By now, if you have been following this column, you know my general play style. I am not a serious player, I don't really engage in raids; my primary focus is on running dungeons, PVP, and socializing with the friends I have made in Azeroth. Along those lines, my focus in this column is often the intersection of reality and virtual reality. I have written many columns on this issue regarding games and the reason so many of us play them, especially MMOs like World of Warcraft.
These last few weeks, I have been working to get a class and myself ready for the beginning of the semester. I will be teaching the Theory of Knowledge class (which I have never taught before) for my school's International Baccalaureate Program (which is new this year at my school). In preparing, I have been reading a bit on the role perceptions play in determining what knowledge is and what it is we know - and how we know it.
And, as usual, my thinking turned to WoW.
Here is what has been going through my mind. It is not so much our perceptions of the world and reality that drives us to escaping into Azeroth, it is our conceptions of reality. I really don't have a problem with objective reality, that part of our perception on which we all agree. For example, a chair being a chair, and the like. No, objective reality and those common perceptions do not bog us down, it is the conceptions we create of reality that drive us from it.
Our conceptions, that is what we turn our shared objective perceptions into, is what brings us down. We turn this and that into battles and wars, we see this or that as hurting people; we conceive of this or that as beautiful and righteous. These conceptions can get so daunting that we leave one objective reality for another, one where our conceptions are more commonly shared by others.
So, when we are in Azeroth or any other game, we have that opportunity to leave our conception of reality at the log in screen, what gets me is how many people bring their baggage, if you will, with them. Think of it this way: the manner in which one conceives of reality should not be the same manner in which he or she conceives virtual reality. In fact, I argue that if we take many of the conceptions we have in Azeroth outside with us, then perhaps we won't feel the need to escape nearly as much.
But, what about those people that bring their conceptions of reality into games? Might this be the issue of gender in WoW?
I look at the guild system and I see guilds as a wonderful place to learn all sort of social skills without the conceptions we have from reality. Let's face it, many of us in Azeroth are still young and trying to learn how to behave in a social setting. Guilds teach us team work, they teach us organizational skills, and they teach the importance of cooperation and shared responsibility. The beauty of the guild system is that there are all sorts of guilds of differing levels with differing interests, but what they all share in common is simple: a group of players who seek a common goal, which is to have fun in Azeroth.
Sadly, reality has a hard time with the idea of cooperation. Look at our political system, if you don't believe me.
Throughout my years playing WoW, I have been in many guilds. One guild I was in a long time ago was, at that time, the largest guild on the server. Our players were the best geared for both PVE and PVP, we had core groups for both raids and PVP, and we had all sorts of top level players willing and able to help the babies move up to be with the big boys and girls. I have been in start-up guilds and have done my best to help this group of players develop a strong guild for players. I have been in casual guilds, I have been in raiding guilds, I have been in weak guilds, I have been in family guilds, I have been in Army guilds (this one was a particularly fun time as I was one of very few people not in the military).
Sadly, just about all of these guilds split apart for one reason: some people had a difficult time leaving their conceptions of reality at the log in screen. What I mean is that their conception of cooperation that exists in reality, the idea that one must win of another, regardless of the consequences.
Another unfortunate import from reality as it pertains to social structures, at least that I have seen, that has broken up guilds has been the desire for drama. I have seen people leave a guild simply because they were out rolled for an item. I have seen people leave a guild because they were late for a raid and we started without them. I have seen people take sides in guilds and split guilds apart.
What World of Warcraft can offer us is a drama free zone. The guild which I have been in for some time now, Old School Hooligans, takes great effort in maintaining this boundary. The guild leader established the guild for this reason. She had grown sick of drama infested guilds. Like me, she had been in several solid guilds, but watched them collapse. As a result, there is a zero tolerance policy for drama. The second she hears anything close to drama in the guild, she stops it and, if needed, gets rid of the player creating it.
While drama is difficult to avoid in reality, it can and should easily be avoided in the game. Azeroth is a place to escape and leave our conceptions of reality behind. Like all games, it is a place for fun and, in the case of MMOs, for socializing. Guilds are wonderful for facilitating the social aspect of gaming, but they also have the potential to teach players lessons. Let's face it, life is better and easier and more productive when we cooperate. Sadly, our conceptions of reality fly in the face of this.
When have you run into this problem of people treating the virtual space like the physical space? If there is one conception people import from reality in to the game you could get rid of, what is it?
On a personal note, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season. Be good and watch out for each other out there as closely as you would a group on a raid.
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