Sunday, February 26, 2006
I once started, but made no progress on, an essay about religion -- or, more precisely, religious freedom -- in MMOGs ("massively multiplayer online games"). I wondered, what would it mean for an "avatar" (i.e., the "digital you" in virtual-world games) to enjoy and exercise religious freedom? I was not thinking so much about any real-world, religious-freedom rights that we might have to participate in MMOGs, or about any constraints that religious-freedom laws might impose on the regulation of gamers or games themselves. Instead, I was trying to imagine what it would really mean to say or wonder if the avatars themselves, in "their" worlds, enjoyed religious freedom. The question seemed worth asking because -- in my view, anyway -- religious-freedom questions (in the real world) are intimately connected to moral-anthropology questions, i.e., what is a human person and what does the answer to this question mean for additional questions about how human persons ought to be regarded and treated?
Well, again, I made no progress. This should have come as no surprise, given that I really do not know much about MMOGs or computer-gaming generally. (Some prawfs -- like Dan Hunter, Michael Froomkin, Timothy Wu, and Jack Balkin -- do, though). In any event, here is an interesting post, on the "Terra Nova" blog, about "religion in MMOGs" (read the comments, too):
[A]ctual religion and theology are pretty much absent or at best non-operative in most MMOs. In fantasy games the priest is typically a "healer" but otherwise the character is a façade. In modern or science fiction games, religion is conspicuously almost entirely absent.
I've been wondering for some time about enabling the presence of both real-world and made-up religions in MMOs as thematically appropriate. Is this a good way to flesh out a world, to create gameplay surrounding a moral code and shared identity, and to bring a significantly missing piece of human community to the game, or would it just be a way to invite controversy -- in effect, to draw aggro from both religious and non-religious players and cause a heap o' customer service trouble?
The companion to this question is a bit more introspective: to what degree does the answer to the question of operative religions in MMOs vary with our own degree of spirituality/religiosity? Is the perceived agnosticism of the game development community keeping religion out of MMOs?