Presenting “Technopaganisms + Videogames” at Metropolitan State University’s Student Research Conference

my poster and I

Today (or, Monday the 24th of April, 2017, as it will be known in the nearer future), I presented my poster all about Paganisms and video games to a room full of well-dressed folks at my university. I was awarded the Conference Organizers’ Award which included a lot of university swag including sunglasses, but I’m not sure why, maybe I ooze charm? Anyway, that 20-by-27 inch board of mine was absolutely littered with analysis and in-game footage (which I don’t know what to do with, posting it or not, so I’ll trust everyone’s imaginations for now regarding the pictures):

 

When Erik Davis wrote about technopaganisms in 1995, he found that many who practiced defined digital technology as just a part of the natural cycle of life (para. 7). Now two decades into the 21st century, technologies used for social and play purposes are the lives of many people; technopaganisms are more, too.

But technopaganisms don’t only center on technology—these beliefs focus on identities and space, as well. The earlier days of Internet Paganisms opened meet spaces for queer techies (many times of color or with disabilities) (Davis, 1995, para. 19-22). As a result, modern technopaganisms also have a visible queer element.

Video game technopagans often identify with the huge umbrella category “pop culture Pagan,” noticeable in this Tumblr biography [the blog post was formatted differently on my project; hence, this link that would’ve made literally no sense on paper]. This particular pop/video game spell (detailed further in their blog) finds a muse in the computer game Undertale.

Technopaganisms use tech to develop interconnectedness between people. As seen to the left, video game techno Paganisms employ processes in games such as character development to found practical practices in the self as well as provide public platforms (the game and its fandoms) technopagans can use to communicate with others.

Most video game technopagans find magic in games that already exist. While Dragon Age: Inquisition wasn’t an explicitly Pagan text, many adapted its elements into spells. One technopagan modified the in-game spell “Mind Blast” for valid use; this staggering spell (rewarded to those in the Spirit school of magic in the game) became a ward against negativity for people who warranted better [(betwixt star & sea, oh lonesome me, 2015)].

There are also Pagan game developers out there, many concerned with challenging ideas both in and out of Pagan communities. In her game Rain, House, Eternity, developer Kitty Horrowshow used the aesthetic of a dreary, rigid outdoors and a poignant narrative about depression and witchcraft to (1) reiterate the transferability of practice between planes and their structures and (2) tackle the myth that magic can “fix” people through some universal, neurotypical norm.

The practice of video game technopaganisms often works towards empowering players through the same processes that turn playable characters into effective and beloved heroes. Through such a medium as large and public as video games, game designers and consumers also engage communities, evaluating the norms we continue to work with and influencing change.

Sources:

betwixt star & sea, oh lonesome me. (2015, December). DA:I spells: mind blast [Tumblr post]. Retrieved from http://orriculum.tumblr.com/post/154297088543/dai-spells-mind-blast

Davis, E. (1995, July 1). Technopagans: May the astral plane be reborn in cyberspace. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/1995/07/technopagans

Gaider, D. (2014). Dragon Age: Inquisition [Computer software]. Edmonton, Canada: BioWare.

Horrowshow, K. (2016). Rain, house, eternity [Computer software]. Retrieved from https://kittyhorrorshow.itch.io/rain-house-eternity

Richardson, V. (2009). Deus ex machina? Witchcraft and the techno-world. Literature & Aesthetics, 19(2) (pp. 279-306)

sick-sad-mage (2017). [Tumblr blog] . Retrieved from https://sick-sad-mage.tumblr.com

On the side, I also offered a pamphlet full of resources that discussed the same topics which the people I was presenting to could look at instead of my face the whole time. And, yes, one of the resources I listed was myself, partly out of a desire to signal boost, mostly because I started to fret about there being too much white space.

They ended up not looking as bad as I thought they would, although it was fresh Hel trying to cut them all out in twenty minutes, and I still have extras.

I feel that the articles I brought up as resources are also helpful places for Pagans. Erik Davis’s “Technopagans: May the astral plane be reborn in cyberspace” from 1995, taking an intimate look into the subcultures, the techies and queer people who made up the bulk of technopagan numbers in the Western states of America, is fun to compare with the Chris Priestman article “The Game Developers Who Are Also Witches” from 2017 that discusses how sexually- and genderqueer developers are not only claiming space in video games–they’re making space. Twenty one years have led to quite a different landscape of what qualifies as magical, interactive, and accessible.

Researching up for this conference really showed me how interconnected queer communities and Paganisms are through technology and games. As a queer Pagan gamer, I feel like I already should have known this–as a queer Pagan gamer with an active Tumblr, I must’ve been just looking at the pictures instead of reading the text or something!

On a more serious note, though: I feel like this topic is really important to consider as game designers are starting to think about queer inclusion in video games. In my lifetime, queer characters went from being jokes (hinted at through homophobic ribbing) to actual companions that still have limited presentation (almost all white and sexually queer). In an interview before the release of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Anthony Burch (the writer of the game) said that there would be an asexual character in a video game long before an atheistic one. This presents an interesting conundrum for queer religious people. I, for one, do feel that my queerness and Pagan practice are deeply connected. I cannot imagine being queer without a queer pantheon to rely on for support, and I can’t very well see myself as Pagan without queer gods. I’m glad that some independent game developers like Kitty Horrowshow are considering practice and identity together, and I see this discourse showing up in the mainstream in the future of video games as more and more queer gamers come out as Pagan.

I’m interested if anyone else is working on any works (blogs, papers, presentations, art, video games) that address Paganism, Internet-accessible preferred (I say as a hypocritical dork). Send me links, comments, compliments, and complements!

 

“The body is the interface that must be surpassed for the Witch to become a walker between worlds, where the disembodied self, (soul, mind, psyche) can coalesce with supernal entities, assume an alternative identity by switching gender, theriomorphing, or reach apotheosis and become a god.”

-Venetia Richardson

“Deus Ex Machina? Witchcraft and the Techno-World,” page 298

About the Author

Liz (short for Ulysses) Tetu writes gag comics, essays, fiction, blog posts, even university assignments on sex and Paganisms. His path is "queer norse technopaganism" (his words), and he does do magic. At Metropolitan State University, he's enjoying a four-year undergrad degree in Creative Sexual Communication (minors in Violence Prevention and Intervention as well as Game Studies). When he finds time to put down the pen, Liz picks up the controller and seduces dragons.

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1 Comment

  1. Rantasmo on YouTube made a review of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, which did give a bit of whiplash with how heartfelt and then horribly it handled gender and sexuality from one moment to the next.

    I have had numinous experiences with beings that appeared to me in dreams as Naoto Shirogane and Kanji Tatsumi, but I haven’t blogged much about them because it’s too much into my wishy-washy mystic side and rarely happens (doesn’t consistently happen enough either) that I can’t feel there’s anything organized or organizable about them that would be enough to blog about…

    For general practice, the synthesis of Jungian psychospirituality and pagan symbolism, it’s a good general demonstration of confronting the Shadow, but I don’t take as a given that characters are gods or spirits. My primary interest is usually thematic, metaphysical, cosmological, with the characters considered heroes unless they (like Naoto) insist on showing up in my field of mystic sensoryness. I think on the level of culture and society, representation of characterization is important because themes would be hard-pressed to carry impact without grounding in that.

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