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I sometimes play a certain computer role-playing game (RPG). In this game, my character (whom I might name after myself but who does not otherwise resemble me) fights mythological creatures and collects handy items. In the end, I aim to have my character retrieve a powerful treasure from the place where it is kept.

If I choose, my character can choose to worship one of 18 available "gods". If my character kneels at an altar, prays to it, or sacrifices creatures, then the "god" I choose might give my character special abilities or better items.

  1. I wonder if I may cause my character to worship a "god" while playing this computer game. What do you suspect is the answer?

  2. What if I modify the source code of the game and rename all the "gods" to "Hashem"?

CYLOR.

You may answer using logic. But please base your logic on rabbinic sources you've read or heard from. And please cite your sources.

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Note: I have already tried various Google searches, such as [ halacha computer | video game idol | deity | zara | zarah ]. None have helped. –  unforgettableid Apr 19 '13 at 20:26
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Interesting question. Some related cases that may have rulings: violent video games, reading about idolatry, acting out idolatry in a play. –  Isaac Moses Apr 19 '13 at 20:34
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Just to be precise: when you play this game you are controlling a character and it does this "worship", and also this character is not a direct representation of you (though you control its decisions). Right? As opposed to a game where you're "playing yourself", i.e. the character's abilities are based on your physical attributes etc. –  Monica Cellio Apr 19 '13 at 22:33
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@MonicaCellio: In the game, I do not play myself: I play a fictional character, such as a warrior or an archer. But when the game asks me to name the character, I might enter my real name: this makes the game assign a sensible filename to my saved game data file. –  unforgettableid Apr 19 '13 at 23:03
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@sam, If you can point to a source that addresses violent games, that may indeed be very useful toward addressing this question. It seems to me, though, that one may distinguish between simulated killing and simulated worship. Given that worship is largely an act of the mind ("'avoda shebeleiv"), simulated worship could be considered to have a much stronger association with actual worship than simulated killing has with actual killing. –  Isaac Moses Apr 21 '13 at 6:06

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I asked my local Orthodox rabbi: the (Chareidi) morah d'asrah of a mid-sized Orthodox shul in a North American city of about three million people. He prefers that I not specify his name here. He told me:

  1. It's crucial not to let your character do anything in the game that smacks of idolatry, such as praying to the virtual "gods" in the game. Playing the game in general is like playing with fire. Perhaps the game was created by pagans.

  2. As for the second question: Don't bring Hashem into this.

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Does this mean I need to cancel my weekly D&D group? –  yoel May 30 '13 at 3:01
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@yoel: I'd be intrigued to find out your rabbi's answer. It would be great if you could please create a separate question and attach his answer. –  unforgettableid May 30 '13 at 3:19
    
To be honest, I don't really want to ask the shaila. :/ –  yoel May 30 '13 at 5:00
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@yoel: A) Please see the answer to "I suspect I must do something, but don't want to. Must I check into the halacha?". Does it make sense here too? B) Also, mind to please upvote that question? :) –  tealhill May 30 '13 at 22:43
    
Really? Are you sure your rabbi didn't misunderstand the question, thinking that REAL idol-worship was involved? –  Shokhet May 22 at 3:17
  1. I don't think that counts as idol worship. Now, I guess one could say that doing such an act would be considered hana'ah because you derive benefit (in the video game) from performing such an act. However, role playing on a computer or even a board game never pops up in any literature that I have read that claims that the player is committing idol worship.
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Could you clarify what you've read? (I mean, this answer coming from someone who is well-versed in all the rabbinic responsa written in the past hundred years is very different from this answer coming from someone whose reading has been limited to Wikipedia.) –  msh210 May 13 '13 at 21:14
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@msh210 And both are different still from someone who is well versed in rabbinic responsa only predating the advent of electricity and early means of remote/virtual communication that might possibly be relevant (eg., perhaps there is some source somewhere since 1844 that equates the telephone to an echo (or not) and thus permits (or prohibits) someone from listening to a Church service by phone). (Added to strengthen your challenge.) –  Seth J May 13 '13 at 21:55
    
I'm talking about in context of games. My depth into Jewish literature isn't all that fantastic (seeing as my Hebrew is only so good, so a lot of what I read is only in English); however, I've never seen anyone equate something you do in a game (video game, board game, children's game, et cetera) as a sin. –  rosen May 14 '13 at 14:24
    
But the God in the video game is real (within game). I mean they give you real stats which you can verify. –  Jim Thio Sep 23 '13 at 10:42
    
So jews cannot play chess because you kill the oponent's pieces? remember thou shall not kill –  Ess Kay Mar 12 at 18:38

Since you are not actually performing idol worship, as it is only simulated in a role playing game, you are not breaking any commandments (unless your gameplay extends into shabbath).

Essentially, you are not an actor. You are mareley controlling electrons insode a computer box. The electrons feed into a program and spit a visual and audio calculation into your screen and speakers. In a technicallity, there is no idol worshipped performed there. Since tvs were not arround durring the sanhendren, there is no rabbinical law against it. And ultimately, a computer simulation cannot be compared to an act of a human, otherwise, games with murder would also be banned from jewish gameplay

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This is what intuition says, but this answer would be more valuable with a source or more support. For example, aren't there actors who are careful not to say and do certain things, in the course of their work, even though they're playing a role? Are they being stringent or is there relevant halacha, and if the latter, does it apply to games too? –  Monica Cellio May 14 '13 at 14:25
    
Your point about games with murder is a good one and would be worth adding to your answer. –  Monica Cellio Jun 9 '13 at 2:59
    
However, murder needs an actual human to kill whereas Avoda Zara could be accomplished by worshiping an invisible foreign god. –  Double AA Jun 10 '13 at 13:24
    
If so then you are still murdering a digital human with your computer controlled character. Moreso, the digital god is a mere fabrication, unlike the rabbinical law where poultry and cheese are not to be eaten in fear that someone may think you eat meat, there is no way to confuse one playing a video game with actual idol worship. –  Ess Kay Jun 10 '13 at 14:26
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So in age of empire I can order my peasants to eat pigs and elephants? –  Jim Thio Sep 23 '13 at 10:42

protected by Shmuel Brin May 14 '13 at 5:37

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