Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Old stuff in a new virtual world: World of Warcraft funeral Raid and more.

In this paper I will try to discuss a particular video posted in Youtube in 2006 where it's shown an online funeral raid in a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) called "World of Warcraft" (WOW). This video was posted by the Guild who performed the raid probably as a way of propaganda and self promotion; but when I start to think about the issue and crossing the information with other videos and readings this paper become something a little different. So I've take that video as central point of discussion and tried to extend the analysis to the use of internet.
Before I start it must be clear that in order to understand the dimension and social implications of this game it would take far more theory and text to perform a task so extensive that would not fit for this paper. So the main idea can be inferred by seeing the next videos and by saying that «the Burning Crusade, the expansion to World of Warcraft, the most popular MMO on earth with eight million subscribers, went on sale in the UK at midnight (GMT) on Monday 15 January 2007.»[1]

Chinese gold farming small preview
Looking at this we may think that «In the spectacle, which is the image of the ruling economy, the goal is nothing, development is everything»[2]
«the spectacle is ideology par excellence, because it exposes and manifests in it's fullness the essence of all ideological systems: the impoverishment, servitude and negation of real life.»[3])

BBC report on WOW gold farming

Funeral Raid

As you've seen, the last video is the one I'm addressing as the key video. In 2006 there was a particular online incident that captured my attention: a Guild of players created an online funeral to pay tribute and respect for a member of theirs that died in real life. This video game allows users to mimic some physical movements and gestures of real life like kneel, bow, salute, etc. So the idea of these members was to pay tribute of their in game colleague, friend and guild member. This ceremony was advertised in some forum dedicated to the game and asked not to interfere with it, still they were attacked by another guild that apparently planned to attack them and take profit in the game by that attack. This attack was performed in a so called PVP server that has it's own rules were killing is possible and the think that is meant to happen. This video was posted on Youtube by the attacker's guild Serenity as a way of propaganda or self promotion; they also allowed all Youtube registered members to comment this video leaving their opinion. So the video it self is not of much help for people who don't know what WOW is or what that video was about; but by relating it with the comments we can analyse all the situation and figure out the importance of this video. Besides the comments, when we look at this video we see a series of frames that lead us from the beginning to the end of an action performed by the guild Serenity, plus we're shown some text messages that I will try also to discuss along this paper.
If we apply the idea of Roland Barthes from "The photographic message", we see that in this particular case the video and the comments offers us two messages, «a denoted message» which is the video itself, and a «connoted message, which is the manner in which the society in a certain extent communicates what it thinks of it.»[4]. The same is to say that the comments and feedback from all users before this situation presented in the video becomes the example of the connoted message. In this sense this perspective can help us to see beyond the video and the comments, and try to understand what lies behind it because «it's only when the study of each structure has been exhausted that it will be possible to understand the manner in which they complement one another.»[5]
When we look both at the video and comments we see a clash of ideas and values that reveals not only who is or is not in favour of the Funeral Raid but also reveals the importance of the internet, online games and online social networks in our present society.[6] For much theory that I may use to analyse it we always get signs from both sides making us question what is real, what matters and what rules must we follow. The real life rules and values? Or the virtual world rules?
This new reality that emerges in our days, and this particular video, can be seen through the words of Guy Debord as a spectacle because «considered in its own terms, the spectacle is affirmation of appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as mere appearance»[7] If we pay attention to the last minute of the video we see that they imprinted a connoted message in it and that same message can be seen has a «critique which reaches the truth of the spectacle exposes it as the visible negation of life, as a negation of life which has become visible.»[8]

Picture 1: 7:11 frame from "WOW FUNERAL RAID".

Picture 2: 7:15 frame from "WOW FUNERAL RAID".

Serenity's Guild recognises the loss and respects the true life of the dead user but their message is clear: that spectacle is a negation of life. This is their perspective when they play World of Warcraft that was created to be used like a game. This attack reveals that although the funeral has a strong meaning and symbolic charge, it's still performed in a virtual online game. But like in real life, individuals tend to adapt and make a different and personalized use of space and objects that transcends the initial purpose for what those things have been created for.
If we continue to think about this issue and go deeper in it we can see that these online games and networks that present themselves «simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification»[9] reveal more than it seems; the unification it gets it's achieved in a consciousness state of being and becomes nothing more that an «official language of generalized separation»[10] from our real life self and physical world.
Still, this reality it's not that simple. It may seem common sense but if someone expresses feelings, emotions and ideas in some short of way and if there's more people doing the same thing it's because they have an audience and a new ground to do so. It's a new way to express themselves in a virtual world more and more real for many, and by those means it seems that «everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.»[11] In the case of this online Funeral Raid, not only the funeral becomes a representation of a mourning and death ritual, but also in times of war the same act becomes exposed just like in real life. For example see the next link concerning a video of  Violence at Iraq Funeral -
On the contrary to both Serenity's message and Debord's theory of Spectacle applied to this issue, this new world has gained importance to many online users and is becoming an interesting field of study in Anthropology because, like you'll see in the next video, time and space do not represent a barrier to communicate and share emotions, feelings and, most important, to share rituals and common social practices that no longer need the material world to be performed as we've seen in WOW Funeral. Some may say we've double lives but before that I ask, who gets to play and interact with this technology? Maybe just a small part of a world that is more organic than the small but growing unicellular W.W.W. users. Let's see the video.
Amber Case: We are all cyborgs now (TED TALKS VIDEO)

By connecting all this information seen until now we may see that in our particular case the online Videogames may be seen much like photos are seen in Elizabeth Edwards point of view; they can be seen as social objects which power is integrally entangled with the nature of the internet itself. And when we go deeper and think about Chinese Gold Farmers we must think that all the political, social e cultural implications of this technology can only be seen by engaging with the mundane and taken-for-granted in real life.[12]
Also when we go back and think about the online funeral video and analyse it's composed structured like Roland Barthes states, we find ourselves entangled in a complex network of cultural, social e political relations that unable us to make a clear judgment of the situation. This new relations, values and rituals transpositions to the virtual world become more evident and seems to me that Kracauer's ideas concerning photography apply to this case when he refers to the fact that «if the image world has today swallowed the "real world" to produce a mutant state of being which is neither real, nor yet simply imaginary (at least as those terms have been customarily understood), it is naive to envisage a political critique which could be located entirely outside the world of images.»[13]
It seems that we're assisting a creation of an hybrid world were many of social theory categories don't give a plain answer. I find that this new forms of social behaviour in the web reveal much of the transformation stated by McQuire when referring to the history of photograph and television appearances. Contrary to the photograph, McQuire points that the attraction of television and why it radically accentuated the doubts on the borders between representation and reality[14] lies in the fact that «the fundamental difference is not one of detail and resolution but speed.»[15]
So the logic behind this is the ability to represent and transmit a clearer message in a faster way bending time and space. If we approach this subject by historical means and by this line traced by McQuire, the speed is an important feature to consider when we look at Videogames as media were users are not only receiving information but also interacting, sharing information, creating new social relations and in our case study, sharing values through a ritual representation. Much like Bazin's total cinema! Probably we may say that this important characteristic makes the users feel that there are no boundaries between representation and reality and that the visual quality of representation it's not the most important feature.

Final consideration
Along with all points that I have tried to stress, what I conclude from this issue is that we must accept that, for places and for those who have the economic power to access the web and play either online games or make use of social networks, the web has become a common place were all kind of social relations may appear. Not only the traditional relations we know about, but others that until now could never exist. So this virtual place and all it's new forms of entertainment like video games is becoming part of our memory and day to day life. I may say that it has become part of my memory already when I start playing video games in the early 90s but nothing compared with this speed of communication and information flow of today's reality. In this way the web has become part of the many other places were social practices take place and are transported and represented in this not so non place called virtual world or W.W.W.. Each day people are confronted and bombarded by technology and by new forms of places in which they can interact and interpret culture in the same way Paul Rabinow defines it when says that culture is interpretation.[16]
We must also never forget that these games are made by an industry and by individuals that have a specific idea of the world along with their religious and political beliefs and if you pretend to avoid looking to Chinese Gold Farmers example (like many others countries and contexts as a new form of colonization) we will always ignore the fact that this «spectacle is ideology par excellence, because it exposes and manifests in it's fullness the essence of all ideological systems: the impoverishment, servitude and negation of real life.»[17] Video games like "Kuma War" make us kill Saddam Hussein and video games like "World of Warcraft" creates new social and economic relations in China and at the same time allows people to use it as territory of mourning and in some point a place of symbolic violence.

In a strange way it seems that the sentence that Debord used from Hegel makes sense in this new world that is before us... "the life of what is dead, moving within itself."[18]

Barthes, Roland. «The photographic message». In Image music text .London: Fontana Press (HarperCollins), 1977. 15-31.
Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black & Red: 1977(1967). (
Edwards, Elizabeth. «Photographs and the Sound of History». Visual Anthropology Review 21, Issues 1 and 2, 2006. 27-46.
McQuire, Scott . «The ends of representation». In Visions of modernity: representation, momory, time and space in the age of the camera. London: Sage Publications Ltd., 1998. 92-104.
Rabinow, Paul. Reflexiones sobre un trabajo de campo em Marruecos. Madrid: Ediciones Júcar, 1992.

Amber Case: We are all cyborgs now (TED TALKS VIDEO)
Cbs NEWS - (acessed 10-01-2011)
Kuma\War - Capture of Saddam Hussein

[2] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Black & Red, 1977(1967)), 14.
[3] Guy, Society, 215.
[4] Roland Barthes, «The photographic message», in Image music text (London: Fontana Press (HarperCollins), 1977), 17.
[5] Roland, «The photographic», 16.
[6] See comments on this video. Examples: «MrRullaattori:  remember the day this came out, I LOLed so hard. It's a shame that the person died, but that's what they get for holding a funeral in contested territory.» and «narajan12345 You guys ARE FUCKING GOONS! Trust me you ass-hats, they had a real funeral, they arent brain dead shit stains. These people obviously could not attend the irl funeral, and they were obviously friends with the individual. So they went to her favorite spot in game to pay respect to somebody, seeing as how they probably couldnt do it in person If you can't figure this out you probably ate wall insulation as a child you fucking water heads.»

[7] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Black & Red, 1977(1967)), 10.
[8] Guy, Society, 10.
[9] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Black & Red, 1977(1967)), 3.
[10] Guy, Society, 3.
[11] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Black & Red, 1977(1967)), 1.
[12] Elizabeth Edwards, «Photographs and the Sound of History», Visual Anthropology Review 21, Issues 1 and 2 (2006), 27.
[13] Scott McQuire, «The ends of representation», in Visions of modernity: representation, memory, time and space in the age of the camera (London: Sage Publications Ltd., 1998), 101.
[14] Scott, «The ends», 95.
[15] Scott, «The ends», 96.
[16] [16] Paul Rabinow, Reflexiones sobre un trabajo de campo em Marruecos, (Madrid: Ediciones Júcar, 1992), 140.
[17] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Black & Red, 1977(1967)), 215.
[18] Guy, Society. 215.