05 April 2006

What's Real?

Len points me to an interesting item about the massively multi-player online role playing game, World of Warcraft, and an ambush that occurred during a memorial service in that cyber-world for one of the players whose physical incarnation shuffled off that mortal coil.
This group of Warcraft players otherwise known as a guild interrupted a memorial service. Apparently, some dude dies in real life who is a popular WoW player. The people in the game think it would be nice to have a memorial for the player so they log into his account, take the character to a lake, and set it up for everyone to come pay their respects.

A bunch of dudes decide this would be a great time to ambush everyone so they run over a hill, kill the dead guy's character, and then wipe out everyone who was there to show their respects. They filmed the whole thing and put it on the net for everyone to see.
The video is here or here - not much to see, really, unless you are an avid player. The comment thread, however, is another matter.

The split is about 50-50, with half saying it's just a game, those dudes got 0wn3d; the other half understanding that the friendship the mourners felt for their cyber-friend was indeed real, and that his physical life that ended should be commemorated in the place in which they all knew him. The incident reminds me of the far more thoughtful, and thought-provoking, incident - A Rape in Cyberspace - that happened quite a number of years ago now regarding a certain Mr. Bungle in LamdaMOO, the latter being the great-great-great-grandparent of environments like WoW.
Months later, the woman in Seattle would confide to me that as she wrote those words posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face -- a real-life fact that should suffice to prove that the words' emotional content was no mere fiction. The precise tenor of that content, however, its mingling of murderous rage and eyeball-rolling annoyance, was a curious amalgam that neither the RL nor the VR facts alone can quite account for. Where virtual reality and its conventions would have us believe that exu and Moondreamer were brutally raped in their own living room, here was the victim exu scolding Mr. Bungle for a breach of "civility." Where real life, on the other hand, insists the incident was only an episode in a free-form version of Dungeons and Dragons, confined to the realm of the symbolic and at no point threatening any player's life, limb, or material well-being, here now was the player exu issuing aggrieved and heartfelt calls for Mr. Bungle's dismemberment. Ludicrously excessive by RL's lights, woefully understated by VR's, the tone of exu's response made sense only in the buzzing, dissonant gap between them.
I'm often asked about the relative reality of the goings-on - including relationships - in the cyberworld. My answer, derived from the medium is the message, is always the same: If the effects persist when the computer is turned off, it's real. Mediation is a confusing bitch: the content blinds us to the true effects that work us over, whether we consciously realize it or not.
(Thanks Len!)
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