Episcopal Life On Line today publishes an article from the Ecumenical News Service apropos of a Sony video game apparently set in Manchester Cathedral. The first few paragraphs of the article state:
The Church of England has threatened the Sony Corporation with legal action unless it withdraws a video game set in Manchester Cathedral.”During the game, players are asked to assume the role of an army sergeant and win a battle in the cathedral. The video footage of the cathedral battle on ‘You Tube’ has shocked and dismayed us beyond words, and can only be described as virtual desecration,” the cathedral’s dean, the Rev. Rogers Govender, told journalists on June 11.
Sony has said in a statement that “Resistance: Fall of Man” is a fantasy science fiction game and not based on reality.
Govender said, however, “For a global manufacturer to re-create the interior of any religious building, such as a mosque, synagogue or, in this case, a cathedral, with photo-realistic quality, and then encourage young people to have gun battles in the building is beyond belief and, in our view, highly irresponsible.”
Dean Govender may have a point. On the other hand, maybe he doesn’t.
Surely the dean would not deny that battles have taken place in religious structures. Surely the dean would not deny that religious structures have been important battlegrounds or landmarks in wars throughout history. And surely the dean would not deny that our religious buildings are battlegrounds in the struggle between good and evil every day. So what, then, is the objection to a fantasy-based game depicting a religious building as such.
On the other hand, the dean is correct that a building dedicated to peace probably should not be used as the background for a shoot-’em-up, FPS (first-person-shooter) video game.
But then, to what extent can religious buildings be used in popular entertainments? One recalls that the cathedrals of medieval Europe were used as theatres when morality plays were produced therein. The cathedral in my diocese is used as a theatrical dining hall for “medieval banquets” and “Boar’s Heads feasts” each December (as are many church buildings throughout the country). And old church buildings have been used as the models for schools of magic (I believe Durham Cathedral was used as part of Hogwart’s School of Wizardry in the Harry Potter movies) and at least part of one church has been used as if it were in the personal art collection of Satan (“Ex Nihilo,” a frieze of subtle and extraordinary power created for the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, by Frederick Hart, was brought to life as a disturbing, living, writhing sculpture over the Prince of Darkness’s fireplace in the movie “Devil’s Advocate”). Are any of these uses any less disturbing than Sony’s use of Manchester Cathedral?
A Sony spokesman is quoted in the article as saying, “Throughout the process we have sought permission where necessary.” If this is true, one assumes the permissions came from the Cathedral itself — why wasn’t the dean aware of this? And if it’s true, where does the cathedral or the dean get off complaining at this late date?
An old public relations saw has it that “there’s no such thing as bad press.” The dean should take this to heart and use this as an opportunity to call attention to the cathedral and invite the players of Sony’s video game to visit the cathedral in person. They might find that the cathedral is a place to do something other than pull a virtual trigger.