WoW Reality- A Modern Allegory of the Cave

It all started with money.  In this culture and in these times, how could it not?  I was explaining to my dad that one of my good friends often asked about economic scenarios that arose in the World of Warcraft.  Most people might wonder why one would even attempt to explain the economics of a fantasy game using real world knowledge, given that one is real, and the other is not.  However, I have repeatedly found that the WoW auction house bears a striking similarity to any real world commodities market.  When you adjust for conditions unique to the game, it turns out that human nature and scarcity fuel the economic engine in true to life fashion, right down to consumers complaining incessantly about an increase in prices.

My dad acknowledged that WoW was similar to real life in many ways, but to him it lacks substance because the subject matter is entirely trivial.  To my dad, the world of Azeroth was nothing but a diversion from reality. 

I explained that while the gamers obviously recognize WoW as a diversion from the struggles of life, it is not without substance.  The emotions are real: I have seen as much joy generated in a flawlessly executed raid as a successful sales pitch.  The success is real: Azeroth is teeming with competitors, and contains an abundance of meaningful ways to measure success in the game.  An anticipated gladiatorial championship may be witnessed by far more than the Coliseum could have hoped to fit, arguably awarding the victor an equivalently greater glory in his own circles.  The time spent is definitely real: I have friends who spend the lion share of their life in Azeroth, only signing off when critical.  Eventually one’s online persona takes on a sharper focus than the fleshy shell directing its actions.

In fact, if given the opportunity, many gamers would willingly hook themselves into the World of Warcraft entirely, essentially abandoning this existence for one of their own creation in the game. 

The creators- Blizzard in this case- could gain immense advantage in a variety of markets, leading to strong profits.  The methodology would be simple, requiring only minor advances in current technology.   Profit generating activities such as compiling data on market reactions to the introduction of new products, or researching the individual and group tendencies of participants in any number of controlled scenarios could all be automated and accomplished in a timeline far faster than our own.  By harnessing the power of the human subconscious, the creators could gather and direct a think tank so powerful, it would dwarf its predecessor, probably to the point of requiring a unique term.

Of course all of the creators’ self serving motives are kept as far from the gamers’ consciousnesses as possible.  Making the game seem as real and unadulterated as possible would benefit both sides of this equation:  The players could fully immerse themselves in their new avatars, and all but eliminate the twinge felt whenever they thought of their former lives- all too often devoid of notable successes, as labeled by earthly standards.  The creators would benefit from data that would be more accurate than current experimental techniques could ever hope for- participant responses in real scenarios, without worrying about the gap between lab conditions and reality, because to the immersed gamer Azeroth would be a world indistinguishable from our own.

Given the right tools, such as an extended trip to a sensory deprivation chamber (say nine months?) followed by the swift and sudden introduction of what will henceforth be considered the gamer’s reality ought to do the trick.  Blizzard could erase the prior memory of these new beings, allowing for a truly immersed experience, a perfect transfer from one world to another. 

Of course, when you die here, you die there.  But other than that risk- rendered invisible and forgotten to the gamer- this transfer would indeed be the thing of legends.  It would be the first time in recorded history that 200 million of Earth’s citizens simultaneously metamorphosed!  And these newly born digital avatars would journey forth, living out their digital days in blissful ignorance of, but having a profound impact on, the real world bustling all around them.

And all who remained in the realm of Earth would look upon this sleeping giant- a hive mind created with immense power, limited only by the imagination and skill of the creators directing it.  Some will feel fear of the potential power, the manifestation of the collective subconscious- what if events are set in motion that render these gamers uncontrollable, even by the creators?   Some will feel disgust for those who quit the toils of real life for a game, willingly leaving friends and family behind to rescue binary princesses.  Some may feel sorrow for gamers who will eventually understand their folly, cleverly deciphering that they have already signed their souls away; repenting of this decision only to discover they are trapped- perhaps it was a devious “death do us part” clause in their contract, or maybe they have just forgotten the way home.

I wonder how many will look upon Azeroth and see the truth.

Will anyone recognize this eerily familiar state their peers have willingly bound themselves into- a state of empty fantasy, detached from the pursuit of any real purpose?  I am referring to the unique kind of purpose with inherent weight, one as unique as our fingerprint, and as instinctual as a thing can be.  I can only describe this feeling as pulsing tidal waves, surging with each breath and refusing to subside until you either pursue your purpose wholly, or beat the offending emotion to a pulp, so it never again tries to remind you that you’re here for a reason. 

Will chills run up our spines as we gaze upon our brothers and sisters is this state of unknowing mental slavery to a veiled puppet master, whose influence can only be perceived indirectly by the most inquisitive of avatars?  A pattern too prevalent here, an inexplicable glitch in a pattern there- clues that there is a truth hidden deep within the code we often mistake for nothing but a canvas, devoid of inherent form or meaning in its own right, on which the real action of existence takes place.  Will we realize the blessing that is perspective as we stand outside Plato’s cave?

Few will realize they’ve stumbled upon this insight.  And how many of those that gain this perspective will then take a page directly from the fantasy world at which they scoff and allow themselves to become once again distracted from this puzzle?  Distracted by armies building on a fiercely contested frontier, a new accessory that promises to give its owner an edge over the field, or the hottest new ride- fully loaded, of course ;).

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~ by songoflove on May 27, 2009.

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