I have been writing this column for over a year now, and in that time, my focus has changed to a certain degree. There are some articles whose argument were not clearly identified, some were spot on, and some, well, lets just say I know I could have done better.
This week, I ask that you take a look back with me at much of what I have written since I have been with Game Rant. In doing so, please let me know in the comments what you think.
Before getting into some of these, I have to lay out what I consider my purpose in writing this column. I see criticism of any sort as taking whatever the critic is using and presenting it in some sort of cultural context and meaning - in that context, in my case, how World of Warcraft fits in our culture as well as historical time period and what it means. Right now, our culture is struggling to define itself in many ways. Be it gender, race, sexuality, economics, whatever, we are struggling to adjust to several new realities. But, according to Mark Pagel, we are wired for some sort of determinism in our social and cultural lives. We live together and make many assumptions about those with whom we interact. We expect similar behaviors across the cultural landscape, and when someone violates some expectation, we get angry.
Right now, we are struggling for a cultural identity. There is a large segment of our population who does not recognize the changes happening in all aspects of our culture. They want it as it was many years ago. But, that is not possible. We are no longer a manufacturing based economy. We have very few single income homes; instead, both parents have to work. Women are no longer homemakers - often the bread winners of the family. We have an African-American president. The list simply goes on and on. There are many who recognize the changes happening and are adapting, others who refuse to acknowledge these changes, and finally those who struggle (but adapt in the end).
It is within this context that critics write and attempt to provide some understanding. It is within this context that art and entertainment are created. Art and entertainment often serve to explore what is happening out there and it is the critic's job to provide that analytical connection for the audience.
It is from this point that I write what I do.
My first real foray into this column was the second posting, "It's Just a Game". In this one, I was reacting to a night of running dungeons and kept getting hosed by PUGs. I look back on it and realize that I had missed the argument completely. Similar to Pagel's assertion, I was reacting to players who did not share my expectations, the expectation that sometimes life ain't all that easy. Sadly, I think my writing missed the boat, but I was able to later pick the topic up with the issue regarding civil discourse in "Be Good." I like the connections I made here between the media and much of the chatting in Azeroth.
The idea of community is certainly one of my favorite topics. In reality we are constantly looking for a group with which we can identify and belong. When I wrote about my godson, all I could think about was the importance of communities in our culture. But, like so much else, our definition of community is shifting. Much of our socializing and social networking happens online. In doing so, we become more isolated from the rest of the world. But, there are moments when we gather. When I wrote "Rituals and Remembrance" and about Hallow's End, I was thinking about our shared past. The idea that rituals serve to keep us together. Sadly, we have so few rituals across the culture, and those which we recognize seem to have become an excuse to let loose and imbibe too much. Regardless, this shift to online community building does open room for bringing people together. Look at the "Occupy" and "Tea Party" movements. Both have their roots in online tools which brought people together for a shared, common purpose. I explored this idea a while back when I wrote: "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."
I remember reading Reality is Broken and how it shifted my thinking. In doing so, my writing took a turn to explore the convergence of reality and games. This line of reasoning first entered my writing with "Virtual Reality vs. Reality." This issue is as complex as it is fun to figure out. We live differently online than we do in games (though, many of our patterns follow us as noted here and here). The anonymity with which we live online allows us to behave and interact in ways that we cannot in reality. There is so much that we want in reality, but find it difficult to find for one reason or another. We want to be heroes, we want to be involved with something larger, we even follow the same ideals in both realms. In the end, I figure we are seeking something bigger, but not just sure what or where it is. As noted earlier, with our culture in a state of flux, we all are trying to find our way through it. In the process, we hit World of Warcraft so that we find an adventure and know what we are going to get.
The Latin root word for history is historia, which translates as "story." The best history teachers know this and teach it as a story. Right now, we are all living in the great story of our culture. Plus, like every story, there are protagonists and antagonists - each of whom fulfill their roles perfectly depending on the narrator. When I wrote about the "Birth of Azeroth," I was wondering where the game came from. It hit me that my generation made the game, thus, our ideological structures were used. That being the case, the game has evolved from "vanilla" to what it is today. We live together entirely differently than we used to - family time is no longer spent in front of the television. In fact, as noted earlier, much of our socializing is happening in the game and other areas online.
The history (meaning the story of Azeroth) is evolving - much like our story. Games are making room for a greater diversity of players. When I wrote about gender with my "Gender Bending" piece, the response was astounding. I tapped into something there, which I have not been able to since, though I try. But I figure what generated the response for that one is the issue we all face: the traditional gender roles in our culture are beginning a new chapter. Like much of what is going on, many people are hesitant of that change, hence the "Girls don't play WoW" in the Trade chat. We have been so comfortable in our traditional roles that we are not certain what to do with the loss of a masculine oriented culture. Games, like Mad Men's Don Draper, are following suit with more playable female characters and NPC antagonists.
I've had a wonderful time writing this column - and, I thank you for taking time out of your lives to read it. For those who post comments, I do read them and appreciate them. I also appreciate the lively discussions you have had since I started this.
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