WoW, The Virtual And The Real

Over at Obsidian Wings, Sebastian is mourning someone he never met. It's a fascinating post about how we form relationships, and attachments, to people through virtual gaming:

Last month a little before Thanksgiving, I heard while we were playing that he was coughing rather loudly.  I jokingly said he should consider taking up smoking if he was going to cough so much, and he admitted that he had pneumonia.  He was on antibiotics for it and the doctors said it was a fairly bad case, though not awful.  After the raid was over I wished him well and told him "no more coughing" in my best big brother voice.  I logged in the next day and his friend from college told me that he had died, presumably of a pneumonia related pulmonary embolism .  At first I thought that the friend was playing a joke in very poor taste.  Then, what an obnoxious irony to have my last words to him be "stop coughing".  He never listened to me before.

So after an initial shock, I then found myself crying over a person I had never met.  I didn't even know what he looked like until I saw his obituary!  This had happened once before, with Andy Olmsted.  But that time I had become friends with him over political discussions, so for some reason it seemed acceptable.  This time I was crying over someone I had met in a game.  Was I crazy? 

The temptation is to say yes. But it's worth remembering that, in the long sweep of history, we aren't that far removed from the days when people fell in love, and sometimes married, through letters. 

WoW has taught me a lot about how the basic nature of humans is almost impossible to suppress.I've known people to have virtually every manner of relationship through gaming. Back in my Everquest days, I used to run with a young lady who played a Wood Elf bard. Her man--in real life--would usually join us. But every now and then there'd be this other dude, who wasn't in our group, just kind of hanging around acting creepy.

My friend later told me that this was her ex-boyfriend--again in real life. They'd started playing as a couple, but as the relationship frayed, she met someone new in-game. She not only fell for the new guy, but moved to another city to live with him. This was the gent who'd usually join us. The creepy guy was her ex, who was basically stalking her in game. I thought that was the most incredible thing I'd ever heard. And yet not only did it make sense after I thought about it, I saw the exact same story play out repeatedly.

These were people who I did not know in real-life. My current guild is my first experience mixing the real and the virtual. But it's a self-selected mix. Virtually everyone in the guild is an academic/intellectual/writer etc. Our best rogue is an African history professor. Last night, we sat around debating Afrocentricity and Cornel West. One of our druids was a college roommate of an editor here at the Atlantic. One of our shaman worked on the Obama transition team. From a work perspective, this is a group who I might actually hang out with (in fact who I have hung out with) in real life. 

That said, I miss the randomness of just being an avatar. Ventrillo and voice chat made all of that a lot harder. It took all of three sessions before someone said, "Dude, are you black?" Heh. In fairness, the next question was, "Are you from New York?" This is the only time I ever regretted not acquiring a "white" voice. Once people started expecting Vent, I couldn't simply be the avatar, I couldn't just be a blank space. After that, it seemed like I had nothing to lose by going all in.