I am of the generation that brought you Ronald Reagan and MTV - and, depending on your age or political preference, I'll just apologize for both. When I was a kid, a video game was a bouncing square, that was supposed to be a ball, as well as some bars. We would bounce the ball back and fourth to create a virtual tennis game. Atari came along and things progressed from there. My first disc drive was a cassette recorder and my first computer plugged into my old black and white television set. Anyway you look at it, us Gen Xers were the first to deeply explore this gaming and computer thing. And, the way I see it, we are still alive both in front of the games and behind.
What does this have to do with World of Warcraft? Allow me just a few brief moments to lay-down the backstory of my generation - at least as I see it - and the connection will become clear.
The first presidential election in which we were able to vote was in 1992. We elected Bill Clinton two times. We saw him do a town hall on MTV. We rocked the vote. As the digital revolution began to take hold, while we didn't hide behind our monitors, we spent some time there and explored the possibility of computers - but the revolution didn't solidify until the mid 00's.
Joe Trippi, who is a baby-boomer, wrote a book which changed the way I look at things, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. This book brought so many of my generation to realize the power of the tools we had created for the Millennials. The monster we created was unleashed, the power of which was truly felt in 2008.
Generation X's sense of right and wrong was shaped in the years of the late 70's to mid 90's. This was the time of Star Wars, a time when there were clear lines of good and evil. A time when we were able, as Luke Skywalker did, to question our parents. We learned that in the darkest part of our lives, we can find redemption, if only we work hard enough at it. This was also a time when we handed rock and roll over to video stars and gave to the world a slew of "one-hit wonders" through MTV. But, rock and roll was redeemed by a series of bands from, of all places, Seattle. Grunge reminded us what it meant to rock.
But this was also a time of Reagan, a time when we unleashed the power of stock holders, corporate take overs, and we heard and believed Gordon Gekko when he told us that "greed is good." We saw the homeless population put out to the streets. Our jobs began their migration overseas. It was in these times, though, that we became disillusioned with reality. When we voted for Clinton in '92, we wanted someone young. We wanted someone who inhaled, even though he claimed not to have done so. We wanted someone who spoke to us on our terms. And what did we get? More of the same.
Is it any wonder, then, that we began to wonder what we could do with a computer?
Every time I tell someone I play World of Warcraft, they will look at me and say something along the lines of, "Wow, you are such a nerd." Often, the word proceeding nerd is my wife's favorite word that begins with an "f" and sounds like duck. And it makes me wonder, who plays this and other MMO's? I know I am not the only one of my generation to be found running around Azeroth. I know I am not the oldest.
I know for many of my age, those of us who were on the door step when the revolution came to town, we learned that reality can suck a person in so deeply that he or she can't get out. So, we created several avenues to escape it. Remember, we were coming of age, too, in the time of Jimmy Carter and an energy crisis. We didn't want to spend much money on excursions. Also, with the height of the Cold War, we made sure that the Russians were safely ensconced on their end of the world.
World of Warcraft may be the final metaphor for the Cold War mentality. You had on one side, the United States, and on the other were the Russians. Each side wanted to get more people on its side and offered in its proposal to other countries a) an ideology and b) a lot of weapons to blow up the other side. At each moment until the collapse of both Soviet Russia and the Berlin Wall, there was the tenuous possibility of a missile landing in your back yard.
We have in Azeroth a similar situation. With each expansion, both factions grow a bit more, get better weapons, and the like. With each expansion, there might be peace between the factions, but the presence of war is always there. All sides of the Cold War ideological divide were cast aside every four years for the Olympics, but after those two weeks, things went back to stalemate.
Of course, our morality in so many ways was shaped by Star Wars*. Watch the original trilogy and you will see what I mean. You start out as the epic hero out to save the galaxy (or Azeroth). The Death Knights, like Luke, find out that they must stop their father, that is Arthas, in order to bring peace back. Like Luke, the Death Knight feels betrayed by what he or she was brought up believing.
Go back to the Battle for Light's Hope Chapel. Here, the Death Knight learns of the Arthas' betrayal and realizes that he or she must stop him. Arthas, unlike Darth Vader, cannot be turned, but it is this hope to do only that which is right that drives the Death Knight. It is this sense of right and wrong which we learned from Star Wars, and the hope we had for our generation, which lies beneath the moral code of Azeroth.
When Gen X became disillusioned with reality, when we realized that those Luke Skywalker moments would not happen in our lives, when we turned music over to video producers; when all had turned so far that there was no turning back, we looked to computers. We created various ways to escape reality. And those escapes have come full force into today, trying to find fixes for the problems under which we came to fruition.
World of Warcraft is our greatest metaphor. While many from my generation don't play the game, instead, they spend their hours chasing other endeavors, all the while, the metaphor under which they lived, is being flat out solved. We felt that there was nothing we could do to stop the world from collapsing in on itself, but in Azeroth, which teeters on the edge of self-annihilation, we play an active role in bringing it back.
So, when you run around Azeroth, remember you are living the dreams of Generation X. You are doing your best in a virtual space where we tried to do our best in a real space; however, reality wouldn't allow us to live in a manner we had hoped. The betrayal we felt growing up would never turn, just like Arthas.
How do you fight the good fight in Azeroth? What can you do to make the "real" world a better place?
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*Chuck Klosterman develops this line of thinking rather nicely in an essay in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. I am not sure of the specific essay title, as I don't have the book on me, but you should read the book anyway, the man is fantastic.