If you think about human death vis-à-vis World of Warcraft, you probably think of the unfortunate 2006 incident in which a guild raided the digital funeral of a player from a rival guild who had died of a stroke. That story was one of those things that you tried not to think too hard about, so potent was the combination of pathos, cynicism and dorkiness.
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It turns out that the vast majority of the WOW community has handled the real life death of its players with grace and sophistication. The authors of “Tombstones, Uncanny Monuments and Epic Quests: Memorials in World of Warcraft” describe the various ways in which the players and programmers of the game pay tribute to dead and dying players. These range from static gravesites to characters voiced by now-dead players, to elaborate eulogistic questlines. The paper describes a real life reaction to one such quest:
The story has both a personal dimension in terms of grieving and the emotional impact of the death of a friend or family member, and a public dimension in terms of memorialization. Regarding the personal dimension, the quest design seems to connect very differently for different people in Brad’s life. Rob reports that when he described the quest chain to his dad, “my dad didn’t know how to react. He was obviously moved by it. But he’s not Mr. Emotional Dude” and his mom “refuses to watch” a DVD montage of the quest chain events, “just because it’s too much for her”. However, Rob is also able to report positive responses from others: “Some of his friends that have e-mailed me that play WoW and they’re just like: ‘Dude, that was epic. That was a thing you needed to do for Brad.'”
We think about memorials as religious sites: Christians are buried in churchyards or Christian cemeteries; Jews in Jewish cemeteries and so on. But what if WOW is a sort of secular religion? Isn’t it fitting that is has its own sites of mourning and remembrance?