View From the Road

A View From the Road: Identity (Epic) Quest

John Funk | 24 Aug 2009 17:00
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A couple of weeks ago, while writing about the implementation of factions in an MMOG, I touched on the idea that these in-game factions immediately give you a sort of identity that carries over into reality, and nowhere was this more clear than last weekend as twenty thousand gamers gathered in Anaheim for BlizzCon. You could see it in the crowd waiting for the doors to open, in the Q&A lines at the panels, even in the restaurant in the nearby lobby of the Marriott - someone shouts "For the Horde!" and a cheer rises from half the crowd, while the other half boos.

Beyond Horde and Alliance, though, every one of us had an identity we chose for ourselves, an identity that existed beyond these digital realms. When you're logged in and adventuring through Azeroth, you're a powerful Blood Elf Paladin. But when you log out, do you immediately cease being that Blood Elf Paladin to become a Human Gamer, or does your Paladin identity persist?

For those few days out in Anaheim, I was not a young unmarried Caucasian male. No, as long as I was at BlizzCon, I was a Night Elf Druid. The person standing in line with me at the store might be black or Asian, male or female, straight or gay; they might be as young as 15 or as old as 50 - even if we have nothing else in common, the moment I see their Druid T-shirt and they see the Druid button pinned to my backpack, that shared identity makes us compatriots.

Sure, I'm a Feral-spec Druid, but I've spent time playing in the Restoration and Balance trees, and if my new-found Druid buddy spends more time healing as a Tree of Life or blasting faces as a Moonkin, I've still got his back. If he's a fellow Feral, though, we can envy each other's gear and joke about "John Madden!" - a reference to a tongue-in-cheek flowchart for the notoriously complex Feral damage-dealing rotation.

Does that last paragraph make any sense to you? No? You aren't the only one. All throughout BlizzCon, I watched and listened as people stepped up to the microphone during Q&A sessions, introducing themselves, "Hi, I'm Vincent, and I'm a Frost Death Knight tank" in what is surely the MMOG equivalent of "I'm Vincent, and I'm an alcoholic." Frost DKs, Elemental Shamans, Fire Mages - all of them with their own lingo and their own concerns that flew over my head, but that drew a cheer from their class-mates in the audience.

These were the masks we were wearing, and sometimes they bore striking parallels to reality. The Rogue complaining about mail and plate-wearing classes taking leather armor - "they're taking our gear!" - had the same frustrated tone of a factory worker complaining about robots taking his job. All the Rogues in the room would nod in agreement and understanding, while the Fury Warriors would cross their arms and grumble about how it was Blizzard's fault for not properly itemizing their own equipment. If WoW had existed in another time and age, it's not hard to imagine Randolph McCoy swearing bitter revenge on Floyd Hatfield for always rolling on the cloth spellcaster gear that was rightfully his because the leather caster gear had way too much useless Spirit on it.

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