A Political WoW Moment

On the morn after the momentous day on which the U.S. government has voted to provide health care to all its people, I am perusing email messages, Facebook posts, Tweets, blog entries and news articles weighing in on this incredible act. I’m sure we have miles to go before we stop paying those several hundred dollars a month in premiums (for me that’s $500 a month) or finally get covered for “pre-exisiting conditions” like the asthma my friend can’t get treated for because he’s had it his whole life.

My new human (!) warlock, Calabane.

My new human (!) warlock, Calabane.

On the eve of this legislation, I was, amazingly, playing WoW for a few hours (oh how I missed thee, WoW!).  I performed my own politically momentous act by actually creating a human to play (feels somehow subversive in this land of trolls and elves!). I started a new ‘toon because I’ve joined a new guild – one inspired by Tamarind for bloggers, friends, and fans called Single Abstract Noun. On a side note, I adore this guild already. You won’t be surprised to hear that a guild associated with bloggers is full of chatting, interesting, and thoughtful people. And although pretty much all of the group’s 437 members are alts, so far about 15 – 20 people are on at any given time, so there is plenty to keep us entertained.

So back to politics. WoW periodically has some (heated?) political exchange that goes on in Trade Chat. And last night I did catch a statement or two about the health care reform that would give us all coverage. Not much, actually, but… it got me thinking! (again, quelle surprise)

Do politics have a place in WoW? Some people get very cranky when political debates are held in General or Trade chat. They protest that they “don’t come here to listen to political bullshit” and that discussing controversial issues like health care, presidential candidates, or wars violates the spirit of the game for them. They want an escape space in WoW, for all that it’s social, and they don’t like the fact that “real world” issues and problems intrude.

I totally understand that sentiment. For all that I enjoy discussions of politics quite a lot, I can understand the need for a space away from them.

On the other hand, I have to say that talking politics in WoW is rather an amazing opportunity! I mean, most people tend to surround themselves with people rather similar to them, from having more friends of your political leanings to spending the most time with those who have similar backgrounds. Race, class,  education level, age, job type, geographical region, taste in movies… all these are most often clustered in social groups. Those who are different tend to be “weak ties,” or those who we see less often, who are acquaintances, who don’t stay up until 4 a.m. with us drinking wet and dirty vodka martinis. I mean, when’s the last time you spent 4 hours playing as a peer with someone 20 years younger than you offline? Or older, for that matter?

In WoW, though, we’re surrounded by so many people so different than ourselves! My main tank is an 18 year old from Poughkeepsie, the healer a 50 year old from Alabama. The paladin is stationed in the army, and the mage is a burgeoning screenwriter from L.A. Wanna bet these folks have a pretty different view of politics than I do, and from each other?

Many political theorists, from Habermas to Jon Stewart, say that the best democracy is one in which we have a vibrant social sphere. “Vibrant” here requires a multitude of voices with different views so that we can think critically and carefully about various sides of issues and make good decisions. Being surrounded by only those who agree with us tends to make us more polarized, less open-minded, and less informed – in other words, homogeneity makes us less effective voters because we don’t understand all the implications and perspectives as well.

So are those charged discussions in WoW an intrusion into a “safe” space where we should be able to escape politics? Or is it an opportunity to hear voices we rarely encounter?

[Post-post edit: Some great discussion about this as it relates to blogging on a blog I’ve recently discovered, “The Bossy Pally”. Her other posts are equally recommended.]

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2 responses to “A Political WoW Moment

  1. I want to say that as long as people are able to control their own level of anonymity in MMORPGs, they will speak their minds freely.

    I want to agree with the fact that the open discussions in MMORPGs would lessen the extreme political tendencies some people have.

    But very recently I’ve noticed there are a lot of people out there who have split personalities when it comes to politics, religion. The discusions you have with them in game or face to face are very different. You think you know them, but you really start to wonder if you’re actually talking to the same person. It’s not just talking but behavior as well.

    I still think the openness in MMORPGs is beneficial, but to how large of an extent would it actually be?

  2. Agreed – there seems to be something socially dramatic people are doing when they get all political in WoW. A lot of it really seems like it’s for the attention.

    But at the end of the day, even when people are being idiotic yahoos in their comments, I’m still happy they’re at least *thinking* about politics and government and how their country is run, or how people should be treated, or who deserves what kind of respect and what that looks like.

    Maybe a few of those apathetic folks read that stuff and have a few more coherent thoughts… or am I being overly idealistic? Probably, but it makes me feel better.

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