“Do you think a game can be a religion?”, a friend asked me recently. The question came as part of a conversation that we have had about fandoms and content worlds for more than a year now, and it emerged without consideration to works such as Jason Rohrer’s Chain World or the Left Behind games. Valuable foregrounding points though these titles are, they weren’t on my friend’s mind. Final Fantasy VII was.
We agreed in fairly short order that, as religions and fandoms both tend to organize themselves around stories and looking to characters as models for behavior, a case could indeed be made for games as religion. But what a discourse such as ours should really be exploring is whether games—denotatively—can function spiritually for the player. That is, whether there is some systemic quality to games that can generate a deep-seated emotional experience that is quite apart from the creation of elaborate narratives and rules for conduct that are more accurately the hallmarks of organized faith. Can games reach us emotionally on a level that we might term as producing something like a “spiritual experience”?