When it comes to re-enchanting the world, the fantasy genre is where this happens.
This genre often looks back to a world untouched by modernity suggesting a longing for the past. Scholars Stef Aupers and Julian Schaap call this a “mythopoeic history” produced “by cutting and pasting premodern religions, myths and sagas and by offering it for further consumption” (1). These fantasy products often derive from popular literature like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and others.
The popular fantasy massive multiplayer online (MMO) video game World of Warcraft (WoW), argue Aupers and Schaap, fulfills this powerful longing for the past; for instance, one player describes a,
“… nostalgic longing for the past when all these things where not there yet. In the old days everything was better. The countryside, sunny summers when everybody was happy. If you walk through the world of World of Warcraft this is all there. And you are not constantly confronted with high-tech” (2).
Motivating many to consume fantasy products are the “disillusions of living in a disenchanted modern society” (3), especially in the Western European context. The notion of disenchantment traces to the sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) who defined it to mean that “there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation” (4).
According to Weber, any notion of a sacred cosmos infused with gods and myths has been emptied of such contents in the wake of scientific and technological progress. But in opposition to such a world of disenchantment is the WoW universe that offers “an isle of meaning and enchantment”. The game is advertised as a captivating product that will fulfill the player’s longing for re-enchantment; consider the box description,
“A World Awaits… Descend into the World of Warcraft and join thousands of mighty heroes in an online world of myth, magic and limitless adventure. Jagged snowy peaks, mountain fortresses, harsh winding canyons. Zeppelins flying over smoldering battlefields, epic sieges – an infinity of experiences await. So what are you waiting for?”
WoW caters to this desire for re-enchantment by offering adventure and promises of immersion and participation in a world full of rich myths and magic. There is the promise of unlimited exploration of unchartered territories and all the many exciting projects this has to offer.
WoW clearly does not shy away from offering an idealization of the past that many seem to long for. It presents an idealized, rural, pre-industrial environment and medievalist society permeated by myth, legend, and folklore. This includes vast environments not limited to parched deserts, impenetrable rainforests, meadows, and grasslands grazed by cattle, as well as tiny villages and bustling premodern cities scattering WoW’s boundless landscapes. Many players romanticize the premodern world and particularly enjoy the simplicity its offers, notably its lack of highly advanced technology. Here the player encounters a “lost” way of seeing the world engendering “mythic play” (5).
A desire to believe in the mythical is surprisingly felt by many players who consider themselves rational and who do not believe in the supernatural or mythical. Aupers and Schaap notice how the majority of WoW players they interviewed “are basically nonreligious in a traditional sense and disillusioned” (6). These players are, however, able and willing to suspend their disbelief allowing for an active and joyful engagement with the mythical aspects of the fantasy product. As one WoW player explains,
“I would really like that there was more than we can see in life. Telepathic connections between people, or special super powers that people are born with – forces that are prominent in everyday life” (7).
Attractive to these players is the lack of need to be attached to some worldview if they are to lose themselves within the fantasy product. WoW with its “recognizable cultural histories, epistemologies, and geographies” provides the opportunity for the player “to experience meaningful feelings of enchantment without believing in underlying truth claims” (8). The player can “freely play with spirituality without believing or without being swallowed up by a belief system” (9).
1. Aupers, Stef., and Schaap, Julian. 2015a. “Beyond Belief: Playing with Pagan Spirituality in World of Warcraft.” In Religion in Digital Games Reloaded: Immersion Into the Field, edited by Simone Heidbrink, Tobias Knoll, and Jan Wysocki, 190-207. Institute for Religious Studies, University of Heidelberg. p. 194.
2. Aupers, Stef., and Schaap, Julian. 2015a. Ibid. p. 198.
3. Aupers, Stef., and Schaap, Julian. 2015a. Ibid. p. 198.
4. Weber, Max. 1991. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Psychology Press. p. 139.
5. Krzywinska T. 2008. “World creation and lore: World of Warcraft as rich text.” In Digital Culture, Play and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader, edited by HG Corneliussen and JW Rettberg, 123-142. London: The MIT Press, pp. 123–142.
6. Aupers, Stef., and Schaap, Julian. 2015a. Ibid. p. 197.
7. Aupers, Stef. 2015b. “Spiritual play: Encountering the sacred in World of Warcraft”. In Playful Identities: The Ludification of Digital Media Cultures, edited by Valerie Frissen, Sybille Lammes, Michiel de Lange, Jos de Mul, and Joost Raessens, 75-92. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. p. 76.
8. Aupers, Stef., and Schaap, Julian. 2015a. Ibid. p. p. 201.
9. Aupers, Stef. 2015b. Ibid. p. 84.