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Posts with tag Religion

World of Warcraft as religious experience

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 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.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, News items

15 Minutes of Fame: When WoW meets real-world religion

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

Gaming plus religion or politics is a potentially volatile conversational destination -- and this week, we're going there. Meet the Rev. Jonathan Fisk, pastor of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Springfield, Pa. Over the years, 15 Minutes of Fame has been through more than a couple of aborted conversations with pastors about the intersection of real-world religion and the World of Warcraft. Whether the questions get a little too pointed, or the potential for reaction from the pews gets a little too hot ... Whatever the case, the interviews don't make it through to print.

Until now. Hats off to Fisk for what's turned out to be a tour de force of an interview examining one man and one denomination's insights on the convergence of gaming, pop culture and WoW. One note before we get started: While we welcome your comments on this obviously sensitive subject, please remember that personal attacks and name-calling, anti-religion tirades and other trollish asshattery in the comments will not be tolerated. Keep your comments constructive and pertinent to the interview, please, or we'll be obliged to remove them.

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Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

Breakfast Topic: Are there atheists in Azeroth?

This Breakfast Topic has been brought to you by Seed, the Aol guest writer program that brings your words to

Atheism is a rejection in the belief of deities. In the real world, that is easy enough to understand. There are many religions practiced on Earth, and most of them (if not all) worship at least one deity. This could be a god or goddess that is associated with a certain characteristic or trait, or it could be a creator, one divine being that shaped everything that is everything from nothing. Whatever your beliefs are, atheism is simply a rejection that any of that happened or exists.

But what happens when we push reality into fiction and bring this thought into the game world that we all log in to? Can atheism really exist in Azeroth? We know that there are gods and goddesses that have roles in WoW. A few of them have even been seen in game, like Hakkar or Yogg-Saron. But there are many that have yet to make an appearance, like Elune or the other Old Gods that we've yet to uncover.

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Filed under: Breakfast Topics, Guest Posts

Faith and World of Warcraft at Colorado University

Buckle your seatbelts on this one -- if you aren't concerned with the bigger picture behind a virtual world like Azeroth and would rather hear about dragons fighting each other or the latest class changes, best look elsewhere on the site. But a student at Colorado University has a theory about World of Warcraft that might sound a little out there: he believes the game is a new religion.

Not necessarily in the sense that you should skip church to raid (though lots of people probably do that anyway). But in the sense that it meets a sociologist's definition of religion: it provides community, ethics, culture, and emotion. And it's hard to argue with that: we're living proof of the community around the game, there's definitely plenty of culture and emotion, and... ethics? CU student Theo Zijderveld is proposing that even if the game itself doesn't promote ethical behavior, the push is there -- we're rewarded for doing the right thing, and often punished for doing wrong. Work with others in a group, get better loot. Camp someone's corpse, and their guildie or alt shows up to camp you.

Intriguing idea, even if it does sound like something cooked up for a college student's thesis (which is in fact what it is). It's certainly not a religion in that there is no higher power involved (unless you believe that Ghostcrawler is in fact a god) -- obviously, we all believe that everything in Azeroth was made by men and women, or at least hard-working Gnomes. But as for what playing World of Warcraft creates in us and makes us feel, those results and ideas are very close in many ways to what organized religion does. Quite a theory.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

All the World's a Stage: So you want to be a Druid

This installment of All the World's a Stage is the nineteenth in a series of roleplaying guides in which we find out all the background information you need to roleplay a particular race or class well, without embarrassing yourself.

Nature is a system of life energy in constant flow, peaceful one moment and turbulent the next. All living things draw their life from it, and depend upon its balance for their existence. Druids are the protectors of this balance, who harness the energies it contains and try to live their lives according to its laws and principles. In this way, they become intimate members of the natural system, embodying the very force that they seek to protect. The druid is not merely a spellcaster who draws on nature to do cool stuff -- he is nature, in himself, completely one with it in every way. The world is his body, and he is an inseparable part of the whole.

It can be rather hard for those of us living in the concrete jungles of modern city life to get a feeling for what nature really is, or what it feels like to be a part of it. Perhaps if you have ever ventured off the paved highway into the distant reaches of the world, you will know the feeling of connection to the greatness of the natural world in which the human race evolved, long, long ago in a state of mind far, far away from billboards and electronic devices, pop culture and prime-time TV programming. It may no longer be possible for human beings to simply return to its ancient state, nor would that necessarily be a good thing. Today, people look out at the world outside the closed-off bubble of material civilization and wonder their new relationship with the ancient balance of nature could be.

To play a druid in WoW as a class in a game is one thing, but to try and get inside the druid worldview and understand what they might be thinking is something else. To start, it would help to look inside ourselves and see what sort of connection to nature exists there. Is there a balance? What would balance look like? How would it feel to be in complete harmony with the natural world? What would it be like to channel all the power of nature through your body or indeed feel the world itself as an extension of your body?

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Filed under: Night Elves, Tauren, Druid, Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Guides, RP, Classes, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

All the World's a Stage: So you want to be a Priest

This installment of All the World's a Stage is the seventeenth in a series of roleplaying guides in which we find out all the background information you need to roleplay a particular race or class well, without embarrassing yourself.

Priests in the World of Warcraft are a single class that incorporates a wide variety of characters. They are best known for casting spells that call forth the power of the Holy Light, but the priest using these spells in the game mechanics doesn't necessarily have much connection to the Light as such -- rather they have a connection with their own religion which grants them similar effects to those of the Light.

When WoW was being developed, Blizzard realized that night elves and trolls, for instance, would not follow the Light in the same way humans and dwarves do, so they tried to represent a bit of this diversity through race-specific spells. It didn't work out, though -- some were too powerful, while others weren't worth reading about, much less putting on one's action bar. The end result was that they made some of these spells universally available to all priests, and completely removed the rest. Here the lore had to surrender to the game mechanics in order to provide the best game balance.

In roleplaying, however, there is a lot of room for players of different races to behave differently, and draw their powers from totally different sources. Greater Heal, for instance, could come either from the Light or the power of Elune. A Shadowfiend could either be a spawn of the Forgotten Shadow, or a dark trollish voodoo spirit. If you are roleplaying a priest, the only thing that really matters is that your character have some sort of faith or profound belief, which could serve as the source of their divine magical power. A priest's magic revolves around his or her strong beliefs and ideas -- but what those beliefs are is entirely up to you.

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Filed under: Horde, Alliance, Human, Night Elves, Dwarves, Undead, Trolls, Priest, Analysis / Opinion, Draenei, Blood Elves, Lore, Guides, RP, Classes, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

Scattered Shots: On Roleplaying a Hunter

Welcome to Scattered Shots, a weekly column on all things Hunter related, now written by Daniel Whitcomb.

I may have mentioned this before elsewhere, but often times it's hard to speak authoritatively on any class in Beta, because no matter what the changes and the new imba combos and whatnot are right now, they will likely change drastically the next time a new build comes into play. This isn't to say that it's impossible to write about them, but often times whatever words you write will be obsolete, or at least inaccurate, by the time you sit down to write next week's column.

For example, last week I wrote about traps. I mentioned that Freezing Traps no longer break immediately on damage. Well, now they do again. As Ghostcrawler tells it, they couldn't find a way to make pets automatically ignore a frozen target, so they called the whole thing off. Now, honestly, that seems a bit like chopping off your hand to take care of a mosquito bite on your pinky finger, but hey. On the plus side, she also said that they'll put it back in once they figure out how to reign in pets (I recommend using the passive button on the pet bar, myself). But who knows when that will be?

So I thought I'd take a trip down a path that's more solid this week, and speak a bit about roleplaying your Hunter. These are a few archetypes I looked at when roleplaying my various Hunters, with various tips on roleplaying them and reflections on how they fit in to various factions and alliances around the game. As always, of course, general roleplay rules apply: Don't be a jerk, don't godmode or Mary-sue it, and don't let roleplaying get in the way of your fun or your group's success.

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Filed under: Hunter, Analysis / Opinion, Lore, RP, (Hunter) Scattered Shots

All the World's a Stage: So you want to be a tauren

This installment of All the World's a Stage is the sixth in a series of roleplaying guides in which we find out all the background information you need to roleplay a particular race or class well, without embarrassing yourself.

The first cultural influence you'll probably think of when you see the tauren and walk around in their villages is "Native American." That's fine as far as it goes, but you should remember that they're mainly based on the stereotypical image of what Native Americans are rather than their actual reality. I'm hardly an expert on Native Americans, however, so rather than try and speak for these differences, I'm just going to put the whole issue aside and take tauren as tauren rather than parallels to any human culture. Besides, aside from certain aspects of architecture, music, clothing, and mythology, the tauren are really their own species. They are quite general enough to remind us of all kinds of different cultures around the world, many of whom cherish the earth, revere their ancestors, and try to live in harmony with the world.

Some people say that the tauren are the noblest and most peaceful of the races in World of Warcraft, but for most of their history, they have been at war with the vicious centaur -- though not by choice. The centaur have always been very hostile towards tauren, driving them out of their ancestral homelands, slaughtering them and even cannibalizing them whenever possible. In a way, the centaur seem like four-legged versions of the nastier trolls who never joined the Horde. When Thrall came to Kalimdor and encountered the tauren in the midst of their struggle against the centaur, it marked the beginning of one of the greatest changes in tauren history.

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Filed under: Horde, Tauren, Virtual selves, Lore, Guides, RP, All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

Excerpts from the Book of Gears: The mysticism, mayhem, and madness of mechanics

It is often said that the Gnomes are the least spiritual of the races of Azeroth. The wonders of their world are mechanical in nature, technical in design, and largely owed entirely to their own hands. Gnomes have little chance to become healers of any stripe, and some say this is due in part to their willing isolation from the world of the spiritual and the touch of the divine.

But there exists in many other races the desire to connect to the source of all creation. To reach out and touch the infinite. To some Engineers, a function of their artifice is to access the forces which power all of creation, and, once there, to perhaps make just a few minor adjustments, maybe tighten up a gear or two. The cataclysmic danger of any Engineer able to do any such thing does not, as a rule, occur to such Engineers. Those who might naysay such grand designs as heresy, madness, or more commonly A Really Bad Idea For Too Many Reasons to List are not generally included in conversations on the topic. Engineers, perhaps Gnomish Engineers in particular, are not easily dissuaded from a task they have set themselves. In light of this, they do not often invite others who might try. It seems a waste of energy all around.

It is the spiritual side of Engineering we will discuss today, using notes provided by Chief Engineer Geargrinder.

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Filed under: Engineering, Fan stuff, WoW Social Conventions, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, Humor, RP, (Engineering) Hoof and Horn R & D

Shifting Perspectives: The human druids

Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them, brought to you by Dan O'Halloran and David Bowers.

Druids weren't always night elves and tauren, you know. Well, in World of Warcraft they were, but centuries before the first snowflakes started to form in the clouds of Blizzard's creative minds, the authentic human druids actually walked around casting regrowth, shapeshifting, and spamming moonfire.

Or did they? How much of the class that we know and love in WoW is actually based on the real life druids of old? How did the word "druid" come to refer to our fantasy fighters rather than some ancient wise men in robes?

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Filed under: Human, Druid, Lore, (Druid) Shifting Perspectives

Considering a real simulated reality

Those of you who are regular readers might have figured out by now that I'm very interested in the relationship between the real and the virtual world, but the latest post at Terra Nova goes far beyond any simple reasoning I've ever done. Basically, they sum up some speculation being performed by academics that says that just like we Earthlings have created our own virtual worlds (in Azeroth and elsewhere), it's somewhat, maybe possible that we ourselves actually live in someone else's virtual world.

Wow. To me, that's so far off the beaten path that who knows where to begin with it-- you've got religion in there somewhere, as well as the old question of our existence itself. But supposing that were true (and it's almost too big a jump for even me to make, except for the fact that even if it is true, we'll likely never know it), what would you do if you were living in a virtual world? Would you act differently? Would you be a griefer? Or would you play the game, play by the rules, and help yourself and others not only "win," but have fun too? It seems a little loony (because who wants to admit that their world is someone else's toy?), but it's a fascinating thought experiment that should help you examine both how you're living your life and how you want to live it-- what would you do if you were an NPC in a virtual world?

Of course, things get even stranger, because we don't just create virtual worlds-- we play in them. Azeroth isn't just full of NPCs-- it's full of us, walking around, killing things, and generally taking (and taking over) whatever we want. If our world really is someone else's, does that mean they're here too?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

Know Your Lore: Gods and monsters

Azeroth differs from the real world in many, many ways. For example, outside the game, you will rarely find that your wages for completing jobs come in leather form, unless you work in adult entertainment. You will also find it difficult to fit an elephant, a stack of ore, and five large swords into a small brown sack. And in Azeroth, you won't go to pick up a quest only to be told that the Mag'har have decided to go with a more qualified adventurer, nor will your flying mount get repossessed by the bank. But there's one thing Earth and Azeroth have in common: A lot of the violence and conflict is caused by religious differences.

Since Azeroth has no handy televangelism networks or airport pamphleteers, most players don't know too much about the religions and gods of the Warcraft universe. So Know Your Lore has prepared a guide to the major religions, their worshippers, their enemies, and other important information. Read on, lest ye be smited by boils!

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Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

Azeroth Interrupted: A plea for tolerance

Each week, Robin Torres contributes Azeroth Interrupted, a column about balancing real life with WoW.

This past week, I was browsing the WoW European forums and came across a post about the Evil Children of Goldshire. For those of you who don't know, there are some children that sometimes appear on the second floor of the house outside of Goldshire. They are arranged in a pentagram and there is a 666 on the fireplace. Also, some eerie music plays when you are in the room with them. Someone complained about this kind of content being unnecessary to the game and the rest of the posts devolved into flaming him for his religious beliefs.

Coincidentally, a similar incident happened this past week in a knit-along that I am participating in. A brief explanation for muggle readers: a knit-along is a list group or other online communication tool where people follow a pattern at the same time and discuss their progress, etc. It is kind of like MMO knitting. This particular knit-along is the Mystery Stole 3, where we don't know what the item is going to look like until we finish it and we don't know what the theme is -- this designer always has a theme or backstory behind her designs. But, of course, people like to guess ahead of time and one of the guesses was that it was demonic in nature. So someone in the list group of 7000+ people complained that if that were the case, she didn't want to continue on something that was against her religion and then a similar flamestorm to the WoW post occurred.

What it all boils down to is that we all don't want to be offended in our refuge from the issues we have to deal with in real life. WoW is an escape and when we get offended and/or personally attacked, then our escape becomes another source of stress instead. The best thing to do, of course, is not to bring up religion at all, since it is an extremely volatile topic. But it happens and I'd like to break it down in detail to help both sides tolerate each other and possibly reduce the occurrence of these religious flamewars. Yes, I am sometimes unrealistically optimistic.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Azeroth Interrupted

World of Godcraft

Let all the heathens spout about the evils of video games; we true believers know the real story: games are nothing less than the path to salvation. If you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe the enlightened folks over at Landover Baptist Church, as they guide you through Winning Souls To Christ in the World of Warcraft.

If you've never experienced the pure joy(*) of Landover Baptist, then this is your lucky day, dear reader. And remember to love thy Orc brother...

(* yes, it's all a joke...calm down, already...geez)

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

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