hammerites, Pagans and Mechanists away for Thi4f.

  4. automatic says:

    Funny how I just read about a christian-based cult whose leaders have been arrested for enslaving about a half thousand people. They worked most of the time at a farm and business owned by the leaders for just food and shelter and couldn’t even recognize they were slaves. They just called themselves ‘brotherhood’. Apparently this kind of thing is more common than we hear about.

  5. Anonymous2000 says:

    Hubologists from Fallout 2. Just a Scientology parody but interacting with them and reading their sacred teachings was fun.

    • Arglebargle says:

      When I went in for my ‘audit’ and got stuck in the chair, it took a long time for me to figure out it was possibly a glitch, and not a part of the hubology shtick.

    • Evan_ says:

      I loved the iteration where they were called ‘Elronologists’. Was it only in Fallout Online?

  6. Renegade says:

    I would add the Monolith faction from the Stalker series.

    link to stalker.wikia.com

    • Sophistry says:

      While Monolith is cool, I’m not sure it quite qualifies. It’s not really belief if a gestalt mind has to fry your brain to get you to join.

      Honestly I suspect the only reason that they perform any worship at all is to perpetuate the myth of the Monolith to any observers, rather than any actual religious inclination.

  7. Doug Exeter says:

    I was going to ask “How could the author forget about Outlast 2?”. Then i realized I forgot about it roughly 2 minutes after beating it since it wasn’t worth remembering. Decent cult though I guess.

  8. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    1. Strive for Unity
    2. Trust Thy Brother
    3. Worthiness Precedes Reward

    Follow these steps towards Sanguine Cognition and meditate on them. Only then will you hear your inner voice- your Guardian.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Mikemcn says:

    The Church of Atom is pretty great. They worship the power of atomic energy and weaponry, and bath in radiation, which is utter loonieness. But if you take a moment to think about it, there is a reason to their beliefs, they live entirely in a world defined by radiation and the destruction that the atom has created. It determines the day to day lives of everyone in the wasteland, creates entirely new species, shapes the world into accessible and inaccessible zones. Humanity has generally lost the ability to wield this power. It seems like magic, evil and good in different ways. All of this atomic power comes from a past world of relative peace and stability, an idea of heaven in a world that has turned into an infernal hell. More than anything else, radiation is the most omnipotent force in all of the Fallout Universe.

    Faced with such a power, you can hardly blame some people for treating it with a supernatural strength.

    They might not fit the definition of cult, given that they are one of the very few religious organizations in Fallout, but they still have extreme zeal and a self-harming ideology that you often see in Cults.

    • funky_mollusk says:

      I was gonna mention this too, but I couldn’t remember what they were called. They’re definitely a cult IMO, but if I recall correctly you can’t really join them.

      Incidentally: that whole idea was cribbed straight from Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

    • n0s says:

      Oh I can, and will, always blame anyone for believing in anything supernatural. Science or STFU.

  10. Xelias says:

    So, nobody is going to talk about Harvester ? Litteraly the BEST cult in any game ever?

  11. AfroThoz says:

    Fraternal Order of the Raven. Another from the Bioshock games, but those guys freaked me out!

    • Whelp says:

      Hell yes, the guys that worshipped John Wilkes Booth.
      One of the best parts of Bioshock Infinite, sadly a bit underused (the whole game sadly felt a little half-baked.)

  12. brucethemoose says:

    Do the Vanu Sovereignty, The Horatio, The Voydani and the Brotherhood of Nod count?

    As already mentioned, they’re definitely cult-like, but might be too big to call a “cult”.

    • Whelp says:

      I’m not sure a fricking star empire made up entirely of clones of the same guy counts as a cult.

      The Brotherhood of Nod definitely does though. PEACE THROUGH POWER! KANE LIVES!

  13. Moneymancer Marklew says:

    Another curious one is the cult in Night in the Woods, who save for one member is purely motivated by the economic downfall of their rustbelt town. Ruthless people who try really hard to make you see them as the good guys in the bigger picture, sacrificing hobos and drifters to an elder god which may or may not exist.

  14. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    I quite enjoyed the cult storyline from Mankind Divided. It was an odd standalone vignette that didn’t really connect to the web of conspiracy that usually makes up the Deus Ex plot, but it was still the most memorable part of the instalment to me.

    • Scurra says:

      And since I didn’t follow that path on the first couple of times through, I didn’t discover their weird “temple” for a while either.
      It definitely felt as though it fitted the world without being truly a part of it, which is how the story worked too. (Also, it was an obviously logical omission from the original story, so it was nice to see it explored a little here.)

  15. airknots says:

    I know it’s not PC, but Yakuza 0’s cult should be added too.

    Shooreh Pippi!

  16. Phubarrh says:

    Clearly the Morninglight are lagging in their recruitment efforts, despite being one of the driving forces in The Secret World. A sweet blendering of Gnosticism, Scientology, and the Outer Gods, exactly what they’re up to is still open to question…

  17. FreonTrotsky says:

    One of the best cults is one of the earliest: The Fellowship in Ultima 7. The rules, gimmicks and pyramid structure were very clearly laid out, and watching their followers regurgitate main Fellowship talking points through their own individual context is fun and fascinating. The fact that their “Inner Voice” was literally a trans-dimensional entity manipulating them by pretending to be their conscience was inspired.

    A few honorable mentions:

    The Mankind Divided sewer cult for pure hilarity. Never has punching out a cult leader felt so satisfying.

    The Call of Cthulhu fish people. Gameplay was not great, but the Dagon cult is creepy as hell in that game.

  18. MCZ says:

    Here are a few that got stuck in my memory:

    – Cult of the Eyeless from the second Baldur’s Gate where new members had their eyes removed in promise of a better (after)life, but in fact ended up serving some Beholder.

    – Cult of Akbaa from Arx Fatalis performing human sacrifices in order to summon demons (as a player you could prevent or witness such sacrifice).

    – And of course Brotherhood of the 9th Circle from VTM: Bloodlines which player encounters in side-quest that starts quite inconspicuously as a search for some missing person.

  19. Indighost says:

    The cult in Outlast 2 was called “The Testament of the New Ezekiel”

  20. Hastur says:

    Putting in a word for The Church of God’s Word, in A Mind Forever Voyaging. That game has stuck with me a long time.

  21. Apologised says:

    Trusting a Chaos Emerald is varying levels of bad idea depending on which particular Sonic canon you are following.
    In the Fleetway UK Sonic canon it’s a TERRIBLE idea as those things are literally concentrated and sequestered evil that Kintobor drained out of the universe that good can always win.

    Which he managed to successfully do, with the exception of himself after that unfortunate lab accident that infused himself with some of that energy and a rotten egg sonic had just found in the fridge.

    This is why ONLY Robotnik can ever possibly win, because there is an insufficient amount of evil in the universe for badguys to win UNLESS they’re packing a chaos emerald or two, or are Robotnik since he’s packing his own.

    For further example: “Metallix” that settings Sonic CD metal sonic, became an entire race of robotic time traveling hedgehogs and attempted to remove robotnik via time travel. Despite having time-travel access they STILL somehow lost to Sonic.

  22. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    These are the kind of articles I love the most. Interesting concept that also gets interesting comments. I think all the cults I would have mentioned have been included above, but I’m sure one will pop into my head later…

  23. SirBubbles says:

    “Brotherhood, Unity, Peace”, I always thought NOD from C&C was pretty interesting. Also Obelisks of Light. Also special mention to the Unitology folks from the Dead Space series. I’d also mention the Eternal Fire from the Witcher series. King Radovid seemed to be a big fan, and liked burning things as I recall. Also people.

  24. Moonracer says:

    So many references to the Fallout series and overlooking the Brotherhood of Steel? Though they don’t claim to be a religion, they are (were) super secretive and worship technology. Often prioritizing tech over people in circular logic to protect people.

  25. Eleriel says:

    The Treeminders, followers of The One Who Grows, Gives, and Guides, in Fallout 3.

    Also known as: The crazy followers of Harold and Bob.

Comment on this story

HTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>