There is a moment in the first Lethal Weapon movie when Gen. Peter McAllister, the ring leader of the bad guys, lets Mel Gibson's character know that there are no heroes left in the world. Sadly, this statement has been a bit portent in that, while we may not have many heroes, even if we did - we do our best to bring them down.
We seem to live in a world where we love to see the mighty fall. As well, our cable news networks spend more time covering those who do ill over those who do good by their fellow man. I wonder, sometimes, if this is one reason why we engage in gaming — we seek that heroic presence that exists within us all.
World of Warcraft, like many MMO's and other video games, is set up (in part) to make us heroes. Throughout literature, film, and mythology, there is the archetype of the heroic journey. Joseph Campbell provides great insight into this journey in his work The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In it, he outlines that the heroic journey begins with the "call to adventure." As you recall, when you create a character in the game, you are provided with an introduction to the race. In the introduction, the narrator often refers to this "call to adventure." And when you first see your character, he or she is given that immediate quest to prove his or her worth or value. Once satisfied, you meet your mentor, that is, a trainer.
In each of the beginning zones, following the heroic journey archetype, your character goes through a variety of trials and finds mentors in the form a trainers - with whom we interact through the entire journey. With each WoW expansion, the journey begins anew with a fresh call, new challenges, and the like. Admittedly in our journey, due to some limitations in the game, we do not face temptation as the archetypal hero does, nor do we go through a serious revelation and/or transformation. Regardless, we are given gifts and we do receive honor - as seen in the heroic journey archetype.
We see this journey in much of popular fiction and film. The single clearest example is Luke Skywalker from the original Star Wars trilogy. Other fine examples are Ender from Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series of books. As stated, I contend that we see it in gaming as well - which is one reason why it appeals to so many people: the heroic journey is in so many ways essential for personal growth, so essential that if we can't find it in reality, we create it elsewhere.
Joseph Campbell argues that the soul needs the heroic journey, that as humans, we cannot find existential fulfillment without it in our lives. While we do have aspects of the heroic journey in our lives in reality, so much of it has been institutionalized by way of school, religion, and other socializing institutions. Furthermore, our play has become so restricted, that we have little ability to deal with challenges and temptations. But, this is where gaming comes in.
In the process of the game, as we go on epic quests we rescue those in need, feed the hungry, and take down evil forces that wish to bring harm to Azeroth; we do what we feel is right by an ethical code, regardless of faction, as well as other heroic actions. I wrote some time ago, quoting Jane McGonigal, that reality lacks the sense of epicness that we crave - something that games can provide us. That wonderful feeling of accomplishment, the feeling of helping and seeing the impact of our help. When Blizzard introduced phasing into the game, we were able to see an immediate impact of our actions on this heroic journey.
I argued before that what we lack so much of in reality and in our lives is the epic quest. Even though challenges of epic scale are surrounding us at this very moment. Sadly, I fear that in much of our lives, we do not have the chance or desire to face those challenges which face us - be those economic, energy, and the like. We assume that someone else will do it for us. That a hero will stand up and face them on his or her own — even in the face of a discouraged public and a media bent on bringing us down. But, what if we were to face any challenge with the heroic determination we channel in the game? What if we made these real life challenges part of our personal heroic quest and journey?
Last year, Jane McGonigal gave a TED Talk on how games can make the world a better place, in which she specifically refers to World of Warcraft.
Before reading further, I encourage you to take the 20 minutes to watch and listen to what she has to say:
What would our world look like if you and I faced those challenges in our lives with as much heroic determination and ferocity as we do the epic quests in Azeroth or any other game? Is McGonigal correct in arguing that through games we can beat these problems, which are epic in scale? Sadly, our presence is not called for in reality as it is in the game. The issues we face in reality, while epic in scale, are made to sound so daunting that we — and this includes myself — say that they are so big, that they cannot be dealt with.
As I write this, I have my iTunes shuffling through a play list I created. The song "My Hero" by the Foo fighters just popped up. It is one of my favorite songs by the band, as Dave Grohl sings of a hero who is ordinary. Ordinary like you. Ordinary like me. Could we be heroes for each other in reality as we are in the game? I think so.
As we play WoW, our characters follow much of the heroic journey archetype. In doing so, we are both exposed to and participate in, one of the oldest motifs in the history of literature and mythology. In doing so, we fulfill what, according to Joseph Campbell, is one of the central elements of who we are at a metaphysical and existential level. One which we don't get to do so much of in reality, leaving us feeling a bit empty and small; and dare I say, fairly weak in the presence of the epic quests of our lives and time.
Do you enjoy the heroic aspect of World of Warcraft? Do you find that part of our lives is missing and needing fulfillment? Do you see games fulfilling that need for us, even though it is at a virtual level?
Follow me on Twitter @wow_wisdom and let me know if Gen. McAllister is correct or if you side with Dave Grohl and Jane McGonigal on the issue.
For more World of Warcraft Wisdom, click — HERE.
P.S. Last week many of you came out and had some engaging and interesting discussions - which was exciting and made me especially grateful. The purpose of this series is to think about gaming in a new way - and then open the floor to you the reader. Feel free to continue the trend by joining in the comments below.