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“Virtually” Crucified

posted by kris rasmussen

If you’ve ever wanted to witness a crucifixion with your own eyes, well, now you can, thanks to the online computer game Roma-Victor. The multiplayer game is designed to be an authentic recreation of the British Empire in Roman times, in which players live virtual lives as slaves and citizens. However, for players who attempt to abuse the game or cheat in any way (called “ganking”), Roma-Victor has decided only one punishment is brutal enough–crucifixion.

The first crucifixion of a player was held just last week. Cynewulf–who is actually some guy from Flint, Mich.–was the first player within Roma Victor to be crucified. He was hung on a cross for a full seven days through digital reconstruction at the provincial town of Corstopitum (modern day Corbridge in Northumberland, England).

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Kerry Fraser-Robinson, the CEO of the game’s publisher, said in a statement on the Roma-Victor website that while crucifixion in present-day society carries with it religious overtones, game-makers added crucifixion as a punishment simply as a way to make the game historically accurate. The game is currently in the final stages of testing and will officially launch on July 1, after which thousands of players will be able to live out their own virtual lives in ancient Britain. However, Roma-Victor has–so far, anyway –decided not to add to its arsenal of tricks either virtual penance or virtual forgiveness for virtual sins. Too bad. That might make for a truly fresh addition to the world of gaming.

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Near-Death Experience in Newark

posted by ellen leventry

The metaphysical motif of the final “Sopranos” season rolled on last night, as a comatose Tony, shot by his Uncle Junior, chose not to “walk into the light,” even as he was driven toward it by Paulie Walnuts’s yammering at his bedside.

As revealed during last week’s episode, Tony’s mind, in his coma, is replaying his life, though this version is far different than what actually happened. In his reverie, Tony, some sort of salesman, is in possession of a briefcase belonging to a Kevin Finnerty. Checking into a hotel, he is asked to present ID, and having no other ID, he uses Finnerty’s. At that point, a group of Buddhist monks accost him, demanding accountability for a bum heating system Finnerty sold their monastery.

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Forward to this week’s episode, and Tony finds himself served with papers by the Crystal Monastery. Hoping to uncover the true identity of Kevin Finnerty, he seeks out the monks, who chuckle each time he tells them that he isn’t Finnerty. If you haven’t gotten it by now, Tony’s new name is a thinly veiled reference to the concept of infinity. One of the merry monks explains that, in the end, everything is one, but for now, someone needs to be responsible–for the heating system, in this case. Tony has also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and therefore, isn’t sure whether or not he really isn’t Finnerty, so he heads to a Finnerty family reunion in search of more answers.

Upon reaching the Inn at the Oaks, he is greeted by a man he does not recognize, played by Steve Buscemi–who played Tony’s cousin in season five, and whom Tony had to murder. Tony starts walking toward the door, but doesn’t want to relinquish his briefcase. The man tells him that he has to, that his family is waiting for him, and that there’s no business allowed inside. Tony is hesitant to let the man have the case, though he doesn’t seem to know why, until he hears a small voice–Meadow’s voice–calling him back. Tony slowly opens his eyes to see a blurry Meadow and Carmella at his side.

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Will Tony be a changed man after his near-death experience? Will he take responsibility for his actions, as the monks have asked? In his coma, did he overhear anything that he shouldn’t have?

The episode raises many questions and is full of just as many afterlife clichés–the Buddhist concepts of consciousness and existence, the idea of heading into the light (Tony keeps seeing a beacon in the distance), and the hope that we are all to be reunited with family at the end. But Tony chooses not to transcend. No matter how tempting the afterlife looks, his family still needs him.

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Forms Follow Faith

posted by burb

The editors of the design magazine I.D. have no beef with intelligent design as a concept. Their annoyance with the debate is based purely on the confusion they felt on hearing their magazine’s title so frequently out of context. Their response, however, is a thoughtful, captivating March/April issue devoted to “Design and Religion: New Forms for Faith.”

Spanning a number of faiths, stories examine material religious culture, from the architectural transformation of a Houston sports arena into Joel Osteen’s megachurch to new household technology that allows Orthodox Jews to finesse Shabbat restrictions—programmable light-switch timers are just the start of it—to art inspired by Icelandic folklore. Designers can’t resist kitsch, so Jack Chick’s evangelical shock-tracts are studied, as are Barnaby Barford’s prank Christmas ceramics. But overall the editors’ degree of seriousness and professionalism, whether they are examining a new mosque in Singapore or showcasing four architects’ mockups of their dream meditation spaces, is itself an uplifting experience.

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“Killer” Gets Life

posted by burb

Easily the best media moment for the Mormon Church in the past year is “New York Doll,” a documentary about the last days of rock bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane. The movie, released theatrically last fall and on DVD April 6th, shows that it’s possible to be a Latter-day Saint while maintaining legendary cult status, reuniting with your old band, and finding redemption.

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Kane was a founding member of the New York Dolls, a group that was for the punk/New Wave revolution what, say, Buddy Holly was to rock ‘n roll’s first generation: a bolt-from-the-blue talent that changed everything, then vanished. The film finds Kane living in Los Angeles in 2004, 30 years after the band dissolved, thanks to drug-related deaths, heroine and Kane’s own alcoholism. After hitting bottom—he jumped out a window after seeing former bandmate David Johanson in the movie “Scrooged”—Kane discovered Mormonism, which he credits with saving his life. We meet Killer’s co-workers at the Family History Center at L.A.’s LDS Temple, as well as his former and current bishops and other assorted Mormons—all apparently reasonable, faithful people who accept Kane’s history and support him when the call comes from London for a reunion with the two other remaining living Dolls.

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Greg Whitely, the director of “New York Doll” met Kane at church, and the film appealingly recreates his slow-dawning realization that Kane, a gawky, seemingly naïve specimen, is the object of awe and respect among some of rock’s top names. What makes “New York Doll” a serious spiritual film is Kane’s (and his co-religionists’) appreciation for the Dolls’ reunion as a sacred moment. The concert’s critical and musical success pales for Kane next to the chance to restore his relationship with Johanson, whom he’d turned into a symbol of his own failure and lost glamour, and whose attention and love he still seeks out as a supplicant.

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Kane’s renewal doesn’t return him to a pure state, but gives him his life back with his scars intact. We see that he sees it, and through the rasping, impish Johanson’s goading about his conversion, Kane exhibits a dignity that his old pal’s stardom can’t tarnish. Kane unexpectedly died less than a month after returning from London, from leukemia, and this film is the perfect epitaph to a life badly lived, but fully realized.

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