Johan Huizinga was a cultural historian who studied the Middle Ages. In his book Homo Ludens, Huizinga discusses the cultural phenomenon of “play” (http://www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/huizingaj.htm). Huizinga selects the term “Homo Ludens, Man the Player” to describe mankind (Foreword). He describes people as individuals and societies as having ludic characteristics. The term ludic means “playful in an aimless way” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ludic). In this discussion, the term ‘aimless’ will be understood as not having an intrinsic purpose .Huizinga says, “In play there is something ‘at play’ which transcends the immediate needs of life and imparts meaning to the action” and that it “implies a non-materialistic quality in the nature of the thing itself” (p.1). He claims that “Play only becomes possible, thinkable and understandable when an influx of mind breaks down the absolute determinism of the cosmos. The very existence of play continually confirms the supra-logical nature of the human situation” (p.3-4). He also describes play as “[lying] outside the antithesis of wisdom and folly, and equally outside those of truth and falsehood, good and evil. Although it is a non-material activity it has no moral function” (p.6).
It is necessary to keep these concepts in mind when considering religion in online games. People have a natural tendency to play with all aspects of their lives, and religion is no different. While the foundations of one are religious beliefs are generally considered very seriously, many people tend to take a light-hearted, playful approach when expressing those religious beliefs. Huizinga explained that the ludic aspects of religion do not serve a specific function, but that play exists in and of itself (pp.3-6). Some people will take ludic, or playful, approaches to interacting with fellow believers of their faith. The Missionary Game allows people to compete in the online game for the highest score of converting indigenous people groups to Christianity (http://www.themissionarygame.com/). The Buddhist game Roots of Evil allows people to play a game and become familiar with the teachings of the Buddha (http://www.dharmagames.org/Buddhist%20Games/EvilRoots/evilRoots3_content.html).
These are only two examples of common, ludic ways that people are approaching their religious beliefs. These approaches may increase one’s own awareness about certain religious beliefs, or they may be used to teach other’s of an unfamiliar religious belief. Ludic components have permeated most areas of living. Throughout his book, Huizinga breaks down many areas of society’s playfulness, including language, law, war, poetry and art. It is not surprising that people embrace the playfulness of religion as well. Because people are playful, religious video games are used as a medium to draw-in attention to a particular belief system. If we are Homo Ludens, and we can acknowledge the ludic components of religion, then religious games that are accessible via the World Wide Web is a very efficient method of sharing religious beliefs and practices.
Huizinga, Johan. “Homo Ludens.” New York: Routledge, 1949. Print.