Ben Thomas Anth 101 Professor Armengol 12 November 2010 “MMORPG: Simulated Society A Virtual Culture” After three years of taking anthropology and sociology courses I realized I was accumulating a lot of knowledge about other cultures but the most interesting topics for me where those pertaining to my own. I have a little brother and numerous friends that spend countless hours on the MMORPG known as World of Warcraft. What can stimulate a “WOW-er” to spend upwards of 18+ hours a week keeping his character up to date? I have chosen to answer this question not by examining lofty intellectual articles but by getting into the Azeroth mire and studying this virtual culture first hand. I am doing anthropological fieldwork in WOW from both ends of the game’s spectrum. I have devoted 95+ hours of game time into joining a raiding guild and leveling a new character. My original goal for the project was 60 hours flat and that seemed almost impossible to obtain in one month, but my problem soon became my conclusion. My problem initially was “How am I going to find 60+ hours to devote solely to research when none of that goes towards actually completing the project itself?” I soon realized that my problem became my conclusion because that is exactly what makes World of Warcraft such an addicting phenomenon. If someone gives it a chance for whatever reason it begins to draw him or her in. Even though WOW was just a video game that I was using to complete a project requirement it became much more. A simulated society soon became a virtual culture to me. Logging into my character transformed into more than just the task of finishing part of my homework, but more into a social phenomenon such as going to a party or going to baseball practice. Although, it was far more appealing because no one ever had any sort of visual confirmation on my character other than that which the game presented to them. So even if it was 12:30 at night and I was in my pajamas “Pallysteve” (a raid member I befriended” didn’t have to know the difference. In essence, World of Warcraft becomes more than a game to fill time but an alternate reality to my own. For instance, “Pallysteve” is a 21-year-old guild member that is a Spanish major and Business minor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Through working together as a team on WOW “Pallysteve” and I have created a relationship that is deeper than probably many of his classmates have with him. This is where I would like to narrow in the focus of my project. In my opinion, in the end it is the relationships that make WOW something of a phenomenon compared to other video games. As soon as I entered the World of Warcraft on the plains of Azeroth I was proposed with the immense task of getting to the ultimate level of 80 as fast as I could. The game begins with immense amounts of frustration because your character is surrounded by higher-level characters that seemingly have it all made because they can do anything that they want to. After about 10 hours of leveling my measly character I became increasingly frustrated, not understanding why anyone would put in countless hours to play this game. Then I ran into “Mikepally” who helped me immensely, he gave me tons of gold (250 g) for nothing in exchange, just because I asked for his help. This amount of gold would easily of taken me 25+ hours to obtain. Apparently, this act of kindness is not odd in the World of Warcraft as found in my surveys. Due to this sense of debt I had to “Mikepally” I would in turn always message him asking for help on a quest or just to say hi almost every time I logged on. Being only ten hours into the game I was quickly realizing how WOW could be considered a culture even though it is merely a combination of binary codes on a screen. I had created a relationship and in order to cultivate it I would have to interact in the game. I believe the phenomenon of WOW begins much like any other culture: a group of people come together with a common goal (to reach level 80) and through individuals taking different roles in the community (such as helper, healer, tank, ect.) relationships are formed and bonds are made that keep people returning time and time again. Finally, after people return enough times a non-existent virtual realm such as WOW becomes a solid culture. After playing on my lower level character for roughly 15 or so hours I figured out that I could learn more about the society of WoW if I could just play on an upper level character as well. That’s when my friend let me play with his level 80 horde character named Zinjen. When I was playing with Zinjen the game really opened up to me. At first people became very friendly and since my friends character was already well known and well equipped it was very easy to have people interacting with me. That is until the “noob” syndrome struck. I realized that it didn’t merely take your character being decked out in the sweetest gear in order for people to respect you and for you to be a pillar in the WoW community. I may have had high- level gear but I was still playing like my level 27 Babyhulk. I realized very quickly that not only did the game get quicker paced the higher your level but the learning curve also got much more steep. For instance in my first dungeon I accidently drew out a mob and got my whole team killed along with the fact that my damage per second was really low. I almost immediately got booted from the dungeon. In contrast to when I would run lower level dungeons with my alternate character Babyhulk if I messed up it wasn’t a huge deal. I realized the higher the level the more tension and pressure a character is put under. At level 80 in WoW there really isn’t a forgive and forget policy its more like Kill or be killed. According to the Princeton online dictionary Society is, “An extended social group having a distinctive cultural and economic organization” (Princeton.edu). Culture is simply a more defined type of society brought together at a specific time and place in the universe for a more precise cause. Without a doubt after delving into the World of Warcraft I can say with out a doubt that they have a very specific culture. Taking on this project has been quite a large task, but even though the deadline is come I want to continue researching this. I believe that it is very possible to learn about the greater western culture by putting yourself into this video game. In essence, this video game breaks down exactly what people would do in a society with no real consequences besides a potential verbal slap on the hand. For instance, if someone in the auction house took the last super potion that you needed, what would you do? Many times that person will just follow the other character around and do anything possible to pester him whether it be challenging him to a duel or just jumping around his character obnoxiously. Now consider if someone took the last bunch of bananas in front of you at the grocery store. What would your reaction be if no one was watching or could find out your identity? I believe this game could help anthropologists understand western culture and train of thought at a very base and raw level. That is why I want to continue this project on long after the due date and I opened this website with a forum and two separate WoW forms. By accumulating this data over time I believe that theoretically it should start creating more obvious patterns that I wasn’t able to see during the brief semester I had to do this project. In conclusion, WoW is with out doubt a culture of its own. What makes it unique though is each individual players identity. Each character is given countless opportunities to have very personal relationships with other characters. Often times, fellow guild members know more about there guild mates than most of their guildies real life friends. Although, the bitter irony is that it is very taboo within the World of Warcraft to not ask where your virtual friends live, how old they are, or even what they look like. Over time the players give out most of that information freely once they feel like they can trust you. Knowing someone very well but not knowing their personal information makes the World of Warcraft a very interesting place for a study on culture. By observing the society of World of Warcraft your able to answer the question: if no one knew would you do it? Often times it is possible to run into a character in the game that is breaking all the rules or being intentionally annoying just because no one could ever really know who he was, although most of the time the society functions very smoothly with people following the laws and abiding by all of the rules of video game etiquette. The World of Warcraft is a very interesting place that I believe will become very anthropologically relevant in the years to come.
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