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BlizzCon: interview with Cory Doctorow

Kevin Kelly

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction writer, a blogger, and arguably, a futurist. In fact, we'll let Wikipedia do a much more thorough job of informing you who Cory is. After you've digested that, be sure and visit his website, where you can download many of his books for free, and check out Boing Boing, which he co-edits.

I first discovered Cory Doctorow by reading his excellent novel "Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom" a few years ago. I had worked at Disney World for most of 1992, and as a result I've always had a bizarre fascination with all things Disney. So it was somewhat fitting that I caught up with Cory at Disneyland during the recent BlizzCon and asked him about MMOs, WoWers, and other acronyms.

So, what did you think about BlizzCon?

Well, it was awfully commercial. I'd envisioned a lot more of the social stuff -- guild stuff, "friends" who'd never met f2f getting together. But that was pretty thin on the ground -- it was so damned dark, you could hardly spot your friends even if they were there.

Meanwhile, the merch on hand was pretty lame. Just licensed partners -- no riotous bazaar of hand-turned, artisanal WoW junque. I'd been hoping for an explosion of fanac, like you get at Comic-Con, but this was more like a cattle chute for draining the money from gamers' wallets.

What did you expect it to be like?

What was the strangest and / or coolest thing you saw?

Definitely the coolest thing was the cosplayers -- so many of them, and so superbly kitted out. This is where having a single, well-defined mythos with a lot of visual reference really works, lending a formal structure to cosplay. They're not making arbitrary costumes -- they're recreating something from gamespace.

The most disturbing?

The PayPal booth where they were happily offering to broker deals for gold-farmers.

Do you play, or have you played, any MMORPGs?

Yes, but not much. I live with a serious gamer -- my fiancee -- and I outsource my time-sink MMOGing to her.

Do you play other games in general? Video games, board games, head games, etc?

Yes indeed -- all my life. I was a huge tabletop RPGer for years and years.

Would you ever or have you ever set a novel / story in the world of MMORPGs?

Just a short story, Anda's Game, which was nominated for a ton of awards and got reprinted a LOT. I'm thinking of expanding it into a manga thing.

What fascinates you and / or bothers you about the MMORPG genre and fandom?

Fascinates: the amazing social stuff. Guilds, group raids, etc.

Bothers: the absence of the rule of law. Azeroth and Norarth might have two of the world's largest economies, but they're not nations. They're corporate fun-parks, governed by insane, abusive EULAs. Blizzard installs freakin' *spyware* on your PC -- they even sued fans who made their own game-server.

Where do you think the MMORPG genre is headed?

I think that Second Life is going to spin out some interesting hybrids that attain the same cognitive effect that you get out of one of the insanely managed experiences from Blizzard, et al, but without the same authoritarian structure. Something that is broadly compelling (beautiful, fun, exciting, social, creative) without being 0wned by some Fortune 100 dinosaur.

With our obsession with the internet and online world of both work and pleasure, are we almost already living in an MMORPG?

You should look at Justin Hall's PMOG -- Passively Multiplayer Online Game, at It's totally based on this premise.

I like to "play" Disneyland like a side-scroller, trying to speed-run the rides through canny acquisition and deployment of FastPasses, shrewd queue-guessing, and rigid bladder- and appetite control.

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