The Crystal Ball May have Gone Dark

In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevye dismays not being a rich man and sings “because when you are rich they think you really know.”  I could begin in many ways, such as pointing out the difference between God’s Wisdom (by whatever name – pick one) and man’s wisdom.  Instead I will simply begin with my grandmother’s definition of a “big wheel”…

“A big wheel is something that goes around and around in circles, never gets anywhere, and little dogs pee on it.” – Dee Rankin

Now I have no idea if the author of the book described in the article World of Warcraft Perdicts the Future, by Samantha Murphy considers himself a “big wheel” or not.  I mention this only to point out that if any given individual can pull out what they themselves, or others consider some “badge of authority” there is a tendency to think to oneself “well then they must really know.” The reality of the situation is that the difference between a Plato and a New York City Cab driver is that Plato had a better publicist, and the cab driver had more time to think about the issues.

 That said, a friend in the video gaming industry sent this link to me recently.

Author Samantha Murphy summarizes the premise of the work being discussed by saying, “sociologist William Sims Bainbridge argues that the online game World of Warcraft portends the future of the real world.” Author Bainbridge eventually makes the point, “WoW might exemplify that kind of post-religious future.” Lest I be accused of pulling that last phrase out of context here is the entire paragraph from the article:

 Maybe we will move to a time when we no longer make a distinction between belief and the suspension of disbelief. The difference between faith and fantasy might not have been very distinct in ancient times, and it’s possible that we will move towards a time when instead of religion, people’s hopes can be expressed in something that’s acknowledged to be a fantasy but also, on some level, sort of real. WoW might exemplify that kind of post-religious future.

 Where the entire premise falls flat for me is in the very first paragraph of the article:

 And we actually have good reason to believe that people who play computer games are, on average, much less religious than the average person in society. I tend to think that fantasy literature in general inspires people to believe that the traditional religions are fantasies too.

The good professor apparently admits to playing World of Warcraft (WoW) for 2300 hours, but he doesn’t say over how long a period. However long it is, the gross generalizations made lead me to believe he really does need to get out more.  As much as people involved in gaming journalism like to think of the “typical” player as being a 12 year old, chained to a five year old computer, locked in his mother’s basement where his mother sends him a box of sunshine once a week, this is far from the truth.   There are many things that WoW has done to the video game industry. The one thing it has done for the video game industry is change the nature of the market altogether.  The personal experience I have found after years of first hand contact with everyone from players to producers is that the industry and their target markets consist of as cosmopolitan a cross section of people as the real world.

Where the entire premise falls flat on its face, rolls into the gutter, and slips into the sewer is with the following sentence:

“I think that fantasy literature in general inspires people to believe that the traditional religions are fantasies too.”- William Bainbridge

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  I will be the first to admit to my being colored by my own position in life. However, I must say, that the 2 masters’ degrees and a 126 I.Q I possess doesn’t mean I have a firmer grip on reality than anyone else.  It might be easy to conceptualize all those around us in virtual worlds as hiding behind computer screens wearing tin foil hats to prevent aliens from stealing the brain waves, unable to somehow tell fantasy from reality. Quite frankly the thought that anyone might think of Rob Parodo, let alone Bobby Kotick as their creator gives me the screaming heebee jeebes.

I have spoken to many people in video games, such as the Australian grandmothers who played WoW simply to get their minds off the fact that a major section of their country was burning to the ground. I have spoken across a virtual front porch to a woman in Ultima Online who was, in reality, a battered spouse who had to take her children and flee for her life.  I have spoken with and prayed for soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan, including on young man who survived a hand grenade attack from five feet away.  This is the sort of contact I have had with real people in video games that leads me to believe that there just might be a possibility that the professor is looking at the world through rose colored glass peering down from an ivy covered tower…just maybe.

All this can in some way at least be plausible, until the article reaches the following interaction between journalist Samantha Murphy and the professor:

 In the book you say: “WoW may have the potential to become the first real afterlife.” How?

Every movement a player makes in WoW is recorded, even their interactions with others. The avatar captures their social self. To what extent the avatar is its controller is a philosophical question, but the avatar can outlive its creator and continue functioning in WoW as a non-player character (NPC). Research is under way that will make NPCs behave more like specific people.

Having read the last exchange I find myself forced to abandon “a possibility” and resort to “strong hunch” that the good professor has lost his mind…just maybe. I could, of course, be very wrong.

2 Responses to The Crystal Ball May have Gone Dark
  1. We’ll always have Dalaran
    April 12, 2010 | 11:44 am

    [...] (out soon) with Tipa from West Karana.  In an exchange between Samantha Murphy and the author of World of Warcraft predicts the future, William Bainbridge: In the book you say: “WoW may have the potential to become the first real [...]

  2. Show 58 is live
    April 17, 2010 | 4:36 pm

    [...] You can find it on Itunes here or on our Podbean site here.  You can read about the article involving WoW and the afterlife here. [...]