A Curious Endeavor

What is the significance of the presence of various deities as summonable creatures available to assist the player in the Final Fantasy games? Was all that talk of mono- versus polytheism in Battlestar Galactica just fluff? Is there something about the element bismuth which manifests the awesomeness of godhead to posters on 4chan? Is the trading card game Magic: The Gathering a complex system of ritually manipulable sacra? Is the animated series Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann a treatise on mysticism? Why is Longcat so long?

No doubt you have questions like these, too.

This Spring, I graduated from the Reed College Religion Department, and I am now the proud owner of a diploma which at present is looking quite lovely on a shelf in my subterranean dwelling in southeast Portland. (Don't worry, I'm moving upstairs at the end of Summer.) In the Spring of 2007, as part of the course of study leading to my lofty degree, I participated in the Religion Department's junior seminar, a mandatory conference class on a different topic and taught by a different professor each year to prepare upperclassmen to write their senior theses the following term. As Fate would have it, our topic was "Religion and Media."

This topic lay far outside my own academic focus. I had stayed a course straight and true since my first year studying ancient Chinese religion and philosophy. At first glance I did not in the least like the look of the semester's syllabus, and while indeed some of our readings proved disagreeable enough, I began to take to the whole idea behind the course. As we read and discussed everything from Understanding Media to The Diamond Age, I found myself warming up to the class immensely. Ultimately, I assembled an annotated bibliography of the foremost writings on the growing field of video game studies, and wrote a short research paper which, to my knowledge, was the first academic tract on video games and religion specifically. (At least, so I liked to tell myself.)

The experience of writing this paper, which was itself only a suggestive preliminary study, nearly persuaded me to abandon my plans to spend the next year studying in Taiwan, cast aside my three years' of classical Chinese erudition, and pursue a position as a rockstar media scholar which would forever dispel any guilt over playing video games. That temptation did not win out over the momentum of my ancient China studies, nor my fascination with Chinese antiquity, and I ended up writing a dry and dusty thesis on a Han dynasty compilation of ritual texts.

However, my junior seminar left me thinking about religion and video games, and in time those thoughts and the questions to which they gave rise began to pile up. Soon I was thinking about religion not only in video games, but in all manner of other strange places. That, in essence, is where this all begins. Where it goes, I am not at all sure, but I am confident there are plenty of opportunities for the analytical skills in which I have been trained to be applied. With any luck hilarity and some small insight may ensue.


  1. hmm. I posted a comment here before but it's not showing up. What's up with that? I think this all looks VERY promising; can't wait to read more!

  2. I never noticed any earlier comments going up. It'd seem the comment got lost somewhere before being actually posted. Perhaps also possible that comments are buggy with brand new blogs.