Professor Argues That WoW Can Be A "Religious Experience"

Manhattan College professor of religious studies says Blizzard's MMO is capable of being so much more than just a game.

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."

If you're interested in finding out more, you can pick up a copy of Geraci's book today on Amazon. The next expansion for World of Warcraft is Warlords of Draenor, which launches November 13.

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch

For all of GameSpot's news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

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177 comments
Sl4cka
Sl4cka

"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"

^^ is not aware of how running dungeons with pubs goes.

wheres_my_phone
wheres_my_phone

You could apply that reasoning to anything. Let's take necrophilia as our example and phrase it like he does.

"During necro parties, you get people who can build communities and reflect on questions of ethics. These communities matter to the necros; the corpses are really important to them even if they never have sex with them in a physical, conventional way. The questions of right and wrong appear throughout the act, engaging good and evil, of course, but also environmentalism, consumerism, and other moral concerns. There are these little ways that necrophilia provides a kind of religious experience"

nothingformoney
nothingformoney

WoW is love. WoW is life.

And now, my flame shield....

whalesex
whalesex

While this article doesn't go too far into detail, I can say from personal work on a dissertation that there is an absolutely astonishing amount of quality research on the psychological and sociological impacts these games have. There are quite a few people here discrediting or laughing at the idea, but this professor along with many other researchers, have published some fantastic literature and journals on the subject of WoW and other MMO's. 

If you're ever curious to learn a bit more Nick Yee's Daedalus project is a fantastic place to start (just Google it).  He's also published a book on Amazon called The Proteus Paradox that I haven't had a chance to read but likely covers a number of things I worked on as well. 

It is all very fascinating and holds some real merit.

Fursnake
Fursnake

Just what we need, the Church Of WoW.

ezioismyname
ezioismyname

LOL....environmentalism?   hahahahahahahahaha.  Save the digital trees.  Stand up for the enslavement of the flying birds that the avatars use to travel.

vadagar1
vadagar1

i believe in "GOD" but I find most religions tiresome and some times just plain idi0tic

El_Zaggy
El_Zaggy

The most ridiculous thing that I've read today. Someone must fire this professor guy. he needs vacations. 

Triton
Triton

Yep, like Waco Texas was.

deathwish026
deathwish026

oh yay religion.. hell no the game has enough magic in it already.

gamingnerd121
gamingnerd121

Please keep things like this out of the game, or at least keep it private in your own guild. We're better off with less bloodshed.

Pewbert
Pewbert

In the sense that you can pretend things are real that are clearly not then I suppose yes, it can be a religious experience.

59Hertz
59Hertz

If you can say that about WoW then I feel you can say that about almost any MMO. I didn't feel any real sense of any of this stuff he mentioned. And quite frankly there is tons of games that are far better in terms of testing ethics and morality.

Gamerno6666
Gamerno6666

Well console and platform wars has become a religion.

jenovaschilld
jenovaschilld

And you know what, WoW could just be an entertaining video game, an interactive outlet that is a lot funner then watching reality tv, or reading teen vampire books. And really that can be all there is to it, and nothing more. If you are going to write a book about WoW commercially it is more profitable to compare it to a soul affirmation of existence then say a fun way to spend a Saturday Morning.  

To me, Religion, whether you believe or not, fills a part of us all humans in all nations have long for since the beginning of us. It is not just a way of explaining the unknown, but something we all inexplicably ask our selves.  For instance the Australian aborigines have had the same society and religion well before the Roman empire. From the moment man, stood upright we have searched for answers to the great mysteries who we are, no one has found a hidden tribe of atheists in New Guinea. From a scientific stance, it would seem all tribes of people will develop religion which makes me wonder why a fragile species on a rock in the ass end of our galaxy, in the middle of nowhere in the universe even bothers with religion and the asking of why. 

But others, like the guy above, can compare wow, his book, and Hardee's bacon thickburger to a religious experience by pretty much the same reasoning. I myself find that reaching. 

RobDev
RobDev

for it to be a religion their needs to be a deity, where is the deity?

keeper262
keeper262

Um couldn't anything provide anything through a certain perspective?

berserker66666
berserker66666

I think the professor's been playing too much WOW to come up with such nonsensical statements.

berserker66666
berserker66666

So scientology wasn't enough? Now you've got Warcraftology.

tomservo51
tomservo51

Everyone has a 'religion' per se. It's practiced from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed every day.

hXcShock
hXcShock

What a sad and meaningless religion that would be. Oh wait, all religions are.

ropumar
ropumar

Every religion is bad and dumb. Enough said.

verk81
verk81

when wow kicked off and the servers were few, I knew guys in my unit over in Korea who would sit at their desktop with a piss bucket, food and drink waiting to get on. I'd say it has a bit of an impact on people lol.

ezioismyname
ezioismyname

@whalesex Also known as addiction.  I know people who have lost their jobs, families, you name it, due to WoW.  Just like a drug to a lot of people.

loafofgame
loafofgame

@59Hertz I agree. I don't see how addressing moral concerns, right and wrong and good and evil is somehow something exclusive to religion. Maybe my idea of religion is a bit traditional, but I'd say the presence of rituals, deities, sacred places, etc. is something that should at least be considered when talking about WoW as a religious experience. But, you know, the guy wrote a whole book and this is just a tiny news article, so I expect his reasoning to be a little bit more substantial than how it appears here...

loafofgame
loafofgame

@RobDev Well, strictly speaking Blizzard is the deity, since they made the world and the general rules within that world.

squall_83
squall_83

@hXcShock Are they boring? You seem like a pro that knows everything about it. Would you tell me all about them? 

dpclark
dpclark

@ropumar 

Especially the religion of Environmentalism and Evolutionism and Atheism.  'Nuff said.

warriors30
warriors30

@ropumar I kinda agree. The thing I always found weird is that the Bible is a fictional book, right? It's by no means "scientific work" or anything, although I think that science isn't always right either...but here's the question:

Can you tell me the difference between the Bible and...let's say...Harry Potter? They're both fictional (not based on true events) so what exactly makes the Bible so special and "holy"? If I started praying to the Lord Potter from now on, would that make me crazy? Wouldn't that be religion, too?

TalesOfGod
TalesOfGod

@ropumar  Yeah, a pure theological concept that is widespread around the world.

One that has started and supported the most charities, orphanages and hospitals in history is "bad and dumb". One that many people from many different professions over the ages and many intelligent figures have believed in.

Go get yourself educated.

whalesex
whalesex

@ezioismyname @whalesex Well, addiction is certainly one aspect of the picture.  That said, MMOs more often have positive effects on people rather than negative. 

One recurring theme in nearly all examined literature is the use of MMOs as a social outlet.In A. Flemming Seay's Project Massive study, it is hypothesized that online gaming will lead to greater feelings of social integration. Moreover, too much participation in social gaming will lead to reduced social integration.Interestingly, the results show that players who play online with real life friends are more likely to report positive self-worth than those who do not.However, the latter hypotheses of large amounts of time spent in a virtual world do not affect self-worth.The social support that players receive from online friends is considered equally valuable to those who have social support in a real world scenario (Flemming Seay, 2007).


loafofgame
loafofgame

@59Hertz I do have to add: he talks about a religious experience, not an actual religion. The feeling some people might have when playing WoW might be a feeling similar to someone who... uhm... I don't know... basks in the glory of the Lord. The feeling of some collective power teaching you about right and wrong, guiding you... stuff like that. WoW might not be a religion, but perhaps the experience could be labeled as such.

RobDev
RobDev

@dpclark 'Nuff said, not really considering none of those are a religion.

BranKetra
BranKetra moderator moderator

@warriors30 @ropumar What separates religions from delusions is that religions have basis in fact to various degrees. Concepts, historical events, and people of religions are supernatural while also being culturally significant. While possible for you to pray to Harry Potter, many would likely view that as little more than witchcraft as that is what the novels he is in are about which is a legitimate religion in that individuals practice it. The choice is ultimately yours whether or not you wish to have faith in anything.

RobDev
RobDev

@TalesOfGod ah, cherry picking. missing out the wars, the crusades, the obscene wealth, the abuse etc.

xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

@TalesOfGod 

True, but let's not forget the dark ages, centuries of technological suppression, the roman persecutions, the crusades, the witch hunts, the religious nuts who go on murderous rampages and massacres, the sacrifices, the wars, the jihads, and let's not forget Dragon Age Inquisition, because that's where I wanted to lead this. All against or for a god that may or may not exist.

59Hertz
59Hertz

@loafofgame @59Hertz I would agree that there is a big difference. But you don't necessarily need the supernatural to make something a religion

dpclark
dpclark

@RobDev @dpclark 

Evolution-ism.  Environmental-ism.  Athe-ism.

You don't need a deity to have a religion.  (e.g. Buddh-ism)

See, Environmentalism as Religion by Michael Crichton

59Hertz
59Hertz

@BranKetra @warriors30 @ropumar  

Sorry but most of the main religions have no basis in fact. They have a belief and faith and instead of searching for the truth they only wish to validate what they already know to be true. Hence the BS such as "creation science" etc. But it is culturally significant I will agree with that.


And I'm sure you heard the speel about if you believe in god its all good but if you believe in fairies you're crazy type deal etc etc.

warriors30
warriors30

@BranKetra @warriors30 @ropumar Wow...now that is a response!

Personally, I can't believe in god. I admire people who can, but it simply doesn't work for me. However, I do believe that aliens and ghosts exist...for some reason that seems way more reasonable to me. Probably not relevant, but I'm just saying.

xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

@BranKetra 

If someone were to write Harry Potter 2000 years ago, I'm pretty sure Harry would have been a significant deity by now. Paraphrasing Stan (I think) from South Park, God is a significant presence in our history and in our lives, even if we want it or not, even if he's not real.

TenraiSenshi
TenraiSenshi

@RobDev @TalesOfGod I'd say all the good and the bad isn't just a matter of religion, it's a matter of humanity.

It's people making choices, and whether you're religious or not, you can make good or bad choices, or do good or bad things.

TalesOfGod
TalesOfGod

@xsonicchaos @TalesOfGod 

-For one, the majority of the dark ages were greatly exaggerated. It wasn't as bad as people thought it was with the exception of crimes of theft because they didn't have a proper enforcement system (like the police) as people were always so busy with wars.

-Technological suppression by the religious is nothing short of an exaggerated lie. The only way that they have ever supressed technology is forbidding the practice of dissecting a corpse being as it was seen as a "sin" (but the real reason was that it was extremely easy to get sick and infected from viruses). Priests, imams, gurus, etc were all one of the most educated people back in the day and were basically the people who bothered to actually study scientific options. After all, they did create a map that was 14 degrees off from our current map in the middle ages and most people knew that the world was round in the middle ages.

- The Romans were extremely ruthless so religion never changed or even influenced that behaviour as it was clearly obvious by all of the acts of humanity from 100bc-20bc with Julius Caesar being a great example.

- I will admit that Crusades and Jihads were wars caused by religion (in most of the cases that weren't driven by greed like the 4th Crusade) but that is nothing compared to the wars of Korea, Japan, China, etc. that were atheist country and killed much more (not to mention, much more brutal) than the combination of those "holy wars".

- There is basically no trusted sources of the witch hunts available and the very few sources that we have indicate that the witch hunts were on a much smaller scale than you would think.

-Wars are mainly political with the exception of the Crusades and Jihads. There is nothing more that needs to be discussed as that is a widely accepted fact.


I'm not going to say that there hasn't been problems with religion (like the Islamic terrorists in Iraq at the moment) but it has nowhere been as bad as people would think that it would be (especially compared to the damage that politics and greed has done). If you bothered to research this, you can find that the majority of the problems were actually exaggerated or are simply false (like the false belief that everyone in the middle ages thought that the world was flat and not round).

Anyways, I've came back to this page enough times so I'll bow out of this conversation as I'm not learning anything new.

loafofgame
loafofgame

@59Hertz Well, in the case of WoW it's not a supernatural power. It's still a guiding force, though. A force that might motivate some people to perform all kinds of rituals (within the gameworld) and dedicate themselves to it, the same way others would dedicate themselves to a god. Enough people have lived and revered WoW.

xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

@tomservo51 

Well, in that case, I would say religions are anything but boring. I'm already on my second bag of popcorn.

RobDev
RobDev

@dpclark @RobDev that makes it an ism genius. By that logic r@cism, sexism are religions too? without a deity or a dogma it's not a religion. Buddhism has buddha and it has a state of nirvana, or unattainable perfection. People pray to buddha and it has a dogma. evolutionism is a scientific theory. it's been proven countless times. atheism is LITERALLY the opposite of religion. Michael Crichton  was a known climate change denier, you may as well try and convince me of religion by reading the bible. i tend to listen to SCIENTISTS not thriller authors and 97% of them seem convinced climate change is real.

loafofgame
loafofgame

@TalesOfGod You just turned this into a measuring contest. Religion, just like politics, is the source of quite some misery in the world. I personally think this isn't because of fundamental flaws in religion or politics, it's because people don't like being insecure and tend to steer clear of questioning their own convictions. For many people there's only room for one truth. The idea that two potentially contradicting convictions can be equally true is incomprehensible for a lot of people. Granted, it is also highly unpractical when it comes to governing countries and institutions.

Also, you seem to suggest that politics and religion are two separate things. The separation of church and state in the western world really hasn't been going on for that long yet. Whether or not history is exaggerated is irrelevant here, because what we do know is that in many cases Christianity affected the law back then. Being a heretic or a heathen was punishable by law. It doesn't really matter whether or not the scale on which persecutions took place is blown out of proportion. It was conduct based on religious ideals that caused harm to innocent people (and it still does). But hey, conduct based on non-religious ideals did exactly the same (and it still does).

This is about clashing convictions. Both religious and non-religious convictions have led to misery and happiness.

xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

@TalesOfGod 

Dude, I have a lot of respect for you and your religion, your beliefs, and that being said, I think you're an ignorant. Most of what you said is bullcrap, again, with all due respect. People got burned just for saying that the Earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around. There are people today who think the world is flat. And to say, you, that the dark ages were greatly exaggerated? By whom? Historians? Who are you to say that and what sources do you have besides tinfoil dot com?

dpclark
dpclark

@RobDev @dpclark 

Depends on how one defines religion.  Doesn't it?


"Anthropologists have considered various criteria for defining religion – such as a belief in the supernatural or the reliance on ritual – but few claim that these criteria are universally valid."

-Wikipedia.


Also, Michael Ruse on Evolutionism.

warriors30
warriors30

@loafofgame @warriors30 @BranKetra @ropumar I know that sounds illogical, it probably is, but my answer is pretty simple...

When I was a kid I saw a ghost...that may sound crazy but to this day I am convinced that's what "it" was. It was not scary, it didn't make any spooky sounds, it was just there, standing in front of the mirror in my grandmother's bedroom (me and my parents were visiting her). I wasn't scared, and I only saw it (very clearly) for 3 seconds or so  and then it was gone. (EDIT: It was a very quiet and peaceful moment, it only lasted for a couple of seconds but it felt much longer than that, hard to explain)

That was it, I don't have any other cool ghost stories to tell, but that moment was reason enough for me to believe in ghosts. I believe in after life, I believe that "there's more" after we die, but to me that has nothing to do with god.

I'd love to find out the truth, this whole topic is super interesting to me.

x_loto
x_loto

@loafofgame This is probably the most intelligent and educated response I have ever seen in such a debate. Bravo.  

RobDev
RobDev

@dpclark and the ones you have mentioned have NONE of these. no deity, no supernatural, no ritual, NOTHING.they meet not one of any definition of religion.


Also Micheal Ruse you mean stuff like this


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-ruse/is-darwinism-a-religion_b_904828.html


where he complains about what he said being taken out of context by people with their own agandas and he used the word religion as a comparison, so he never said anything about it being a religion. 

dpclark
dpclark

@RobDev @dpclark 

Again, you may define religion as you wish.  Others have a different view.  There is no universal agreement what religion is.


By the way, I said Evolution-ism.  Ruse agrees it is a kind of religion.

RobDev
RobDev

@dpclark it's pointless trying to explain to an id10t. None of these match ANY OF THE ACCEPTED EXPLANATION for religion. ruse states SOME people act like it;s kind of a religion. some people act like sports is kind of a religion, doesn't MAKE it a religion.

RobDev
RobDev

@dpclark @RobDev no actually it''s YOUR opinion. I'm simply stating facts. in your opinion they are religions in reality they are nothing at all like religion