How much of what we do in World of Warcraft matters, and how much does it matter? Can one be said to be engaging in a spiritual or religious experience when we play the game? Robert Geraci would seem to think we can at least start talking about that. Dr. Geraci is a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, and his new book is about the interaction between the virtual worlds we inhabit (his current book discusses World of Warcraft and Second Life) and our inner lives. Dr. Geraci seems to be using WoW as a means to explore how we approach life itself, and how we wow or can interact with it fundamentally in the same way we do our day to day, walking about lives.
it’s just about virtual reality – in particular, virtual reality experiences that millions of people are seeking out. From a religious perspective, people are making their lives rich and meaningful and interesting in these virtual worlds.The grant project was to expand on that and say, ‘Ok, in what other ways are virtual worlds meaningful for their participants?
The idea that what we do in game has an impact on our lives seems pretty irrefutable — Dr. Geraci mentions how we make friendships in game that are as real to us as any we make outside of it (indeed, many in-game friendships quickly transcend the game they started in) and he discusses how the game presents concepts of morality, good vs. evil, environmentalism and so on. One could go further with his argument — the nature of in-game interaction presents a kind of meta-contextual exploration of good social behavior, ultimately. The idea that ‘it’s just a game’ vs. those that argue game or not, you’re playing with real people for stakes that matter to them and how you behave in that situation has an impact. In other words, the evolution of in-game morality isn’t limited merely to the game’s storylines, but the players themselves develop a code of conduct, mores that govern and shape their behavior. Concepts like ninja-looting, PuG etiquette and how to navigate guild social structures are all part and parcel of the game, but they’re not narrative focused — the community evolves these standards itself.
To my mind, any discussion of MMO spaces as religious experiences has to take these kinds of issues to heart. It’s not the game, ultimately, that provides much (if any) real spiritual value. It’s the evolving consensus between players – the discussion of what is and isn’t of value, the behaviors chosen, the direction of the internal zeitgeist of the experience. If we’re discussing the investment of meaning into these experiences, it is almost always the players who make that investment. All the game itself can do is give them a framework on which to hang these connections.