Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual, and Virtual Reality

By Soukup, Paul A. | Communication Research Trends, March 2013 | Go to article overview
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Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual, and Virtual Reality

Soukup, Paul A., Communication Research Trends

Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual, and Virtual Reality. London and New York: Routledge, 2012. Pp. vi, 266. ISBN 978-0-415-78144-2 (cloth) $130.00; 978-0-415-78145-9 (paper) $39.95; 978-0203-14807-5 (e-book), pricing available from publisher.

As more people spend more time with their computers, either online or engaging in local exploration or play, they increasingly touch on matters of religion. The Internet has captured those with religious interests, just as it has captured others. But computing and the Internet also seem to have a religious aspect. Some people seek it directly, searching out various online religious sites or using the Internet to supplement information about their religious traditions. others--and a growing group--engage in religious-like virtual activities. This group forms the core of Rachel Wagner's interest in Godwired. More particularly, she investigates video games, the players of such games, and the elements of the games. "Godwired addresses this rich relationship between religion and 'virtual reality' (which I define as any form of digital technology that involves user engagement with software via a screen interface)" (p. 1). Such virtual reality involves "world-building" or "the imagining of a world in which we are in control, in which things make sense, in which what we do has profound meaning, and in which we can enact our ideal selves" (p. 2). And these characteristics, she argues, mirror or imitate or form part of the religious imagination.

In many ways, Godwired rests on an extended analogy: that the virtual reality of video games resembles religious activities. The virtual reality and the games involve narratives, ritual, a sense of the Other, a construction or discovery of identity, community, good and evil, and other aspects that religious activities share. While always thought-provoking, Wagner sometimes seems to take the analogy beyond its initial claim. When she argues that games resemble religion, she also tends to accept that religion is like games, that the two become identical. That challenging claim finds some support, though at times this support appears ambiguous.

Wagner approaches each of her chapters in a similar way. After introducing the theme (narrative, say), she offers a general introduction in which she defines key terms and sets out questions. And, in a very valuable contribution to the overall discussion, she creates a kind of dialogue among the writers and researchers who have explored the topic, allowing their work to come into contact. By doing this she identifies areas of agreement and, perhaps more importantly, areas that the virtual worlds of gaming may call into question.

The chapter on narrative identifies authority--the authority of the text and the authoritative interpretations--as important in how people interact with narrative, whether biblical narrative or the narrative world of games. By making narratives into games, Wagner can then point out five different ways of thinking about stories: "(1) stories as games; (2) stories as fate; (3) stories as potential narratives; (4) stories as catharsis; and (5) stories as interactive systems" (p. 27). For each, she introduces theorists and practices.

Wagner then turns to ritual--for games do indeed involve ritual practices. After a brief history of gaming, she presents five similarities between games and stories: interactivity, play, rules, narratives, and conflict. These five categories then provide the framework in which we meet the various theories of ritual, each of which Wagner tests against the virtual world of gaming.

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