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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The pursuit of the virtual replaces the pursuit of virtue

I know that I am going to make a lot of people angry or at least, irritated, with this post. However, with a following membership of 10 million people worldwide, it is time to look at World of Warcraft as a cult and not merely an online game. I have read the manual and looked at the game in order to understand the attraction it holds for many people and not merely the young. I am not going to emphasize lurid stories of marriage breakups, deaths, etc. regarding WoW, but only look at some of the characteristics of a cult with regard to this game.

First, I am admitting that I am changing the accepted definition of cult from the outset, as a cult usually is started by one charismatic figure, as already noted on this blog. However, the charism of the originators can be seen in the eclectic appeal and the use of many threads of myth and the occult, as well as violence and intrigue. Those inventors of the game obviously used popular modes of entertainment and popular literature in the genre of fantasy to create a complicated and appealing game.
Like a good German philosopher, I am provoking new definitions of cult.
I do not doubt the genius of the writers and artists, the logicians and who else were involved in the creation of WoW. I am questioning the power of the appeal and how it falls into the category of a cult.
Second, having thrown out the initial part of the definition, I move to the second part, which indicates that a cult has a religious basis. Reading the manual, it was clear to me that such things as spells were to be used and taken seriously in the game. Much of the game involves characters who are wizards or even necromancers. Already, a Catholic would have a "huh?" moment of enlightenment knowing that some of the characters fall in to the tried and true characterizations of damned behavior. Parallels are made with LOTR or even The Hobbit, but in those books and subsequent games, the powers of evil and good are clearly defined, and there is no such thing as good being confused with bad. No relativism in those books, movies, games and soon to be legos....:). Some people who state the opposite, that the spells are not taken seriously and are arbitrary, that is, not connected to an obvious evil source, such as Sauron in LOTR. Relativism is the secular idea that there is no good or bad except what one decides, and this modernist heresy is part of the ethos of WoW. If it were clearly defined what was necessary evil, and that, for example necromancy was always evil and never good, this problem would be solved. This is not the case. Some activities are always objectively evil according the Catholic teaching AND natural law philosophy.
Third, I have been puzzled by the use of unnecessary and extreme violence in the game. Those who are familiar with the game know these uses of violence. Some young people disagree with me on this point, stating that the ratings of teen was based not on violence but on drunkenness in the game. Some twenty-somethings say the cartoon and out-dated graphics make it less violent. But, as one NOT immune to violence, I find it disturbing.
Fourth, a cult changes peoples personalities and takes them into another realm of false reality. That is the entire point of this game. In cults, people get a new identity to the point where family members state that they do not even know the brother, sister, son, etc. any more after cult involvement. One of the signs of an occult is the addictive or compulsive behavior it causes in its members. One cannot live outside the cult, one defends the cult, one loses one's rational ability to critique the cult, all one's friends are in the cult and so on. WoW with shrinking membership is still a group of 10 Million. These people must play the game. To me, this is a sign of cultic brainwashing and addiction.
Fifth, ritual is a huge part of the game. Players get involved personally in these rituals in order to be the characters, etc. These rules and rituals create a vocabulary which is bizarre and particular to WoW. This fact alone is a sign of a cult. The topic will form a part of another posting in the near future.
Sixth, the game is a community just as a cult is a community, of closed membership, demanding certain commitments, to the point of becoming the most important interactive group of friends, relationships, in a person's life. The fact that it is virtual does not mean that this is less real than the Moonies or Heaven's Gate. The WoW community can become and does become the arena where people are accepted unconditionally without moral or any other type of outside input. The VIRTUAL has taken over the pursuit of VIRTUE. For example, in the days of chivalry and knighthood, the knight had to go through certain rituals in order to become a man capable of being knight. The same is still true for pursuing a career or a vocation. It takes six years to become a doctor, for example, after undergraduate school, and the same for becoming a priest. The preparation can be longer. The purification of the intellect necessary for forming a good conscience and the purification of the emotions necessary for becoming a man or woman who is mature takes time and energy wasted in the virtual world. What is truly based on a life of virtue has been lost in the game.
WoW which is from the manipulation of the community or rules of the game. Manipulation is only efficacious if; one, the person agrees to it; and two, if it is coherent. One of my young friends noted that all sport is manipulative to a certain extent. He wrote:

Shane Warne manipulated cricket for two decades by bowling a ball that no batsman could handle. As long as he was physically and mentally fit, he was unbeatable. That's not a problem with the game - merely an exceptional man with exceptional ability.


I may disagree with him on this point, but I say that cults attract people who are manipulable. That is the success of a cult. Those heavily independent minded people are not attracted to cults. However, some extremely intelligent and good people are, by the very fact that they are idealists and have a need for a community who agrees with their ideals. I think the point is that the cult is self-selecting.


WoW has or had people in the game who “policed it” and this in itself indicates to me it is a cult. Those who were policing it were still “in reality”. The fact that some left the real world is scary.

2 comments:

patrick k said...

Interesting post. I play WoW and I do agree with some of your criticisms. However, I don't think it's quite as bad as you think. First, regarding good vs. evil. Yes, some activities such as sorcery which Catholics condemn are presented as morally neutral. But that doesn't mean there aren't moral absolutes in the game. There are. Certain types of behavior are clearly condemned as being beyond the pale. I don't think the game's creators are moral relativists at heart, although they may be Protestants.

There is an interesting scene in one of the new areas, where players fight a former bishop who has defected to the evil dragon's side. After being questioned how he, who was supposed to represent the Light, could desert his own people, he says, "There is no good, no evil... No Light. There is only power!" And the players are supposed to fight and defeat this person, who has clearly become evil.

Of course there are better uses for one's time than playing WoW, such as, as you mention, going to medical school and training for the priesthood. It's supposed to be a hobby, not something that takes over your whole life. I work full time and go to graduate school in the evening for computer science. I enjoy it from a software engineering perspective as well as letting me blow off some steam after work. Yes, some people certainly do take it far too seriously, but that's really their fault, not the games. Like everything in life, it needs to be enjoyed in moderation.

Supertradmum said...

Good comment. I think that the more young people play online, the less time they have working on the virtues in real life, which is what we all need. Happy Holidays, Patrick K.