Saturday, February 11, 2006

Pilgrimage as Alternate Reality

The similarities between Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) and Pilgrimage are many I reckon. I quote:
"Alternate Reality Gaming deliberately blurs the line between the in-game and out-of-game experiences, often being used as a marketing tool for a product or service. While games may primarily be centered around online resources, often events that happen inside the game reality will "reach out" into the players' lives in order to bring them together." (Wikipedia)

The Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford is currently hosting Pilgrimage: The Sacred Journey, a multi-faith look at the ancient practice of pilgrimage. Much of the exhibition seems to center upon visual mediums, much as digital games largely do. The pilgrimage process is broken into five parts:

Departure looks at pilgrimage as a separation from daily life and the search for physical and spiritual well-being.

Journey is illustrated by a medieval map of the Holy Land, along with pilgrims' accoutrements such as Buddhist prayer wheels, astrolabes and a qibla indicator, a travel aid that determines the direction of Mecca.

Sacred Space reflects the devotional requirements of religious buildings and shows objects used at shrines and sites.

Central Shrine is the destination point of all pilgrimages.

Return is indicated by the collection of pilgrims' memorabilia and souvenirs. Reliquaries play and serve as objects of veneration, and numerous tokens, models of the shrine, and badges prove the completion of the pilgrimage, while amulets and talismanic objects are bought back as reminders of the location's charisma and spiritual power.

In turn, alternate reality games "always have a specific goal of not only involving the player with the story and/or fictional characters but of connecting them to each other. Many game puzzles can be solved only by the collective and collaborative efforts of multiple players." (Wikipedia)

Whether pilgrimage is/was based on a fiction or not is beside the point. To develop a complex system of behaviors around a text (or texts) combined with often distant points of geographical location and objects of veneration which people performed sometimes for years at a time is a powerful source of experience. This is the goal of many quest or journey genre computer games and it suits the ARG genre as well. I wonder if the time will come when extremely immersive AGRs will span the planet and drag dusty believers from one point of heightened augmented experience to another as they gather special trinkets to prove to their friends that they had been there when..........

It is interesting as well that the objects of veneration contain the power to "re-open" pilgrimage lines with the Ashmolean becoming a site of pilgrimage during the duration of the exhibition:

"The Shikshapatri Manuscript, written by the founder of Swaminarayan Hinduism, Sahajand Swami, was last week visited by a group of Hindu pilgrims. The Hindus came to worship the manuscript making the exhibition itself a destination of pilgrimage." (24-Hour Museum)

No comments: