15 Minutes of Fame: Philosophically speaking

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Whoa ... Was that a book on WoW and philosophy on that display rack? Why yes, it was. World of Warcraft and Philosophy, edited by Luke Cuddy and John Nordlinger, has been attracting double-takes in bookstores since last fall. With selections by philosophers from all over the globe, the book covers issues topics such as ethics, economics, gender identity and metaphysics through WoW-tinted lenses. But this is no dusty, academic tome. Roleplaying, cybersex and the infamous Corrupted Blood plague are all on the menu in this lively, readable tome targeted at fans of WoW.

Editor John Nordlinger is just the sort of guy you'd expect to find behind such an eclectic project. The former senior research program manager at Microsoft is California-bound, moving from work in high-tech education to studying film production at USC. We visited with John while he was in transition about some of the realities behind World of Warcraft and Philosophy.

Main character Nordom (currently retired)
Guild Terror Nova
Server Eitrigg
WoWstyle Altaholic, with characters Nordom, Minsk, Thane, Anaah, Dakcon and Trias all from my favorite RPG, Planescape Torment

15 Minutes of Fame: You've said that you created World of Warcraft and Philosophy specifically for WoW players. Why would the typical player who's not particularly philosophically oriented pick up this book?

John Nordlinger: To learn the best way to grow within a virtual world.

What sort of ethical issues face WoW players?

Being kind in times of stress. Treating females (real or virtual) appropriately. Learning to control addiction.
Do you think that most WoW players generally behave differently in game than they do in day-to-day life?

Yes. People try new things -- aggression, selfishness, griefing -- in virtual space, but more tepidly in real life.

Have you observed that the whole "I'm going to ninja/abuse others in Trade chat/whatever because I can" phenomenon is something that most players indulge in and then move past, or do you see that players continue to twist the boundaries of what's acceptable and what's possible when they're online?

Many folks push the envelope in good behavior due to being able to hide behind their avatar. (This is) aggravated by intense game scenarios (such as) raids, PvP, etc.

You've said that one aim of World of Warcraft and Philosophy was to learn the best way to grow within a virtual world.

By growth, I meant wisdom. I hope players who read it will become more insightful and kind. Teaching ethical stories tied into the players' experiences is the best way to teach a new philosophical concept.

We see a lot of player friction among differently geared and experienced players thrown together by the Dungeon Finder tool. Can you shed any light onto the root of the problem and possible solutions?

I think it is due to immature ages, slower, older players and also gender conflicts.

Can you give any specific examples, either from the book or directly, that illustrate applying some of the ideas in the book to "solving" these problems?

In regards to when young teenage males are in a raid, they often act either condescending or overzealous -- for instance, a tank rushing into a dangerous crowd without regard for his teammates or a mage lecturing a healer for not responding quick enough. Through empathy or playing a few alts, you often get to see literally what wearing another's shoes provides. A tank with a healer alt is often more patient. A mage that also has a tank often can appreciate the challenge of holding agro. Etc -- a simple lesson to see things from another's perspective.

We understand you're transitioning away from your career in high-tech education. What was your work at the Games for Learning Institute all about?

The Games for Learning Institute is an amazing initiative to investigate what makes games fun, (how) games transfer intellectual concepts and prototype what the psychologists (developmental and cognitive) and educators discover.

Can you tell us more about your film production work and Allegory of the Game?

I took a film course at Bellevue Community College and wrote, directed and produced a movie necessary for my USC grad application. The topic was Plato's allegory of the cave, but swapping a cave for a MMOG. (Check out the Allegory of the Game.)

Any plans for future projects?

Not sure yet, but I'd love to make a movie about the financial fiasco.

Thanks for taking the time to chat during your transition, John, and best of luck with your film studies!

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" - neither did we, until we talked with these players. From an Oscar-winning 3-D effects director to a rising pop singer ... from a quadriplegic player to a bunch of guys who get together for dinner and group raiding in person every week ... Catch our 2009 year-end retrospective for a year's worth of WoW personalities.

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