Over the holidays I told myself I was going to finish Fallout 4. This didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, one of the most glaring ones being that despite how hype Bethesda made me for the game, it didn’t exactly live up to everything I felt was promised. These situations where a game is just so utterly in the middle are frustrating. It’s not that the game was bad, and I did have fun playing it, yet ultimately it was like plain sponge cake: good for a while, but not interesting enough to keep me coming back for more. I know I’m not the only one who feels like this—lord knows there are only so many Minutemen missions you can do before you avoid getting in Preston’s dialogue radius. However, where some people are on the side of criticizing the game’s awkward building system, or the combat system, I’m more in the group that thinks the writing is what kept this game from being great. There are lots of things I could critique about it, but one of the things that struck me the most was how uneven the narrative power (and even in-game social power) between the women and men was.
A few weeks ago, Lady Geek Girl wrote a nice article describing the precarious position of witches in current pop culture media. Witches only finally started to reach some level of acceptance (still a work in progress, that’s for sure) largely thanks to the enormous expansion of the religion of Wicca in the past fifty years or so. This led to a curious occurrence: witches weren’t just in fairytales and fantasy books anymore; they were bookstore clerks and nurses and teachers too. It opened the doors for the possibility for modern people to reclaim and identify with the word “witch”. We can see other seemingly outdated or maligned words being used by contemporary folk, from druid to heathen to shaman (though words like sorceress and wizard seem to be lagging in popularity), but I would argue none to quite the degree of “witch”. So while I believe that Wicca was a large—I would say the primary, in fact—reason for the modern reclaiming of this word, I think it is inappropriate to treat “Wiccan” as a monolithic synonym for “witch”. There are simply too many witches out there who are not Wiccan.
We’ve mentioned previously that sometimes pop culture likes to replace religion with magic. Specifically, we talked about magic and Christianity. Lady Geek Girl stated on the matter:
[Magic] is a part of Christianity. In fact, it’s a part of every religion. Special prayers, powerful objects like crosses or holy water, and even the Church building itself all are seen to carry some sort of supernatural power. These things contain not only God’s power, but also are meant to protect us from evil. These are all magical elements.
Lady Geek Girl went on to further discuss the issue here as well.
So it is not inherently wrong to show magic and religion as being tied to each other. Most shows and movies—such as Supernatural, Hocus Pocus, and to some extent, Buffy—like to portray witches as both female and evil. However, at the same time, they turn religion into a good form of magic that wards off demons; i.e., crosses and holy water in Buffy are dangerous to vampires.
In many ways, Charmed tries to turn this concept on its head. It’s not always that great at it. Let’s face it, Charmed is a very inconsistent show. But while it is mostly about four different women, it does introduce male characters who are also capable of magic, and our main characters are not evil. Magic can be used for evil, but it can also be used for good. I might not be happy with how Charmed handled a lot of its own content, but I can say that I think its take on magic and how it works, as well as its connection to religion, could have been very interesting had the show been better made.