“Minecraft is so open any player can design a world, [a]nd whenever things are open, religious people tend to use it to express themselves.” — Vincent Gonzalez, creator of religiousgames.org
Many moons ago, I went through a phase where I played a lot of Tetris — to the point where I dreamed about it — and Duke Nukem. I also played some Pong, Asteroids, Centipede, and maybe a little Frogger and a couple others, way back when. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I never really got into gaming — not even when the more sophisticated stuff came out. My brother was into it for several years, so I would occasionally watch him play and talk about avatars and MMORPGs, while he would occasionally let me jabber on about comics. (I did get him to read a few, I think.)
As a member of the “Geeks Under Grace Community” Facebook group, I also see posts from others talking about various games and platforms, new and old, asking for recommendations, etc. I wouldn’t exactly say I have my finger on the pulse of the industry, since I don’t really know what’s going on and couldn’t tell you the difference between a PlayStation and an Xbox. But, it is a reminder of how big that industry has become and the many, many different types of computer games there are out there. Plus, the GUG Community predominantly consists of Christians (as hinted at by the “Under Grace” phrase), so it’s interesting to “hear” how my fellow-geeks integrate their Christian faith with their various geeky fandoms.
I suppose that was why I was intrigued by an article I came across from the Religion News Service by Kimberly Winston, who normally writes about atheism and freethought. It was about Minecraft — yes, I knew what it was… sorta — and, in particular, how many players express their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, through the “skins” and things they build in the game. (Forgive me if this is old news to you.)
As many of my readers probably know, Minecraft allows players to use virtual bricks to build “buildings, plants, people, anything, in mostly primary colors.” Some versions allow people to go on adventures, too. Many players who hold to various religions also use the game to discuss and otherwise express their beliefs, including creating religious figures (e.g., priests, monks, imams, rabbis, angels, Jesus) and both real and imagined places of worship and contemplation (e.g., churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, cathedrals), some of them quite complex. They also build whole cities and “Bible lands”. It turns out that Christianity is by far the most represented.
But, why do they do it?
“No one’s pastor is telling them the best way to minister to people is to pretend to be Jesus in a Minecraft world. So the question of why people want to dress up as Jesus and go around in Minecraft is hard to say.” — Vincent Gonzalez
There are a few theories. Gregory Grieve, a religious studies professor at UNC-Greensboro, has studied the phenomenon for decades.
“For most people, their virtual lives are an extension of their real lives. Among Christians it was a place for proselytizing and a place for meeting people they would not otherwise meet. People who are religious just see these games as an extension of their religious practice.”
Professor Rachel Wagner from Ithaca College has her own hypothesis.
“Even if they are ‘open’ in the sense of allowing players to construct entire worlds for themselves, as Minecraft does, games always offer spaces in which things make sense, where players have purpose and control. For players who may feel that the real world is spinning out of control, games can offer a comforting sense of predictability. They can replace God for some in their ability to promise an ordered world.”
Some have created faith-based Minecraft “servers”, where likeminded people can build and adventure together with a more specific set of rules (e.g., “no profanity”). For example, ChurchMag created a Christian-oriented Minecraft server for its community. According to editor Eric Dye,
“We can build things in it, like themed cities, and there is actually a church. It is not like we have church services or anything but it seemed something fun to have. It seemed fitting. That is why you see religion manifested in Minecraft — it is just an extension of people’s interests in what they create.”
As Spock would say, “Fascinating…”
So, my questions to you readers are, “Have any of you experienced, or even participated in, this sort of religious expression in Minecraft or other ‘open’ games? If so, did it seem odd to you or “natural”? Did it cause any sort of awkwardness among players?” Anything else you want to share, feel free. Thanks.