Perspectives on Virtual Veneration
William Sims Bainbridge
A reconnaissance of the potential for memorializing people through online avatars was carried out by participant observation, running ancestor veneration avatars (AVAs) based on deceased members of the author's own family. First, the AVA concept is introduced in the context of the changing social status of religion in post-modern society. Then the range of possibilities is sketched through four avatars exploring how: (1) a priest character in World of Warcraft can represent an actual deceased priest; (2) an ambivalent character in EverQuest II can represent an abstract issue about the value of religion, (3) an historically accurate gameworld like Pirates of the Burning Sea can be a good environment for commemorating a person whose life is largely unknown but took place during its historical period, and (4) a fantasy world like Lord of the Rings Online can represent a person who in life had a direct connection to that fantasy. Memorialization of one person in multiple environments illustrates that avatar-like manifestations may be created in: (1) solo-player games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, (2) multi-player games like Star Wars: The Old Republic, (3) a non-game virtual world like Second Life, and (4) a variety of other online environments where one is represented by something like an avatar, including Wikipedia.
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