About Those Links

Here’s what I was going to say about the first of those links from Saturday:

By the way, lest I forget, the Episcopal Church has asked that we Blogarian Episcopalians link to their survey on “online evangelism” through their website. If you feel like giving the Episcopal Church a piece of your mind (relative to their use of the web), this is your opportunity.

So, first of all, headphonaught picked up Joi’s post on leadership in World of Warcraft, and applies some of Joi’s conclusions to church life. Since Joi prodded me into playing Warcraft, I’ve been fascinated by many aspects of it (I actually will write up a review someday). Most prominently, though, I have relished the community life of Joi’s guild. Warcraft illustrates a premise that I’ve held for a long time now: online applications thrive by providing the opportunity for social interaction while doing something else. Flickr, the old Flickr, illustrates the point; ostensibly an image-sharing application, it gave people a social space for annotating and commenting, not just looking at pictures. In a similar way, Warcraft — by enlisting players in shared adventures — makes conversation and cooperation possible not by creating an Orkut-like space where social interaction constitutes the end of the site, but by drawing people into activities in which social interaction emerges as an attractive byproduct.

What does this have to do with church? Headphonaught identifies two lessons. First, he notes Joi’s enthusiasm for camaraderie in Warcraft, which he (plausibly) associates with “fellowship” in church. In light of my comments above, I’d just add that the durable, productive sort of fellowship emerges when shared activities evoke harmonious interaction — much more so than from settings in which an organizer sets up an event and expects people to fellowship. Churches offer a skillion opportunities for that kind of cooperative activity: the liturgy itself, of course, and the countless support activities. The church should probably recognize those activities not solely as productive endeavors toward the goal of [whatever], but as opportunities for people to intertwine their lives (and we should handle matters of setting, comfort, and so on, with a view toward encouraging the sort of ambiance that enriches the side-conversations that ensue when a bunch of people is making sandwiches or cleaning fixtures).

Second, Headphonaught notes the importance of mood, and suggests that “[t]he role of any leader in church should be ‘mitigate’/ facilitate and act as Custodian to the group rather than a formal leader.” Certainly churches have tended toward authoritarian leadership, in ways that belie their mission and limit participation to only those who don’t mind the power structure. At the same time, I’m very cautious about the dogma of egalitarianism. The “We Know” guild in Warcraft has very real power structures, and is not casual about applying them (even though Joi himself does not usually drop the hammer on people).

Church life presents a dangerous temptation to “let the Spirit guide (so long as it happens my way).” I’m much more comfortable with honest authority structures, so long as they’re occupied by people who don’t particularly want the power. By the same token, one can’t eliminate manipulation and power games by eradicating the explicit lines of authority.

Yes, by all means, church leaders shouldn’t boss people around, shouldn’t play neighborhood tyrant. That has more to do, though, with guiding the right people to leadership roles than with defining the role of “facilitator.” A good leader will facilitate, but calling someone a “facilitator” doesn’t mean they won’t live out their power trips (all the more destructively if they can plausibly disclaim any “authority”).

That’s not precisely what Headphonaught is talking about, I think, but it touches on a frequent current in discussions of ecclesiology and emergence — and I needed to get it off my chest.

What else about church and Warcraft? Well, I see a couple of things worth remarking. One, people want to believe in magic. Not only do they enjoy the exercise of magical faculties in the game, but the meta-play (in chats and during intervals of relative inaction) suggest strongly that participants relish an outlook that takes explicit account of extraordinary capacities. Obviously, one part of that is plain old-fashioned wish-fulfillment — but I think I detect something else also, a sense that they feel a deep affinity for this “virtual” world in which people can change into animals, disappear, levitate (but not “fly,” interestingly), zap evil-doers and (especially) never die. If we bracket the interminable discussion about “magic” vs. “miracle,” we can acknowledge that a sizable number of people are ready to deal with claims about worlds in which more is going on than meets the strictly scientific eye.

Second, I observe that the game (as other team sports) evokes extremely strong feelings of solidarity, accomplishment, frustration, disaffection, and persistence. The possibility that these are intensified by the manifest extent to which “doing well” in the game world involves making optimal use of complementary, different gifts suggests that the church may want to learn from Warcraft about team-building and orchestration — which brings us back to leadership (as “leaders” in the game can’t afford to ignore effectual differences among players to satisfy sentimental inclinations, whereas the church very often subordinates competence in favor of sentiment).

And more — but I should leave that till the essays I expect to write by way of a general game review, and my musings about the ethics of playing Warcraft.

3 thoughts on “About Those Links

  1. i tried out warcraft about a year ago, but all it seemed to be was a lot of characters runing around and bonking each other. what am i missing?

  2. I love your points here. I remeber having the same feelings about 10 years ago about a text based internet space game called federation. The fact that there was a combination of free creative interaction AND goals/activities for the players made for very interesting times. Federation was the only game I ever played where economic interdependency factored in. The game could roughly be divided between “rich people” and “poor people” (they used those too). For the first several levels one had to accumulate various skills and money and so forth to advance. However, once you got to the “rich” levels, the requirements were more geared towards making poor people do jobs for you. Thus each had to help the other to make things work. This by itself helped build lots of relationships of a “mentoring” sort.

    Another thing it reminds me of was a seminar I heard as part of a mercy ministry conference. The seminar was built around the text of Romans 12. One of the points made within this was the suggestion that every time you go out to do some sort of charitable activity, you should invite someone along. This accomlishes several things at once. Mostly, it overcomes the hesitancy people have about serving the poor. If you rely on an announcement, you will get nearly no one, but if you invite someone, they might very well do it. Obviously what also happens is that you now have more people to do whatever work you were going to do and you get to build a relationship with the person you invited.

    The point made a big impression on my naturally individualistic heart 🙂

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