My Holy Grail, At Last?

Anyone who has been around this weblog for long enough has realized that I care a lot about mainly two categories of things. The first is Girls, and specifically how to entice an especially awesome, as-yet-unpinpointed one to eventually marry me. The second is The Stuff I Am Passionate About. This second category is usually seen in long diatribes about how I have so many passions that the thought of finding one thing to do in my life (my life’s project, so to speak) is incredibly daunting. I usually think of such pursuits as falling under one of the following headings: Philosophy, Theology, Music, Language, Coding, Writing, or Design. Importantly, I’m interested in the creative elements of each.

I often laugh derisively at any suggestion that these things could be combined into a single role or project; for what pursuit can bring together such disparate fields as philosophy and computer programming, not to mention the others? It struck me today that maybe there is such a project: the design and implementation of a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), of which the current most popular example is World of Warcraft.

Clearly, since a MMORPG is a piece of software, it involves coding. But it also involves World Design–the overarching story and history of a fantastical place (a la The Silmarillion, my favorite book). Clearly creating such an immersive world involves a foray into philosophy (and probably theology, since worlds without magic or arcane technology are boring). Beyond that, what can provide more immersion than Tolkien’s strategy of language creation? Of course, histories of entire civilizations and languages need to be conveyed in as powerful and encompassing wording as possible, thus requiring a skilled writer. Finally, what is a venture into an unknown world without the appropriate stunning visual and audio design? The score would need to be more immense than any 2-hour movie.

Well, there it is! It doesn’t seem like anything important is missing. And it certainly explains my fascination with the concepts behind MMORPGs in the first place. Unfortunately, I don’t know that working for a MMO house would be fulfilling at all to me; curiously, I don’t know why. I certainly don’t think that a life spent to encourage the use of the imagination is wasted–Tolkien and Lewis are my heroes precisely for that reason. Maybe it’s just that my experience with MMORPG culture has made me doubt whether the kind of imagination encouraged is actually of any enduring value. I suppose that at the end of the day I do believe that imagination has a function–that of re-envisioning a broken and fractured reality–and I don’t know that World of Warcraft really inspires this, rather than a mindless grind for powerful virtual items that give one a sense of superiority over other players.

Maybe that’s the difference between The Silmarillion and World of Warcraft–since The Silmarillion is a story, it asks you to enter in and wander around by yourself, unlocking experiences with the imagination. Warcraft, on the other hand, is unavoidably a game, and one not of collaborative imagination as often as competitive un-imagination. (What I mean by unimagination is that many players purposefully de-mystify any imaginative elements in MMORPGs, reducing it to the underlying code systems, so that they might more easily “win” the game. My motivations in playing MMORPGs, on the other hand, are generally rather to have an immersive, imaginative experience). Perhaps there are ways to create a game like this; perhaps that is what real-life role-playing groups find attractive about their sessions (which frankly don’t appeal to me, for some reason); however, I doubt that, even given the possibility of designing such a game, that the result would be compelling to enough people to build a multi-million-dollar franchise on top of (which seems to be the point of most computer games).

But what do you think, O Reader? Should I go try and get hired by Blizzard? I haven’t said anything about the physical pursuits I enjoy (which are also many), or about any actual positive results of work for the poorer and more downtrodden in the world (who might not be able to afford my computer game). What is there to say about that? (But note that I’m not asking the question, “Was Tolkien wrong in writing his novels when he could have been helping poor children elsewhere, very materially?” since I take it for granted that the answer’s no.)

Farewell, Azeroth!

After over a year of building characters and wandering around the World of Warcraft, I’ve decided to cancel my subscription. The trouble with these massively-multiplayer world-immersive games is layed out in the following set of claims:

  • A monthly subscription is expensive.
  • The game is designed in such a way that, after an initial phase, the entertainment it provides is exponentially related to the amount of time you put into it.
  • In order to get the maximum value out of the game, in terms of both money and entertainment, one is forced to play a lot.
  • Playing massively-multiplayer games a lot can be intrinsically unhealthy if in a person’s lifestyle it precludes other more important activites. It is also potentially addictive, and can be unhealthy in that way as well.

Now, I haven’t been playing in an unhealthy way–in fact, I haven’t been playing at all. My decision to quit is more a financial one, and also as a result of the dilemma above, which shows that to get the desired amount of entertainment, one must choose effectively to be unhealthy in some way.

That being said, my visits to Azeroth (the fantasy world in Warcraft) were indeed fun and provided many hours of enjoyment, particularly when I was able to play alongside my brother and sister. Such cooperative play was made all the more meaningful in virtue of the fact that I live across the country from them and had no real other way to hang out. I will retain many fond memories of our quests, guild drama, and laughing at the plethora of idiots that occupy any online community (but particularly gaming communities). So here’s to Telarian, Telariz, and Tsarmina!

Telarian and Telariz surveying the snow plains below Ironforge

Faith and Science

I’m in Orlando this week for a seminar we’re putting on with Alister McGrath as the lecturer. We’re filming the whole experience in an insanely-designed soundstage at Disney’s MGM studios, and just being in such a cool place every day is pretty fun. The lectures themselves, and more importantly the interaction that I’ve been able to have with Alister both on and off camera, have been incredible.

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