My time as a virtual, high-level healer in World of Warcraft (WoW) stands out as one the most moving examples of community I have ever experienced. Within the imaginary world of Azeroth, I met a guild called GTH (Glory Through Honor) that was filled with those whose kindnesses and competitive fire would change me in meaningful ways. While WoW can be a toxic and lonely game, what I had fortuitously stumbled upon was a virtual oasis that God used to great effect in my life.
World of Warcraft is part of a gaming genre known as MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online), in which players often work collaboratively as part of voluntary groups called “guilds.” Some guilds are “raid” guilds, which tend to focus on large, in-game fortresses filled with mouth-watering treasure and halls that shake with the roars of horrifying enemies. Other guilds focus more on socializing and casual playing.
My guild, GTH, participated in raids. Led in-game by a gruff retired air traffic controller named Anson, our team practiced for many hours, each of us developing instinctive feeling for each other’s playing styles. The fights themselves were often long and complicated affairs; a single mistake or lapse in concentration might prove fatal. Yet in the heat of battle, as monsters beat on our shields and death stood mere inches away, I often felt so incredibly alive. I could feel the presence of my comrades as we fulfilled our unique roles in synchronicity. Afterwards, as whoops of joy filled our speakers and, yes, some even shed tears, the shared jubilation and sense of accomplishment that came from victory possessed an intensity I have rarely felt since.
While some members of our guild merely joined our group for the hope of treasure, many pursued a deeper form of relationship, one that often extended beyond the virtual confines of the game. A woman druid fondly referred to as “D” kept an open door via in-game chat and through online speech software and spent many hours counseling and caring for members. Extended and unexpected dialogues with a Wiccan priest or a Muslim diplomat were a continual source of growth for me and opportunities to see things through different eyes. When members fell ill or celebrated significant life events, players often traveled to visit them in the hospital, as was the case when a fellow healer named Silver was stricken with cancer.
Now, I’ve described some very good things, things that God himself would delight in. But does this claim for WoW hold up against Scripture?
For one thing, we must recognize that God loves the world and takes interest in all the cultural goods (such as video games) we have filled it with. In Colossians, Paul notes that God reconciled “all things” through Christ. And while we still await the full restoration that will come with the new creation, glimmers of it can be found in the wake of Christ’s redemption—even in video games. Therefore, we cannot look at a game like WoW and immediately write it off as evil or ungodly. Even if it may contain elements that are not pleasing to God, it is still a piece of culture in which God’s spirit may be at work.
What’s more, the Christian doctrine of common grace tells us that God is active in the lives of all people, including non-believing game developers and players. Therefore, there is always the chance that the stuff they make may at times speak particularly to us as Christians. For instance, in WoW, the story of the Lich King’s fall and his eventual redemption can be a moving reminder of our own spiritual journey. Online guilds like GTH may also help us think more carefully about what community is and could be. For one member of my guild who struggled with a disability, WoW offered a sense of liberation and mobility. For other members it offered sanctuary and a safe place to express their personality. By offering unique ways to thrive, GTH represented an example of God’s own mission of shalom, in which God, through both the church and the work of the Holy Spirit, persistently seeks to heal the world of sin’s disastrous effects.
Finally, we must ask ourselves, as Jesus did, if our activity bears good fruit. What sorts of fruit does a game like WoW produce in our lives? Are we becoming more loving towards God and our neighbors? Are there any areas where I can turn my playing into an act of worship? Of course, each player will answer these questions differently. In the case of GTH, many members chose to use the game and its features to enrich other. Other times, guild members acted in ways that hurt others or, by feeding an addictive habit, hurt themselves and tarnished the God-given relationships of which they were a part.
Looking back on my experience with GTH, however, I see much fruit. Amidst adrenaline-fueled battles and soulful relationships the Holy Spirit was working, using World of Warcraft and its players to touch lives, including my own, for God’s glory.