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Analyzing an Evolving Personal Perception of MMO Culture Through a Multiboxing JPEG

Six (or seven) computers, seven monitors, two sets of speakers, three keyboards, two mice, and two La – Z – Boys – a personal garden of Eden for two (lucky?) gamers. Monetary value of each setup? Thousands.

Six or seven years ago, back when my gaming budget was my only “bill” and graduation represented the first step in a flawless plan to “conquer the world,” this image might have served as inspiration for a similar, but more cobbled-together, setup. I would’ve substituted out the PCs and World of Warcraft with Xboxes and Halo, capitalizing more on my console eccentricities. At the time I mostly remained an MMO virgin (there was this time with Everquest and I didn’t really know what I was doing and…it doesn’t count).

Four years later, after I left my small town in Northwestern Minnesota and moved to Minneapolis, I started learning about the interior designers behind these personal little havens, why they play on multiple computers using more than one account per title (so they don’t have to rely on the incompetence of other people), how many prefer online interaction over in-person, and the shocking disregard for personal style and hygiene. It was too much for my internal Minnesota nice circuitry. I inevitably saw these people as a handicap in this industry’s battle for legitimacy. I  started hating the above picture and ones like it. What surprises me most is I did so more for the presumed lifestyle choices of its creator/s than the cooperative social gaming merits. I blame all the negativity on an angry teenager shedding his teenager years for a more professional and refined early 20s. “Conquer the world,” remember?

I’m 24 years old now, and just a few weeks ago I had a change of heart. After realizing my sparsely furnished apartment lacks the necessary components to comfortably place my girlfriend’s PC and monitor adjacent to mine, I wished for the configuration above.

I couldn’t cancel our plans on account of poor seating arrangements! We needed to experience every last bit of content added and changed in World of Warcraft’s patch 3.2. And we needed to do it now!

The economy being what it is – a depressing downward spiral that few in power know or care how to stop – spending the money to pick up the necessary supplies just for the weekend didn’t make sense. Instead we improvised. Like a couple of preteens using old chairs, tables, and hat racks to build a fort, we did the same for our weekend gaming hub (don’t ask out of what or how). Looking back, it’s funny how the two acts mirror one another. Although the purpose has changed, the concept remains the same – we’re architecting spaces to hole ourselves away from reality, albeit momentarily.

But back to ME, because that’s who this is really all about.

My change of heart didn’t occur overnight. I’m becoming older, wiser, and much more sympathetic to virtual world inhabitants and their social instabilities. In the MMO documentary Second Skin, economist and author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games Edward Castronova suggests people are spending more time in these virtual environments because in them everyone starts with the same assets and opportunities. The real world doesn’t afford that luxury. If people can find solace and equality this way, good for them. I DO have a problem with the artificiality, but there are worse ways to kill time.

In the same film, Castronova also proposes taking a closer look at society to find the causes behind a mass exodus from the physical world. I’m adding a bit of embellishment to his words, but it’s all the same. A closer look isn’t necessary. Society’s effed up. At times, seemingly irreparably. Wars, recession, genocide, town hall meetings, and Glenn Beck individually create enough international stress to drive the most naive Americans to mentally escape. We used to have drugs. Now we have videogames and virtual worlds.

It’s a cynical and flawed comparison (and one I know I’ll eventually be castrated for by an R. Smith), but hear me out. We all find ways to escape. It’s integral to our social and psychological well-being. We define how we escape and it defines us. What many people, including those huggable anti-everything fun crazies,  don’t realize is this becomes dangerous when the experience the person used to escape to becomes the experience the person escapes from. MMO gamers, even you should keep this in mind.



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