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The Gaming Iconoclast: Deity not included

Rafe Brox

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.
- Judy Bloom

(Hey, just be glad you didn't get another Neitzsche quote*)

The fantasy-based worlds our characters inhabit are, almost without exception, richly steeped in legend and brimming with lore. This is doubly true for those that have come to parturition after having existed outside of the digital realm. Frequently, the book or books upon which they are based feature the prominent (occasionally bordering on overwhelming) presence, if not direct and outright influence, of the God or Gods the characters worship... or at least call upon to save their bacon once in a while.

Having been so much a part of the lives of the inhabitants of these universes, at least before they found themselves to be at our command, the relegation of these heretofore great cosmic forces to the essential position of role-playing wallpaper at best is puzzling, the occasional trimming of an Elder God's Toenail notwithstanding. In all these worlds full of powerful wizards channeling arcane energies and hurling bolts of numinous fire at their enemies, or healers using their connection to the divine to aid their allies -- some of whom are called Priests outright -- where are the Gods themselves? And, more to the point, where is the role of religion in the characters' lives?

One of the fundamental aspects of character creation in the pen-and-paper world is the choice of a patron deity. Governed by your allegiance to whom or what your character would worship, certain decisions were made much more complicated; on the other hand, some otherwise challenging choices would be made perfectly straightforward. This is not unlike the clarity, focus, or peace of mind (some would say "lack of reasoned consideration" -- I'll refrain from editorializing in either direction in this space) that adherents to a particular faith profess.

It's not as if there aren't a preponderance of religious trappings in the games themselves -- look at World of Warcraft for about three seconds, and you'll note that the first major expansion is called, in a TGI-worthy level of subtlety, The Burning Crusade. Where do you go and quest? The Scarlet Monastery. Sunken Temple. Light's Hope Chapel. The Temple of Ahn'Qiraj. The Black Temple. Add to that the various lore-flavored religious sites -- shrine of this, reliquary of that, and There Is No Dana, Only Zul' -- clearly, some Azerothians and their Outlandish counterparts had more than a little bit of that old-time religion in their lives.

So, why don't the characters? I'm sure that there is not any shortage of players who are atheists or otherwise a-religious, but, with ten million folks playing WoW world-wide, I think it's a fairly safe bet that there are some practitioners of any number of faiths, and some of them are probably devout. It may inform their game play, or merely dictate their gaming schedule or help form the basis for their guild's membership or raison d'être.

But what it doesn't have is any analogue for their in-game toons. In worlds so rich in gods, why are they so silent? The closest thing to "acts of God" most characters see, barring a run-in with a GM, is the buff bestowed on every character in some zone or other because the efforts of another character (or the entire server). But, in practical terms, such things are far more scarce and ephemeral than the universe they inhabit would lead us to believe they ought to be.

Not sure whether or not to assist the NPC? Just click on Pray to [%Deity%] (or, okay,"Seek Divine Guidance" or something more in keeping with the game's... "Idiom, sir?" "Yes, idiom!") in the quest interface to see what your god (or gods) wants! Granted, worshiping the God of Libations may not be of much benefit in this situation, but at least you can drown your sorrows at having chosen.... poorly.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but religion plays a highly influential role in both the day-to-day and historical events for people out here in the big blue room, both for practitioners and non-believers alike. On the other hand, in worlds steeped in the obvious power of the supernatural, maybe going to church isn't necessary when you can Smite someone with two seconds' thought.

* "God is dead." - Nietzsche, 1882
"Nietzsche is dead." - God, 25 Aug 1900

No, that is not his hair. Rafe Brox spends an inordinate amount of time annoying people who think they know more than he does. When not causing friends and enemies alike to /facepalm electronically, he can be found extolling the virtues of the weird peripherals in his life, from kettlebells to the Trackman Marble. If you, too, would like to tell Rafe exactly how wrong he is doing it, the target coordinates are rafe.brox AT weblogsinc DOT com.

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