In Victor Turner’s essay “Liminal to Liminoid,” he describes the term “communitas” in relationship to two other closely related terms: antistructure and liminality. He explains how people “are conditioned to play specific social roles” to which they must be obedient to as part of the “complex model of the ‘social structure’” (46). The opposite of this social structure is antistructure, in which people are “liberated from human capacities of cognition, affect, coalition, creativity, etc., from the normative constraints incumbent upon occupying a sequence of social statuses” (Turner 44). So antistructure allows for people to experience “full human capacity that is often locked out of the narrow, stuffy rooms” of the normal social structure (Turner 46). The idea of a communitas is also linked to the term liminality, which refers to the state in which “profane social relations may be discontinued, former rights and obligations are suspended, and the social order may seem to have been turned upside down…” (Turner 27). Turner describes that in industrial societies, leisure and art can sometimes create a liminal state in which a person will find himself “experiencing that one’s fellows can be portrayed, grasped, and sometimes realized” (46). This sense of unity that arises in art and leisure can lead to a “homogeneous, unstructured communitas” as the result of being in positive liminal state in which antistructure can be freely expressed (Turner 47). It may be important to note that the “experience of communitas often turns into the memory of communitas,” because these spontaneous states of expressing ideas and understanding one another are fleeting. In an attempt to replicate communitas, “the initially free and innovative relationships between individuals are converted into norm governed relationships,” thus reestablishing the social structure and the designated roles that were once the target of escape (Turner 47).
The term “communitas” is especially relevant when trying to describe the experience that occurs when one is playing a video game, especially an imaginative on in which other people are involved. When playing a video game such as YaHero, in which you play a hero traveling through a fantastical world of nature, machines, and light, a person departs from the reality of the surroundings around them. The player is no longer an ordinary person, but a futuristic, spunky YaHero who is ready to find the next bible-verse-bearing scroll. Roles that one may assume in the normative social structure are temporarily reduced as the player crosses into liminality and begins to experiment with antistructure in the elements of the game. New experiences emerge in YaHero like the visual of one’s badly destroyed boat suddenly becoming shiny and intact again or an old talking turtle who instructs the player how to complete every task. Furthermore, YaHero offers a communication system that allows friends to chat about their newly discovered experiences in the game. So the hero character and imaginative world, along with new elements of the game to be witnessed and experimented with, allow the player to depart form the social structure into a virtual communitas where he or she can unite with friends.
The YaHero game also presents an excellent illustration of how the attempted preservation of a communitas can be very restrictive. By trying to preserve a safe place for children to learn about the Bible through play, the creators of YaHero have removed the spontaneous aspect of a communitas and taken away much of the flowing creativity that should be allowed. The game itself does not allow characters to wander freely in their new roles. The player must accept his or her previously assigned gender in the game and is forced to complete each ascending task in order to move onto the next aspect of the quest. The limited and guarded chat options also prevent close unity and ideological understanding among players if they cannot specifically express their thoughts among friends. In an attempt to preserve the pure form of the game, and not allow any outside influences to corrupt it, many rules had to be established that diminished the “play” aspect in the game. The game cannot be a place for children to escape the social structure when rules and parental guidance are so entangled in the game. The game almost tries to create its own structure through the addition of restrictive rules, while the visuals of the characters and landscape of the game are governed by antistructure.
In many video games, the idea of a normative communitas exists, in which the conditions of a communitas have been attempted to be controlled and therefore have led to a certain degree of rules and roles that are again established. At the same time, these video games allow the player to experience a world unlike his or her own and to adopt the identity of a new role. The game YaHero displays the idea that a communitas can exist through characters, landscapes, and game activites, but in a restricted way, due in part to the push to include religious elements and shield it from outside secular infuences.
Turner, Victor Witter. "Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual." From Ritual to Theatre: the Human Seriousness of Play. New York City: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982. Print.
Yahero:Join the Quest!EyeseeTV, 2010. Web. 9 Dec. 2010 <http://www.yahero.com/>.