Wagner to discuss religious consequences of nonreligious video games



Jessica White | Staff Writer

In popular video games such as “Halo” and “Call of Duty,” the player’s objective is to stab, shoot and blow up other players. The games are often criticized for their violence, but virtual reality researcher Rachel Wagner said they can be viewed as religious experiences.

Virtual experiences such as stories, films and video games are forms of world-building that serve as ways for people to make sense of their own worlds — activity that is arguably and patently religious, she said. Video games are interactive, with players making sense of a reality someone else created, so they also shape emotion and behavior more than other types of storytelling.

“In a game without obvious religious components, you can have a religious experience,” she said.

Wagner will discuss video games and virtual reality working functionally as religion and how recognizable religion is portrayed in games, at 2 p.m. Friday in the Hall of Philosophy. Her lecture, “Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality,” shares the title of her new book.

Wagner, a professor of religion at Ithaca College, is a pioneer in her study of virtual reality as a religious experience. Hers is the first single-authored book on the subject, and many of her fellow researchers are still students — some of whom she taught.

She looks at several forms of media but focuses on video games, because that area is largely unexplored. In games, Wagner studies rituals, storytelling, community and violence. Some people define religion as the social glue that holds people together, she said, and there are elements of gaming that create that ritual and community.

“I ask questions like whether it’s possible to do virtual harm,” Wagner said. “Can you virtually sin?”

Wagner also studies intentionally religious video games, such as “BIG Bible Town” — though she said there are not many.

“There can be theological consequences for the ways that we experience a story if we can actually play in it,” she said. “A lot of Christian designers and religious designers around the world will be very careful about what you can and can’t do. So in (“BIG Bible Town”) you cannot play, for example, as Moses or as Jesus.”

Games such as virtual football or racing are the exception, Wagner said, and players probably will not have much of a religious experience. They may have diluted forms of ritual experience, because there is structure that shapes behavior, but there may not be consequences for how the player creates meaning in the world of the game.

“So let’s say you’re playing a shooting game that takes place in Iraq, and you’re supposed to shoot people who come out of mosques,” she said. “There’s a game like that, and I think that game can have real consequences for how you perceive inter-religious encounter in real life.”

Wagner, who grew up in the generation of Pac-Man, said she does not play many video games, but her students and 18-year-old son help her.

“I’m very interested; I watch what games come out, and I keep track of the storylines and look at the experiences,” she said, “but in terms of actually having the reflexes — I try, I’m just no good at it.”

There are 2 comments

  1. Hecubus

    It’s interesting, but not very original–I mean it seems obvious. I haven’t read her work, so I’m just going off of this blog post. But doesn’t it boil down to Good v.Evil–what more can be said? Video games are a part of culture, and reflect a society’s beliefs and values. Games do make interesting and enlightening commentaries on the state of core beliefs and values. I’m also troubled by the fact that she is not a gamer herself. Seems like that would limit her research.

  2. stillsvideo

    Kotaku reports on a patent for epic storytelling in videogames: ““Player Encounters Hooker”: This Might Be the Most Epic Video Game Patent Application Ever. Dr. Elliot McGucken’s application for a “System And Method For Creating Exalted Video Games and Virtual Realities Wherein Ideas Have Consequences” might be the boldest, craziest and, yes, scariest game patent dream ever.”


    Vampire Zombie Communist Hookers? Patent It!

    IAN BOGOST TWEETS: 5 days ago from web ibogost: System and Method for Creating Exalted Video Games and Virtual Realities Wherein Ideas Have Consequences is.gd/1gg5F (via @ncroal)

    the-pause-button.com/News/Peter/dantes-inferno-patent “Strangest storytelling patent filing ever?”

    “Dantes Inferno was not a hugely well reviewed game – metacritic, at time of writing, puts its average marks somewhere around the 73 mark, depending on platform. It especially came under fire from people who, you know, had actually read Dante’s Inferno and felt that EA’s handling of it was less than faithful to the subject matter.

    Fast forward to March 1st 2012. It was on this day that, for one Dr Elliot McGucken of Los Angeles, the rage that had clearly been building since the game’s 2010 release got all too much, and they submitted a US patent outlining the “System and Method for the Heros Journey Mythology Code of Honor Video Game Engine and Heros Journey Code of Honor Spy Games Wherein One Must Fake the Enemy’s Ideology En Route to Winning”. Now I’m no master in patent reading, but as far as I can tell, the good Doctor is trying to patent various mythological systems of morality and their gaming applications, while throughout making thinly veiled references to how much EA ruined the mythos of Dante’s Inferno.

    The patent is full of nonsensical gibberish that reads like a gaming madman’s handbook. Swinging wildly between heated sarcasm, overuse of the word ‘exalted’ and attacking string theorists of all things, this patent gives many branching flowcharts explaining each moral choice in a hypothetical game, culminating in the death of Hitler. This patent, and a lot of the Dr’s work in general from a swift google, is a great example of just how angry some people can get when source material is messed with.”

    You can find the storytelling patent here: google.com/patents?id=uR8FAgAAEBAJ&zoom=4&pg=PA12#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Crazy Patent Gives Ideas Consequences
    March 27th, 2012 at 12:51 pm –

    Many of you may know the famous quote from V for Vendetta that says “Ideas are Bulletproof”, well beyond being bulletproof according to a patent recently filed they also have consequences. A recent patent application filed by Elliot McGucken shows an idea for a game where Ideas have consequences on the game world. This is a very impressive and scary game idea in the way that it gives players a sociological god power with ideas. Many of you know how Mass Effect has plenty of consequences for your actions and words but this patent is something different. Imagine running a virtual society where you can quote famous people, icons, celebrity’s , historical figures, etc. and use their ideas to create different outcomes based on changes in society? sounds pretty intense right? Well if someone decides to take this patent and run with it we might just have a VERY influential game!”


    New Gold 45 Revolver Video Game Technologies Exalting Story in Games


    All of a sudden people started talking about this patent and the novel game types it proposes:

    Over at the Something Awful forums, a Bethesda employee stated:

    “This may be the first time in history that, rather than blaming video games as the root of society’s problems, they’re being blamed for NOT being the solution.”

    And I answered:

    Yes! That’s what I’m saying! There’s a vast opportunity for epic, exalted art which inpsires the soul!

    And videogames can lead the way with a paradigm shift that both a) leads to deeper storyteling and b) exalts classical ideals and heroic idealism.

    And so, sensing I was a bit ahead of my time after trying to explain it to some MBAs at major gaming companies, I buried it all in a patent or two. It was as if they were against both a)making money and b) exalting art and culture.

    So I figured, if that’s the way they wanted it, then that’s the way they’d get it–they’d come to me.”


    Vampire Zombie Communist Hookers? Patent It!

    Such natural buzz is worth millions, especially when it is based on simple, innovative technologies and design concepts that could easily be added to existing game engines, with far-ranging consequences and new gameplay mechanics, resulting in newfound, superior educational and commercial opportunities:

    “a fallout 3 mod based on this shit would be boss as f$%$.”
    “What’s scary, for me, is that this might be exactly what gamers want.” –onelastcontinue.com
    “What scares me most is I agree with the core pillars of what you are saying.” –gamasutra.com/view/feature/4061/dramatic_play.php

    @SIMDYNASTY: “I didn’t bother reading it, but my friend (who found it) said “did you notice he quotes the Declaration of Independence, Gandhi and then talks about Clint Eastwood and Eminem?”” –simdynasty.com
    “That thing is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.” –simdynasty.com
    “Fuck! I actually have to come back and read this later as it will take too long right now. Fucking hell though!”
    @TWITTER: Wow! Most amazing videogame patent ever. Save the earth from communism by not shooting the hooker! 120page WIN tinyurl.com/savehooker –twitter.com/DenUngeHerrHolm

    “actually a fallout 3 mod based on this shit would be boss as f#@&. you could totally do it, you fight the communist chinese ghouls and use speech trees to save the wasteland from collectivism” –perianwyr somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=9

    “All of us who have been struggling to work out how to make meaningful games and interactive narratives can rest easy. The problem has been solved.” –wordsonplay.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/system-and-method-for-creating-exalt

    “Video Game Idea of the Century!” –Garp
    “This would be the most abstract game ever. I’d play it.” –Dutch
    “That game would be so different that it would have to be good. I’d definitely play it!” –Z A C K
    “I’d play it.” –Bleeding Black

    “here is my concept art for a communist zombie please hire me to make your video game ”
    –img0841.paintedover.com/uploads/0841/chinese_remnant_sergeant.jpg –perianwyr

    “This is the greatest videogame patent I’ve ever read.” –EmCeeGramr
    “I think this guy has golden humour.” –Foxspirit
    “Do a Google search on Dr. Elliot McGucken, the dude who filed for the patent. It will blow your mind.” –Zealous D.
    “That’s awesome.” –Tentacle
    “Is this a patent or the insane ratings of mad man?” –speculawyer
    “This thread is so full of win I hardly know what to do with it.”
    “Each line, I keep thinking, ‘This is the funniest shit ever.’ And then I read another line, and…HOW DOES IT KEEP GETTING BETTER?” –alistairw
    “Can you imagine having the guy as your physics professor?”
    “Thread is amazing, though. I can’t help but hope that he’s somehow trolling the patent system…it must be amazing to be a patent worker trying to review it. “And then the player must choose to not quote Marx, thus exalting his classical soul?!””

    “Fu&*^! I actually have to come back and read this later as it will take too long right now. Fucking hell though!”

    “”One man with a gun can control 100 without one. I will suck your blood. Sounds fun. ”
    “the name is “System and method for creating exalted video games and virtual realities wherein ideas have consequences its part of public record, the publication number is 20090017866. Put that number into google and it shows up. The free patent places online generally have the description, but none of the images (which are all similar flow charts). I didnt bother reading it, but my friend (who found it) said “did you notice he quotes the Declaration of Independence, Gandhi and then talks about Clint Eastwood and Eminem?” ”

    “You are clearly a very intelligent, self-driven, inspired and passionate person with vision. What scares me most is I agree with the core pillars of what you are saying. That said some of your flowcharts kill me, I almost died laughing today both from your patent and the Neogaf thread. “When the worst student is told about the way he laughs out loud; if he did not laugh, it would not be good enough to be the way.” -Lao Tzu

    I admire you for your boldness. Honestly don’t think your patent is enforceable, but if you are looking to develop work in the multi-threaded vain your work suggests, you are certainly creating a lot of buzz to leverage. You’ve managed to steer this thread in a different direction…” –Stephen Dinehart

    Ranger, I was not aware of that work, and many of the ideas that I am trying to work out are in there. However, I have a fundamental beef with some parts of it, such as the uselessness of the Hero’s Journey as a narrative structure, the fact that it is a method, not a story, and the fact that it is about game implementation rather than story creation. On the other hand, if such a system ever actually sees the light of day, it would be the perfect tool for creating truly epic interactive stories. My other beef is its generality; I can see three generations of academic debate over just one of the 21 statements: “The method in claim 1 where the said ideas are based upon the pivotal plot points of the great books and classics.” –Jeff Spock

    “Why couldn’t there be a version where, in order to win, you must distribute Marx, Bakunin, and Kropotkin, creating solidarity among the prostitutes, leading to rebellion against the pimps and the establishment of a prostitute’s union?”

    “LF: where the character can battle for said ideas that are based upon classical moral and economic principles of famous philosophers” –Total Hell –forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=8

    “dude this is pretty interesting i hope you keep posting around here for a while” –Jay B. Bulworth –forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=9

    “mcgucken i would totally buy the shit out of your game ” –Goatstein

    “One of the reasons Spore fell flat is that it forgot to incorproate the mechanisms which separate humanity from the rest of the universe–our moral soul’s natural, exalted longing for truth, beauty, and justice–the fruits of epic storytelling and exalted mytholgies.” –Dr. E

    “You, sir, are fascinating. So much so that I’m not sure where to start.” –Hayt, forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=9

    Publius says:
    “I’d probably plop down $45 bucks for your band of revolutionaries versus Marxist zombies shoot-em-up/philosophize-em-up video game.”

    “EA has been struggling to develop new hits to bolster its lineup of reliable sequels to games like the John Madden football series. The company said in late September that it had sold to retailers roughly two million copies of Spore, an ambitious evolution-themed PC game, but it is not clear if Spore was a hit or a profitable game.” –nytimes.com/2009/04/10/arts/television/10arts-VIDEOGAMECRE_BRF.html

    “The company also has been under pressure from investors and game makers to come up with creative new game franchises, and critics say it has struggled to do so. The somewhat more iconoclastic Take-Two publishing house was seen by some investors as a union that could bolster Electronic Arts’ creative efforts.” –nytimes.com/2008/08/18/technology/18iht-19game.15401246.html

    Well, why not incorporate ideas that have consequences and open the floodgates for billions in revenue and a new generation of games?

    “here is my concept art for a communist zombie please hire me to make your video game ”
    –paintedover.com/uploads/0841/chinese_remnant_sergeant.jpg –perianwyr

    Sunday Sundries: “NPC1 becomes vampire/communist” “A video game method and system for creating games where ideas have consequences, incorporating branching paths that correspond to a player’s choices, wherein paths correspond to decisions founded upon ideals, resulting in exalted games with deeper soul and story, enhanced characters and meanings, and exalted gameplay.” Includes a communist vampire.

    Yes–building a prototype will happen in a natural manner, and probably soon, though I am patient!

    Soon we will be able to walk into Best Buy & pick up such novel games incorproating the Gold 45 Revolver/Ideas Have consequences/Moral Premise technologies!

    There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this luke-warmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it. – Niccolo Machiavelli

    twitterfeed runcibleansible: RT @ibogost: System and Method for Creating Exalted Video Games and Virtual Realities Wherein Ideas Have Consequences is.gd/1gg5F 5 days ago from DestroyTwitter juliandibbell: RT @ibogost

    5 days ago from web ibogost: System and Method for Creating Exalted Video Games and Virtual Realities Wherein Ideas Have Consequences is.gd/1gg5F (via @ncroal) 5 days ago from Tweetie arminbw: patent: System and method for creating exalted video games and VRs wherein ideas have consequences – bit.ly/JV14 (via @MituK)

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