So, the study of Warcraft as a miniature reality has happened before, when the Corrupted Blood bug caused what was essentially a controlled virtual epidemic. Scientists used the reactions of players and servers as a way to study how disease spreads – obviously taken with a grain of salt – and garnered some usable data based on what the players’ responses to a virtual Black Death had been.
In this case, though, I think you need more than a grain of salt. Maybe a shaker? Or a wheelbarrow?
Why? Because this time, rather than studying the effects of a disease on the players affected by it, they’re attempting to link such things as Corrupted Blood and the Baron Geddon “Bomb” effect to the players who are doing the exploding/infecting.
If this were a case of looking at ways that people react to “terrorism” (if such a loaded word is still applicable here), the arguments would be a lot stronger. But instead the researchers are looking at the players causing the virtual mayhem themselves, searching for ways to relate their actions to tactics that can be used against terrorist groups.
Right off the bat I think there is a language problem here. Using the term “suicide bombers” for people that transported The Bomb debuff back to Ironforge and blowing themselves (and the rest of the Auction House population) up seems both harsh and *hugely* out of proportion. Joking around about it? Sure. There is a certain similarity in the actions – and in the end the player doing the exploding does meet the same fate as the rest of the auction house. But I highly doubt that there is any deep seated ideological motivation behind the action.
And, while I’m sure studying these events might provide an interesting bit of information, the utter lack of real life consequences for such actions is enough to make me seriously doubt any major findings that they come up with. Death, in Warcraft, is nearly irrelevant. A player contracting a disease or debuff and then “transporting” it to populated areas is something that could be done just for giggles – much like kiting Doom Lord Kazzack to Stormwind or a high level warlock summoning an infernal on the Goldshire Town Square. While I’m sure the occasional player might do something like that out of malice, it seems to me that the majority of people pulling this kind of stunt are more after a laugh from their friends than to promote some kind of agenda – especially since these debuffs are NOT transferable from Horde to Alliance. This is, after all, a game that people play for fun, and there is a huge difference between that kind of “kidding around” and ideological religious fury.
My other issue with the idea as it’s presented in the article is that there are no transportable debuffs that I know of – you can’t “save” a Baron Geddon bomb anymore (not even on your pet), and Corrupted Blood was fixed shortly after Zul’Gurub released two years ago. Any study that researchers wanted to do on the subject would have to track down people that had done these things – two years ago – and ask them about their motivations (or re-read chat logs, which poses its own set of issues regarding validity).
Either that, or they’d have to convince Blizzard to institute a new version of one of these two bugs, just to see what would happen. And with the rapidity that Blizzard squelched the first incarnations of “terrorism”, I don’t see them choosing to create another one.
At this point the only intentional sabotage that would come close to “suicide bombing” – with any kind of consequences – would be a player intentionally triggering a flame wreath during the Aran fight, or intentionally not moving during the Wrath debuff of Solarian… things that *do* have consequences – in repair bills, in not getting loot and badges, and in not getting invited back to the raid. And honestly, I’ve not seen a rash of people getting idealistic about their guilds and joining raids with the intent to blow them up in one fight. The end consequences are too detrimental to the player and don’t serve any long term consequences to the guild/raid. And I suppose you could say the same thing for terrorism… except that the current state of world affairs would suggest that there *are* long term consequences.
Virtual reality is a great training tool, and while I’m all for learning about reality in a controlled, safe situation where death is easily remedied at the nearest graveyard and healing broken bones takes nothing more than a Heavy Netherweave Bandage, I don’t think that studying players in a video game like World of Warcraft is a particularly good way to gauge the actions of an terrorist cell (or how to fight back against one). The analogy works well for epidemics because diseases work without motivation and studying people’s reactions isn’t placing any kind of “blame”, but when you start applying it to in game “terrorism” and “counter terrorism” there’s no longer a solid connection. You can stretch the rubber band on the disease/epidemic thing, but to include the terrorism/counterterrorism argument is to break that rubber band.
*tinfoil hat on* That, and it strikes me as an easy step to government surveillance of video games for “suspected terrorist activity,” particularly with the loaded language. *tinfoil hat off*
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