This is truly the cutting-edge of games journalism, folks.
It’s hard to deny the insane popularity that Overwatch, Blizzard’s team-based shooter, has achieved in the year since release. Reaching a player count of 30 million+ only three months ago, the game’s devoted fan-base doesn’t seem to be going anywhere if the nearly 8 million views the Doomfist animated trailer received in a week is any indication. As in any fan community, you’ll find your fanatics among the Overwatch crowd; the vast Youtube network of Overwatch-themed channels aside, you’ll find plenty who produce fan-art or who passionately discuss romantically ‘shipping’ characters in the game. There are those, however, who take things further.
Which is where Brazil comes in.
Roughly translated as the ‘National Chapter/Church of Hanzo’, the idea behind the religion is not quite as insane as you might think (but only just). The founder (or should that be high priest?) of the church, Mateus Mognon, lays out his reasoning in a blog-post on the technology journalism site, Adrenaline. The text is, of course, in Portugese, but with some basic translation we can judge the motivations behind his preaching:
“I put the Brazilian legislative system to the test and managed to officially register Hanzo’s National Church: a religion to worship the most hated character of the successful first person shooter Overwatch…My initial goal was to see if it is difficult to register a religious institution to gain the tax immunity that is given to ‘temples of any worship’. To guarantee religious freedom in Brazil, the Federal Constitution grants freedom of payment of taxes…and taxes on services and products, provided they are linked to the dissemination of the belief.
Since 2010, 67,951 entities have been registered as religious organizations in the Federal Revenue, which already indicated that my mission to open a church on paper would not be so arduous. And in the end, I realized that it is so simple to found such an institution in Brazil that I have created an entire religion: the Hanzo National Church, a chain to worship the murderous archer of Overwatch.”
It’s a clever idea without doubt, and the article is well worth a read if you’re willing to keep Google Translate close to hand. Among detailing amusing religious tenants such as being able to take Tuesday off school/work to praise Hanzo, however, Mateus touches on more serious matters such as the possibility of facing up to 15 years in prison for fraud and money laundering if he was found to be ‘misrepresenting’; he would not be the first, since in 2011 even the far more official-sounding ‘Universal Church of the Kingdom of God’ was accused of embezzling and laundering money by Brazilian authorities.
For now however the Church remains intact, and those Hanzo mains so often mocked by the player base now have somewhere to pay homage to their favourite Japanese dragon-themed archer in peace.
Curiosity piqued, I did some digging to investigate whether other famous video game characters have been elevated to religious status. Perhaps surprisingly there seems to be little evidence of similar ‘churches’ springing up to honour popular characters. The best I could find a few pages into Google was someone claiming to worship Master Chief as a god. With that said, no-one needs me to tell them that the history between religion and video games has been complex at times; the existence of sites such as Gamechurch is indicative of people of faiths’ attempts to reconcile their beliefs with their love of games. Far more than a simple test of the Brazilian legislative system, then, perhaps the Church of Hanzo signifies how this relationship has begun to develop over time. In the past, after all, the Classical world worshipped the protagonists of its mythological stories such as Hercules and Perseus; are the video game heroes and super-powered stars of today really so different?
At age seven, Jordan wanted to be a paleontologist. That went well. He now fills the void by writing on all manner of mildly-interesting topics - when he finds time in between complaining how everything was better in the 'good old days', that is.