Religion and Roleplaying
1 February, 2008
I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with religion. I love the stories and watching the rituals, but get a bit weirded out by the thought of people taking it so seriously. And yet I have partaken in dramas just as odd as those of Communion or Salat. In each case people on the outside have wondered a bit about the sanity of those of us who are in the midst of our ‘rituals’. When I was involved in Live-Action Role Playing (running around dressed as medieval characters in a fantasy world), people often thought we were going a bit too far. How many weekends can you spend pretending to be someone else? Isn’t a little odd?
And what about the obsession some of us have with television shows. A show is often called ‘cult’ when it attracts fans who go that little bit further in their dedication than others. At a science-fiction convention you can see people who really do long to share their joy with others who feel the same way, especially if it gives them a valid excuse to dress as characters from the show and to immerse themselves in another world.
Aristotle said of drama that we purge the soul of pity and terror by experiencing pity and terror, by feeling compassion for those we watch. How much more do we experience that catharsis when instead of merely watching a drama we become a part of it. Role playing games do just that. In my time playing these games I have ran the gamut of emotional drama. The themes of terror, pity, justice, revenge, sacrifice, power, god, souls and more have informed the stories we tell. We start to identify with the characters we create in the same way we identify with the characters from a film or novel. We talk about them as if they we real, and discuss what would they do in this or that situation. We can become lost in these other worlds, day dreaming of fantasies that inspire us. They can take the mundane and turn it extraordinary, and take the extraordinary and turn it mundane. Roleplaying is art.
Like art, much of it is laughable. Indeed much of TV too is poor drama, even those ‘cult’ shows that get people so excited. We overlook the flaws, we acknowledge that it’s not for everyone and then jump right back into enjoying the experience.
How does religion fit into this? I believe that the best part of religious experience, possibly the only part I can identify with, is this same sort of immersion. When taking communion you partake of the sacrifice that Christ made for you. At that moment in time does it matter whether there even was a Jesus? I hope not. Religion as art is something I can admire. Just as long as no one takes it too seriously…