Cooperation comes in many different forms. In virtual worlds, it most often takes the shape of the five-man quest parties formed in World of Warcraft, the player clans that vie for control of powerful castles in Lineage II or the battle plans formed by trigger-happy soldiers in World War II Online. In general, players with common interests are happy to work together to accomplish a common goal. Sometimes, though, help can be found in places we least expect.
This story takes place in Azeroth, the fictional world of World of Warcraft. In the history of my virtual lives, it was a singular event. More importantly, it's the kind of occurrence that, when it happens, gives me faith that virtual words are more than just the Hobbesian environments they're often made out to be, places where our virtual lives are nasty, brutish and short, and the only way to get by is to look out for Number One.
My latest World of Warcraft character is a troll Rogue (thus a member of the Horde faction, rather than the Alliance) who, at the time of the story, was looking forward to reaching level 30. I'll call him Arc. Arc hangs out on a player vs. player server, where Horde and Alliance members can attack each other freely. I'm not always on the winning end of these encounters, of course, but I like the wider range of interactions possible in a PvP environment. Even when I'm the victim, interesting things can come of it. I had no idea how interesting, though, until the other night.
I logged on around midnight, thinking I'd just whack a single shellsnapper turtle near the undead town of Tarren Mill, grab the final piece of turtle meat I needed to complete a cooking quest, ding 30 and just log off. But as soon as I materialized in town, I found myself chatting to a couple of undead players about seven levels below me, one of whom was having trouble finishing a Warlock quest. He needed to cross the dangerous Arathi Highlands, get to the Wetlands on the other side and kill a non-player character who had apparently managed to resist his best efforts so far. Could I escort him across the Highlands and help him kill the guy, he wanted to know. Sure, I said. I've been helped with similar quests in the past, and it was only right, I thought, that I pass along the assistance. This was a perfect opportunity.
In fact, I have never before traveled from Tarren Mill to the Wetlands, so I had no idea what the road through Arathi might hold. The threatening creatures to either side of us, though, were right around my level, so it didn't seem like it would be such a bad trip. But that night, the road was clogged with Alliance players running to and fro on errands. Repeated gankage ensued, and not in our favor. Most embarrassing was our deaths at the hands of a level 34 gnome Warlock, who wiped us out twice in a row.