Monday, November 30, 2009

Wow! It's just like a cathedral

Slaughter of the Innocents. Chartres Cathedral

In a marvellous article in today's Guardian (just 30p in a student shop near you), Sam Leith likens the popular time-waste 'em up World of Warcraft to a cathedral. According to Leith, World of Warcraft is:

[A] sword'n'sorcery game in which players control virtual characters who whizz about killing monsters, collecting treasure, fighting or ganging up with one another. Azeroth has a functioning virtual economy, and (mindbogglingly) an exchange rate with the real world: a WoW gold piece, enough to buy you some virtual barbecued boar ribs, is currently worth about one and a half euro cents. Also, WoW has some wicked magic swords. Yet grown-ups play it. In fact, seduced by the beauty of this whole new world that's theirs to explore, they find it eats their lives.

Leith goes on to tell us that World of Warcraft is not like a film. What it is like, however, is a cathedral. A great big gothic cathedral, in fact. Just like Chartres. Leith's logic is that the fractured narrative of a WoW session is a repetetive grind, with lots of boar-slaying, getting ambushed and being killed. Quite unlike the oneric experience of sitting in a big dark room full of strangers, gazing upon the projected spectacle of cinematic truth at 24 frames per second.

For Leith, a much better comparison would be to liken WoW to a medieval cathedral: a magnificent work, created by many hands over a great period of time and which remains largely unfinished. "All those programmers", according to Leith, "are the modern-day equivalent of stonemasons, foundation-diggers and structural engineers". Moreover, Leith asserts, there isn't a narrative in a cathedral (that's debatable, but we'll let that one slide) but there is a mythos--a whole system of stories--along with a wealth of detail, and a social space.

Oh, and apparently the number of people who play World of Warcraft outnumber the population of Greece. Now there's a sobering thought.


Eusebius said...

Hi, I'm the photographer of the picture (, and I would appreciate if you could add a credit line somewhere in or near your post. As it is now, it infringes copyright. Thanks in advance.

(no need to publish this comment)

eddie duggan said...

Oops! Apologies for the oversight 8-/ An attribution is now in place.

Eusebius said...

Many thanks!