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Finding Eden: Can Games be Spiritual Experiences?

Child of Eden's gameplay is very much in the nature of religious ritual, as much as a passion play or holy communion.

“Do you think a game can be a religion?”, a friend asked me recently. The question came as part of a conversation that we have had about fandoms and content worlds for more than a year now, and it emerged without consideration to works such as Jason Rohrer’s Chain World or the Left Behind games. Valuable foregrounding points though these titles are, they weren’t on my friend’s mind. Final Fantasy VII was.

We agreed in fairly short order that, as religions and fandoms both tend to organize themselves around stories and looking to characters as models for behavior, a case could indeed be made for games as religion. But what a discourse such as ours should really be exploring is whether games—denotatively—can function spiritually for the player. That is, whether there is some systemic quality to games that can generate a deep-seated emotional experience that is quite apart from the creation of elaborate narratives and rules for conduct that are more accurately the hallmarks of organized faith. Can games reach us emotionally on a level that we might term as producing something like a “spiritual experience”?

Penny Arcade, 17 June 2011

Penny Arcade, 17 June 2011

Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s recently released Child of Eden is a prime starting point to explore this idea. The game borrows liberally from Hinduist iconography while the title itself is a reference to the religious reverence we’ve afforded technology. But it is the spiritual component that I’ve observed in several commentators responses to the game that truly makes it unique:

We spent some time in Child of Eden’s incredible fourth archive yesterday morning, Passion, and I don’t know if it’s a spoiler to say that you play the part of time in an interactive opera based on human technological achievement. If that happens in any other game, ever, I must have missed it. What we’ve got here is a shooter in reverse, one where you make every entity more beautiful with each shot. The raw clusters of instinct you encounter aren’t just corrupt: they’re so broken that they don’t want to be fixed, and they’ll kill you for trying.

I don’t know. That communicates to me (Jerry Holkins, “This Week’s Villain”, Penny Arcade, 17 June 2011).

Holkins’s and Krahulik’s accompanying comic (shown above) is an even further comment on the note of difference that Child of Eden strikes. For all its frenetic energy and at times vicious difficulty, it is a game about positive emotion and spiritual transcendence. Your two weapons act as purifiers, while the stages you explore are a set of technorganic ballets representing said rites of purification. It very much is in the nature of religious ritual, as much as a passion play or holy communion, in which the outcome is often a heightened awareness or sense of the sublime for the participant.


This is a review of the online game "Child of Eden." Please click HERE to see the rest of article...I am not a fan of gaming on the internet, precisely because there seems to be so much violence mixed in with the games. This one appears to have a spiritual component that might make it worthwhile for young people, or anyone else who likes this way of passing time...

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