How the Death of a Star Wars Icon Brought Gamers Together
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MMOs are fascinating places for many reasons, and one of them is that players often behave as they would in reality when there are no real world consequences and no in-game motivation to do so. No gamer is under the moral obligation to, for example, host a memorial for Carrie Fisher. Following the tragic announcement that our princess passed away, thousands of Star Wars: The Old Republic players gathered to pay their respects and memorialize her life. All across the galaxy, players made the pilgrimage to House Organa on Alderaan, the ancestral home of Fisher's character in Star Wars, Princess Leia. What started as an impromptu gathering transformed into memorial services of hundreds on each server, lasting hours as players danced and lit fireworks to celebrate her life. Even those on the dark side of the force set aside their disputes to honor her. Across many servers, high-level empire players distracted the Organa guards in combat so that their lower-level peers could enter House Organa and join the memorial.  

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This is a very heartening story, the kind that helps me believe in humanity again. But the point I want to make here is how important MMOs are to the gaming community. First of all, they likely make up the largest portion of gamers around the world. Second, though each MMO has a different set of rules and traditions, the culture is mostly the same. From World of Warcraft to Destiny, all have similar ideas and customs that govern the players' social behavior. So much so, that during times of loss or panic, these online worlds often reflect the behavior of gamers outside of the game. The heartening part in these events is the way in which the global community can work together to achieve a goal that twenty years ago wasn't even possible.

In addition to Carrie Fisher's tribute in the Old Republic, the Corrupted Blood Incident in WoW is one of the best examples of this. After the events of this blight, epidemiologists were very interested in the way players reacted because of how similar it was to what people in real life did during plagues. Building quarantine zones, for example, or fleeing to the countryside and keeping a look out for the infected. The sheer degree to which most gamers are moved to compassion extends outside of MMOs straight into real life. Like when a Canadian teen prevented an armed robbery when his friend happened to leave his Xbox Live on while it happened, or when two Pokémon Go players saved two people from a burning building.

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We are not always compassionate in games, of course, but WoW has an example of that too. A few years ago, an in-game memorial was held for a guild's fellow player, only to be crashed and turned into a grisly bloodbath. If there was such thing as perma-death in WoW, we'd probably be calling the incident the WoW version of the Red Wedding. Gamers would never do this in real life, not for the sheer “fun” of it anyway. There is usually an underlying cause for someone to crash an actual funeral, and even in WoW, the funeral holders were hurt by the thoughtless actions of the griefers.

I'm not trying to say that gamers are inherently compassionate or inherently scoundrels, no. We're people and we behave on MMOs in times of crisis exactly the way we do in real life. This is fascinating because, well, we don't have to! It's a fake online environment, completely virtual – why would anyone bother being themselves? Why not do whatever you like, breaking local laws and murder have no real life consequences in these games. Except that any given MMO isn't “fake;” it's quite real to most players. The relationships and the culture they participate in during the game often reflect the kinds of people they are outside the game.

Christine Pugatschew
Christine Pugatschew
@Christine_M007

Contributing Writer
Date: 01/09/2017

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