Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Warcraft Civilization

I've been reading The Warcraft Civilization by William Sims Bainbridge. I'm not quite done, but mostly, and it's sort of a funny book. Professor Bainbridge is clearly a very erudite, very thoughtful gentleman. He has spent much of his life thinking about human relationships: how they form, for what reasons, and what they mean to us. He then spent a couple years playing WoW (with two accounts!) and a total of something like 20 characters, all of whom made some progress towards the level cap. Two of them hit 70 during BC, and one of them made it to 80 after the Wrath release. I'm fairly (but not totally) certain that he no longer plays, but it's been a strange experience reading through the way he interacted with the game that's so different from the way I have and do.
On the most fundamental level, he takes the world just much more seriously than I ever have. I mean - I like the WoW lore. I read through summaries and stuff, I really enjoyed the lore aspects of Ulduar, I like reading about Illidan fighting with Arthas and then having fought Illidan and Arthas myself, all that stuff. But Prof. Bainbridge reads significance into the quest text of level 8 NPCs. His book contains in-character essays about the Blood Elf civilization as a whole based on the initial quests on Sunstrider Isle and a little ways into the Ghostlands. His DK (with the pretty cool name of Annihila) never made it past 57 because he refused to kill the same-race former friend when told to. So on and so forth.
It's also a strange book because, although it professes to be about social science within WoW, it's more about the potential for social science in the game. What I mean by this is that he spends a lot of time talking about the roles played, the interactions that occur, the social depth, the ways in which it reflects and doesn't reflect our world, and so on. He spends very little time actually drawing any concusions from all this potential. He's essentially saying "check out all this cool stuff! You could totally do science here!" Which is, I think, true, and some people have already done some work in the field (albeit mostly economists rather than sociologists).
The other part that makes it so strange to read through this book is that he does a lot of the roleplaying with himself. He imagines there to be a psychic link between all of his characters, through which they form relationships. He assigns all of them personalities, which vary in their similarity to and dissimilarity from his own personality. Various of his characters become friends with each other, argue amongst one another, and even form what he considers to be a family unit. Since he has two accounts, he's able to have pairs of his characters in proximity to each other and then take screenshots or invent tales about their adventures together. All of which was impressive in its inventiveness, but often it was like nothing so much as reading fairly dry, academic fanfiction. Surely a strange discovery to be made in a hardcover book in the science section of the bookstore shelves.
That said, I've definitely read most of it and will quite possibly finish it today, and I've certainly been enjoying it. It's just a very peculiar volume.

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