I am not a gamer. I say that with no arrogance or judgment. I learned, from alarmingly strong (albeit thankfully short-lived) addictions to things as simple as Tetris, Solitaire, FreeCell, Minesweeper, Wolfenstein (yeah, I’m old), and various word games that I am far too inclined to spend too much time that I simply don't have in such pursuits. I just have to stay away from such things. I don’t have enough discipline to devote only small amounts of time to them, to spend just a few minutes taking a mental break. No, I start playing and three hours later, I feel I have nothing to show for my time. (Strangely, I don’t feel this way if I spend, say, nearly three hours playing real-world Scrabble.) Knowing this about myself, I have always been too nervous to explore virtual worlds, computer role-playing games, etc., fearing I would never again get anything done in the “real” world.
So of course I was especially intrigued to discover an article called "Al-Andalus 2.0" in the July/August issue of Saudi Aramco World (a very well-produced print magazine that is always full of interesting and original stories, and which will give you a subscription free for the asking) about the virtual community of Al-Andalus in the 3D online game Second Life. The article is written by Joshua Fouts, the Senior Fellow for Digital Media and Public Policy at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, a non-partisan NGO, who did a study with Rita J. King (whose list of roles is too long and varied to include here) called “Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds”.
King and Fouts chose to look at Second Life for various reasons, including the fact that it is completely user-created, it is the largest of the virtual worlds, and the vast majority (more than 70%) of its users are from outside the
In our study, we learned that the more time that users invest in their Second Life experiences, the more they come to express high degrees of creativity and understanding of each other.
Apparently, in the Second Life community of Al-Andalus, hundreds of users from all over the world are exploring modern-day manifestations of convivencia, a term that evokes the predominantly creative and peaceful coexistence of Jews, Christians,and Muslims that once prevailed in medieval
I suspect this is an accurate characterization of the tensions present in Second Life’s Al-Andalus. While the Saudi Aramco World article paints a very positive picture of convivencia in the game, the short video documentary the researchers made about it (see below) suggests that there are significant interreligious and intrareligious tensions: the video makes mention of one player’s avatar, who is perpetually upset about visitors to the virtual mosque who don’t remove their shoes, and wants to ban them from the simulation. Other players oppose his wishes.
I was also
fascinated to read, for example, that one player from
I am definitely captivated. But when I’m two weeks away from starting my honours thesis, it’s probably not the time to start exploring virtual life. On the other hand, my thesis is on multiple religious belonging, so maybe I can work SL’s Al-Andalus into it somehow…