For some gamers, playing MMO World of Warcraft can be a "religious experience," according to Manhattan College professor religious studies, Robert Geraci. In a Q&A posted on the college's website, Geraci says World of Warcraft presents a virtual reality that tests a person's' ethics and values, and also gets them to think about things like environmentalism and moral issues. In these ways, Geraci argues, World of Warcraft is capable of being much more than just a game.
"The questions of right and wrong appear throughout the game, engaging good and evil, of course, but also environmentalism, consumerism, and other moral concerns" -- Robert Geraci
"In World of Warcraft, you get people who can build communities and reflect on questions of ethics. These communities matter to the players; the online friends are really important to them even if they never meet them in a physical, conventional reality," he says. "The questions of right and wrong appear throughout the game, engaging good and evil, of course, but also environmentalism, consumerism, and other moral concerns. There are these little ways that World of Warcraft provides a kind of religious experience."
Geraci recently wrote a book, Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life, and in it he also talks about another major MMO, Second Life. Based on his research, Geraci says he discovered that in Second Life, many religious communities have popped up, with players building structures like churches, temples, and meditation gardens. One of the groups Geraci discovered in Second Life was a community focused on C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, with its members exploring the Christian themes of the novel and connecting them with modern religious ideas. Finding a group like this is real life would be tricky, Geraci argues.
"Second Life enables someone to have a Christian community, like the Christian Narnian landscape, that would be fundamentally impractical and probably impossible in the conventional world," he says. "From a religious perspective, people are making their lives rich and meaningful and interesting in these virtual worlds."
|Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch|