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Published October 16, 2017

Whenever I get a choice to play as a monk class in a video game, I almost always do. I am not a religious man by any means, but I am fascinated by monk characters who channel power from spiritual forces, nature, and most importantly, within, to find enlightenment. As someone who has been through bad bouts of anxiety where I lose my sense of self, I equate a monk’s focus on finding balance and harmony both in themselves and the conflicts they face with the mindful practice I try to incorporate into my daily life.

Perhaps because of the violent nature of a lot of video games, playable monk characters are few and far between. That being said, Some of my favorite monks in games include:

 

To further explain my fascination with monks in games, I’ll explore the three ways I feel a monk’s path fits within my own life: Harmony in the face of violence, harmony within yourself, and harmony with the universe.

A monk in hard times: harmony in the face of violence

Violent games are still a thorny subject. Many gamers still have to defend their favorite hobby from people who claim violent games causes gamers to become violent themselves (see this great write up by fellow WordPresser Athena Veta on violence and gaming).

I am not averse to violent games, yet at the same time, I do tend to emphasize with my character’s motive. If they are all about killing for killing’s sake, I am less likely to enjoy the game as the senselessness of it all really gets to me.

Kratos god of war senseless violence
Kratos, I love you – but maybe tone down the casual slaughter of innocent bystanders in your new game?

When I play a monk class character, I always feel like I am working to repair the very fabric of the world. A monk’s motivation towards renewing balance and harmony in the world is attractive to me, and their dual role as a combat aesthetic and often a team healer is also appealing as I can support my team in a dichotomous way. Yin and Yang if you will.

Sometimes conflict in the world is inevitable, but I would hope that if we could approach these conflicts with a regard to the humanity of the enemy and a desire to restore balance, those conflicts would not have to be violent ones.

Finding your center: harmony within

The power of the monk class, or any mystical or martial arts class, tends to stem from their ability to find focus within themselves.

As an occasional meditator and big believer in the concept of mindfulness, this focus on drawing power in discovering your center is appealing to me. In layman’s terms, mindfulness is the act of being present in everything you do; appreciating simple things such as your breath and your step, and recognizing that your true self lies beneath the endless chatter of your thoughts. In being mindful, supposedly you can better focus your body to do incredible things: in a martial arts sense, that may mean that your body is better able to flow and react to your opponent’s movements (I can’t say I have achieved a Bruce Lee-like level of focus).

Bruce Lee Be Like Water

That being said, while I don’t believe that mindfulness can help you develop actual healing powers, I appreciate that healing powers in games are an allegory for healing the world. Often people hear about “inner focus” or “being one with everything” and think it’s very hippy-dippy new agey. I suppose in some way it is, because it is so antithetical to our go-go way of life. But practitioners such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, who works at MIT but has also studied with traditional monks and meditation masters, helps frame mindfulness in a scientific way. Mindfulness practice actually has beneficial effects on the brain, reducing anxiety and increasing empathy.

When I play as a monk, I am reminded of the importance of this practice in my life, even when gaming. Though we all have a tendency to play games mindlessly from time to time, I try to play games more mindfully as well!

Finding meaning: harmony with the universe

As I mentioned above, I am not a religious man. I am also not particularly superstitious, in that I don’t believe in ghosts or fairies or demons (though I WANT to believe). What I do believe, however, is that everything in the universe is related to one another. After all, we’re all made up of atoms that arose from the big bang.

Carl Sagan once made the profound statement that we, as conscious beings, are a way for the cosmos to know itself. This statement is so powerful to me. We are literally made of star stuff, and there is power in knowing that everything in the universe is related in that way.

Being one with everything doesn’t mean that you literally perceive everything in the universe or control it, but that you recognize that everything in the world is connected. When you perform negative actions, the rest of the world is negatively impacted. Of course, the same is true for positive actions.

Heroes have many different motives, fame, fortune, destiny, revenge – though the motive of the monk is portrayed as a selfless desire to restore balance. This ideal, of working to save the world simply because it is the right thing to do, with no expectation of reward, is probably the most difficult one for us to actually live, but also the most admirable to reflect on trying to accomplish in our own lives.

So there you have it, my monk-as-a-playable-character fascination. Do you have a favorite class in games? If so, how do you relate to them? Please let me know in the comments!

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16 Comments

  1. This makes me question myself a little bit because the character class I tend to play most often is the thief/assassin archetype. 😐 I think it boils down to the fact that I work for the court system and see firsthand how strict adherence to law can be harmful to the people who have to live according to it. So as a game character, I embrace chaos.
    This is a cool article! I enjoy monk characters and feel like, regardless of one’s level of religious belief, there is value in knowledge of things which are not like ourselves and understanding concepts like mindfulness can be really beneficial on a practical level.

    • Chaos can be fun, no question! I’ve definitely enjoyed the rogue class before too – monks may be my main, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy other classes as well! The one thing that really gets to me, per my article, is when a character is required to kill innocent people for no real reason other than killing for its own sake. Stabbing people in the back is cool when they’re bad people 🙂

      Mindfulness is very practical, for relationships, for work… I feel like schools should be teaching kids how to stop and focus and appreciate quiet, the world is noisier than ever.

  2. I have a love-hate relationship with monks in video games, I think they’re really cool characters and, like you said, I always find their motivations or personalities are (usually) good and something quite nice, they’re also pretty powerful but after playing as them for a long time I get a bit frustrated at the lack of stuff I can do with them like “ooh check out this awesome looking sword I just picked up! Oh I can’t use it”. I don’t think that I’ve ever finished a game as a monk character even though I’ve always tried to when it’s an available class. I can actually play Zenyatta from Overwatch well and he’s becoming one of my mains. Overwatch matches are quite quick though and you can swap characters, I can imagine getting bored playing as him if I couldn’t change or if he was a character in a different game.

    • Haha, fair point on the weapons, they are usually about their fists which I find cool, but not to everyone’s taste. It really is more about the motivation. If monk is not an option, I still try to do a hybrid attacker / support class like paladin or druid. I like having the best of both worlds.

      As for Zenyatta, I never get bored with awesome. His debuff is killer and if you are accurate your attack tears through opponents.

  3. I am not religious in the slightest, but end up playing holy characters too because I like controlling healers. Mercy is my main in Overwatch, but when she isn’t available playing s Zen can be cool.

  4. Kariyanine Kariyanine

    Despite being terrible at stealth games, I love playing the assassin/thief/hunter type character. I think I like them because my being bad at their style of play turns them in to chaotic whirlwinds.

    • Interesting, choosing a class for a greater challenge! Do you also tend to mug or backstab people on a normal basis?

  5. I used to feel the same way when I used to play as Liu Kang in MK9.
    I even felt that his fatality was less brutal even though it was a punch through the stomach lol

    • Sure, but he is doing it from the pureness of his heart? LOL. Mortal Kombat might not be the best example of a mindful game 😂

  6. Your philosophy aligns very similar to mine! I don’t wholly believe in supernatural entities though I’d like some confirmation of order in the universe and I don’t completely disbelieve either. If something goes bump in the night or I get a weird vibe from a graveyard, I’m running in the opposite direction. Though I will say in games monks aren’t my favorite class, though I suppose paladin wouldn’t be too far from that 😋

    • I have definitely also enjoyed paladins and druids so I get the “yin and yang” of both attack and healing powers.

      • There is something awesome though about the monk class. It’s the highly trained warrior who only uses his skills if necessary. They’re ironic in knowing how to inflict violence, but never really wanting to.

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