Why do some people regard games as beliefs?

First of all, let me briefly introduce myself. I have a bachelor’s degree in religion from Boston University, and I’m currently a scholar with a master’s degree in religious studies from New York University. You can call me Liuying or AdolShadow.

I like this question of the author. In fact, everyone will think, how can such a thing as a virtual be called a belief? In other words, how does a game become a religious system by itself? The connection between games and the religious world was discussed in my college honors thesis. And what kind of connections they have in real life.

Simply put, we can’t subjectively or simply put games directly together with religion or belief . Or even putting faith and religion together is inaccurate. Sociologists of religion William Paden and Peter Berger say that people create society, and society creates the world we live in. The world can be science-based or any concept-based. The point is that they are all man-made. Therefore, society is the core, and the creations above society can be changed, and their value will not be eternal.

Faith is different for me personally. I think belief is a product based on the individual. All people can have different beliefs. My parents and I, who are both Christians, may have completely different ways of believing in Christianity. We are individuals, and while in a system like the church we need to follow the rules, in private, my beliefs and presentations can be very different from others. This is my own opinion. Sociologists would generally think that this is also a social product.

Two days ago, I just produced my first article on Zhihu, which is about some of the process of my graduation thesis. Here are some excerpts, which can better explain the author’s problem. Original link: AdolShadow: For the first time, I posted on Zhihu, talking about my college honorary graduation thesis: On the similarities between the virtual world and the religious world structure


Briefly talk about some of my generalizations in the article. If you want to see my full graduation thesis, you can move to the original text.

If you are a gamer, think about it carefully. Why with the increase in the variety of games, the playability has become stronger, but “religion” has become an indispensable part of Chinese and Western. Not to mention typical Christian-dominated games like the early Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood or A Plague Tale of Innocence. A Buddhist-dominated game like Sekiro. Think about it, even Genshin Impact, who I am addicted to now, has adopted a lot of occult elements. Another Monster Hunter Rise that I’ve played a lot lately is also the development of the traditional Japanese ghost culture to the extreme. So, if the original intention of the game was created is a product of technology. And technology itself has a certain opposition to religion. After all, technology originates from science and is synonymous with accuracy and a new era. So isn’t it a bit like putting the cart before the horse in such a game that is flooded with religious themes ?

In fact, this is not the case. Before writing my final thesis, I also tried many other thesis on religion and games. After writing more, I found that there is a problem with the entry point of the above problem. We always feel that this is contradictory, so our literature or copywriting usually finds negative information such as game violence and game addiction. So conflict becomes a sign. But assuming that we first determine that games and religions are intrinsically related, we can discover a new continent, which is the core academic area on which my thesis is based – the virtual religion Digital Religion .

Briefly define a virtual religion. I took a course on virtual religion, Religion in Digital Age, in the second semester of my senior year. The instructor in this class gave us the most basic definition of virtual religion. Virtual religion is a religious study that studies the institutionalization of non-traditional “churches”, and its roots need to be based on the modern network environment. The churches and institutions here are basic offline gatherings and meeting places, not specific to a particular religion. Because almost all traditional religions need physical assembly numbers and venues as support. Therefore, this virtual religion can be subdivided and discussed in two parts. Because part of it will inevitably be the evolution of traditional religions over the modern web – Religions Online. After all, even if there are gods’ predictions, it is difficult to say that ancient religions could understand that we have the superb means of the Internet today. Therefore, the inevitable new church model and online meeting place have a new meaning. For example, what is the point of a rally without physical contact? How is the sacrament given? How to fundraise and more.

The other part is more special. It cares more about the emerging religions that originated from the Internet – Online Religions. For example, Googlism, that is, people call Google a god, and we who created this god are also very divine. There was also the Church of AI a few years ago. The founder, Anthony Levandowski, used to be an employee of Google, but he later quit the church due to some legal issues. There are many, many more emerging religions like the above. Countless at all. It is also interesting to study why these appear, how they are called religions, how they lead the trend of some religious reforms, and how they differ from traditional religions.

But you will find that the game religion I am talking about seems to be incompatible with the above two points. Then this is the magic of Digital Religion. Because we are studying non-institutionalized religions, that means, it does not mean that only non-institutionalized religions such as emerging religions on the Internet are suitable. It is actually more interesting to study religion as it has been reshaped and defined . What does it mean? To put it simply, let’s say I’m in church talking to the priest about going to heaven after death. Then if I can’t go to church because of the epidemic, then I will meet the priest online and ask him this question. Well, because the medium of contact with priests has changed, it is already in the realm of virtual religion. Going further, I started a Facebook thread called #deadheaventest. Then the nature of the topic has changed again. Because while I can still ask questions as a Christian, I can also sift all the responses down to Catholic ones. But because this is not a church network software, it involves Facebook’s religious stance. Then came the interesting point. Here, is Facebook fulfilling the role of “society” in our daily life on our behalf ? It would be no exaggeration to say that Facebook is a virtual society, right? In this way, we can indeed understand the concept of virtual society from a religious perspective.

When it comes to games, if it can be discussed in terms of the concept of social community, it will become much clearer. Back to the sociologists of religion Peter Berger and William Paden. As mentioned earlier, people create society, and society creates the world we live in. In the world we live in, it brings us a lot of convenience. Because society is a whole, society creates many cultures that facilitate this whole, such as social roles, laws, language, politics, etc. This also indirectly explains why the world created by each society is different, and each country is a closed whole to some extent. While the entire real world requires communication, it is undeniable that only one society can survive.

Then this concept is also established in religion. Or Berger and Paden, who tell the same trick, religious societies can create new worlds under known de-religious societies. As long as there is a whole, the world can be created. For example, we are students, teachers, and policemen in our lives. This does not affect our religious beliefs, going to church, worshipping, giving, and doing volunteer work. It’s two world systems and two cultures happening in one reality. They conflict, but they don’t conflict.

What about the game, is there a similar world creation? The answer is definitely yes, and it is almost identical to the religious world-creation system. It’s just that this time the platform has become a virtual world, the religion is a virtual religion, and the laws are brand new laws that are not limited by physics. So we think it’s fake and different, but it still resonates a lot. Because this is essentially a world created by society as a whole. We just find that he is not in the same reality as ours. Can you say that if my consciousness was born virtual, can I recognize it as virtual? No, I would definitely feel that that was my reality.

Having said so much, I haven’t actually said a little bit of my article. But I really want to understand games and religion, which is inseparable from the concept of virtual religion. It is not so easy to really understand virtual religion. Because there is no very suitable definition and explanation now.


But ultimately we need to get back to the author’s question, “Why do some people believe in games”?

First of all, let’s speak directly in the vernacular. If I’m playing the game now, it’s the belief I’m embracing. Isn’t this question self-answering? I mention an example of this in my dissertation, “Meditation on the Go: Buddhist Smartphone Apps as Video Game Play” by Gregory Grieve, a modern professor of virtual religion. Grieve described a mobile game software “Buddify” in the article. This is a Meditation game software based on Buddhism. In the software, you can follow the tutorials in the software to complete the transformation of your online image from ordinary people to devout believers. By completing various small tasks and reading, you can become more like a Buddhist. Interestingly, while you can design your own characters and control the progression of the game, you don’t need to be a Buddhist yourself. Grieve saw someone playing this little game on a plane. When getting off the plane, Grieve asked the player, who said, “Oh, I’m not a Buddhist, I’m just agnostic and believe in spirits.”

This actually caused more questions and thinking. If it is said that a Buddhist is playing this mobile game, it seems reasonable. Because that’s one of his beliefs. But not a Buddhist, why play a Buddhist game? Here is another important point that needs to be drawn: Is the personality we play in games really our real personality?

This second point , we need to think carefully about personality issues. Because our current technology has not reached a technology that can send the whole spirit to the virtual. What is the personality that was sent to the past? In MMORPG, you can choose your character by yourself. You can be male in real life and female in game. You can choose your skin color, you can choose your occupation, and in some games you can choose your faction. Rubia Gregory on MMOPRG: “social and role-playing opportunities”. It translates as “this is a reshaping opportunity for a new social personality”. This indirectly shows that we on the other side, on the other side of the screen, may not have any connection . That said, if I say we choose a belief in that game, that doesn’t really mean we have to have the same belief in this world. Say I’m playing WOW, World of Warcraft. I chose the Alliance faction, and my girlfriend, for example, chose the Horde. Then we may be opposites in the game. We might go to war. But this means that we can’t get tired of being crooked and can’t be together in real life? This obviously doesn’t make sense.

Finally, let’s talk about the ” why ” in the author’s question. Maybe when you answer this question, the first thing you think about is how to put forward examples to support the content in the game as belief, or you can oppose the content in the game as belief. But in fact, another key point in this question is the why of the question. When we ask questions or think like this, we are actually saying: “There is such a phenomenon, so I want to understand the reason behind it.” And the beauty of this thinking is that we have acquiesced to this phenomenon . We wouldn’t even question how anyone would link games to religion, how anyone would feel that virtuality is just another floodgate for religion. It’s as if we’re playing a game that’s based on the occult, based on mythology, based on institutionalized religion, and we think it’s normal.

Going back to my dissertation, my purpose is to explore this why. When I compare the game world with the religious world, and even the social structure of the real world, I mean that we create the world involuntarily in society. When this world is created, we will involuntarily move in, preconceived, and then put on various labels . We actually know nothing about virtual reality. We don’t even know what the virtual side, the creatures we’ve created, will do when we turn off the computer. Are our recreated personalities really obedient when we’re gone? And our first few labels for virtual/game are to formulate a set of life rules exactly the same as our real life after creating the virtual world. Of course, the laws of life must contain religion.

We can create a game world that is completely different from the real world. But it can’t be denied that the vast majority, or even all games, have more or less borrowed from real life. We never know what God looks like, so we look for it from history, paste a label we think, and put it into the game. So, this also comes to the final key conclusion. What are we in the game ?

If we create games, we play games. So what are we? We are gods! We can change the rules of the game recklessly, we can try bugs at will, and we can make player mods to innovate the game. In this game, God is actually a string of codes compared to the game studio, and a BOSS that needs to be overcome compared to the player. So, when we tried again and again, failed again and again, and reborn again and again, we finally defeated the gods and BOSS in the game. Then we become the gods of the game to replace the BOSS.

In retrospect, our beliefs become very obvious. Since we are God, we simply believe in ourselves. Humanism, human supremacy, is very fully reflected in the game. Because we are the omnipotent God. This is in stark contrast to our sense of powerlessness in real life. Therefore, belief in the game is also our own human beings .


Most of the content above is taken from my graduation thesis at university. If you think it is good, please click the link above to view it. There are more things that I didn’t mention in the above question , the definition of metaphorical games in religious situations , what is reality , and the development direction of future game religions . Author, I hope you have some thoughts and inspiration for my answer. While this is not necessarily the standard answer, it is indeed the answer of many authors and scholars. grateful.

Part of the Reference:

Berger, PL (1969). The sacred canopy . Anchor Books.

Berger, PL, & Luckman, T. (1967). The social construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge . Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Campbell, H., Grieve, GP, & Gregory, R. (2014). Citing the Medieval: Using Religion as World-Buliding Infrastructure in Fantasy MMOPRGs. In Playing with religion in Digital Games (pp. 134–153). essay, Indiana University Press.

Campbell, H., & Tsuria, R. (2022). Digital Religion Understanding Religious Practice in digital media . Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

Forbes, B., Mahan, JH, & Grieve, GP (2017). Meditation on the Go: Buddhist Smartphone Apps as Video Game Play. In Religion and popular culture in America (pp. 195–212). essay, University of California Press.

Paden, WE (1994). Religious worlds . Beacon Press.

Paden, WE (2012). Tracks and themes in a shifting landscape: Reflections on 50 years of the study of religion. Religion , 43 (1), 89–101. https:// doi.org/10.1080/0048721 x.2013.744614

Paden, WE (2017). Shifting worldviews: Modeling sacrality in naturalistic perspective. Religion , 47 (4), 704–717. https:// doi.org/10.1080/0048721 x.2017.1336888

Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2003). Rules of play: Game design fundamentals . The MIT Press.

Schuetz, A. (1945). On multiple realities. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research , 5 (4), 533–576. https:// doi.org/10.2307/2102818

Wagner, R. (2012). First-person shooter religion: Algorithmic culture and inter-religious Encounter. CrossCurrents , 62 (2), 181–203. https:// doi.org/10.1111/j.1939- 3881.2012.00229 .x

Wagner, R. (2012). Godwired: Religion, ritual, and virtual reality . Routledge.

Wagner, R. (2013). God in the game: Cosmopolitanism and religious conflict in Videogames. Journal of the American Academy of Religion , 81 (1), 249–261. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/

Source: Zhihu www.zhihu.com

Author: AdolShadow

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