Blizzard's MMO World of Warcraft has been running since 2004, and in that time has built a complex history, through both its lore and the culture of the community that plays it. Author Anthony R. Palumbi has explored that culture in his new book, Blood Plagues and Endless Raids: A Hundred Million Lives in the World of Warcraft, which is available now.
"Blood Plagues is the story of everyone who ever set foot in WoW," he says. "It's about how the planet's biggest video game taught a generation how to live virtual lives, lead multinational dragonslaying conglomerates and occasionally manage to hook up while doing so. It's the wildest and most entertaining stories from more than a decade of WoW, and an honest attempt to learn something from them."
Palumbi is a WoW player himself, but says he wrote the book for both fellow devotees and their friends and families who may have wondered at their obsession. "You can pick it up and enjoy it without ever having played an hour of WoW, or frankly any video game. It's about human beings and the choices they make and how we can all lead happier lives."
Read an excerpt supplied by the author and Chicago Review Press below.
From Chapter 2: "Love and Warcraft"
"Meeting someone special in a video game doesn’t teach you how to make it work. What, in an online environment, really makes you a couple? You can run quests together, spend long hours sequestered in private voice channels, celebrate a great piece of loot, or commiserate over the latest guild drama. Your most touching conversations you save as screenshots. You can have certain kinds of sex, albeit lacking in what Sandra Bullock once referred to as “fluid exchange.” Few human beings can subsist on long-distance love for long; sooner or later, everyone wants to meet. Here online games diverge away from dating sites, most of which sort populations by geography. Rare are the WoW paramours who live convenient to each other. Meeting in person demands planning, time, money, and a near-certainty it’s all going to work out.
Gamers in love lack reliable stores of advice, first because online relationships are relatively new and second because our society would prefer to ignore them
Love has always demanded a bit of irrational confidence from all involved parties. Love in WoW asks participants to go a bridge further, to make a leap of faith from a completely remote relationship to a present and physical one. This other person is made from an avatar, a voice in a small digital microphone, reams of lower-case purple text and a few pictures exchanged via cell phone—until you roll up to that airport curb to receive into your vehicle and life a collection of hands and feet, flesh and bones, scars and traumas and dreams and a gaggle of siblings and a transcript from a respectable state university and holy shit it’s all real. It’s hard to really know someone, much less feel genuine attraction, until they’re right in front of you: full-featured, flawed and irksome, weight pressing on the fabric of local space-time.
Attraction abides by its own rules, so what you have online won’t necessarily translate offline. This isn’t a sly way of noting that people lie on the Internet, whether about their identities or their appearances. It’s simply acknowledging there’s no way to tell whether a pairing will “work” (however the partners choose to define that) until the pair meet in person. Always get your own hotel room is great advice for women and men alike. One good friend traveled from his Philadelphia home to visit a woman in Nebraska; once they met, he claimed, “things just didn’t work.” Since I knew them both I queried her and got more detail. “It was pretty crappy,” she agreed. “He wasn’t a jerk or anything. He was the same guy I knew online. But in the same room there was just no connection, physical or otherwise. Nothing happened. I’d take my dog to the park, and he’d just sit on the couch reading.” The same woman ended up dating another guildmate for a long time, scheduling regular connections like any long-distance couple might. The chemistry’s there or it isn’t. You just never know until you’ve already landed in Omaha.
Nobody ever tells you how to handle that first meeting. Gamers in love lack reliable stores of advice, first because online relationships are relatively new and second because our society would prefer to ignore them. They don’t film well, after all—people hunched over their computers or tapping into their phones makes for bad cinema—and we derive a truly alarming portion of our romantic ideals from Hollywood. You’ve Got Mail, probably the best-known romantic comedy about two people meeting online, nonetheless relies on Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan knowing each other very well before they meet online. Their dissonance fuels the drama. Hackers lands closer to the mark, with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Lee Miller first meeting in a virtual space and bonding over their unique skills in that space, but they still attend the same high school. Healthy and happy online relationships are scarce on our screens.
For all the obstacles, WoW couples seem to have a good track record. One can attribute part of this to selection bias—the couples you can observe are by definition those still together—but when they work, they tend to work rapidly and well. Bonds formed through gaming are richly textured and strong for it. Few people will invest so much work without tremendous affection for someone else, without a genuine connection and a will to sacrifice for it that should please any romantic. These relationships are slower, more thoughtful, more chaste (if only for lack of opportunity), and in almost every way more conservative than pop culture would have us believe. Love in the World of Warcraft has all the many-faceted beauty of the players themselves."