I promise this will be the last religious post for while. But in the spirit of ecumenism, let's wrap up the theme with a New Age game, sent to us by Natalie Hunter. Thanks Natalie!
Leela: The Prospects of Gaming as Religious Experience
Over the past several years, and after decades of being perceived as little more than children's toys, video games have come to be more and more accepted as serious works of art, and even begun to earn a place in the traditional and online school as a respectable teaching tool. However, New Age spirituality advocate and self-help author Deepak Chopra sees potential in the medium for more than that, believing that video games could serve as a vehicle for genuine religious experiences. In an effort to make this a reality, Chopra is developing a piece of gaming software intended to serve as an interactive aid for meditation.
The first product to come out of Chopra's nearly year-old licensing agreement with video game publisher THQ, Leela (Sanskrit for 'play') is set for a November 8th release on the Xbox 360 and Wii consoles. It will feature a series of guided interactive exercises for what Chopra refers to as "chakra-based meditation." This type of meditation focuses on specific areas of the body referred to as chakras, believed by practitioners to serve as spiritual energy centers.
Practically speaking, if Leela is successful its effects will be threefold. First, existing practitioners of chakra-based meditation and followers of Chopra's particular brand of spiritualism may find the game a genuine aid in their meditative and religious practices. Second, positive experiences with the game may inspire more casually interested players to look further into meditation or religion and spirituality more generally. Third, if financially successful, Leela is likely to give rise to other similar games, and thereby conceivably even a religious or meditation-based gaming sub-genre.
Aside from practical consequences, the notion of gaming as religious experience raises a number of novel theoretical questions, though the concept of a link between religion and video games is not an entirely new one. It has been suggested that certain immensely popular online multiplayer games contain elements definitive of religion, and that the most dedicated players show signs of at least quasi-religious attachment to their preferred games. However, these games were developed to be video games in the traditional sense. Designed primarily to provide entertainment, any religious elements present in these games have grown organically as byproducts of an intensely enthusiastic community. Though other games have been based on religious ideas or in some way had a religious flavor to their content, Leela marks the first time a video game has been developed with the explicit goal of aiding in religious practices.
Religion is commonly viewed as one of the last elements of human culture left largely untouched by the technological boom. Aside from the monitors and amplifiers present in some houses of worship, religious practices today are very much as they have been in the past. Leela represents the first attempt in the video game field at splicing together the seemingly disparate phenomena of technology and religion on a scale suitable for mass consumption. As such, Leela is likely to set a number of precedents should the intermingling of video games and religion become a popular trend, and if successful may pave the way for similar projects in the future.
With the introduction of more docile, spirituality-oriented gaming options, attacks on the video game industry from anti-violence advocates, particularly those with religious agendas, may soften. Religious facilities may even seek to increase the level of technology incorporated into their practices. Perhaps further down the line we'll see the development of a religion-based sector of the tech industry. Churches and temples may one day be filled not with printed bibles and prayer books, but with sleek new e-readers, Wii consoles, and flatscreen monitors.
If Leela hits its mark, it should at the very least aid existing practitioners of its particular brand of meditation in their religious activities, and could even generate a few new enthusiasts. But if it should prove economically viable, Leela may have consequences well beyond this goal, perhaps even spearheading a new high-tech niche. Regardless of practical consequences, Chopra's project raises a unique set of questions about the interface between religion and technology, and will undeniably break new ground in a hitherto untouched area.