Saturday, January 13, 2007

Don't tell anyone,

but I played World of Warcraft. The subscriber count recently passed 8 million, which at $15/month in the US produces some pretty staggering numbers. But the main reason I bring this up is to point out that the group I was a part of isn't exactly, like, small. The game itself is a sort of interactive narrative, but Darren's post reminded me that the most memorable parts of the game occur when the fabric of the game-narrative is blurred with events in the real world. This post is a confession of misused hours and an commentary on fused narratives. How many hours? I'd rather not think about it. Interacting narratives? Well:

I'll pick three. I was online during the 2004 tsunami. I used to read Google News compulsively while I played, so I found out immediately. But so as I read these traumatizing headlines the gameworld continued to function normally, with players blithely killing boars and such. After a little while the disconnect was getting to be too much to stand, so I said something in the game. I believe what I wrote was something along the lines of, "holy shit, there was a tsunami in Asia." I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that nobody believed me. The game is full of hoaxes, some of them pretty bizzare. "Chuck Norris is dead" is, for some reason, one of the most common. So but when challenged about the tsunami, I recommended that everyone check Google, and there was soon a state of sort of online collective shock. The chat channels, which are usually filled with self-congratulatory stuff like "I pwned that n00b" or "ice mage ftw" were suddenly somber and introspective. Guys with character names like Gandor confessed that "I don't know how to deal with this" and more than one person wondered, for example, about the sea level of Los Angeles. In terms of the news spreading, the game was a microcosm of the real world. In the game's major cities, that's all anyone was talking about. But for literally days, players would enter cities from some of the game's more obscure areas and have no idea what all the fuss was about. They were confused and mystified, and quickly pilloried, abused, and enlightened by other players. Basically the game became a real-time forum for the dissemination of news, and of and discussion and commentary on a much larger scope permitted by, say, the delivery of a newspaper into a family residence.

The second was this. I was in a group with a player who must have been about fourteen. You learn to pick up age pretty quickly from the language. While killing boars, or whatever he was doing, he told me that his grandfather was going into surgery, major surgery. "I don't know what to do if he doesn't make it." And then, verbatim, "but he will, I know he will." The kid could have been twelve. I was torn. On the one hand, this was an excruciatingly awkward position. Unlike real life, the game world can be pretty conducive to this type of confession to a total stranger. But believe me, it's just as awkward to be on the receiving end online. Because what do you say? On the other hand, my heart cracked for this kid. Because how could it not? I talked him through whatever he felt like talking about. It painfully clear that he didn't have anyone else to talk to. His grandfather died shortly after the surgery. He reacted by spending twelve hours a day playing the game. He said it distracted him.

The third story is that I may have played with Jordan Farmar on the eve of the NBA draft. Or at least, he claimed to be Jordan Farmar, he talked plausibly about UCLA, and he knew as much about Jordan Farmar to answer any questions. All he could talk about was how nervous he was about the draft. About which teams he was hoping for, and which he was dreading. Apparently, for Jordan Farmar, World of Warcraft is stress relief. I talked to my friends at UCLA and got them to ask around. Apparently, Jordan Farmar really does play World of Warcraft. Was it him? It's not likely. But it does raise the point that a game like World of Warcraft provides a universally accessible, universally readable platform for the small-scale construction and distribution of really elaborate fictions.

1 comment:

Darren said...

"Blurring" is a good word for it - when the real world and the fake world suddenly cross wires. Last quarter, my friend and I would stay up until 3 am talking online to our friend 10 time zones away, each of us speaking to her individually on our computers and to each other. Occasionally, we could hear each other laughing down the hall at something one of us just wrote. Two separate layers of reality, mashed together...