Critical Commentary: Is Religion Broken?

Posted on September 28, 2013 by

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An article written by Doug Muder was published on the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations’ website on Monday that asks the question if whether or not religion is broken. Muder’s article is actually featured on the front page of the organization’s website and has the subtitle “There’s a movement that attracts millions of people and encourages them to become their best selves—but it’s not a church.” So naturally my curiosity got the best of me and I needed to know what Muder is talking about. I read the article, not allowing myself to jump ahead and figure out what this new ‘idea’ is. Muder describes ‘superpowers’ that these tens of millions of people work at developing, some for more than 20 hours a week. Urgent optimism, tight social fabric, blissful productivity, and epic meaning are the four superpowers he mentions. I’m thinking to myself that there must be this new religion that someone is creating or something until he mentions Jane McGonigal, a video game designer who thinks that we can apply what we learn from video games to better our own lives. He goes on to then explain reasons backing up his argument, a few of which I will point out.

McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken, focuses on the idea of people not feeling fulfilled in their lives, so turning to massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs. In her book, she states, “The truth is this: in today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not.” Now I have a few problems with this statement. First of all, video games satisfying needs that the real world can’t? I find it pathetic that people need to turn to video games to feel like they can accomplish something in their life. I believe this has to do with a lack of work ethic among people who aren’t really willing to work for anything. That does not mean that it is becoming their religion. I believe it just says that you are lazy. The second half of this statement applies a bit more. Part of the reason that people have a religion is for the community it brings together. There is quite a community around MMORPGs and usually people are working together within the game to accomplish a specific goal. Within a religion, I do believe followers do work together to help each other out, although to accomplish goals that actually matter and can make a difference, as opposed to just unlocking achievements within a game.

This brings me to the idea of a virtual world. Muder mentions the idea of Heaven and Hell simply being virtual worlds. In my opinion, I believe this is the most valid argument in relating video games to religion. As I was just saying, people work together to accomplish a task. Within the videogame, it is usually done to gain an achievement and progress through the game, and gain a higher level. In the religious context, people work together to help others, to obtain a better standing within their religion. I also feel like there is this conception about religion, that you just need to do well, and that’s your ticket into an enjoyable afterlife. Within a videogame, you can be exactly who you make yourself to be.  You can make your character’s life the life that you dream of. It can be perfect. I think Heaven or any other afterlife can work in a similar way. You can make it exactly what you want it to be and have the perfect life that you’ve always wanted, even if your real life wasn’t all that great. As McGonigal says, we use video games as an escape from this world. For the religious, the thought of an afterlife is also thought of as an escape, although more of a reward. Within a video game, the player doesn’t have to work to hard to get what they want. It may be difficult for the character, but the player is literally just clicking and typing; it doesn’t take a lot of skill. But in favor of the video game argument, religion doesn’t really take any skill either; it takes a lot of faith though. And I think the video game players just want to have that, without any uncertainty. So what do you think? Do video games have a chance competing with religion?

Sources:

Doug Muder, Is Religion Broken? 09.23.13, uuworld.org

http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/290289.shtml

http://janemcgonigal.com/

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