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That’s Me In The Spotlight Losing My Religion

October 9, 2008

A week or so ago, the topic of religion came up in guild vent.

Pause for the wince I know is out there, somewhere.

Now, as a pastor, I’m pretty firm in my faith and I don’t mind talking about it to anyone who wants to, but there’s a time and a place for such discussions, and usually that’s not right when a horde of Nurglings are jumping on my face and our group is trying to win a PQ. In fact, many guilds and forums of MMOs outright ban discussion of religion and politics (with sexuality a distant third) because of the incredible emotions, passions and disagreements that arise, particularly when it’s in the middle of a group of diverse backgrounds that don’t all share a similar political or religious viewpoint.

But as I said, we got into a cursory discussion of faith — specifically, how the Warhammer fantasy universe (i.e. the one in which we were playing) dealt with religion.

I’d been aware of the various deities and faiths in the Warhammerverse, but not to the point where I gave them much thought. Yet when we started talking about Mork and Sigmar and Khaine, I realized that I was actually playing a game that didn’t shy away from religion as a serious part of these characters’ lives, but essential to who they are and what motivates their actions. It might not be anything revolutionary to you, but I’m cognizant of how fearful Hollywood is of ever dealing with religion outside of a few set clichés, and how far they go out of their way from tackling real issues of faith and belief due to a fear of making someone angry. It’s kind of the last taboo in Hollywood, so it’s nice to see that religion is recognized in WAR as a major player in the shaping of that universe’s history and events.

WAR is by no means unique in hosting a pantheon of religions and deities, but it is one of the most in-your-face MMOs in this regard. I’m not well-read in Warhammer lore, but even as a casual player I’ve picked up a lot of flavor and impressions from the various religions, and I have to say, there’s very few “huggy” deities in the Warhammer world. Even the supposed “good guys” worship gods and faiths that are bloodthirsty and brutal.

But I think it’s just neat that this is all part of that world, which adds a layer of depth that other MMOs lack. Witch Hunters, for example, find it easy to fall into the mental role of a demon hunter/Inquisition dude who is out to purify the land in an uncompromising fashion. Maybe they don’t realize why their character acts as he does, but they can easily sense that there’s a faith there that is a major motivator.

If this in any way interests you, I’d encourage you to hop over to The Greenskin, where they’ve posted a terrific series called “Know Your Gods” that tackle the top 10 faiths of WAR.

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27 comments

  1. We have a pretty strict guild policy regarding what is discussed.

    NO Politics, NO Religion, and NO cursing (for those of us with kids in the background). Someof us in the guild are already aware of eachothers religious stance, which makes it much more neccesary to keep this policy held strong.

    I’m happy we have this in place because we all get along great and I wouldnt want something soo opinionative to get between us.


  2. Nice pic BTW

    lol


  3. Before WAR I played EQ and EQ2 for quite a few years. That multiverse is also very religion intensive with a deep pantheon behind the races ingrained into its history. When they first announced that EQ2 would release in ’04 without “the gods” I wondered to myself how long that would last since it seems most MMORPG players, regardless of personal faith, seem to want gods and higher powers in their fantasy settings. Lo and behold, within the first year, EQ2’s gods made a comeback and are now once again in integral part of the lore.


  4. Burn, heretics!

    Muahaha!


  5. The relative touchiness of religion and faith is one reason as a committed, conservative Christian I find that I gravitate towards Christian friendly guilds. So nobody freaks out if I mention having to leave for Bible study, or tell them Ill pray for them, things that take on a whole order of magnitude of riskiness considering the hostility towards faith, and Christianity in particularly in the gaming community.

    Our guild (refined by fire, Sylvania) in WAR accepts anyone, being a Christian is not required, but being accepting of Christians IS. We arn’t out trying to “win souls” in PQ’s but its nice knowing nobody is going to mess with me in guild chat if something comes up also.


  6. Great article. In we take a different approach and talk about religion all the time, hehe. We are a Christian guild on the R.E.M. server with over 175 toons. Of course we mostly talk about the game, but we often share prayer requests and will soon be hosting Bible studies in game. Feel free to visit our site and very active forums if anyone is interested in learning more. http://redeemed.cc


  7. I spent more time playing Warhammer Online this past week than I have spent in any religious structure in 25 years…. So would Warhammer be my religion and the seperate religions inside the game are Denominations? 😉


  8. See though this is what I don’t get I remember when I was young that conservitive Christians were on a crusade to destroy Dungeons and Dragons, I would think MMO’s would be far worse.

    Well I’ll be following the gods of chaos in the game, and probably real life too. LOL!

    Humans have the inalienable right to pursue happiness, and if that happiness is through a god whether it be thee God, or a hamster named Joe. Good for them


  9. I remember those times theerivs when D&D was attacked as Satanic, but it wasn’t just religious groups, it was the American media in general. They always need a new evil to blame for personal mistakes, and fear mongering is an American tradition in the media and politics.

    As a Libertarian, one’s religion doesn’t matter to me, as long as it doesn’t affect me. But I do like how it’s part of the Warhammer universe, and how it is cause for war, just like the real world. Without religion, you get a world like Warcraft, where there isn’t a war, but just minor squabbles.


  10. Great article!

    On the topics of religion, politics, sex and organizational rules, articulation and discussion are key to communication within any group of civilized adults.

    I have had many discussions with people not only about topics such as these, but also cultural differences, trying to learn through the experiences of others. As a human being, I am curious and want to learn about other cultures. I have always been around accepting mindsets that different lends to growth.

    Culturally I am different than others, but not so different that I cannot learn from others and grow. Within the social organization of an MMO, the lack of face to face negates accountability and often people will use internet as a medium to verbally abuse others. I once wrote in response to another forum member ” just because you can command the language does not give you the power to abuse others with it.”

    Since self moderation and lack of common sense lend to verbal abuse, many organizations use rules about certain hot topics. The only way to grow and learn from others is to engage in intelligent conversations about these topics and understand that and argument is merely a presentation of a different viewpoint with facts defending the position.


  11. This is a very interesting topic. Heading over to The Greenskin to check out the “Know your Gods” series.


  12. Wow, that’s really cool that you’re a pastor!


  13. Thats all fine Holiff…..but, not while im trying to play a game…


  14. Excellent post Syp. I must say that I too appreciate WHs approach to religion. It feels important, believeable (no pun intended) and as a well integrated part of the fictive world.

    I used to study for a clerical position in the church of Sweden, so I’ve had my fair share of discussions around religion during my years as an mmo-player and I’ve got _mostly_ good experiences. However, and to my great surprise, I get a lot more snide remarks and badwill from my fellow players due to being a christian then what I get due to being a guy with a boyfriend. It seems that faith is still a much bigger issue than divergence from the heterosexual ideal, despite most games (and all media) having plenty examples fo differing faiths, and not very many examples of differing emotional preferences.


  15. It’s funny, when I was young my parents were also all about shielding us from D&D, but unfortunately they didn’t realize how D&D was related to LotR and Narnia, and they still let us read/watch those books and movies. Fast forward 20 years… I’m still Christian and play video games, including WoW and WAR, and honestly the “worst” thing about those games isn’t the fantasy subject matter, it’s the real-life addictiveness. That’s something that has to be worked out on an individual basis, so there’s no one-size-fits-all judgement call that can really be made.

    The more I play WAR, the more I see that their deities are all flawed in some form… none of them can really be classfied as “good”, and all of the deities are really front and center. If anything it seems like a war among the gods, with players as pawns, rather than a war among people using their gods as a scapegoat.


  16. At some point, don’t you have to ask yourself, “Would Jesus play Warhammer?”

    I stopped playing MMORPGs because I think the answer is clearly in the negative. I can’t see how going around killing people – even “fake” people, even “NPC” people – is compatible with Jesus’ vision and message. Say what you must, but when you “kill” another player, you’re causing them some amount of grief. Spreading some sort of pain. What we’re faced with is a form of entertainment that revolves around killing people, taking their stuff and buying more powerful stuff in order to be able to kill other things more efficiently.

    If the argument is, “Well! It’s just a game! It’s not REAL!” then I propose a hypothetical scenario: Would you play a rape simulator? How about a game where the sole purpose was to pluck the eyeballs out of children while they writhe in pain? Perhaps these seem outlandish, but how is “playing” rape any different than “playing” murder? Greed?

    And then there’s the issue of playing a game that centrally features gods that, at least in some small way, seek to deny the divinity of God.

    Obviously, you can play Warhammer and continue to find ways to escape the fact that you’re spending a goodly amount of time in a world that revolves around murder and mayhem and goes against every message in the Christian canon. God gave us free will to make as much error or beauty as we chose.

    If you choose murder and chaos, it might be time to reevaluate what our role on this Earth is supposed to be. All the more so if you’re a pastor who is theoretically meant to provide an example to those around you.


  17. @ XCB – Well, that’s not really the point of the post, but since you ask, I’d have to say I’m pretty okay with it. Is it okay to play a game wherein lies competition and simulated “killing”?

    Competition isn’t a moral problem — it’s inherent in any sport where there is a “winner” and a “loser”. Whatever “grief” I might cause a player is only measured in a slight time loss and perhaps a tweak to their ego, if that ego is tied up with the gameplay. If these are the grounds that drives you away from MMORPGs, then you have to examine pretty much all organized sports, where “winning” might not please the other person or team, but they’re willing to engage because they have a love of the game.

    As for virtual killing, if you’re convicted on it, then simply don’t do it. Again, if I may make an analogy, what about chess? It’s a multiplayer game wherein the sport revolves around one side winning by taking or “killing” pieces meant to represent people (knights, queens and so on). Is it wrong, then, to play chess by a moral standard? If it is, then that’s where you’ve drawn your line, and so be it. If not, then you’ll probably argue about distinctions between levels of implied virtual violence, how “realistic” it seems to you, and so on.

    I had a senior minister when I grew up who was a major Civil War reenactor (is that the proper term?). Once a month or so he’d gather with hundreds of Civil War buffs and re-enact great battles. They were so good, in fact, they were called on to be extras in Glory and Gettysburg, when those movies were filmed. Would your argument extend to him? He certainly knew that there’s a distinct line between fantasy and reality, between glorifying violence and engaging in it as a means to understand history and appreciate tactics and strategy.

    See, I can discern, morally and rationally, that WAR is a game. Not everything in this world is 100% pure, but if there’s more good in it than bad and I can discern the difference between the two, I’m not being commanded or convicted against it. It’s not even that graphically violent of a game, if you consider its absence of blood, wounds and the like. Trying to compare it to what you mentioned is obviously way over the line and would not be anything appropriate to engage in. But that’s not this game, and I’m not judging the entire field of MMORPGs based on one hypothetical example.

    To me, WAR is a playing field akin to a sports match, and I enjoy trying to excel in it, meet friends and form relationships through it.

    Again, I have no problem with your viewpoint for you, because you are obviously convicted on this issue and it would be wrong for me to try to convince you otherwise.


  18. P.S. – I didn’t choose chaos! I’m Order!


  19. I’d like to hear more about this:

    “Trying to compare it to what you mentioned is obviously way over the line and would not be anything appropriate to engage in.”

    Are you saying that a rape-simulator that’s not “graphically violent” would be acceptable? Where do you choose to draw this line? How brutal does the killing have to be before it is beyond the pale? More importantly, HOW do you choose to draw the line? Are you basing your decisions on the Bible and the infinite love of God and Christ or on your personal whims? As a pastor, do you not feel the need to err on the side of caution?

    As a long time WoW player and someone who played the WAR beta, I tried very hard to reconcile my enjoyment of the game with Christian principles. I played healers exclusively. Every time I asked myself “does this in any way glorify the name of the Lord?” I kept coming to the same conclusion: As much as I might have enjoyed it, it was antithetical to the teachings of Christ. Murder and destruction – regardless of how cartoonish and ridiculous they may appear on their face – do nothing positive for the world. There is no amount of “strategy” that can be learned that offsets the underlying brutality of the endeavor. You are getting enjoyment from simulated killing. There are loads of “enjoyable” things in the world that are best avoided. Getting extraordinarily drunk and getting into a fight can be enjoyable, but enjoyment of earthly temptations isn’t our charge.

    It’s not that the world isn’t filled with these sorts of choices. WAR might seem ambiguous, but isn’t it worth asking ourselves, “Whom are we serving with this game?” If you can, in good conscience, imagine Christ sitting down to a PC and delighting in smashing someone’s face in with an axe, I think you need to spend more time in prayer.

    If you are suggesting that it is not our charge to try to emulate Christ in all of our endeavours, I will simply say that I believe that you’re missing the point entirely.

    An Orthodox friend once said to me, “before you do anything, ask for the Lord’s blessing. You will know what’s right.” And this, for me, is a very powerful way to conduct myself. It is quite easy to say, “Lord, bless this meal which I am about to cook.”

    If you can honestly and truthfully say, “Lord, bless this virtual axe in this God-less and/or idol-driven virtual world which I am about to use to virtually kill an Orc,” then, please, continue on your way. I don’t feel, however, that any conscientious Christian can do the above and not feel the pang of deeply disturbing remorse. Try it for a day. Not just with WAR, but with everything. I think you’ll find it an interesting experience.


  20. Oh, and one last thing: Your senior minister isn’t the ideal that you should be striving to emulate.


  21. @xcb

    I’d like to point out that the Old Testament is rife with bloodletting, violence, and some fairly terrible crimes.

    Many of these crimes were even commited by righteous men. David even, one of the most righteous men in the OT started his career by killing a man.

    Would you have condemned that? I agree that needless violence is inexcusable, but with all the wars that God commanded His people to go on I can’t understand your strict pacific stance. Especially in the case of the order, which is literally defending their homelands from the bad guys.

    You can argue that Jesus changed the game in the New Testament with many of the things you said, but I don’t believe the nature of God has changed since the OT.

    I’d be interested in hearing your response, if you can forgive my unintended hostile undercurrent (I went back and read my stuff again :P)


  22. Ray,

    If we can assume for a moment that Jesus Christ was put here on the Earth to show us a new, different, dominant paradigm, then I think we need look no further than the Beatitudes for guidance:

    Matthew 5:
    7Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
    8Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
    9Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called sons of God.

    Look. I’m not arguing that WAR is somehow evil. I’m not arguing that it’s anything other than a game. I’m not saying that people who play WAR are evil. I simply ask whether it’s possible to play the game and to not have some of it creep into our consciousness.

    Before I go on, let me provide a small caveat: While I consider myself to be a “Christian” with certain Catholic/Anglican leanings, I do not believe it to be necessarily the case that Jesus Christ is our only road to redemption. There are plenty of good places to find inspiration towards a more “Godly” life out there. Taoism, Buddhism, certain leftist sorts of humanist atheistic movements (hippies, anarcho-punks, etc.) So when I bring up these questions it’s not out of a desire to spread any sort of agenda. Truly.

    But I think that any conscious human being with thoughts of peace and/or love and/or righteousness by logical necessity at some point look at the endeavors in which they embroil themselves and ask “does this serve a greater purpose?”

    The only reason I breached the subject here is because I find it rather shocking, frankly, that someone who spends a lot of their time playing murder-games in War/WAR can see no hypocrisy in claiming to be a Christian. Because I believe that Jesus Christ – as my, and others’ leader of choice – is pretty unambiguous when it comes to what constitutes propriety. Humility. Forgiveness. Peace.

    So back, again, to the question of whether or not these games are capable of creeping into our consciousness. If we take into consideration the seven deadly sins – not as SINS but as generally bad things that negatively affect our quality of life, we see all of them exemplified in WAR. Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. Can anyone honestly look at these and say that they are not easily found in WAR? Both in-game and as it creeps out into our three-dimensional reality? Does not Envying someone’s T3 gear manifest itself in sloth in the “real world”?

    I cannot think that these forces are simply benign. I cannot think that their ephemeral, virtual nature does not in any way affect our deeper selves. Yes, it’s a game. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re still very much existing in that virtual world and making choices and committing atrocities that we’d never, ever condone in “real life.”

    The disconnect that underlies this perception is, I think, one that needs to be questioned. If someone said to you, “I spend 25 hours a week looking at animated bondage pornography,” I doubt very seriously whether you wouldn’t question their psychological state. I also doubt very seriously that it wouldn’t affect them in any way, shape or form. This is my point, I think. Instead of simply saying, “OH! It’s a game! Fake! No consequences!” I think we really need to delve deeper into the question of “What am I doing with my life? Does this activity impact me? How does it impact me? To what end do I seek to continue to do this activity?”

    All the more important, I’m sorry to say, if you claim to be a “Christian”, and much, much, much more so if you’re actively engaged in spreading this vision as a pastor.


  23. xcb,

    You’ve written a very well contructed argument, and brought up some very insightful points. I can’t argue that it is good to focus on those negative traits you mentioned. I can, however, make the point that the world is packed with those negative traits, and the question now is how far will you go to avoid them?

    As Syp pointed out, all forms of competitive entertainment espouse many negative traits. WAR is nothing more than a competitive game for me. The violence affects me much less than the world around me, and is countered easily by the positive things gained by helping people in game, creating friendships, and working as a team.

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but as a Christian Jesus is much more to me than a source of enlightenment. He is a whole personality. Humanity, Forgiveness, and Peace are fantastic things, but they are only a piece of the puzzle. Abandoning the world to avoid negative influence would also cut me off from many of the other positive traits that can be obtained by being part of it. Also, how is one to influence others to goodness by avoiding pursuits not explicitly with positive goals?

    You ask whether I can play the game without some of it creeping into my consciousness. I ask whether it is possible to exist in the world without negative things creeping in. I view the violence in WAR the same way I view the gossip and other undesirable traits I see in people I work with. They are an unfortunate, but don’t affect me (other than annoyance). I play WAR for the same reason I play basketball, that’s all.

    I will say though that anybody reading your post should take a hard look at how WAR affects them. Can everybody remain balanced while playing a game that has many negative points? I would say no with certainty.

    Can anybody? Yes.


  24. Ray,

    I fully understand what you’re saying. I think you’re right about the world influencing us in any number of different ways that we may or may not agree with, condone or enjoy. And, truthfully, it’s probably almost impossible to shut it all out in any meaningful way. Unless we decide to become a desert nomad, we’ll constantly be under influences that we may not even be aware of.

    Perhaps I’m simply externalizing my own problems. I suppose that I might be more impressionable than others. After playing WAR, WoW, etc., I’ve never had a desire to go out and kill anyone. This much is true. But I do find myself, over the course of time, growing covetous about the sorts of intangible things that exist in the game world. “Must get purpz.” I suppose it’s theoretically possible to play the game without these desires and to not let it balloon into something ugly.

    I guess this probably isn’t very different that having a strong desire for a beer after a laborious afternoon of yard work. Just as a beer has the possibility to lead to loss of livelihood and family, it’s not an automatic.

    I still feel unable to reconcile the two, personally. When I take my Orthodox friend’s advice, my brain gets stuck. I can’t move forward because of some sort of… compelling mandate that what I’m asking for isn’t something that’s within God’s plan.

    But then again, I really enjoy death/speed/grind metal. Because let’s face it: Satan makes the best music.

    So I suppose it’d be best to take the Lord’s advice and stop throwing stones. 🙂


  25. Very interesting discussion this is turning out to be. I’d like to add my five cents to it.

    First, I agree with the very significant idea that we are not supposed to hurt eachother, this includes all ways possible. However, I do think that people are allowed to challenge themselves. Even if it leads to them loosing and thus being hurt now and then, the gain from the fun of participating is greater than the loss from loosing. I do encourage people to take part in sports and other games, even if these activities are inspired by warfare or by the need to be fit for warfare (olympic games etc). I believe that everyone taking part in a football or chess match does so knowing that they will win some, and loose some. So I can not in good conscience have moral claims about enjoying competitive sports, as long as people are free to take part or not as they choose.

    What I do see as a potential problem with all kinds of competitive/cooperative activities are the powerstructures that tned to develop and reduce people ability to enjoy their lives. “I don’t like you so you can’t play with us”, etc.

    Regarding the different shapes of faith that is represented in WAR. I think they can be useful to remind us that there are several ways to describe the world, and despite our best efforts all we can do is give it our best guess. Is Khaine really just another facet of Khorne? Kan you do good by killing? If I had lived 800 years ago, would God have wanted me in a crusade? Is the King James translation of the Bible still a good interpretation of the holy script? Was it ever? Having fake beliefs questioned keeps us humble in face of the big questions.

    We are indeed effected by the things we experience. If we were not, we could not possibly have such things as cultures. Sometimes things go wrong, I like to reflect over the way that Goethes classic book The Sorrows of Young Werther led to a bunch of copycat suicides during the later part of the eighteenth century. I’d never suggest that the book was the most important factor of their suicide. The same goes for any form of media. It is not a isolated issue, but a part of a whole.

    Finally, I do not believe you become evil by playing evil. Compare to an actor playing a nazi officer in a WW2 movie. (I know, anyone who refers to nazis in an internet forum has automatically lost) Would they be a more evil or less christian person by doing so? Are they more or less so than the guy who plays the american officer? How about the author that has written the script?

    I’d much rather spend my energy trying to fix the serious problems of the world than focusing on pretty harmless competitive activities such as computer games.


  26. I don’t know, granted im not christian but my entire family is. The WAR universe for order is clearly devised around middle to renisaince period of western Europe. I am not glorifing it but one if they thought Order’s background was interesting could do the research and see the comparison and learn alot about real world wars that were started over religion specificay the bible. The crusades and the spanish inquisition just to name the popular two.

    Furthermore the Witch Hunter is an obvious testament to the real world witch hunters of early east coast America in the puritans.

    To add would Jesus play this game? Yes I think he would. From what I have read about Jesus he was still a man. He still had a sense of humor and still understood the value of entertainment. Heck I see a modernday jesus playing a marauder then looking over at Paul who rolled a warrior priest and saying “Man I rolfstomped you. Thats what you get for challenging the son of god” Ok maybe not that bad but I could see him enjoying the competiveness in the game and enjoying it for the game that it is.

    This game might be using violence as a medium but in now way is it advocating do this in the real world. Also on your blessing thing No I am not going to ask for a blessing every auto attack, but you know what I also would never ask god to bless the TP that I am about to use to wipe my arse. Does that mean I shouldn’t use TP? I only used that to show how easy it is to jump to extremes on either spectrum.

    Lastly not everything in this world is satan inspired. Most of it comes from man’s own sick desire to express himself and sometimes it does go overboard (i.e. the Saw movie franchise which I admit I watch but in all honestly are movies that are bad) and sometimes it turns out as a true mechanic for entertainment (i.e. this game which though does have killing they did a good job of giving reasons, motives, and didn’t glorify the act even if it is the major act.)

    And enjoyed the read guys thank you very much and was just adding my 2 cents and sorry if you felt like I am mocking your beliefs not my intent just adding my take on it 🙂


  27. Im not much knowledgeable about the warhammer universe and all of its law, but I find the 40k universe and its law around religion very interesting. Mainly that the emperor was attempting to take humanity to the next level by abolishing all religion, and striving for greatness through technology. He failed however and religion took hold of humanity, obviously there is a lot more involved than just that, and religion is not necissarily viewed as an evil in 40k, it was just the view of the emperor and all his followers. The warp is an amazing concept in my opinion, as well as chaos and the way it almost purely mirrors any thoughts dubbed as “evil” from the perspective of the humans in the world, almost as if they are creating this monster of an enemy themselves.



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