A child of the early 80's, I practically grew up with the personal computer around me. My dad was a programmer (part-time) but then launched into his own full-time computing business at the time. At that time, my only interest in the computer was to play video games or have it interact with me by responding to my input (if you remember command line prompting). However, I was also raised in a Judeo-Christian faith based on Herbert Amstrong's interpretations of the holy scriptures, which gave me a unique experience of Christianity that actually drew heavily on Jewish festivals and celebrations. Yet, in my past life, I never made the connection between the similarities between religion and video games until now.
My modern day journey into understanding video games came when I began my thesis looking at the idea of how folklore could inform the design of information retrieval systems. This initial topic of exploration led me to reading the book by Miller (2008) on digital storytelling. It was in Miller (2008) that I first learned that role playing video games can actually be traced back early interactive storytelling practices of religion including the participatory dramas of ancient pagan religions, where masks and costumes were used for role play to represent spirits or gods similar to how modern day avatars are applied as the embodiment or incarnation of entities from another world who are not actually present. Miller also mentions modern rituals such as the Jewish holiday of Passover and Halloween, noting similarities between people assuming roles not performed in real life and transitioning into worlds different from their own reality.
So getting back to the question, what do video games and religion have in common? Three main things:
- Symbols, icons and avatars
- enactment and re-enactment
- a narrative world or space - with rules, restrictions and limitations
- a central narrative underlying the game and its rituals
- symbols, icons and avatars
- role-play and enactment
Finally, both video games and religions have communities formed around their narratives and rituals.The conclusion, perhaps video games and religion are more similar than we think. Just a thought.