Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ironyca's "Myths and Urban Legends in WoW" – The Bengal Tiger Cave

There are blogs you read for kickarse theorycrafting info (Graylo's Grey Matter) and ones just because they're interesting and usually pretty thought provoking (Lissanna's Restokin or Spinks' Welcome to Spinksville! (though, wow, please stop playing Star Wars already!  ;^D), but the blog that is a legitimate treat every time it pops into my RSS reader is Ironyca's Ironyca Stood in the Fire. (The other blog in my blogroll that's more "literature" than magazine? Cricket Bread, though that's not WoW related in the least, except to remind me that there are better things to be doing than playing WoW -- this is the guy who started the Crop Mob movement.)

The stuff at Ironyca's really has an archivist's and an academic's flair.  Not an industrialist academe, determined to, you know, be relevant by applying whatever theory has their goat to today's hot game (okay, no, really, GTA deserves your attention), but a, "Politics and fads be damned; I'm going to do good work and start chronicling and commenting on this [sub]culture," kind of academic. (Though she's light on the Deleuze.)

So I've been meaning to blog this particular post with more context, but I'm going to stop waiting and share the latest excellent series of material Ironyca's been putting together.  Honestly, if you can't let her work spin you forward a few steps, you're not really interested in non-self-hedonistic WoW [1].

Myths and Urban Legends in WoW – The Bengal Tiger Cave | Ironyca Stood in the Fire:

In Stranglethorn Vale near Zul’Gurub hidden in the mountains, there’s a secret cave with an even more secret mount vendor. She sells a cat mount, supposedly a bengal tiger, but she only spawns once a month for 30 minutes.

I'll admit that I'm much bigger into exploration than I am raiding, for instance, so maybe this is more fascinating to me than most.  I cat form prowled around the Scarlet Monastery for hours before I actually ran it, spent waaaay too much time trying to sneak into Dalaran before I'd leveled high enough, died too many times trying to find where I could drop into Un Goro Crater so I didn't have to run the long way around, and ran around Wintergrasp (hard not to call it "Winterfell" now) for a while well before I was the right level.  Soloing for fun can be, well, fun.  It's nice to take some time off from doing things the way the developers intended and instead see if I can't prank the game -- which, of course, was the whole point of the poorly scanned chapter linked to above.

But Ironyca goes well beyond exploration and strongly into the land of metalepsis.  I've wanted to write about gaming's "industry of metalepsis" for years... how the "real world" and [the horribly backwards notion of] the "virtual world" intersect, whether it's a trick like Rockstar's hidden game or the extra levels in N64's San Fran Rush (iirc)... there are things that can't be found without looking at media that exists only outside of the game (see Picard, via imgur with a small decency edit, above).

And that's why this series is so important. There's nothing in the game that's explicitly there to make you think that there's a vendor than spawns thirty minutes a month in some cave selling mounts. Sure, there's a skin, but that's it. Plus, the skin isn't an Easter Egg by any account. It has a good, reasonable explanation. The mount was in an early beta (alpha?) and was removed. It's a true fossil (again, read the previous link).

But through metalepsis, the digital fossil moves from forgotten mount to legend. That's a distinctly human reaction. We explain the unexplainable through story and narrative, and sometimes prefer to be seduced by romanticism rather than apply William's Razor.

Okay, that's enough. Your homework is to read every link in this post, and then find the cave of metaleptic legend.

And speaking of things not changing, you'll never guess what my first LFG instance was. Okay, well, yes, yes you will. The upside is that I sure as heck remember how to run it.

[1] Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you; beyond capturing the raw materials of my time playing, this blog is essentially just hedonism.


ironyca said...

Whoa, thanks for the kind words, I'm so flattered! :D
I'll be sure to read that chapter you linked, it looks really interesting, as does the whole book actually. I have been wanting to see if I could find something specific about the topic of urban legends and gaming, but have not had the time to do it, so thanks for providing the link!

ruffin said...

Nah, the chapters aren't specifically about urban legends. Not sure they'll help you with this, specifically, and they're both admittedly awfully self-serving.

The first is a sustained investigation of Hot Coffee in GTA:SA (the editor of the book made me tone down my chapter's claims that Rockstar meant for someone to find the minigame, which, um, they did), and the second chapter is just setting up a lexicon for talking about artifacts left in games, specifically the difference between Easter Eggs (intentionally hidden stuff that's can be accessed in-game) vs. fossils (stuff that's not supposed to be found, but can be with a little game pranking).

What makes so many Easter Eggs so interesting now is their dependence on metalepsis (crossing narrative levels). You couldn't find many of these without Game Genie level hacking or hex editor sleuthing. What's neat is that now game studios expect folks to find stuff that can't be accessed by the game's interface, and require this "outside the game" investigation. The narrative levels (I'm a gamer pretending to play a game) collapse (I'm a gamer playing the game with a hex editor).

And then I talk about Piltdowns, things meant to look like fossils that really are supposed to be found -- a contrived fossil.

So I'd extend those two into your post by saying that the GTA chapter talks about a classic Piltdown; something intentional that's publicly played as a mistake, a fossil. You've got the opposite here with the bengal -- an "accidental" fossil that's getting public play as something intentional (ie, a legend or myth, a topic I didn't cover at all). That's really quite fascinating, and something that's, as you've said, well covered, if covered at all, in current games studies literature.

And the kind words are deserved. The blog's the best sustained, deliberate investigation into WoW I've seen. There's a lot of non-obvious stuff in WoW, and with the Cataclysm, lots of the possible objects for study got wiped off the players' interface. Chronicle now! ;)