Sunday, December 14, 2008

World of Warcraft: Six Months

In July 2008, at the instigation of my son, and because I have long been interested in video games and the ways in which they shape young boys like my son, I created a character (called a toon) on the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) video game, World of Warcraft. My then partner and I had had plans to spend a few weeks in a log cabin in the mountains for vacation, but at the last minute they fell through. I found myself with three weeks of vacation that I sorely needed, and no plans.  I knew I didn't want to spend the time reading or writing or doing anything particularly useful.  I teach at the university level and administer a creative writing program; my life is packed with constant reading and writing.  I needed a break from words, a break from doing anything that smacked at all of usefulness.  I had also been concerned about the financial and environmental effects of all the traveling Americans do for vacations.  What if I took a virtual vacation, I thought?  What if I travelled to fantasy lands where orcs and elves and shamans and other wondrous creatures lived?  It would save on gas, be environmentally friendly, and serve my need for escape.

So I created a night-elf female druid toon I named Enheduanna, after the Sumerian poet and priestess Inanna (Sumerian goddess and sister of Gilgamesh).  The story of what  followed, in the next six months (yes, a few weeks stretched into several months as I fell in love with my toon, and with the game and the people I met there) was filled with  all the comedy and tragedy of any work of high literature, and moved me as much as any of the books I would count as most important in the development of my own psyche and vision of the world (Kafka's The Metamorposis, Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the poems of Dickinson, Neruda, Plath, to name a few).  After only a week or so playing the game I knew I wanted to write about it.  I felt like an anthropologist (or a spy), and in a way I was.  A woman in her fifties playing a video game dominated by young boys (or at least so I thought when I started), I saw myself as engaging in a kind of immersive journalism.  

I was also well aware of the addictive qualities of this kind of game-playing, and since I had already spent so much time thinking about drug and alcohol addiction (see my last post!) I decided I was particularly well-suited to dive into the game and expose myself to the possibility that I might become addicted to it. I could say, in a high-minded way, that I also wanted to understand better the fantasy worlds of my son and my step son, and it's true that I had that in mind when I started.  I could never have predicted, though, what would happen to me, and how involved I would get, not only in the created world, but in the worlds of the people who befriended me, nor how my playing of the game would impact my home life, and my relationship with the man who recently became my husband. 

Last night I took a final look at the toon I had fallen in love with--not Enheduanna, who was the victim of virtual identity theft only a month into the game (more about that later)--but her sister Liahuanna, a level 71 night elf hunter.  I moved her around the screen, admired once again the green markings on her cheek, her long green hair, her finely muscled calves, the rare armor she sported that had taken me so long to earn.  She had been six hard months in the making.  I whispered goodbye and hit the Delete Character button.

I'd like to write here, in serial form, the story of those six months that led up to the death of my toon. Stay tooned!

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