Playing God: Symposium Religion & Videogames


The gaming industry has recently surpassed Hollywood both in quantity and in revenues. In 2013 ‘Silicon Valley’ generated revenues of $ 93 billion, a 17.7% increase on the amount earned in 2012. Video gaming is everywhere: from consoles via smart phones to desktops, from battlefield simulations like Battlefield en Call of Duty to ‘serious games’ helping trainees to master difficult skills as surgery and organizing air traffic. Games like World of Warcraft, GTA 5 or the Sims series are covered in main stream media, almost as at the same level as traditional media like films and music. Serious scholars are investigating the sociological, psychological and anthropological dimensions of gaming and gamers, while others concentrate on ethics and morality in games or on gaming communities surrounding high definition MMORPG’s like WoW or the Diablo series.


The scholarly investigation of the phenomenon of ‘religion’ in the world of video gaming is still very limited, however. Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God (2010) was the first collection to offer a range of religious critiques and responses from scholars, religious practitioners, and game producers regarding the nature and content of video games. This publication was followed by collections as Religions in Play: Games, Ritual & Worlds (2012), eGods: Faith versus Fantasy in Computer Gaming (2013), Religion and Digital Games: Multiperspective and Interdisciplinary Approaches (2014), and Playing with Religion in Digital Games (2014), which all seek to contribute by offering a systematic and focused thematic investigation of the growth of the study of religion and its relationship to Game Studies.

Within this emerging field of investigation on the interaction between video gaming and religion, theological inquiries and reflections are not among the popular topics to be discussed. Traditional or ‘classic’ Christian theological topoi like salvation, incarnation, sacrifice and Eschaton are nevertheless easy to be found in modern day video games, like the Mass Effect series, Bioshock, Bioshock: Infinite, Master Reboot, Limbo, Brink, Fallout 3, Fallout 3: New Vegas, Metro 2033, Metro 2033: Last Light and the Diablo series. The old narratives of the Christian tradition reappear in new and inventive forms and modes in modern video games. Besides this, the valorization question is especially interesting in this field. How does the study of theological topoi in games make the world a better place? What would we tell grantors to be their return of investment? A whole field of theological study lies barren, waiting to be discovered.

Symposium

On the 17th of October, the NOSTER research group ‘Moving Visions’, traditionally focused on the interconnection between film, religion and theology, will host a special symposium on ‘religion and video games’, investigating the narrative and symbolic intertextuallity between these two domains. Besides the members of the NOSTER group everyone, who takes an interest in culture, gaming, religion and theology, is invited to participate in this symposium. Can God be found in video games? And if so, how and where?

Program

09.30 Welcome and introduction: Frank G. Bosman (Tilburg School of catholic Theology)
10.00 Lecture #1 : Connie Veugen (Vrije Universiteit)
12.00 Lecture #2 : Stef Aupers (Erasmus University)
13.00 Lunch break
14.00 Lecture #3: Peter Versteeg (Vrije Universiteit)
15.00 Lecture #4: Tobias Knoll (University of Heidelberg)
16.00 Discussions
17.00 Conclusions: Freek Bakker (Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University)
17.30 Reception

Speakers & lectures

#1 Revisiting Gabriel Knight: troubled hero and unknowing servant of the King of Kings

Although the protagonist of the Gabriel Knight series is a modern hero, Gabriel’s journey contains all the elements of the classic hero journey as described by Joseph Campbell, a mythical structure which can be found in stories since the dawn of mankind. But in contrast to other games that also use the hero-journey, Gabriel’s story is more than superficially linked with the Messianic version of the myth.
Connie Veugen (Vrije Universiteit). www.veugen.net.

#2 Spiritual Play: Experimenting with Religion in Online Computer Games

Popular online computer games, like World of Warcraft, are full-fledged ‘virtual worlds’ brimming with ancient religious narratives, magic and mysticism. Based on about 25 in-depth interviews, it is argued that such self-enclosed environments provide the opportunity for self-proclaimed ‘atheist’ gamers to voluntarily play with religion – to freely experiment with religious identity without adopting a pre-defined set of religious values and to experience enchantment without necessarily believing. Having analyzed different types of religious experiments in online games, it is argued that ‘play’ is an epistemic category that transcends the modern dichotomy ‘believing’ versus ‘non-believing’; the ‘religious’ versus the ‘secular’ and ‘re-enchantment’ versus ‘disenchantment’, that is still prominent in the sociology of religion.
Stef Aupers (Erasmus University). www.stefaupers.nl.

#3 Playing with infinity: a ludic approach of death in multiplayer online games

Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) of the fantasy type are set in virtual worlds where magic and mystical forces thrive and where powerful creatures wield their otherworldly spells. The religious constellation of the game world is that of a war between different gods and their adherents, but at the same time this background narrative of the game seems to have little to do with actual gameplay. In this lecture Versteeg will focus on death and practices surrounding death, both of characters and players, showing that players, rather than following a narrative script, transform the virtual world into an interactive stage where they project their own narratives onto.
Peter Versteeg (Vrije Universiteit). www.linkedin.com.

#4 Laser-guided karma? Choice, agency and moral decision making systems in videogames

Choice and agency are frequently named as key factors in describing videogames and their unique features in respect to other forms of media. So called ‘Moral Decision Making Systems’ represent one attempt at involving player agency into the game structure by confronting the player with recurring moral choices with direct or implicated effects on the game’s narrative. These become especially relevant and interesting when players are faced with choices colliding with or challenging their moral and religious worldview.
Tobias Knoll (University of Heidelberg). www.zegk.uni-heidelberg.de.

Host of the day is dr. Frank G. Bosman (Tilburg University).

Date and location

Friday the 17th October 2014, 9.30 – 17.00, Nieuwegracht 65, Utrecht.
All-in entrance fee: € 15. Online registration.
The Tilburg School of Catholic Theology (Utrecht) is hosting this conference.

For more information, frankgbosman@uvt.nl, (06) 24 99 64 59.

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