Two cities were completely wiped out Sunday.
It was like the bubonic plague, but worse. Everyone died, but the cities remained. Ghost towns.
And then, everyone was reborn.
The cities were Orgrimmar and Stormwind, in Azeroth. They were cities in the massively multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft. If you’re not familiar with World of Warcraft, think of it like The Lord of the Rings as an online virtual world. You can go on missions and fight orcs, you can be an orc and fight elves, and you can just hang out and live life as any one of many mythical humanoids.
The “plague” was the result of a hacker exploiting a security loophole to fly around the cities like an Old Testament angel of death in the guise of a level 1 priest.
Shortly thereafter, Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft, said the loophole had been closed and the evil magician that killed thousands was forced to hang up his pointy hat.
The same day, World of Warcraft ran right up against one of the other most popular online games: Minecraft.
If you’re not familiar with that particular game, think of it like a zombie-fighting action game—only you get to build the levels out of legos before you play them. When you build a level, you can share it with all the other users.
The mashup was this: An enterprising gamer built Azeroth (the world of World of Warcraft) in Minecraft.
Two online worlds collided, and if you’ve got 24 free gigabytes of hard drive space, they can collide on your computer as well.
Strangely enough, World of Warcraft also became a serious issue in the “real” world this week, when a Maine state senate candidate was taken to task for comments she’d made as Santiaga, her World of Warcraft character.
As a rogue orc, Santiaga is prone to violence. As Democratic candidate Colleen Lachowicz, Santiaga’s real-world alter ego, put it: “So I’m a level 68 orc rogue girl. That means I stab things … a lot. Who would have thought that a peace-lovin’, social worker and democrat would enjoy that?!...”
The communications director for the Maine Republican Party told ABC that “this is not about her playing video games, this is about the comments she made while gaming. These are all things that are unbecoming to a state senator.”
Whatever the communications team decides to tell the rest of the world, what is “becoming” to a state senator was not actually the issue here. In fact, the website her opponents created to attack Lachowicz/Santiaga said this: “Maine needs a State Senator that lives in the real world, not in Colleen’s fantasy world.”
That statement took me back to when we were starting the Daily Dot. I was explaining to someone that we would cover online communities, including what happened in Azeroth. “Wait a minute,” my listener interrupted me, “You’re going to cover fiction?!?”
The implication in each of these statements is that if what happens somewhere like World of Warcraft is fantasy, just something someone made up, does it matter?
If someone else believes it, then yes, it does.
At the same time that I was accused of wanting to cover fiction, the royal wedding was dominating the airwaves. Isn’t that just as much a fiction as anything in World of Warcraft?
Many of us were tired of the royal wedding before it started, but nobody seriously questioned that it mattered enough to be covered. But it is just as much a fantasy as a level 68 orc (seriously, though, it was totally a level 85 wedding, amirite???). Two people got married and the only reason anyone cared was because one of them was a prince (no one has mentioned a level, so I’m going to suggest a solid 60, but it’s been declining for a few years now). How is that a “real” distinction today? Can he make a law? Can he allocate scarce resources? Can he put someone to death or bequeath great riches or power? Can he kill everyone in a city at a wave of his wand?
Nope. But whatever he does, millions of people pay attention.
As Lachowicz has pointed out, she’s hardly alone in her fantasy world. 65 percent of U.S. households include gamers and World of Warcraft itself has more than 10M active users.
In other words, millions of people cared about the massacres of Orgrimmar and Stormwind just as millions of people cared about the royal wedding, and that means it did matter.
Nobody actually lives or dies in World of Warcraft, but that observation can be increasingly applied to “real world” news. Less of our lives is focused on maintaining life itself than ever before in human history.
And isn’t life about more than survival anyway? And if it is, mightn’t it also be about World of Warcraft?
Just this morning, I heard a tech entrepreneur say that what happens on social media doesn’t matter. Even given that he should “get it,” I understand why he said that. It hasn’t computed yet. The fact that what happens on Twitter or World of Warcraft does actually matter now is a fact not just about the rise of the Internet, but about the decline in our need to sustain ourselves.
What does matter is actually an open question.
That’s a epochal shift, and one it’s going to take a while to get our heads around.
But it’s not entirely good news for Colleen Lachowicz.
If World of Warcraft is legitimate, then doesn’t her behavior on World of Warcraft merit consideration in her candidacy?
Photo via @ColleensWorld2/Twitter