CultureLab has posted an interview with sociologist William Sims Bainbridge, who in the past has done a great deal of work on religions in general and “cults” in particular. He now focuses on virtual realities and gaming. To research his most recent book, he spent 2300 hours playing World of Warcraft (WoW).
question: In the past, you’ve done a lot of work with religion. What does religion in WoW tell us about religion in the real world?
The horrendous question that always troubles me is, what if religion is factually false but necessary for human well-being? What does science do then? Could there be some other stage of development in which we express ourselves through a kind of protean self in numerous realities with different levels of faith or suspension of disbelief appropriate to each of them?
That, on a much smaller scale, is what is happening with the fictional religions in WoW. The overwhelming majority of the people that play WoW don’t take its religions seriously.
And we actually have good reason to believe that people who play computer games are, on average, much less religious than the average person in society. I tend to think that fantasy literature in general inspires people to believe that the traditional religions are fantasies too.
Maybe we will move to a time when we no longer make a distinction between belief and the suspension of disbelief. The difference between faith and fantasy might not have been very distinct in ancient times, and it’s possible that we will move towards a time when instead of religion, people’s hopes can be expressed in something that’s acknowledged to be a fantasy but also, on some level, sort of real. WoW might exemplify that kind of post-religious future.