Thu 28 Dec 2006 11:59 AM
We here at Hesitating have a special fascination with the emergence of online worlds — brightly colored simulacrums of human experience that take place in fantastic settings. Arguably the most popular, World of Warcraft has generally been omitted from some of the headline grabbing developments in the online community. This is probably due to its core gameplay and straightforward goals that keep players distracted from silly social experimentation. Second Life, perhaps the game most covered by the media, is more a hotbed of real meets virtual clashes and experiments since its in-game economy can be transferred into real currency.
This year, however, a real death mourned online in WoW sparked a fair amount of controversy. It started in a forum when a ‘friend’ of the deceased announced a funeral for March 4th at 5:30 server time. The girl who had died apparently had a stroke, and the forum was filled with half heart-felt condolences such as, “death is never fun” and “Are you fucking serious? Dude….I was in a guild with her… /cry,” along with a smattering of frowny-face icons.
One prescient post bet money on the funeral being disrupted by someone in the game. The following is a video made by the guild Serenity, who did in fact crash the procession. It’s a little long, so be patient.
My first reaction – before even seeing the video – was: “That’s fucked up.” But I was already chuckling in spite of myself. The lackluster sympathy on the original forum already demonstrates the structural holes in anonymity when it tries to support a weighty topic such as death.
Also, in a game where you were pretending to be in a different world, with different creatures and rules, who’s to say that a funeral slaughter is disrespectful? Maybe a precedent has been set and from now on it will be a sign of respect to the dead to hack all their mourners to pieces. Once the knee-jerk reaction towards offense wears off, it all seems strangely appropriate. If someone was a big enough fan of the game to have friends put on an online funeral, then that person would probably appreciate this type of event were they still alive.
To me, online worlds are exciting not because of the graphics or worlds you can explore, but because common human events such as funerals, weddings, sex, commerce, etc. are being conducted for the first time in these electronic petri dishes. There is no precedent or guidelines to follow in these online firsts, and the things that people choose to keep or throw away from the real-world counterparts is thought provoking. And in these decisions, precedents are being set. What if twenty years from now, when we go to the funeral of a friend online, we feel a sense of closer as the death squads flank us and we are forced to fight for our lives?
What say you, oh loyal readers?