Virtually Reality

I usually don’t link to news stories and other current events because they just end up becoming dead links in a few months. But this struck my eye and I felt it needed to be discussed. I’ve been meaning to wax poetic about the exploding video game genre known as MMORPG for quite some time. MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing game, which really equates to… a second life. Its one big fantastic, interactive, virtual, reality tv show.

As Ars Technica is reporting, a virtual plague is hitting the virtual World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft (WoW) is an immensely popular game by Blizzard Entertainment and the current king of the MMORPG market. This plague is killing players exposed to it that don’t have a certain amount of points in the game. It has become a “global” catastrophe.

Although online gaming has been around for quite some time- you could play sports games and first person shooter games with people in Korea years ago- the role playing aspect of MMORPG is something relatively new. Mainly because the computer technology was not burly enough to make it work.

Thousands of people log into a virtual world and assume a role they have created for themselves. Walk down the street in the virtual world and say hello to other virtual players- who are really real people. Its like playing Super Mario Bros, except Princess Toadstool is actually being played by the girl next door and Bowser is being played by some guy in his basement in Kentucky. You can interact with everyone and everything around you. Its just really cool.

The makers of the game create rules and goals and things for you to do. Most of the time you have to get money and points by doing certain tasks. And I have yet to figure out if you win these things. I think you just play to collect things. Kinda like life.

MMORPGs have also grabbed the attention of intellectuals who are mostly interested in the psychology and economics of these virtual worlds. If one doesn’t exist already, expect to see an MMORPG class at a university very soon.

One of the first MMORPGs I ever heard about was EverQuest. There was a 60 Minutes segment on it a few years ago- talking about how people played the game for days on end. Missing work, showers, and nourishment. There were even reports of people who had died in the game and were so distraught, in turn committed suicide.

Knowing what a great video game publisher Blizzard is, (having played StarCraft) its no surprise WoW is the megahit that it is. They really pay attention to story and game-play. What struck me as most interesting about the WoW plague was that many players weren’t all that upset about being killed by it. “Instead of being angry about the deleterious effects of a bug, many are treating this as an exciting and unprecedented event in the WoW universe.”

This plague was (so they claim) unplanned. It is actually a bug in the software that is allowing it to occur. I think Blizzard is going to run with it. Getting killed by a virtual plague is something the kids love to do these days. And MMORPG is the future of gaming.

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