Some time ago, South Park (which is a very funny show that I never watch, and wouldn't possibly suggest YOU watch, either) made an episode called "Make Love, Not Warcraft." It was filled with the usual assortment of poop jokes and gross-outs, but running through it was a damned fine skewering of people who obsess over World of Warcraft.
Laughing loudest were guys like me. Ones who obsess over World of Warcraft. We tell you that we have "three 80s and the only reason we don't have a fourth is that we can't decide what class to level next." If you're looking for a WOW-speak to English translation, level 80 is the highest level a character in that game can achieve. Having one level 80 is good, having three is borderline crazy, and I know some people in game that have six.
Anyway, South Park ... where was I? Oh yeah. One great moment in that episode was when the board of directors at Blizzard discovered the rogue player who was threatening to destroy their game, and one of the minions blurted out with "This could mean the end of the WORLD!" and, after a few seconds, sheepishly added "of Warcraft."
Nice job, that, mocking those of us who really feel like a virtual game world is a living, breathing place. We deserve it. Marriages have failed, jobs have been lost, and personal hygiene is a forgotten skill because geeks fall so in love with who they PRETEND to be, they can't waste any attention on who they really are.
By now, most of you reading this (Hi, Mom!) think I'm going to argue that we shouldn't play video games so obsessively. You'd be wrong. In fact, I see nothing wrong with my obsession over video games. My two children also play WOW, and it's very fun to be the dad who comes riding to the rescue (literally! ... well, VIRTUALLY literally). When my son tells his high school friends that his dad has three level 80s and is going to help him with something in game, it provokes looks of astonishment. Almost as much as when he tells them his dad just bought the new Disturbed album. (How DOES that guy have any vocal cords left, anyway?)
No, the point of this rambling muse is that the weirder the REAL WORLD gets, the better and more sane the virtual world becomes. I don't log in to the World of Warcraft because I want to escape to a fantastical realm where magic is real and there be DRAGONS, I log in to the World of Warcraft because the world is stable and predictable. It reassures me to see that things in WOW are pretty much as I left them. The economy didn't become a turd overnight, Stormwind didn't suffer a terrorist attack, and Goldshire is still a cesspool.
(WOW-to-English Dictionary Sez: Stormwind is the capital for the human race, and Goldshire is a small town in the beginning area for human characters. Goldshire is well known as a place where players with overactive glands come to spew hormones all over, and through, their keyboards. If it wasn't so completely pathetic, it would be hilarious.)
In the real world, I have no control over things. I could lose my job tomorrow. I could lose my health tomorrow. I could lose my family to...okay, you get the point. Now, I believe that God exists and has control over things, but C. S. Lewis said it best. Aslan is not a tame lion. He permits things, he even causes things, for his own reasons. And if I don't understand what he does, I still have to accept that he knows what he's doing. What is best for the big picture might be really crappy for me, in the short term anyway.
So while I struggle to remain calm out here, in THERE (this is the part where you get to picture me gesturing at the computer on my desk) I can feel safe. I can take care of myself. And if I DO happen to die, resurrection is just a corpse run away. (Whoops! More WOW-speak. A corpse run is when you wake up as a ghost in the cemetery and run back to your body, at which time the game brings you back to life.)
The irony of it all is nearly overwhelming. Video games with their virtual worlds started out as someplace where we would escape from the mundane in search of adventure and thrills. Somewhere along the way, these virtual worlds have become where we turn to escape the terror of real life in search of safe, predictable surroundings where life follows the rules.
That South Park episode is looking less and less funny, all the time.
I would take it one step further.
I think the virtual worlds have become a place where we can escape to become god.
We can often exert influence in a game far beyond what we can in real life. And if we can't today, we can develop our skill or find a hack that will allow us to do it tomorrow. We can sacrifice ourselves in-game and on the 3rd second we rise from the dead.
Computer games are a tower of Babel, but we are scattered around the globe and the language is not confused. Actually, the language barrier is gone. If I am playing GTR Evolution and racing against someone in China, they instantly know and feel the meaning of the term LOSER when they see me cross the finish line in front of them. There is no interpreter needed for that!
Whether you are the programmer or a player, I think these virtual worlds are our way of creating a universe for our pleasure with characters made in our image.
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