Posted by: Jess Riley | September 9, 2008

Theme Week Religion: Death

It has been said that religion in the real world is born from a fear of death. (No, I don’t know who says that, but I’m sure people do).

Whether or not you’re personally religious, I think this has some merit – typically, if you’re religious, it means that you feel that your religion is right and others were essentially invented, while if you’re not religious, you feel that all religions were essentially invented. If they were essentially invented, the question remains… why? I like the ‘fear of death’ idea as one thing that the vast, vast majority of religions have in common is an explanation of the afterlife. Whether that is Heaven and Hell, reincarnation, Nirvana, the spirit world, etc… the vast majority of religions have an afterlife as a concept.

That brings me to World of Warcraft. As Sean said in his first post on the topic, realistically, there will be religious people other than those who are actually shaman, priests, druids and paladins (the religious leaders and ministers, in effect) – why are these people religious, and how do they respond to death – as a concept, and as something they experience through life? (And why do I use so many dashes?)

Now, I’m sure you’ve all worked out by now that I kind of like the Forsaken. Sean would say that I have a bit of a metaphorical hard-on for the race, while our administrator would say that the only reason it’s metaphorical is because I lack a physical penis. Whatever you call my like for the race, however, it is true that the Forsaken are, perhaps, in a unique position to discuss religion and death. According to the lore, a large portion of the Forsaken, larger than perhaps usual, were priests of the Light in life, and now they are almost universally non-religious. This dovetails nicely with my theory that religion is about the fear of death: if you were taught all your life, for instance, that when you died you would go to the perfect afterlife, and then you died and awoke as a Forsaken… well, I’d guess you’d be pretty bitter about it. I’d also guess that water is pretty wet. (Of course, not all Forsaken are going to be non-religious; some will be able to reconcile their religion and their current state, but I’d say it’s completely fair that atheism is really common amongst the Forsaken).

What about characters of other races, though? If your dwarven warrior happens upon the dead body of another dwarven warrior, how does s/he respond (whether or not s/he knew the person)? Do you play it as though the other warrior is unconscious, knowing that they’re probably offline or trying to find their body from the spirit healer? Do you play as though they’re dead, but ignore them? Or, do you make some reference to the dead body, religiously or non-religiously?

One nice, touching part of a roleplay that I have seen is two characters who happen upon a dead body – a human priestess and a dwarven warrior, as I recall. As they passed by, the priestess said a short prayer, and the warrior bowed his head in respect for a moment. Now, whether the warrior was also praying, or paying non-religious respects to a fallen comrade I do not know, but I felt it was a very nice moment.

Do your characters think about their own mortality? Do fighters pray before they leave of a morning, lest they die in battle that day? Obviously, that would depend on the individual in question, but in general I feel that this is an important thing to be aware of for your characters. Include these thoughts in your roleplay – whether because they do it, or because they think it’s a bit of hogswash when someone else does it – and you may be surprised at where this line of thinking can flesh out a character.

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