Lost Odyssey – working out religion through video games

(So…this is where a lot of you read the title of this post and go, “Okay.  You lost me.”)

I had the honor of participating in a podcast of Divine Community, where I touched on the concept of working out my religious sticking points through the use of video games. Since that podcast, a number of people have asked me to explain myself.

Trying to put this in some kind of order, I find it necessary to go back to my history as a gamer. I begin playing video games when I was very young; my parents were always into gadjets, and we had a Magnavox Odyssey back before I started 1st grade. From there, I went on to use the Atari 2600, then the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), then the Super Nintendo (SNES). We were not a Genesis household, although I have tons of friends who had these systems and so I pretty much gamed all the way through from early childhood until I graduated from high school.

In the 90’s, I discovered the joy of PC gaming. I most enjoyed the Lucas Arts games… especially the ones that can now be played on the S.C.U.M.M. engine: Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, etc. To this day, and early PC game remains my top favorite: Quest for Glory-So You Want to be a Hero.  I then branched out into MUDs before returning to my beloved console gaming with the Playstation and Nintendo 64…which then branched out to include all new consoles as they came out.  My current collection stands at well over 1,000 games and (I think) almost every console that has come out in the US…along with some from Japan.  Oh, and a working arcade cabinet in the dining room.

(Yes, I also have a NeoGeo console and yes, I allow people to play it when they visit.  No, I don’t think I have a gaming problem.)

Now, I do play video games for fun, for relaxation, for stress relief, and other traditional reasons.  I don’t want anyone to think that gaming is solely a religious activity for me.  However, when I’m wrestling with an issue I find gaming to be an excellent way to work through my own mental roadblocks.  It works for me, regardless of the origin of the issue; I can as easily work through a religious sticking point in a game as I can a work-related problem, or an ethical dilemma.  The genre I use may differ – Action/RPG for religious quandaries; FPS for work (especially colleague) issues; Puzzles for ethical wrangling – but the act of putting the item into the universe of the game and thereby being able to “physically” wrestle with it helps enormously.

My go-to games for religious and/or magical wrangling are those in the Elder Scrolls series; typically, I use either Oblivion or Skyrim, although Morrowind also has its benefits.  I then find a quest line that has a religious component (going on a pilgrimage to different temples, for example, or completing quests for Daedra) or I retire to a mage tower to work on creating enchantments or spells.  I put my player character (PC) through the paces of what I’m going through in my mind and, by watching “myself” go through the motions on screen, I can take what I see and learn and apply it out of game.

(Think of it as “hands-on” practice in a safe environment, of sorts.)

Now, granted, I’m not firing lightning bolts at anyone, or setting off on hajj or anything in real life.  I might, however, decide to take a pilgrimage (of sorts) to visit my buried ancestors…or use gesture and movement similar to that in whatever magical engine the games use to bring myself into a meditative state…or speak aloud language from the game universe to focus my intent on a problem.  Whatever I bring over from the game world helps me work out what I need to…and consequently, I can usually count on things being productive when I try them on the outside.

I’m not sure if this truly answers the questions I’ve been asked, or if it helps anyone understand what I do, but I’m happy to answer questions as (if) they come in.

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2 responses to “Lost Odyssey – working out religion through video games

  1. I’ve worked with video games as stress relief, inspiration, and help with world-building ideas. I’ve never thought about looking at using games to work through real-life. The next time I play a game, I’m going to test this method out.

  2. I’ve used games as vehicles for personal growth before. In City of Heroes I tried a more outgoing, flirtatious personality on for size and had a great time with it. In AION I tried a pacifist Asmodean (dark side) crafter to hone my sense of ethics and business savvy. Now in Firefall, I’m learning to use agility and strategy to take down enemies that are stronger than I am. It’s fun. 🙂

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