I started my very first World of Warcraft
character in an unusual place- the university computer room, surrounded by other students in my class. Amid everyone else complaining that ‘this is too nerdy’ and that they ‘have no idea what to do’, I quietly smiled in glee when I found that upon selecting a hunter class for my night elf, a white tiger appeared! Perfect, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I happily started the game, running around with my new tiger and learning to shoot things with a bow. But then, I decided to choose a profession.
‘As a culture we believe in letting nothing go to waste. When we are forced to slay a creature we take what we can to make sure its sacrifice was not in vain. If you wish to learn the proper way to take the skin of a slain beast, then seek out Eladriel in the Craftsmen’s Terrace.’ – Darnassus Sentinel
I quickly decided that I wanted to learn a trade, and skinning and leatherworking were my main options. Leather is not only good armour for hunters, but also sells well on the Auction House. However, I found myself in a huge dilemma I never thought I would be in- I felt seriously uncomfortable with having a personalised game character skinning and crafting items from the carcass of an animal. This escalated the point that I spent an hour on the phone to my partner, trying to convince myself that it is okay. My train of thought was all over the place-‘I wouldn’t skin an animal!’, ‘how can I have a pet but kill other animals?’, ‘Night elves are connected to nature – would a night elf be a leatherworker?’ Asking these seemingly pointless questions eventually made me consider why I was having a problem with this. My partner is vegetarian! So why does he not care while I do? Most importantly, why is this the one and only time I’ve felt seriously concerned about my in-game actions?
Most gamers understand that when taking on the role of a character in a game, we identify with them and see the game world in our own personal way. Some researchers
believe that when we identify with a game character, we perceive their attributes to be our own in reality too. So maybe my concern stemmed from the fact that I can honestly say that I could never skin an animal, and would struggle to even watch someone else do it. Keep in mind here that this is my first ever MMO character and I hadn’t really encountered roleplaying or much customisation in games before.
Similarities between the physical and game world also affect the extent to which players feel emotional responses. Some scholars
believe that gamers can find it very difficult to completely separate games and reality if they have many similarities and connections, which can make the player feel strong emotions
in response to in-game events. While I certainly agree that game events can emotionally affect the player- I’ve experienced this many times- I think that gamers are usually more self-aware in that we are capable of differentiating between reality and the game world. Especially considering how World of Warcraft
isn’t very visually realistic; skinning involves a scraping sound while the animal’s carcass simply fades away. Still, I don’t wholly disagree with this claim; the same scholar believes that gameplay can be liberating and facilitate self-development, as it facilitates real emotional responses. In this sense I would say that my experience encouraged me to really consider how I feel about animal products – from eggs milk, and meat, to leather. In a sense, becoming a leatherworker in World of Warcraft forced me to come to terms with where real leather comes from, rather than just conveniently forgetting its origins.
Similarities and differences between game worlds and reality have been studied specifically in relation to taboos, such as killing. The theory of ‘sanctioned equivalence’ explains how certain taboos are allowed under certain conditions in reality; people as enemies in war, and animals as pests, sources of food, and resources. These actions are acceptable in reality, so it is less emotionally straining to undertake these activities in a game. Skinning and leatherworking are obviously sanctioned in reality, but I am uncomfortable with it in-game. After consideration, I would say this is because I am suspicious of the way the industry is run, I am leaning on the vegetarian side, and frankly, don’t have any elves to ask their opinion! I am trying to both play myself and as a night elf; if I am not comfortable with skinning and leatherworking, then the elf character had better be.
I really surprised myself with how uncomfortable I felt when choosing a profession in World of Warcraft
. I have never had any qualms before; sure in games like Fable
I almost always choose the ‘good’ option, but I’ve killed hundreds of guards in Assassin’s Creed
without hesitation. The personalisation of avatars and more self-directed gameplay in World of Warcraft fosters an emotional connection with the game, to the extent that I treated the idea of my character skinning and leatherworking as if I was really doing it. Simply choosing between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ actions can be simple in video games, but when it comes down to greyer areas, I considered what I would do in reality. From this experience, I believe that in some circumstances, gameplay can truly make us consider issues that may not be vital as a whole, but allow us to develop and learn a little more about ourselves.