Sunday, 26 June 2011

Playing WoW to Save People’s Life

I have mentioned previously that there are multiple ways to interact with the MMORPG, world of warcraft. In addition to the gameplay, we can create fan arts like comics, stories, machinimas and music videos to express our feelings and thoughts; or we can attend the annual Blizzcon to know new friends and to celebrate the festal carnival; or we can even hold an innovative event based on WoW, playing it for a completely different purpose—saving people’s life. The following story is found from Dragon*Con’s blog. Since it is a very creative and new game engagement, I’d like to discuss it here in terms of whether this behaviour emancipates players from the current constraints of marketing ideology.

Kevin's close friend and Dragon*Con staffer Jay Sturrock was recently diagnosed with cancer. To conquer the disease, Jay needs a large amount of money for the medicine and surgery treatment. With this in mind, Kevin decided to put his World of Warcraft habit to a good cause, utilizing it to raise fund for his friend. A 24-hour “WoW-a-thon” will be held at Battle and Brew Gaming Pub in Marietta on July 9th. People are encouraged to make a pledge at the beginning, and then the “WoW-a-thon’er” they sponsor will try to level up a new character in WoW as fast as possible within 24 hours. Finally, the amount of money donated by the sponsor will be the original pledge multiplied by the number of levels got by the “WoW-a-thon’er”. From the above description, we can tell that there are two teams of participants. One is made up of the money donors, the other is the team of “WoW-a-thon’ers”, namely players. Obviously, those players act a primary role during the fund raising, because the more levels they get the more money they can raise for Jay. During this process, gameplay is sacralized.

This story shows that consumers are not as passive as suggested by many Frankfurt school scholars. People do not just follow the standardized pattern of mindless consumption; in contrast, they can actively appropriate the cultural artifact to achieve their own ends. Through holding this event, Kevin sacralizes the gameplay and invents a new meaning of it. The 24-hour gaming experience becomes heroic and meaningful because of its good purpose. This is absolutely unanticipated by the game developer; however, it benefits Blizzard in many ways. First, as an interesting and editorial anecdote, this story could generate buzzwords among gamers and even potential players. While people talking about the story, they form a positive attitude toward this game. The possible outcome could be the increase in subscribers and time spent on this game by every subscriber, and this is exactly what Blizzard expects. Second, the new and positive meaning co-created by players is attached to WoW without costing Blizzard a cent. The game developer has spent no time and money in advertising WoW but its fan community, by launching this event, helps it achieve the same effect that can be brought by ads. Therefore, in this case, consumers have been integrated within the value chains of the videogame industry, acting as the free labour.

Nonetheless, we cannot say that people are passively manipulated simply because their creative endeavour benefits the game developer. By launching this event, they also get what they want. By manipulating the manipulation, they can achieve the purpose of fund raising and even save their friend’s life! Hence, although this case still fails to escape the market logic (I mean it is still within the constraints of the ideology set by the capital economy, and it is still utilised by the market to fulfill its exploitative purposes), it at least demonstrates that consumers are not mindless creatures who bear all the manipulations but with no critical thinking.

The picture used in this article is retrieved from, you can find it through this link:

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