Journal: 2017-01-10 13:32:02


When I read The Word Has Become Game: Researching Religion in Digital Games, I found its most interesting idea (not original to that article, though) to be that of players performing religious action in the game space. The paper mentioned framed this as a 'ritual' level of religion in games, and provided fairly superficial examples like creating in-game memorials to either actual people or in-game characters. While these are within the realm of religion, I don't think they are very interesting.

I would rather consider religious activity in games in two categories: sincere actions of the player according to his actual religious beliefs; and the semblance of religious action performed for dramatic purposes, such as role-playing the religious life of the player character. It may not always be possible to distinguish between these cases by mere observation.

Religious activity is of a special kind. In particular, religious speech may be performative, and mere communication may be religious action. So a player speaking (even if through text) a prayer or proselytizing through the medium of the game may be performing actual religious activity.

For the second part (religious action of the PC), some further consideration is required. I imagine there is some literature on the philosophy of acting, considering the relationship between the actor's portrayal of a character's actions on the one level, and the character's actions in and of themselves, on the other level. That is to say, if a character in a play speaks a promise, the actor does not make that promise, even though speaking a promise is usually considered a performative act. No more does an actor gain political office by playing a character that wins an election. The question, then, is: does an actor going through the motions of a religious ritual in a play participate in that ritual in fact?

If the answer is possibly 'yes', then it surely depends on the ritual in question, among other possible variables. So an almost-equivalent question would be: does the practice of acting absolutely preclude performative speech? This probably depends on the definition of 'performative speech', and how we categorize the actor's speech--is the choice to act out a particular scene a separate act of speech (this term broadly construed) on the part of the actor, independent of the content of the scene? Probably yes. Then the in-scene speech of the character may not be performative on the part of the actor, but the choice to act may be. Then the decision to act out a religious ritual, and the practice of doing so, may be equivalent to the undertaking the ritual sincerely.

Pursuing this question seems to be leading me deeper down the rabbit hole, reforming the question without answering it. So I will put it aside, for now.

A related observation: actions taken by the player on behalf of the player character are similar to actions taken by an actor on behalf of a character. In other words, playing a video game is a kind of dramatic performance (consider Laurel's Computers as Theatre).