Sunday, July 27, 2014

Robert M. Geraci's "Virtually Sacred"

Robert M. Geraci is Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Manhattan College. He is the author of Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality and many essays that analyze the ways in which human beings use technology to make the world meaningful.

Geraci applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life, and reported the following:
Virtually Sacred is about how the online virtual worlds Second Life (SL) and World of Warcraft (WoW) show how virtual worlds “participate in our sacred landscape as outsiders, competitors, and collaborators” (12). In SL, for example, one can bring one’s traditional religion online and build a community, a place of worship, and possibly even new ways of practicing. The massively-multiplayer online game WoW also offers chances to build communities, and players can reflect on questions of morality, engage in meaningful activity, and even experience transcendence. In virtual worlds, we can be who we want to be, fly where we want to go, and unleash magical powers in defense of the people and principles we love.

In reflecting upon this, the first complete sentence on page 99 says of playing WoW: “This transcendent experience can be so enchanting that some researchers and enthusiasts see it as a stepping-stone on our way to a greater evolutionary future, one in which we permanently take on the heroic mastery afforded in only limited doses by playing the game.” Residents of both SL and WoW dream of opportunities to upload their minds into cyberspace and attain technological immortality. Thus virtual worlds have become key in the cultural debates over transhumanism (the belief that we can transcend the limitations of mortal life through technology) and almost certainly incline their users toward transhumanist ways of thinking. The remainder of page 99 is a conclusion to chapter three, which describes how activity in WoW competes with traditional religions. “Certainly not all players are religious in their engagement with the game; however, many are, and all benefit from the varied ways World of Warcraft enables the production of communities and morality, the acquisition of meaning, and access to transcendent places and selves.” As the page finishes, I claim that such religious possibilities “must surely account for much of [the game’s] appeal.”
Learn more about Virtually Sacred at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue