While living in Hong Kong, I co-authored this article with my friend (and at the time boss) Dr. Gino Yu. We explore the ways in which “inner experience” was communicated historically, and then draw some connections between these ancient formats and modern day video game technology. The conclusion is that virtual experience, and video games in particular are potentially an idea tool for communicating subjective experiences, such as spiritual experiences, which can be challenging to communicate otherwise.

An excerpt

Mythology and religion form the cornerstone of culture and are important to the development of individuals and society. In general, decisions and actions undertaken by individuals from a place of ‘inner peace’ are conducive towards harmonious and sustainable development, and in turn the perpetuation of the species. Traditionally, religions and culture are communicated and preserved through time via mythology (e.g., textual scriptures), art (e.g., symbolism), and ritual (e.g., ceremony). Meanings are communicated largely through metaphor. The stories communicate experiences and their consequences through the use of narrative and poetry. Mythology also provides a context for one’s purpose of being. Through symbolism, artwork serves to reinforce textual descriptions and also evoke emotions through the use of visual imagery and musical arrangement. Rituals also reinforce understanding by creating experiences that directly involve the individual within the mythology.

The continuing popularity of science and materialism has eroded traditional forms of communicating inner experience. Since the debates over heliocentrism in the 15th century, religion has had to reconcile interpretations of traditionally held beliefs with new scientific discoveries. Traditional religions continue to face fragmentation as technology introduces new questions which challenge traditional beliefs (e.g., abortion, genetic engineering, etc.). Furthermore, the homogenization of culture due to mass media and declining environmental conditions has resulted in a dramatic decline in traditional indiginous cultures around the world. Globalization also pits different religions and religious values against each other, often inciting intolerance and further conflict.

Whereas traditional forms of communication are based upon subjective third person stories, parables, etc., the ability to create immersive and interactive environments make video games extremely powerful for representing and communicating experience. Experiences that convey feelings and emotions can be expressed more directly and are less prone to misinterpretation when compared with traditional forms of communication which rely upon metaphor.

As technology gives individuals and organizations ever greater power to affect the world and the lives of others, it becomes increasingly important that a state of ‘inner peace’ be cultivated within the population. Our challenge today is towards developing effective methods for creating experiences that cultivate ‘inner peace.’ We believe that digital media technologies, specifically video games, offer a solution to this problem. Digital technologies are already changing the ways in which ideas are represented and distributed. Traditional forms of content including images, audio/music, and video are becoming more accessible and no longer require significant literacy skills for comprehension.

This article was published in the Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet, issue 3.1 in 2008.