Of Cults, Cures, and Ceremorphosis: Landscaping Religion in Baldur’s Gate 3

Worshipper of Umberlee, the Wavemother, BG3 2023. Larian Studios.

In the summer of this year (2023), Belgian developer and publisher Larian Studios released the well-received[1] video game “Baldur’s Gate 3” (BG3). Based on the Tabletop-Roleplaying Game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)[2] and following the first two Baldur’s Gate-video games (Baldur’s Gate from 1998, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn from 2000), BG3 has quickly grown in popularity, with an all-time peak of over 870.000 simultaneously active players on the PC-platform Steam.[3] Many fans post their self-made characters, play-throughs and favourite game scenes on platforms like Twitch, Instagram, TikTok and Youtube, while actors, producers and directors of the game join the discussion on social media to give background information on the game, the characters and the development process.[4]

In this essay, I will give a quick overview of how BG3 landscapes religion from a narratological and visual perspective. After a short summary of the game, I will introduce what I mean by landscaping religion in video games and how that works in BG3. Then, the “Cult of the Absolute” will be introduced as an example of how that landscaping takes place. My essay is a brief sketch of ideas that arose when considering the game and its usage of religion from the perspective of the study of religion.[5]

Baldur’s Gate: Find a Cure or Ceremorph

The game is a classical role-playing game (RPG) that puts the player in the center of the decision-making. Starting with a cutscene that introduces the plot of BG3 to the player, it becomes apparent right away that you’ve been infected with a “Tadpole”, a small leech-like creature that would turn you into a Mind flayer or Illithid. Illithids are wicked, evil creatures that plan to dominate the world of Faerûn (the continent on which BG3 takes place) through mind control.[6] The task at hand is clear: find a cure or you’ll undergo the irreversible transformation, also known as ceremorphosis.[7] „Of Cults, Cures, and Ceremorphosis: Landscaping Religion in Baldur’s Gate 3“ weiterlesen

Never fear – Cultbusters are here to save us from the menace of brainwashing

– Courtesy of Esteban Lopez via unsplash.

People are understandably curious about fanatical social movements and clandestine groups that inspire intense devotion in their followers. Capturing popular imagination in recent years are multi-level marketing scheme NXIVM[1], the pseudo-religious conspiracy communities of QAnon[2], antivaxxers, and the MAGA movement[3]. The public can hardly be blamed for asking how and why people get involved, and whether this should be a cause for concern. 

Desperate for some sort of authority who could shed light on this topic, podcast hosts[4] and journalists have leant on the expertise of so-called cult experts and exit counsellors, experienced practitioners in the world of anticult activism. Groups like NXIVM and Trump supporters, they tell us, are just like the dangerous cults made famous in the latter decades of the 20th Century, which used sophisticated programmes of mind control to exploit their vulnerable members under the guide of religiosity. By happy coincidence, the damage inflicted by this brainwashing is best remedied through the services of experienced cult experts.

These sorts of explanations are ubiquitous, and have been adopted by figures in media, who are comfortable parroting jargon like ‘deprogram’ and ‘thought reform’[5]. „Never fear – Cultbusters are here to save us from the menace of brainwashing“ weiterlesen

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