chapter  10
8 Pages

Expansion pack

Every good online game world offers expansion packs. Expansion packs are supplements for existing gameplay adding new areas to be explored, new tools to employ, and new adventures to embark upon. Because online worlds are streaming, they are never complete and thus our engagement with them is ongoing as well. A book like this requires the recognition that the story doesn’t end here. In a couple of years, all of the examples I cite here will be woefully out of date. New technologies will be on the move that I have not imagined. New forms of haptic engagement, new levels of immersion, new ease of interface with virtual environments will be taken for granted. At best, these ideas will have some staying power as generators of an ongoing conversation that will last beyond the latest craze in video game play. At worst, my proposals here will seem stilted and naive to readers a decade from now. By acknowledging the vast speed with which everything is changing, I hope at least to indicate a trajectory into which scholars interested in this area might move – perhaps not a real expansion pack, but the gesture of one. Throughout Godwired, I have struck a number of deliberate chords, calling

your attention to what seem to be the shared conversations going on about virtual reality’s place in our world across a variety of disparate fields. My goal here is to be a collector, a synthesizer, an observer, pulling together threads from as many different thinkers as I could get my hands on. Each chapter is focused on a key idea that seems important to hosts of scholars exploring our relationship to technology, ideas that recur repeatedly and intensely in the conversations of scholars of religion, communications, gamer theory, psychology, sociology, computer science, and philosophy. In Godwired, we have looked at: virtual storytelling and textuality; the relationship between rituals, games and stories; virtual identity; virtual community; virtual and sacred space; virtual evil; video games as apocalypses; and transmedia as religion. In a way, we have moved from some of the oldest forms of religious practice (ritual) to the newest (transmedia). However, one could as easily argue that transmedia is nothing new; it is just taking new and increasingly mass-mediated secular forms. When looking at these themes in a larger sense, one theme that emerges is the desire for order-making in an increasingly complicated, connected, and

diverse world. Could it be that our desire for entry into programmed environments is a contemporary form of a very old drive, one that used to take much more traditional forms through the “programmed environments” of institutionalized religion? This theme runs throughout all of the chapters, raising new insights about each in light of the others. Today’s stories are increasingly interactive, and this shift is affecting how

people read sacred stories as well (Chapter 2). We want to be active agents in the stories we imbibe, co-creators of meaning. Murray points out that “in a postmodern world, everyday experience has come to seem increasingly gamelike,” and “we are aware of the constructed nature of all our narratives” (2004, 3). Accordingly, the similarity between games, rituals and stories makes us increasingly aware of the game-like and story-like activities of ritual. The new media available today help us to “retell age-old stories in new ways” as we “imagine ourselves as creatures of a parameterized world of multiple possibilities” and come to comprehend our own role in rule-making all around us. The hope is that we will increasingly recognize ourselves as “authors of rule systems which drive behavior and shape possibilities” (8). We are world builders: ritual crafters, storytellers, and game players, but what this means for us we will have to decide for ourselves. Perhaps our fascination with the ritual-game-story thing (Chapter 3) is that

it does, after all, provide us with some sense of order and structure in a world increasingly shaped by fluidity and individual decision. Rituals, games and stories all have “rules” that shape interaction. In rituals, these rules consist largely of liturgical and processional requirements that urge particular behaviors over others. In games, the “rules” shape the experience itself, and can be read in the procedural make-up of the programming, or in the rules accepted by players before the game begins. In stories, rules are integrated into the larger hermeneutical principles of the interpreting community and into the ways that viewers and readers choose to engage with a received story, both visual and textual. Such experiences are both intellectually engaging and metaphysically comforting in their assumption of a degree of order combined with the obligation to interact with them. Our fascination with virtual sacred space also reveals our desire for structure.