To erase any lingering doubts you may have about the social significance of MMORPGs, watch the following video documenting an attack on a World of Warcraft funeral.
After one of their members passed away (IRL), a WoW clan planned an in-world funeral to honor her memory. Hearing that the event was being held in PVP territory (a place where players may battle one another), a rival clan attacked the funeral and massacred the gathered mourners.
My first reaction was disgust (and dismay at the abhorrent spelling) but as I watched the video, it dawned on me that the events unfolding called into question many assumptions made regarding the duality of shared online/offline life. In World of Warcraft, the Horde and Alliance are bitter enemies. That one would attack the other in a weak moment is a question not of offline human compassion but of wartime morality. By staging the memorial service in-game, the mourning Horde placed itself well within the boundaries of the role-playing universe. In that space, death is typically treated much less seriously than in their offline lives. Seen in this light, the ambush on the funeral service represents a curious collision of online and offline conceptions of mortality.
There has also been an extraordinary amount of debate around the web concerning the ambush. Clearly this event stirred mixed emotions in many participants of MMORPG society. Further still, there is the meta-meta conversation regarding the value of the conversation itself. See this messageboard Analogy Round-up for analysis of analysis.
Time for me to get a better computer. My GeForce2 ain’t cutting it.