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Gaming as Sacred: A Response to "The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices" by Casper ter Kuile

Updated: May 25

What if you could find sacredness in the things you do every day? What if routine tasks helped you find profound purpose? What if your most vital sense of community came from a book club or a yoga group? I love Casper ter Kuile's book The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices because, according to him, we can find sacredness in the patterns we already have.

Of course, I thought of tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons. I was really struggling to find myself, and ter Kuile hinted that maybe I already had. I find community at the table, strength in my characters, and sacredness in the ritual of play. But can gaming really count as a ritual? Ter Kuile invites the reader to shift from the binary thinking of “the sacred and the profane, the religious and the secular” and instead think about the world in spiritually shallow experiences and spiritually deep experiences (pg 28). Getting stuck in the shallows and avoiding the deep end is so easy. However, “when we can sink below the blur of habit, we can be present to that portion of our experience where we find deepest meaning” (pg 28). And when I game, I go deep.

Gaming takes all my concentration, and nothing else exists. I am accompanied by friends or acquaintances equally dedicated to the experience. We meet regularly, a key component of rituals. Repetition is necessary because people change and grow over time. In ter Kuile’s words, “With time, we form relationships where there’s nothing to hide. Where one another’s presence alone communicates the love and affection we have for one another” (pg 91). Basically, my groups already know I play make-believe with them every week. Depending on how you play, you can also become vulnerable while telling a cooperative story. My gaming friends have been in the chat over the years, supporting me on my best days and my roughest challenges. 

Does this sound like a group, team, or club in which you participate? If not, does it sound interesting enough to try?

Ter Kuile co-hosts a podcast in which they read the Harry Potter books as sacred texts, similar to the Bible—not as a religion but as a spiritual practice. Sacred reading means that they are actively engaging with the book to gain deeper meaning from the story and find connections to their lives. Ter Kuile explains, “We can treat the book as sacred not because we believe the storylines within it somehow explain the mysteries of the universe, but because they help us be kinder, more compassionate,” and books “can help us know who we are and decide who we might become“ (pg 37). This section of ter Kuile’s book hit me like a ton of bricks. He is saying that stories are powerful enough to help you shape your character as a person.

So this got me thinking: If a story created by an author can do that, how much potential is there for a story you create with an intimate group of people? In my own experience, games like Dungeons and Dragons are extremely well designed for an everyday ritual—or however often you get together with your group. Not only does it foster community, meet regularly, and require active participation in the story, it also demands a time commitment. By prioritizing play, the player says, “This time is for me.” Making time for games can be a form of self-care by forcing the player to put down work and focus solely on telling a story. Because of this time commitment, the community must agree and trust in prioritizing the game; otherwise, the story will cease to exist. In ter Kuile’s words:

“We want to belong and then fear the little sacrifices that this belonging will demand of us as we make space for others around us… We fear the discipline and commitment that will be asked of us. But in the moments of loneliness, we know that the cost of staying afraid and disconnected is too great. This is a time for community. A time for connection" (pg 112).

As far as shaping myself through story, playing a character can help me get out of my own head. After a game, I can think about why my characters made certain choices and if they’re different from the choices I would have made.  It also works in reverse. If I’m frozen in a moment of indecision in real life, I can check in with my characters to see what they would do. It’s like asking a panel for advice without having to say anything out loud. Reflection like this helps me understand myself better and figure out who I want to become.

I’ve explained how TTRPGs can help you connect with your community and yourself, so let’s talk about those moments that make a sacred ritual. Ter Kuile offers that the Latin root for sacred is sacrare, meaning to consecrate or dedicate. Sacrare is a verb, meaning ‘the sacredness is in the doing, and that means we have enormous agency to make ‘sacred’ happen ourselves” (pg 40). This perspective really challenges the traditional idea of sacredness and opens it up as a larger, more personal idea. Something is sacred to me because I experience something deeper than the event itself. Something is sacred to me because I said so.

Now, I’m not sure gaming groups everywhere are ready to declare their games as sacred. In fact, probably not. Not yet.

Ter Kuile’s book begins with him describing a paradigm shift: “That what used to hold us in community no longer works. That the spiritual offerings of yesteryear no longer help us thrive” (pg 3). The book was written to say that the rituals we actually do every day (like eating together, exercising together, and reading together) contain significant potential to be sacred. These activities “can deepen your sense of meaning, reflection, sanctuary, and joy” (pg 4). Game nights are deeply impactful for me. I treasure them, learn from them, and certainly enjoy them. They require me to connect with other humans and challenge me to know myself better. Because of this, gaming has become a soulful practice for me.

If this resonates with you, I highly recommend that you read or listen to Casper ter Kuile's book The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices.

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