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Playing at Religion: Encoding/decoding religion in videogames

Boek - Dissertatie

Young people in the West are more likely to encounter religion in videogames than in places of worship like churches, mosques or temples. This dissertation departs from observations by enthusiastic theologians who find religion everywhere in videogames - the largest cultural industry in the world. However, if religions are beliefs in supernatural substances given meaning to, culturally, through objects and social functions; then what is really religious about games? Playing at Religion takes an encoding/decoding approach to the appearance of religion in games by asking: "So what?" In other words, "What does the appearance of religion in games actually mean to the people making and playing them?" Chapter 1 reviews the literature on secularization, leading to the question of how religion's mediatization changes it, and for whom. Chapter 2 contains notes on methodology. Divided into three parts, the empirical chapters concern developers, games, and players respectively.Part I on Encoding opens with Chapter 3, arguing on the basis of ethnography and 22 interviews with developers of Assassin's Creed that commercial interests drive a corporation to create a nostalgic 'Marketable Religion' that commodifies belief by reducing it to an acceptable version for the largest possible audience. Chapter 4 argues on the basis of 35 interviews with independent developers that, despite the promise of their independence, religious and irreligious 'indies' alike similarly cannot escape a standardized, inherited conventions of religion in game design that are divorced from their own beliefs, and are as commodified as they are Eurocentric in the resulting use of religion in game design.Part II on the Games themselves contains Chapters 5 and 6: two content analyses of two genres - fantasy and the post-apocalypse - that show the extent of how games historicize and combine religious cultural heritages into 'Eclectic Religion' or even apply it in new ways, by using divine metaphors to deify 'Awe-ful Technologies' such as AI and the atom bomb.Part III on Decoding opens with Chapter 7, analyzing on the basis of 100 online forum discussions how games prompt players to discuss the meanings and meaninglessness of religion in videogames among themselves in a 'Pop Theology,' based on their personal religious beliefs. Chapter 8 further analyses the experiences of 20 such interviewed players to understand how 'Playing the Other' in videogames enables them to try on and drop others' religious beliefs and identities as they wish.The dissertation concludes that developers, games and players engage in a playing 'at' religion which reduces religions as sources of ultimate meaning to commodified, mediatized signs which inspire beliefs temporarily. In doing so, games inspire a ludic epistemology in which beliefs are no longer ultimate, but to be tried on, compared and discarded. Supernatural substances like gods and spirits are in these experiences reduced to 'simulacra' of the sacred - imperfect copies of what religious communities hold sacred. Thus mediatized, millions of players globally have all the possible beliefs in the world available to them, playing at religion with the push of a button.
Jaar van publicatie:2020