How MMOs Were A Religion That Brought Me To Religion
Before we begin I think it’s important to lay down an important ground rule for newcomers to my stories.
I am a crazy person. My mind is twisted and hilarious and sad and nothing I say should be taken as gospel in any way, shape, or form. Except when I tell you things are rad. Like Skylanders or pizza. Those are totes rad.
So it turns out I’m a fairly religious person. I was not particularly raised to be a strict by the book Christian or the like, but I’ve always found myself drawn to spirituality whether I was entirely conscious of it or not. I have vague, ethereal memory of spending a great deal of time with my grandmother in the woods of New York State. We would talk with the trees and the animals and walk barefoot in the streams and lay in the grass. This was normal. I was also a child so it, for the most part, was super boring. Yeah I could bask in the beauty of nature but I also had a Sega Genesis and an Aladdin cart. Now THAT was a world of true beauty.
Besides attending the occasional church service for I don’t even know what I was just never a real participant in organized religion. That is until I was in High School and something happened. God only knows but something drew me into a Methodist Christian church. I attended the youth group, Sunday sessions, and even attended a summit with the intent of joining seminary. But why?
Well it didn’t really work out. I eventually fell out of it and resumed a normal, secular teenage life. I went to college, joined a puppet theater troupe, and dropped out of college to earn a paycheck. I had some wild and crazy love, fell in with my current partner, and moved to California.
Several years passed in the ‘Adult Period’ of my life. I was on my own (with my life partner but, you know, no parents) on the other side of the country going to work to pay utilities and rent. What excitement. All the while I was playing World of Warcraft. Lots of WoW. I was a healer, I was doing raids, I was providing for friends, strangers, and my guild. It was Important. It was fulfilling.
I fell off and on of WoW for a while, as you do. My main was a restoration shaman, a Tauren. An elder native american medicine woman type. Then my grandmother died.
Even though I hadn’t really kept up with my family much due to disease and depression messing all of us up in one way or another, her passing was a sneak attack on my soul. “Oh.” I thought to myself. “I didn’t realize I needed that piece of me.”
I felt faithless again. I had dreams that told me I should follow in her footsteps, take up the torch that I failed to even see in my younger years. Again I felt this need for something more important. There was a Higher Power that I needed to find. I stumbled in the dark off and on for answers, looking into Mohican shamanism and stuff that might possibly have been her practice… But I didn’t really know. So I played WoW again. A whole bunch.
Was… Was World of Warcraft my religion? No. That… That’s dumb.
More time passed and eventually I was hit by a car. Yeah. That totally happened. Damn near killed me too, turns out. But I lived. It changed a lot about my life but I lived. I spent about a year recovering, mostly bound to my bed. What did I do? I played Final Fantasy XIV Online. Another MMO that could be played with a gamepad from my bed. In it I made new friends, made another healer (and eventually a tank!) and provided for strangers, friends, and my guild while feeling a sense of growth, learning, and accomplishment. I was empowering myself and helping others, working towards being a guide and a leader in the community.
Eventually I fell off of it, got back to work, and… Found myself attending a local church. It was a beautiful church with a wonderful Christian service and a congregation that truly welcomed people of all sexualities, races, and even denominations. It was the most Christian of Christian spaces I’d ever been to.
I only attended once. Despite the wonderful experience I just… Never made it back there. I did, however, find myself back in the MMOs.
So what’s the deal, Mark? Clearly you find in MMOs what you’re looking for in religion, right? Yeah. I guess so. In a way, but not really.
Looking at it academically I can see where you’re coming from, uh… Me. It does kind of all fit together. Especially in today’s internet connected age religion can be a very fulfilling community experience. You’re sharing an ethos, researching and discussing aspects of a faith, attending group rituals and having opportunities to really help people with your attitude and actions. There can be wonderful unique environmental experiences along the way, wonderful friendships, and opportunities to serve your community under a banner you’re proud to stand under. And, you know, you’re having a good time doing what you’re doing, hopefully. (Playing an MMO under duress to meet the expectations of others is a whoooole other story) It’s all the things I look for most when I’m enjoying an MMO. It’s the feeling of self improvement wrapped in an adventure, making others feel good which, in turn, makes me feel good. I don’t even need to leave my desk to do it!
It’s not quite enough for me, though. I also seek a real spirituality. A relationship with greater powers. Looking at the MMO from a distance though… Yeah. I can see how it could provide a whole lot of fulfillment for someone looking to be a part of something pretty darn big and uplifting. I don’t really believe, however, that completing a raid in WoW is going to bring me a divine boon. That would be a real cool hook, though. Get working on that, Blizz.
Where does all this thinking put me? Well right this moment I’m in a funny little loop where WoW brought me to religion and now I’m kinda “Meh” on my MMO addiction. See, a little while ago I made a friend playing WoW. I had just come back to it after a hiatus and, while sorta having fun with the game, was more interested in the roleplay and community aspects of it. Don’t get me wrong, I was still tanking and healing because that feels Important and makes me feel good to be Important, yadda yadda… So I meet this person and I have no idea how we got on the topic but I eventually discovered she was, in real life, a Druid.
This was weird to me. Sure I had heard of real life Druids, in a sorta ancient history way. Any modern context to me was couched in fantasy RPGs and supreme weirdos. Still, though, she was very nice and I was curious. I looked into it more and… Well… Turns out this path wasn’t quite as nutso bonkers as I thought. My preconceived notions of her religion were, surprise, super wrong and (wouldn’t you know it?) seemed to fall in line with my experiences as a child in the woods of New York.
So now I’m walking down this exciting path of Druidry. I’m working with a religion that feels very right to me, has been providing me the sort of strength I’ve been needing, and has opened up fun opportunities for historical study and just plain reverence for nature that…. Mmm…. It just feels so good.
What’s going to happen now? Who knows, honestly. As we’ve established I’m a complete nutcase and life has a funny way of happening to you when you’re walking down the street. Right now though I find myself getting a crap ton of fulfillment out of researching ancient French Pagans, sitting outside in the sunlight, and finally… Finally getting back in touch with my grandmother like I hoped I always would.
And right now… I just don’t really like there’s room for an MMO in my life. I see now, though, how being your guild’s main tank can be a powerfully religious experience. Some of us, I guess, need the raid to tank back for us from time to time.