While I haven’t posted too much about it on Arcadia Pod, I do occasionally take free MOOC classes, I’ve done a few reviews on my other site Great Odin’s Raven! in the past. To quote that page “For those not “in the know” MOOCs (or Massive Open Online Courses) are a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people. Their value really comes from their ability to deliver high quality higher learning classes for free to places that have no access to such a service. When EDX started, for instance, I was taking classes constantly – ones about epidemics, and space science – just all sorts of random topics.” In the past most of the major MOOC providers were entirely free and came with certificates of completion, now some of them have paywalls to keep everything running. I enjoy Coursera a lot because it still can be enjoyed for free without any features being removed, you basically pay for the credentials now.
A Voice of Their Own. Women’s Spirituality in the Middle Ages is a “sequel” of sorts to another class offered by the University of Barcelona called Magic in the Middle Ages. That class was very well done, and had a lot of information I was unaware of. the only stumbling block for some is that the class is delivered by a group of instructors speaking in thick accents, as Spanish is their native tongue. Some are crystal clear, but others required me to use subtitles on certain things. That said, this is definitely not a deal breaker in any way.
This class is more Christian leaning, as it deals with early Christian mysticism, but it’s interesting because it talks mostly about how women were persecuted and even executed as heretics because of how the church ran things during the times of the Inquisitors. Having a background in Gnosticism, seeing topics covered such as The Cathars, was interesting to me. I know many that read my stuff are Pagan, so if you look at this from the perspective of “look how bad the church was” its an interesting class to take.
Have you ever heard about medieval mysticism or medieval heresies? Have you ever wondered about the particular role women played in medieval spirituality? Do Hildegard of Bingen, Clare of Assisi, Marguerite Porete, the Cathar ladies or Isabel de Villena ring a bell? Have you ever felt like you wanted to know more about them? If your answer to any of these questions was yes, then this MOOC, A voice of their own. Women’s spirituality in the Middle ages is what you were looking for.
A Voice of their own is much more than a course. It is an invitation to follow the paths traced by the spiritual experiences of medieval women. It is a challenge that, should you let it, will take you to places where you will see and hear things that will astonish you. Here you will find medieval women playing a major role in the spiritual transformations of the Middle Ages, founding monastic movements and orders, writing about their experiences, traveling the roads of Europe to spread their ideas, creating spiritual landscapes, as well as both material an intangible architectures. In this MOOC, these women will speak to you from the past, and you’ll see that their voices still hold great validity in the present.
I did have one issue with this course, and that is the assignments. As far as I could tell, two of the quizzes are incorrect, making it basically impossible to score 100%. The oversight is that much more annoying with a limit of 3 retakes per 8 hour period. I eventually had to keep taking the tests and guessing on what they said the correct answer was through trial and error. I eventually did it, but the experience was very frustrating, and the school seems to be fairly hands off on the forums for the class. This is the downside to the classes structured more as a “learn at your own pace” model, as many of these professors obviously can’t sit around and monitor the forums for years down the line. The whole thing becomes somewhat of an archived experience over time.
All-in-all this wasn’t my favorite MOOC I’ve ever taken. While the information was great, having the inability to have a blatant issue resolved was frustrating. Perhaps Coursera needs a “report this” feature that students can utilize. I would recommend taking the first class before this one, and if you enjoyed it, like me, the second is a no-brainer despite the issues. just be prepared for chapter 3, and be sure to use the forums the best you can. If you succeed, $50 will grant you a verified certificate for ultimate bragging rights. If there are any MOOCs out there anyone would recommend, drop me a line.
NOTE: A version of this article was originally posted on a now-defunct gaming website that I previously worked for. Some of the references might be a bit dated. Rather than have something I worked hard on disappear from the internet, I have decided to post it on here.
Remember the HUGE controversy that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas spawned a few years ago? Despite the “Hot Coffee Mod” being only unlockable by way of a cheating device, many an anti-videogame lobbyist threw up an amazing fuss over the game citing it as the downfall of our civilization amongst other things. Let’s face it, was all the fuss really worth it? Only a few folks could even access the section, so was it really that bad? What about all of the controversy that has recently started up for the new iteration of the Medal of Honor franchise? Being able to play as the Taliban has opened a can of worms that many folks are drawing battle fines for. It’s okay to fight against Nazis and Viet Kong though, as they are old news.
Both examples make me chuckle, as there are tons of games out there with far more objectionable content that would make these people freak out like crazy if they only knew about them. Hell, if you look at a game like Pokémon just right, one could argue that it is simply an animal fighting simulator, and in this post-Michael Vick world, that’s the last thing kid’s need (sarcasm). Another example is the growing H-games category, including awful games that depict things such as rape of digital characters. These are even sold in the U.S. generally by digital distribution, and nobody bats an eyelash.
The main subject of this article is another game series; one that would outrage many folks if it weren’t for that fact that these people that get on anti gaming bandwagons do no research and only get mad about what is popular. Part of me sort of hopes at least one stuffy suit in an offiece finds out about the series so it gets more popular. Called “Megaten” for short by many of its fans, the Shin Megami Tensei games have been alive and kicking since the Famicom (NES) days way back in the late eighties. Many do not know this, as the series was completely unheard of in the west until Persona, a spin-off game for the PlayStation rolled stateside with heavy edits in place. But why was this the case? Why was this game series seen as “un-releasbale” for so long? and why is the game more controversial than most other games out there? I have listed a few, but not all, reasons that I feel truly illustrate this point.
Way to go guys….
Anti-Government / Anti-Authority Overtones
One of the first factors that I would like to bring up, as to why this series used to be quite sensitive and still would anger pundits and folks like Tipper Gore, is it’s general consistency in the “authority is bad” department. Games and movies alike have been lumped together in the assumption that all they do is create juvenile delinquents. The cornerstone of this belief, especially games like GTA, is that they promote a lack of family values, starting with a lack of respect for elders. This scenario pops up in just about all Megaten games.
Let’s face it, if a demon invasion were to happen in your town, the local government would probably come across as jerks trying to handle it. Martial law, food rations, curfews and other inconveniences would surely occur. Problem is that in most games where this happens there is an ulterior motive for this, one that does not involve the well being of the people.
This exact scenario happens in the Nintendo DS game Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. An outbreak of demons causes the Japanese Self Defense Force to seal in Tokyo keeping anything from entering or leaving the city. The main characters find out by way of a computer program acting as a “Death Clock” that everyone there is to die in exactly one week. The assumption is that the SDF is going to nuke Tokyo wiping the infestation off the map. The main characters fear the worst, as SDF soldiers are realized as anonymous inhuman soldiers within the game. This sentiment is made worse by the fact that many times within the game, soldiers and government officials stand by while all manner of atrocity occurs, letting religious cults seem the ones to trust in the situation.
Many games in the main series revolve around a post-apocalyptic backdrop for all the demon wrangling. This is usually caused by a total mismanagement of a small situation by a few world powers, and BOOM, end of the world. If the government wasn’t the cause of the calamity, they usually stand benign and allow all kinds of bad stuff to happen.
Another spinoff of the series, Persona, shows how corrupt and untrustworthy the governments can be in these games. For Example, one of the main antagonists of the game is a huge multi-national company called SEBEC. These guys specialize in looking like any other electrical company from the outside, but actually exist as some kind of militarized pseudo government that rises up to control the world once all hell breaks loose. Pretty soon you are fighting SEBEC agents and soldiers along with the popular demon characters.
Don’t you hate when you forget to wear pants?
Gore and Sexual Imagery, Especially in Spinoff Material
Most anime and Manga fans are pretty lucky to have adaptations of or spinoff material from their favorite videogames, as these items can be a huge marketing push for the company producing the game. This success has been seen with Final Fantasy VII and its spinoff materials including the widely popular Advent Children movie. The Megaten series is no stranger to this as there have been a number of anime and manga publications out there for years. Problem is that most of these go overboard with the “adult” tone. While a lot of the Megaten games are full of dark imagery, they never really cross the line into the pornographic side of gore, nudity, cursing, and other hallmarks of mature media. This hasn’t stopped the writers of these movies and books from making their stuff basically all pornographic.
One example of this that immediately comes to my mind is the near ancient OVA (Original Video Animation or Direct to Video) movie Digital Devil Saga: Megami Tensei. The movie came out right as the game series began to be somewhat popular, but is actually based on the original novel that the game originated from. What follows is 45 minutes of gratuitous nudity, tentacle …..uh….situations, and gore. By the end of the movie you end up pretty desensitized to what is happening and you very well could fall asleep, that’s what I did at least. There are a lot of goofy situations like the main character creating a virtual reality version of his teacher in order for a demon named Loki to have sex with in the virtual realm. As you can see, pretty off-base stuff.
A lot of the manga is equally off-base including the sole Western released manga (as far as I know) Kahn, which takes place storyline-wise after an obscure spin-off game made many years ago. Much like the later Persona games, the action takes place entirely in a school that gets infested with demons. On any given page the reader is blessed with beheaded students, blood sprays and even a lesbian girl-on-demon girl sex scene. I totally remember that in the games! (oh wait…) All joking aside it seems that anyone who wants to shell out some extra cash on some Megaten side stories will have to watch out, as your basically buying porn. Bloody weird porn with demon sex in it.
The games themselves are still fairly violent and risqué, but are a lot more subtle about it. One of the more “out in the open” things found in some of the games are the designs for some of the demons themselves. Had this series been released in any other decade there would be many a digital bikini getting drawn onto pixilated characters as there are some pretty scandalous things in the game, such as:
and…no comment on the next one:
Skewed Religious Overtones
Much like how western folks get random kanji tattooed on themselves that are supposed to mean “strength” but actually says “Kitchen”, the Japanese have always been fascinated with western religious imagery and mythology, especially for works of fiction, and slightly mis-used them. If you are an anime fan and have seen a show called Neon Genesis Evangelion, you know exactly what I’m talking about in this regard.
This topic is actually one of the more controversial aspects of this series, and help lead to the games being dubbed “un-releasable” back in the good old days due to heavy censorship. On the surface the Megaten games take the age old RPG cliché of “the bad guy is an evil religion / deity / priest etc.” motif and attaches actual religions to it. Instead of a fictitious god with a generic name like “the nature spirit” we have YHVH. “YHVH?” “What does that mean?” YHVH, which is also called the tetragrammaton, is the actual perceived “name” for what many of us call God. This acronym can also have syllables added to it to read as Yahweh or Jehovah depending on what religion you come from.
In the game Shin Megami Tensei II YHVH is the main bad guy, a point that would utterly anger most religious types. His motivations in the game are that the world has become so unreasonably bad that he has decided to destroy it and begin anew. This leads to a difficult choice for the gamer: does one listen to their God who wants to destroy the earth, fight against him and join with Satan, or decide that their all idiots and do your own thing. Not only does this fly in the face in just about every Christian concept there is, but it promotes anti-authoritarian values to the highest degree. Did I mention that the main character in Shin Megami Tensei II is the Messiah? Yeah talk about daddy issues!
The “real ending” of this game is one where you chose to kill God himself, to which he gives a speech along the lines of “As long as humanity is too weak to look for their own answers, their weakness will create a belief in me that brings me back to life again and again and again! MWAHAHAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”. You walk outside and Satan himself is there acting all cool like the Fonze saying “hey man, good job!”
Don’t take my word for it: Here is a bit of one of the endings of Shin Megami Tensei II for reference –
The religious imagery does not end there, as you fight enemies such as a crucified man who looks to be of the Jesus persuasion, bondage clad sado-masochistic angels, demons named after archangels and saints and so on. It would be a safe bet that if the wrong person witnessed various parts of these games, there would be a crap-storm. The Jesus thing is a big problem as labeling a fictitious character as the “messiah” or a reincarnation of Jesus pretty much makes everyone angry. This is especially true when you have a character in a game that looks exactly like the Western depiction of Jesus that is evil and is a false messiah like Takaya in Persona 3.
The problem with this is that anytime one makes a reference to an actual deity in a game, TV show, or movie that doesn’t paint it exactly in the best regard, the followers of said church are probably going to get mad. Two examples of this that I can think of off the top of my head are the Danish Cartoon debacle and the protests over the popular Kevin Smith movie Dogma. Both situations ended up garnering death threats and angry mobs, and in the case of the cartoons, promised violence. Imagine if you will, those folks finding out about these games!
Kids handling guns
After the Columbine tragedy, depictions of school children doing any harm to each other (or themselves for that matter) are generally frowned upon in the U.S. and much of the western world. Why else would a ten year old movie such as Battle Royale never get released legitimately here despite honors, awards, and wide appeal? It’s because most folks are scared that they will get blamed when the next series of schoolyard violence opens up. Color me surprised when the trailer for Persona 3 opened up and showed what looked to be a group of kids shooting themselves in the head with small caliber pistols. “surely they’ll edit that out” I said, remembering the unnecessary edits done to previous Persona games. These were edits that went so far as to change people’s Races or remove entire chunks of storyline. It’s a different era I guess, because said guns are definitely in the game.
The following is a small list of “hot button issues” that any Megaten game tries to push the envelope on, but weren’t big enough for their own section.
Occultism – The series is full of depictions of Satanic, pagan, and other rituals including sacrifices, blood orgies, and other items that would make many frown upon the game.
Anti-Semitism – The main storyline of the first half of Persona 2 revolves around a clan of Neo-Nazis trying to resurrect Hitler to take over the world. They succeed and you have to fight Hitler. This would get the game outright banned in some countries such as Germany.
Cannibalism- In the game Digital Devil Saga the main characters are all demons, and gain powers from other demons by way of eating them. When Serph and company devour other demons, they gain magic points, but only if this attack actually kills the demon in question.
Homosexuality – Rather than dancing around the issue of homosexuality in games, (much like the character Birdo in the Mario series) The Megaten games have always presented it in an honest adult manner. Usually there is a random character in the game that turns out to be a cross-dresser or openly gay. Take for instance Kanji Tatsumi in persona 4, and his problems with his own sexuality and it’s perceived “un-manliness” (yeah that’s a word now).
So there you have it, the most controversial game series out there should be the Megaten series, yet a very small amount of folks have actually played it. I bet by reading this at least one reader has become shocked and outraged about the series, which is my intention. If we are to believe that “controversy sells”, what better way to promote a game that I enjoy than to use it to anger “stuffy” folks. All kidding aside, most themes in these games make GTA look tame by comparison due to the tone it uses. Other games revel in the immaturity of the gore, sex, and drugs they use, yet the Megaten series does it in an intelligent adult manner.
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To change up what I was reading a bit (lots of superhero books), I decided to get a handful of European comics from a sale that was hosted by Heavy Metal Magazine. Heavy Metal is known to be an “adult” comic company, and while this is not for children it isn’t crass or filthy – it just has a bit on skin. You may remember a film based on the Heavy Metal license back in the 1980’s – same books. Almost all of these were around $3.00 which is almost cheaper than most modern comic books. If you want to check some of these out, here is a link to the bargain bin on the Heavy Metal website:
For this round, I chose four books that caught my eye from the cover alone. Since this turned out to be a success. I will probably get more. All four of these books turned out to be beautiful hardback editions, about the same size as most children’s storybooks. I’m not sure of this format is particularly great as I’m more used to omnibus editions, but they are quick easy reads.
I believe this comic was originally written in 1974, and I really enjoyed the artwork a LOT – very much Jack Kirby meets 70’s drug chic. The plot is a “modernized” (1974) version of the classic Story by Homer. The Olympians and associated monsters are aliens, which are mistaken for gods by humans that cannot comprehend their technology. They enjoy putting humans in peril and watching their follies as some sort of twisted reality show. Ant that was long before that particular strain of television mind-rot became a thing.
The only downside is that this volume leaves the story incomplete, as Heavy Metal (as far as I can tell) did not release the second volume with this 2006 reprint.
I would have loved something like this when I was a kid even though this isn’t a kids book. Since this ran in the french version of Heavy Metal I know this is meant for an adult audience so it’s cool to see that they did something like this.
This book contains an illustrated version of The book of Genesis, and while it’s pretty short, all of the important information is there without getting bogged down in minutiae. Unlike other illustrated bibles, this one isn’t watered down for kids – Yahweh is a jerk, and people try to swindle or kill each-other all the time – an honest representation of what the Bible is actually like. This isn’t a bad thing – I prefer not hiding things no matter how rough they may be. I wish there was more re-published by Heavy Metal, but it seems that this was the only book re-released, or at least the only one available in English.
Attila (Hombre #5) 1991
I love Post-apocalyptic stories, and I especially like ones that aren’t the run-of-the-mill post-nuclear cold war stories – something different. The world of Hombre, the main anti-hero of this book, has been devastated for some reason (this is book five so it isn’t explained, sounds like social collapse they way it is discussed) and he travels around as a lone survivor much in the same way Max Rockatansky does in the Mad Max series. This world is basically like the American old west – full of lawlessness and hardship as well as horses. This particular volume opens with Hombre trying to live a normal life, when a group of evil men rip that from his arms. He meets up with a young Barbarian girl named Attila that shares his common goal of revenge against said man – but she makes him realize how dark he has truly become.
Hombre was a Spanish comics series written by Antonio Segura and drawn by José Ortiz, first published in 1981 in the magazine Cimoc. This translation was run in Heavy Metal magazine at some point in the 1980’s and contains many of the trappings of many adult comics including gratuitous naked women. This isn’t a bad thing, but I wanted to point this out in case somebody rolls in assuming this is a wholesome book or something.
Wait didn’t you already read this? Nope, it was a different comic based on the same story. I ended up with two very different versions of the same story – Ulysses which is a psychedelic French comic and this one from Spain. Francisco Navarro and Jose Martin Sauri manage to cram the entirety of he story of Odysseus into a fairly small book, and while it’s missing stuff all of the major plot points are there. The art is an amazing heavy ink style in high contrast black and white, if anything this is the highlight of many European comics.
That’s it for now – stay tuned and I may just be getting a few more of these…
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This message is a continuation of something that was posted on “Matthew C.’s” blog Tea With Morbius in which some guy yelled at him for being a conservative and liking science fiction. This stance has always confused me completely as many people I know have religious beliefs and watch tons of science fiction TV. I’m even a Gnostic-Christian that leans libertarian and have no problems at all with having my beliefs questioned.
For me, religion and science fiction go hand-in-hand for many reasons, most notably for the concepts in many of the actual stories. We can’t have things like The Matrix, Philip K. Dick Stories such as Blade Runner, or even Star Wars without some bit of respect for religion. I know that this will make a few people angry that hold the “the religion is stooped!!11one LOL” mindset, but that’s how it has always been. Lately there has been a big smugness cloud hanging over fans of science fiction, one in which many that do not believe in any sort of deity take everything as a symbol of atheist pride. Let’s say that we find ourselves watching and episode of Doctor Who, and The Doctor finds out that a civilization’s “god” is actually a guy in a suit…BOOM TAKE THAT RELIGION! I guess it all boils down to a side-effect of the somewhat recent trend of both sides of the utterly stupid “religion vs. science” geek war that has been raging for a while. Don’t even get me started on the fact that the two institutions co-existed fairly well for nearly a millennium with only the occasional blemish such as throwing scientists in prison for heresy. Not everything is Galileo vs. The Church for Christsakes!
There are many instances of a somewhat anti-religious stance in Doctor Who, but I honestly chalk most of it up to lazy writing. Akin to my much beguiled “space Nazis” trope (I need to write something on here about that), the lazy religion bashing episode sometimes comes off as just as lame. In Doctor Who, one such episode sticks out like a sore thumb to me as the literal archetype for this type of story: Meglos. While not a particularly bad episode, Meglos excels is painting a world in a somewhat one dimensional manner in which religious folks are raving lunatics, and scientists are the best at everything. On one hand we have the citizens of the main planet split into two philosophical groups: “savants”, a group with an utterly patronizing name right from the beginning, which worship science fighting it out with the deions, a group that follows religion. This episode also features an evil cactus monster just to show how serious we can take the eye rolling religious debates.
Another motif that has clumsily popped up in Doctor Who a few times, and about 70 billion times in the original Star Trek, is the “people worship what they don’t understand” trope. In Star Trek we had the episode where the civilization worshipped the U.S. Constitution, The episode where the kids worshipped some guy in a mumu, the one where people worshipped a computer…and so on…Planet of Fire showed this when we find out that people are worshipping an empty spacesuit and the Face Of Evil did the same thing with an evil computer, there must have been a run on god-like evil computers somewhere.
These more-clumsy episodes paint religion as the total antithesis to science, something that uncivilized morons take part in. This is not the norm for the show however, as much of Doctor Who is a lot more “nice” with religious imagery and concepts, even bordering on painting the Doctor himself as a “space Jesus” of some sort. For me Meglos was simply a fluke, if anything Doctor Who teaches us that we should question authority when reasonable, something that actually chimes with my Gnostic worldview, does this mean that I feel that the show is made in that regard, NO, but just like many atheists I can see what I want as well.
As In posted in the original comments section of the thread that kicked my stream of mind ranting, I feel that more recent Doctor Who episodes are far more forgiving of religion, something that may confuse people as both show runners have been uber-super-duper atheists. One episode in particular stands out to me as the showpiece for my viewpoint, a Russel T. Davies penned episode called “Gridlock”. The plot centers around a trip to New New Earth, a planet plagued with terrible traffic. Every day the masses that live and die in the traffic jam hear weather reports such as the following:
“The sun is blazing high in the sky over the New Atlantic—the perfect setting for the daily contemplation… This is for all of you out there on the roads. We’re so sorry. Drive safe.”
For me this was obviously a reference to what these people see as heaven, something attainable if everyone has faith that the traffic will ease up. Suddenly everyone breaks out into an old hymn called “The Old Rugged Cross”:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.
As we can see Martha breaks out into tears as we see these people hopelessly clinging to the faith that they will emerge from this ordeal and go to where they plan to go. The Doctor takes it upon himself to save them, and literally leads them out of the traffic in an almost biblical way. If Doctor Who was so unanimously anti-religion, why would there be an obvious allusion to The Doctor being Christ-like in this episode. It doesn’t end there either; season 3 seems to me to be the most religious of all the seasons considering the ending. At one point, the world is in ruins and everyone has lost hope that they will survive as the Doctor is incapacitated and The Master has seemingly won. Martha literally travels the world spreading the gospel of The Doctor’s name until everyone thinks of him. This somehow gives him all the power of the world, and he flies around and kicks ass. To be honest I wasn’t a fan of this Doctor as a Space messiah revelation, but it still stands.
In closing, Doctor Who isn’t anti-religion, but some writers may write it that way, as you have seen I can find examples of the exact opposite as well.