Vince, thanks for your post. This is an amazing and clearly under-researched area. Who is playing these games? What are the target audiences for these types of games? I’m wondering about the needs that these games are fulfilling. Why are people playing them? Do their motivations correspond to the motivations of mainstream gamers? Or do their practitioners consider the time they spend on these games in terms of religious practices like prayer or study? New technologies often seem to create new needs but actually tap into traditional practices. I’m curious about whether you see these games creating new needs or hewing closer to the past?
Karen, thanks for this wonderful post, which has the added virtue of referring back to so many things that we have talked about this week: India (Mother Teresa’s Calcutta), religion and the body (as in Vince’s post), flickering filmic addresses (as in Jenna’s), and, perhaps most hauntingly, church bells (enter Isaac).
I was hoping you could say a little more about the relationship of performance art to film/ video— which, it would seem to me, threatens to undermine Montano’s insistence on divine presence. This piece seems to be, as you suggest, much more about absences and substitutions— of the doll for a real baby, of Montano for Mother Teresa. The latter’s recorded voice, meanwhile, lends a mediatized edge to what she is saying: "For it is by dying that one awakens into eternal life." I suppose similar things could be said about the eucharist as sign— a sign that also evokes and memorializes a death.
Although the New Age aesthetic had me reeling— beatific doves, wild horses, and hilariously Orientalist set pieces (where IS Deepak Chopra standing in the introductory shot? and did I see a medieval European peasant woman plying deep thoughts?)— there are surely other things to be said about this video "game."
First off, if the video is providing (to use Foucault’s term) a "technology of the self," it provides a means of working on or caring for the self that will perpetually subordinate the self to a higher, authoritative power. Although we are greeted by a rapid succession of multi-culti gurus at the end of this promotional clip, it is clear that the ultimate pastor of your new age soul is the video technology itself. Or, perhaps, Deepak Chopra and his design team. Thus does the "care of the self," as in so much new age culture, remain imbricated in precisely the sorts of hyper-modern practices that new-agers’ more techno-phobic rhetoric tends to decry; it also allows that care to spawn a profitable commodity market.
Second, as with other Chopra products, this post-Protestant asceticism fuels the workaday fires of late capitalism: we are here to "harness" our inner magic, to unleash our "pure potential," so that we can be wild warriors in the board room. Spiritual success shall be known by its fruits. Thanks for expanding my mind with this, Vince!
If this clip and its soundtrack was meant to relax me, I have to admit it had the opposite effect! But I loved this, Vincent, thanks for bringing it (and its classificatory ambiguities) to my attention.
The "magic rings" reminded me a little of pictures I’ve seen of the "E-meter" device used by Scientologists in their auditing sessions, a device that, as I understand it, is supposed to measure changes in electromagnetic impulses in order to gauge when engrams have been cleared. Perhaps they were the first innovators of this kind of experience? Yet auditing sessions are conducted with an auditor who oversee the process carefully. Similarly, meditation was often learned through a process of discipleship or training with a particular guru or spiritual master. I’m fascinated by the way this video game individualizes the experience (the game is your guide?), yet in such a thoroughly mediated fashion.
I’m also fascinated by the promise of practical results — whether manipulating animated matter on the screen or advancing through successive game levels. The payoff for these kinds of spiritual experiences is immediate, observable, and measurable. Individualized with immediate payoff — the perfect religious experience for our times?
The only biometric game using either galvanic resistance or heart rate (to avoid the word "biofeedback" as it seems to be presently undergoing some sort of purification) for home consoles that I know of is Tetris 64, linked in the article, but Nintendo has plans to release a stylish little heart monitor for the Wii soon, though they have not announced the software for which it is being designed.
On the Left Behind series, Left Behind: Eternal Forces was released a few years ago to some surprising controversey and misrepresentation, but it was very well recieved by its target audience, and has recently had an expansion pack released. I would be very cautious in evaluating this game without playing it, as most press reflects it only very shallowly. An interesting case: The game is set in New York City, and while every human character is represented graphically as white, each of them also is accompanied by a short biography which give them names and stories indicating diverse national, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. With the exception of certain characters which must stay Christian for the player to succeed, every one of these characters is succeptible to conversion back and forth between the Christian (green) and Antichristian (red) sides of the apocalyptic struggle, passing through an intermediate "neutral" (gray) phase. That CAIR was concerned by the fact that enemies often have "Muslim-sounding names" is, of course, totally reasonable. However, these characters are allies when converted to Christianity, and only enemies when converted by the Antichrist’s forces. So, the only time when the game actually poses an "interfaith" question (unless we are speaking of Christian/Antichristian ecumenicism) is when these characters are aligned neutral, and are succeptible to ministry from either side, but violence from neither. Muslims qua Muslims can be converted to either side, but they cannot be harmed. In this fact there was some potential comfort for Left Behind Games to offer CAIR, but instead the public statement from their president was surprisingly insensitive, making the game sound more directly anti-Islamic than gameplay itself does. I reccomend you play it, but if you can’t IGN’s review, perhaps because it primarily concerns gameplay, is the best I know of at present, though I hope to publish one myself soon.
I just wanted to say that this is fascinating. Great idea.
Have any major game systems been adapted for this kind of use? What’s the best selling one? And while there’s a huge difference between these games (which seek to create a religious or spiritual experience for the player) and ones that seek to depict/leverage a fictional one, I have to ask: has the Left Behind book series been adapted for video games?
Barton, thanks for your interesting contribution. While there is the issue, as other comments have pointed out, of such a production conflating "Indian" with "Hindu," and therefore playing into the hands of the Hindu right, I was thinking as I saw the clip you had posted of Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues. Paley’s adaptation provoked objections from right-wing Hindu extremists who threatened, she reports, to "hang" her for "using" the Ramayana. Paley defends her adaptation as a work of art, and courageously refused to be intimidated. So for the Hindu right it is not only a matter of how "Indianness" is represented but by whom. Paley is not Indian. She is a white woman. The nationality and the gender of the representer of Indianness are also important for these ideologues. But above all, it is the tone, the attitude to "Indianness" that concerns them: I suspect that Sita Sings the Blues does not display enough national piety, is too lighthearted, to pass muster.
Great post, Jenna. This reminds me of the Supreme Court’s 1992 Lee v. Weisman decision, in which it struck down a rabbi’s vaguely ecumenical prayer at a middle-school graduation ceremony as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Writing for the 5-justice majority, Justice Kennedy (still distrusted by the Right to this day for this opinion) announced that "the suggestion that government may establish an official or civic religion as a means of avoiding the establishment of a religion with more specific creeds strikes us as a contradiction that cannot be accepted." Kennedy rightly noted the failure of universalistic or inclusionary religious claims ever to "transcend" their inherent particularity.
My favorite part of this spot, though, is the opening line: "Thomas Jefferson said something like this…" In fact, Jefferson would probably have been horrified by his appropriation in this way. But with paraphrasing (as with God?), all things are possible.
This is fascinating. The particularity of universalism also evokes how particularity is frequently deployed in moves toward certain types of universalism. Remember Bush’s demand in 2008 that we "reject this ‘dictatorship of relativism,’ and embrace a culture of justice and truth"? To call for union among people who are dedicated to something very specific without disclosing potentially alienating details of that specificity resonates with Adlai Stevenson’s comments and your analysis. I wonder if these moves might frequently appear together in presidential rhetoric, or if they mark opposite sides of some divide (whether temporal, partisan, or otherwise).
Following as it does on Isaac’s post on sound, I was struck by this ad’s emphasis on aural ways of knowing. The total lack of visual interest in this spot really highlights the use of speech as the sole persuasive device. The conversational style of the speaker, and his location behind a kind of pulpit, makes me wonder if the model for this rhetorical style might be Protestant forms of public address that would have been familiar to viewers?