If you have peen paying attention to the news at all recently, there is a good chance you have either heard or read about the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement that has spread across the country. Whether or not you agree with the politics of movements such as the OWS, or the Tea Party, there's no doubt that a group of people getting together for a common purpose can be very powerful.
I would argue that the foundation of this country is based on both the act and ability of civil disobedience. From the famed Boston Tea Party to Henry David Thoreau, from the temperance movement through the sit-ins during the 60's, the peoples' ability to exercise their first amendment rights have caused those in power to change course.
And, Azeroth is no different.
In 2005, as Blizzard was preparing to release The Burning Crusade, plans to nerf the warrior class were coming out. A group of players didn't like what they were reading would happen to their class. This group of players noted their grievances with Blizzard appropriately through the forums, but their questions and concerns went unanswered.
As in reality, when a group's voice is not being heard - they tend to go with their First Amendment right of assembly. A player, who went by Myxilydian (my favorite mode in music, by the way), posted in the forums that he was tired of getting nowhere fast with Blizzard, so he called for a "Gnome March."
Blizzard got wind of the "Gnome March" and started posting in forums themselves, asserting that any player participating in the march would be punished - although they never used the word "banned." The question rises, do we lose our First Amendment rights in Azeroth? Do the protections of the Constitution follow us there? The answer is (not-so?) simple: sort of...
Word grew of the planned protest. It was a simple idea really, concerned players were to create a level one Gnome warrior on the Argent Dawn server, and at the specified time, the group would march from Iron Forge to Stormwind. The forums lit up with messages and with each posting, Blizzard deleted them. Regardless, the posting continued in the forums as well as outside of Blizzard's reach. On the pre-arranged day, several hundred level one warrior Gnomes entered Iron Forge - and Blizzard began in acting the promised "punishments." Many players were kicked from the server - and there are reports that some accounts were banned or suspended for a period of time.
Over the years, many players have considered whether or not Blizzard over-reacted - and, if they found themselves in a similar position, would they do it again? We want to think we have speech rights in Azeroth, however, we do not. Every time we log on, we accept the terms of agreement in our contract with the developer - and this includes not participating in behavior that might inhibit others from just playing the game. With the large numbers on the server for the protest, the online experience lagged - though it may not have crashed. Either way, Blizzard could easily argue that the protest compromised the stability of the game experience - and, those that participated, violated their terms of service.
However, what about the community in Azeroth? We all seek to be involved in something much larger than ourselves. A community exists when there is a group of people involved in a common purpose. When we see protests, like the current OWS movement popping up all over the country, part of what gets people going is their inherent "want" to be involved. MMO's, like World of Warcraft, give people a feeling of community. Right now, in an increasingly digital age, community (wherever you can find it) is quite important.
Take a look around you, where do you feel at home? Do you feel a common purpose with your neighbors? Can you name them? Throughout our world, we all are driven by a common interest in survival; however, we are being pitted against each other, be it through economics, through the political system, or what have you. Azeroth is a community which encourages its citizens to work together for a common purpose. The real world is no different. We do have a common purpose, but due to many of our social and ideological structures, we don't see that common purpose. Instead, we regress to a "my way or no way" sort of mentality.
I understand why people gravitate to virtual communities like WoW. In Azeroth, we are always welcome to share in that common purpose. In reality, we don't see this. We have made it better to compete for a common goal rather than cooperate to achieve a common purpose.
It's fare to say there is still plenty of competition in Azeroth, as I wrote several months ago it represents a true free market system of economics, closer to what Adam Smith had to say than what we currently offer in our free market based reality. That said, by nature we have an inclination toward cooperation, it is as we grew up that we lose that sense of cooperation and lean toward selfishness. While we can have all of the fancy gear and mounts we want in Azeroth, the only way to get the goods is by coming together. It's impossible to get them on your own - without working with your community. We get ahead in Azeroth by working together. This is another reason we spend time in this community: we get to actualize that spirit of cooperation in order to get ahead, both at a communal level and a personal one.
Of course, things aren't as simple in reality - and what we "need" is much harder to achieve. Look at the OWS, they have come together for a common purpose - but that purpose directly pits them against another group, a group which exists in the same community. The movement is not only a month old and, already, many other groups have come out against them - as if to say, "You don't have the answer... but I do!" As a result, with so many conflicting interests, the spirit of shared purpose and community breaks down - and it becomes even harder to find a balanced, and healthy, answer for the challenges of the larger community.
When Myxilydian called for the "Gnome March," he was able to launch a drive that exists within us all. We want our voices heard by those who have control over our lives and ideologies. When our voices are not heard through the proper channels, then we gather together and exercise our right to assemble. Even now, many of the OWS have been arrested for disruption of the commons - just as many players may have been banned or simply suspended. But, I contend that many of the players who got involved with the Gnome March did so because in Azeroth, unlike reality, we have a strong sense of community - a sense of community that we wish existed in reality. Unfortunately, in reality, we are too busy bringing each other down - even if we (for the most part) agree with them.
Do you play World of Warcraft because it provides the sense of community that you don't have in reality? Where do you find community in your life?
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All images from the Gnome March came courtesy of The Cesspit.