Alright, before I start off, lets put everyone on the same page.
1) Wintereenmas: A made up Holiday originally seen in the web-comic CTRL+ALT+DEL that celebrates the video game industry’s habit of releasing many of their big budget titles in the late fall to mid winter season. . In the comic this holiday becomes part of the main character’s self-started gamer-religion (which comes complete with clergy, services and several other bits of dogma).
2) Social Religion: The view that religion is a social institution that binds people together around a set of morals and rules. See the work of Durkheim for more in depth analysis. The short version: Humans made religion to enforce rules without need of official enforcers.
3) I’m writing this on almost no sleep in 3 days, and have been somewhat obsessing over this… to the point where my thoughts have become muddled. Consider this a rough draft for something greater, and as a starting point for your own discussion.
Ok. Keeping that in mind, could gaming a social religion? My answer is yes.
Gaming comes with a set of socio-cultural rules all it’s own that extend past the world of the game itself and into the lives of the players. I’m sure that almost all our readers know what a “n00b” is, and have heard this term transcend the gaming world and become common day to day speak. However, what deeper meanings are held in this word? It’s clearly an insult, implying the “n00b” has the skills of a newbie despite having experience. This clearly shows a social value for learning and self-sufficiency that is enforced via shaming. Similarly there is great disdain for people who run macro scripts to gain prowess in a game without actually playing and putting in screen time. This clearly shows that honesty is a highly held value, one that is often enforced harshly (ie. the deletion of characters by admins).
These values are very similar to those perpetuated by main-stream religions. Honesty is something children of many faiths, if not all faiths (or lack there of) are taught via parables and morality tales. Knowledge is encouraged both by our government but by many religions as well. In fact, games themselves act as the morality tales of gaming as a social religion.
So what does this mean for gaming and our society?
Well, if the government in the United States is to be believed, gaming is going to cause the moral degradation of society and children. I beg to differ. Gaming could provide a new, socially acceptable, interesting method for the diffusion of morals. Games that push for people to be honest, tell stories where characters display a social consciousness, and feature the ever present “good always wins over evil” motif can easily become a method of distributing society’s morals to the player.
I’d go so far as to argue that gaming does this already and is providing a strong message of teamwork, self-sufficiency, goal oriented work processes, being a good person, helping those in need (ie giving old equipment to newer players as a hand up) and being a polite person (ie not spamming the chat, for which an admin will often boot a player). Perhaps these morals are not as stringent as they used to be, but they’re still there and gaming is helping bring these values to the masses in ways they don’t even recognize.
If all of the above is true (and I believe it is), then gaming is one of many new social religions that will impart the needed values for proper social to the new generation. Now, it’s not a perfect system. No system is. Combined with the rest of society’s fail-safes and teaching methods though, gaming can be a very effective form of social religion.
Super special thanks to Jennifer for digging out the CTRL+ALT+DEL comic for me!