By Michael Mendis
Author: William Sims Bainbridge
First Published: 2013
Length: 250 pages
We’re back with another entry in G&G Reads, in which one of us here at Gospel & Gaming reads a gaming related book and shares some of our thoughts. In his book eGods, author William Sims Bainbridge examines religious themes found in games, particularly the numerous MMORPGs that he has poured countless hours playing over the years. His approach is nothing if not thorough, as he covers a wide variety of topics in the book, including morality, death, the soul, priests, and more.
Bainbridge is approaching all of these matters from a distinctly non-Christian perspective; particularly, he frequently refers back to a philosophical ideology he refers to as the New Paradigm, which argues that religion is a compensator: a reward that people make up for themselves to deal with challenges in their lives that they otherwise cannot overcome. It’s a rather cynical approach to religion, especially in regard to clergy, who he believes are often taking advantage of their congregations for personal gain. He believes that games and technology offer a new approach to faith, that they offer lessons as humanity moves past the religious compensators of old and finds better solutions to the problems we face as a species. As a Christian, I naturally disagree with many of Bainbridge’s conclusions, but he asks a number of questions that deserve thoughtful answers from any believer. The book is at its best when it offers clear and concise challenges to religious beliefs. Does faith in religion offer any real benefits? Why should we put our trust into invisible, unquantifiable supernatural deities, when we can absorb ourselves entirely into a virtual world where priests hold mathematically quantifiable power? If I had the opportunity to speak to Bainbridge, a dedicated gamer with a highly negative view of religion and the church, how would I approach these questions? It is these moments in the book that have provided the best opportunity for reflection.
Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between, as overall, eGods is a very poorly written book. Bainbridge spends most of his time bogged in dry minutiae, as he details the lives of the fictional characters he has created while playing online games. He is easily sidetracked, explaining gameplay mechanics that are irrelevant to the topic at hand and detailing long quest lines, all the way down to the most insignificant fetch quests. Sometimes he’ll even get lost talking about other media/pop culture (such as a part in the second chapter where he describes whole TV episodes of Star Trek). Some of these explanations do eventually tie in to the ultimate point he wants to make, but by the time he gets to that at the end of the chapter, he’s already lost the reader. Any fascinating theological/philosophical discussions are buried beneath all of this worthless data, and reading through the book is an absolute chore. It’s as if no one bothered to edit this book, or else the editor was afraid to say “no” to anything Bainbridge wanted to write.
In the end, eGods is not a book I can recommend, unless you have the incredible patience needed to slog through page after page of boring gameplay descriptions in order to find the few nuggets of worthy philosophical discussion. Quite frankly, had I not been tasked with completing this book for the sake of this article, there’s no way I would have made it past the first chapter or two; the content is just so dry and so stuffed with superfluous details that it isn’t worth the time to read it.