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By Hoki-Aamrel, aka Urpo Lankinen.
Warning! This page may have spoilers if you haven't played through Ultima VII. It is a great game, please do. (Well, actually I haven't played through the game yet, but all of the relevant plot stuff should surface in the first two thirds of the game, I'm somewhere around there...)
The idea of the page is to tell of similarities between the Fellowship and Church of Scientology.
Please direct the flames, praise and constructive criticism to firstname.lastname@example.org. Expect a reply within anything from a week to 6 months, if ever. If I won't reply within an year, I may not be going to. (I'm not kidding. Spam is depressing. Seeing my mailbox gets me depressed. I avoid using email.)
I am not against Scientology as a religion in any way - though, if the information I have received about the practices of the Church of Scientology is correct, I think it is most frown-worthy. (Ultima VII, in comparison, is nowadays published - or would be published if they gave a damn - by a company that's slowly corroding and destroying the entire video game industry, but then again, that's just plain ordinary garden-variety Corporate Evil, nothing to be worried about.)
This analysis is more like analysis of how the critique agains the church is reflected through the game. So, if the game happens to be anti-Scientology, it isn't my fault. Blame the game makers.
The information about Scientology is based mostly on the web pages critical to the church. This is solely because critical sources (as opposed to CoS-sanctioned sources) were most likely the sources where the game makers got their information from. Again, my idea is to analyse the source material.
Lastly, while I try to stay somewhat neutral here, this isn't very neutral analysis, strictly speaking. It wouldn't last a day in Wikipedia. =)
Ultima VII: The Black Gate is a computer role playing game. It was originally published in 1992, and it still has loyal fans who keep calling it the greatest CRPG ever made. The game was developed by Origin Systems Incorporated (a subsidiary of EA, now even less than a pale shadow of its former self) and released by Electronic Arts. The game was released for PC (and if you have a legit copy of the original data files, Exult is the best way to experience it on today's computers). It was also released for SNES, but this version is luckily quite rare these days. Yes, veri luckily indeed.
The creator of the series, Richard Garriott, thought of a quite unique plot idea. While the basic plot of the game is the tried and true "Evil baddie is threatening the peaceful kingdom and your job is to stop that thing", the details vary greatly from this cliché.
Ultima VII is a tale about grisly murders, evil villains, beautiful nature, exploration, dusty dungeons, fickleness of magic, respect and tolerance, chicken herding, everlasting hatred and love, puzzles, sword fights, terror on the high seas, dilemmas, bread baking and dangers of collectivism.
The game is set in the fantasy world of Britannia, the counterpart of Earth in a parallel universe.
Since Ultima IV, the Ultima series has placed a great weight on the Eight Virtues - Compassion, Honor, Honesty, Valor, Sacrifice, Humility, Spirituality and Justice. Everyone in the realm of Britannia strives to uphold the virtues in their lives. Especially so the Avatar - which is, of course, the player - who is the embodiment of the virtues, the shining champion who is the inspiration for everyone.
The first really big thing the player notices in the game is that there is a new church operating in Britannia. The church is called the Fellowship, and is rapidly gaining some momentum, with many people joining it and apparently very happy about it.
The Fellowship's way of "sanguine cognition" is based on "Triad of Inner Strength": Strive For Unity, Trust Thy Brother, and Worthiness Precedes Reward.
The book that comes with the game, The Book of the Fellowship, is authored by the founder of the faith, and describes the birth of the Fellowship in detail.
The Fellowship was founded by three persons: Batlin, Elizabeth and Abraham. Since the player has no clue where Elizabeth and Abraham are, and probably spends a lot of time chasing these people around Britannia, we see mostly Batlin. He authored the book, and now works in Britain where he gives Fellowship masses.
Batlin is described to be quite like L. Ron Hubbard. He looks a little bit same, as you can see from the image manipulation above. Most notably, he has been described as a person who has done everything - he has tried at one time all of the traditional professions (character classes) of Britannia.
Likewise, L. Ron Hubbard has been described as having done a lot of things on every imaginable area. There is one notable difference though: Unlike Hubbard, Batlin at least admits he has no singing voice whatsoever:
Never had I considered myself to be musically inclined, but it was a fair alternative to starvation. My voice was painful. My mandolin strings would break rather than let me stroke them. After much heckling and many a thrown bottle, my talents did slowly develop. [Fellow]
Hubbard's songs are okay, I guess, but I hope he would have left the singing to people with more singing talents.
The Book of the Fellowship is an extremely well laid out piece. Umm, there's not much to discuss here, other than to note that the CoS also know how to market their stuff. =)
Richard Garriott reportedly got the inspiration for the Fellowship from all of the new age cults that were around in the early 1990s. The famous Time magazine article from 1991 is often believed to be a major source of inspiration.
Garriott's main idea about "cults" that he incorporated to the game was that the normal members do not know what the real agenda of the leaders of the cult really is. Normal Scientologists probably don't know a lot of what's going on in the top.
Likewise, the Fellowship sure looks beneficial on the outside, but you don't need to be a nuclear physicist to guess that this is not entirely true...
I have only one bad thing to say about Scientologists: Every time they start talking about their faith, they end up parroting. Sooner or later, they start sounding like clones of each other. Of course, this trait isn't particularly limited to Scientologists - though I have to say that there's some variation within other religions.
The annoyance of religions is directly proportional to the amount of marketing material the members in general remember by heart.
And no other religion does this with equally surgical precision than the Fellowship. Every fellowship member you encounter will spout just about the same bit of explanation. Often exactly the same bit.
Apparently, in the game, Sasha has a noticeable accent but suddenly starts speaking perfect English when talking about the Fellowship. This level of repeating is kind of interesting...
One of the practices due to which the Church of Scientology has gained notoriety is the disconnection policy. If one is having problems, one likely cause for these problems is that there is a "suppressive person" - likely a person who is not a devout Scientologist - nearby that causes things go wrong. This has subsequently made Scientologists completely disconnect from their non-believing friends, relatives and family members.
Likewise, the Book of the Fellowship says this:
Without confidence, one does not perceive the world correctly and hence one misses opportunities. This sad state of "fevered" reason currently holds the majority of the population in its icy grip. [...] To achieve the recognition necessary to break free of the fever, one must dedicate every fibre of being to accomplishing that end. We of The Fellowship travel that path, and I extend my invitation to thee, gentle friend and traveller, to join us. Together we shall reach our destination. [Fellow]
Early in the game, we meet non-Fellowship-members who tell how their former friends are now acting weird and won't get in touch. For example, the poor people outside the poor shelter can't get in if they are not members... this probably makes me question their utilitarian nature.
Also, the above quote probably has something to do with Scientology's theory of becoming "Clear" and wiping engrams from the reactive mind. The underlying theory of the Fellowship quote could be summarised as "The Sheep who don't Get the message are only in way, because they can't possibly truly comprehend this world".
Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur.
(Anything said in Latin sounds profound.)
Interestingly, the Virtues use rather understandable, even logical, naming and relationships between the virtues. You have names of virtues. You are supposed to uphold these. You have the Principles of Truth, Love and Courage, which are the larger groups to which each of the virtue are somehow related. I'm not a native English speaker, and the only odd word that I actually looked up from the dictinary when playing old Ultimas was "Codex" (as in the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom). This all even when people speak in archaic-sounding language.
Now, the Fellowship calls its faith the way of "sanguine cognition", and they even add an explanation:
The scholarly name for the Fellowship philosophy which I did not personally coin is "sanguine cognition". This is merely an important-sounding way of saying "cheerful knowledge", and that is as accurate a description of The Fellowship philosophy as any I can imagine. [Fellow]
This sounds dangerously close to the "technobabble" employed by the Scientology. We have this "Scientology" thing that has this "Dianetics" as its guiding scientific background. All are dutifully explained somewhere, I suppose.
Scientology has its famous free personality test, called Oxford Capacity Analysis. After being analysed by neutral parties, it had been deduced that the test isn't too accurate, and rigged to always produce answers that indicate that there's something wrong with the test taker. Also, the test analysis part is rather clear: Either the result is too low, in which case Scientology courses can help to raise that, or the result is high, in which case Scientology can help to raise it even further.
Batlin asks questions from the Avatar, hoping to determine whether or not he is in need of the church's philosophy. And sure enough, the same pattern emerges...
The Book of Fellowship says that their idea is not to replace the Virtues. Yet, right after that, they attack the Virtues: Batlin says it's "impossible to live by them", that even Avatar couldn't do that, and that the Virtues do "little more than emphasize our own personal deficiencies". In Batlin's view, the virtues are nothing but a way to build guilt, and that the Fellowship is there to "eradicate the failures from one's life", yet is built to "enhance everything that has come before it". In the game, Batlin rejects the virtues entirely:
"[The Virtues] are perfectly adequate for those who feel that they still need them for whatever reason. But no one, not even thyself, thou must admit, Avatar, can fulfill them perfectly. Therefore they are a philosophy that is ultimately based upon failure. We have never claimed that our teachings are a substitute for the virtues. However, ours is a belief that is based upon success, not failure."
"We strive to avoid the mistakes made by mystics and sages since the dawn of time. They apply the standards of the past, such as the virtues, for example, to qualify the present, and thus they do not perceive it correctly. We seek to examine our present lives each on our own terms and see the world the way it is." [U7]
Similarly, the Church of Scientology isn't sure what it's selling its courses as - on the other hand, they say they are a religion, and on the other hand, they are trying to sell it as a form of psychotherapy. The latter is reinforced by assurances that Scientology courses can be bought by anyone without further catches, and that spiritual elements they espouse are not in conflict with any particular religion.
Yet, Scientology, according to the critics, is turning people into their own mindset - you need to truly believe in the church's teachings to make them work. Further, it is said that some of the writings of Hubbard have direct slashes against Christianity, some were even found to be very very offensive by the Christians.
Batlin presents "A Reinterpretation of the History of Britannia" in the U7 documentation. Batlin likes to point out some problems, like The Quest of the Avatar (U4) being motivated by Avatar's personal redemption after the events in the first three games (well, technically, I heard it was more like Garriott's way of saying "This ain't your father's satan-worshipping-game" in the times when RPGs were accused of being just that). Likewise Batlin mentions U5's bloody aftermath, and implies taking the Codex in U4 was a bad mistake.
Likewise, the Scientology is accused of not being entirely honest about their history, most notably the history of their founder (Hubbard's acts in the World War II were particularly debatable).
One of the symbols of Scientology consists of two triangles and a letter "S". Well, the Fellowship certainly is crazy about triangles as well - which isn't all that surprising, though, as many things in the world of Ultima come all in threes (and we're hearing of Triad of Inner Strength in Fellowship's teachings). So, just maybe, Scientology isn't to blame here. Just a small observation...
|The Fellowship Staff, which has the stick and a
crossbeam, held in its place with two bars - forming a triangle.
Update: I've actually found out that the Fellowship staff isn't supposed to have a triangle, but it's rather supposed to be merged from letters T, U, W (For "Trust", "Unity" and "Worthiness"). The "crossbeams" are actually the spikes of the letter U. Not really any better - actually it reminds me even more of Scientology logo now...
|The Fellowship Icon, which is clearly a triangle.|
|The Fellowship Medallion, which every member carries on their neck. Do I need to say more?|
The Church of Scientology claims their methods are a refinement over psychiatrical treatment, and are actually campaigning actively against psychiatry.
Likewise, the Fellowship does not like healers:
"The Fellowship does not appreciate the efforts of healers in Britannia. Although they do admirable things, The Fellowship is short-sighted when evaluating the need for healers. They believe that our work can be done through their so-called 'Triad of Inner Strength'." - Chantu [U7]
The Fellowship makes a big deal out of their most successful and prosperous members of the faith - for example, they were erecting a statue for Owen the shipwright, and made very big noise when the Avatar was joining them.
Likewise, Scientology seems to recruit celebrities. Hrmmm...
This is a minor point, but I couldn't help but notice the "Recreation Facility and Learning Center" in Terfin. I know the gargoyles have slightly odd grasp of English, but this thing sounded so sinisterly bureaucratic that it could have been out of some chilling story told by an ex-Scientologist. Let's just call it "RFLC".
[Fellow] - The Book of Fellowship
[U7] - U7 transcript
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