January comes in like a Lyon and out like… a Lyon?

January 24, 2008

I love the TV/cause tragedy thrills me/whatever flavor/it happens to be, like…


This is a story about an Elf named Lyon.

Lyon is my World of Warcraft toon—well my highest level toon, known in the community as my “main”—a level 60 blood elf hunter with a level 60 aqua sabertooth pet (named Locke—after the LOST character and/or the political theorist). He’s been with me since I started playing the game, roughly six months ago.  While to this day I wish I would have had access to the ORIGINAL blood elf model (see my other work for details on that), I chose the Blood Elf because I wanted a Horde character that looked at least “sort of” human. I won’t go so far as to say “like me.” That’d be a stretch.

The creation of a toon in World of Warcraft is surprisingly template-based and restrictive given the permissions of other MMORPGs (City of Heroes, for example, allows for intense customization). As a blood elf male, Lyon had a choice of one body model, six or so faces, six or so hair styles, six or so facial hair patterns, a choice from around ten hair shades, then a choice of classes (there are several classes in World of Warcraft, but blood elves have to choose from paladin, warlock, mage, priest, hunter and rogue).  Initially a toon is given no clothing choices (WYSIWYG) or weapon choices. The only 100% customizable part of the toon is the name, and if we’re all being honest, I went with something rather generic and expected in the fantasy genre (one of his pets along the way was HooMahn, a mountain lion).

Forging a distinct identity in World of Warcraft can be difficult. Some servers are role-play  (RP) designated. On these servers, one must communicate with other gamers “in character,” and that process allows for a great deal of character composing/identity formation.  But I didn’t think about that when I created Lyon (I should have, granted that I did research on another game where there were RP and non-RP servers); I simply went where my friend was already playing. The server where we play is player-vs-player (PVP), which means that at level 20—or sooner if one wanders into the wrong area—players from the other faction can attack and kill your toon. Our server doesn’t have a RP designation, though, so most people play as themselves, using the game’s communication functions as a chat.

I am, however, as they say an old school internet user. I often use the net—like this blog—as a place for confession and full-on honesty (ask anyone I’ve IMed in the middle of the night). But I also believe in sometimes compartmentalizing certain things so that Phill can live free of some of his history. It shouldn’t always matter, for example, that I’m a student of rhetoric of writing. That doesn’t change the fact that in a raid I’m great for damage per second (DPS) but can’t heal anything but my pet. As such, I decided that Lyon needed a personality and identity of his own.

So I decided to treat him like I would a character on an RP server, with the exception of allowing him to interact as if he were a “normal” person with the other gamers (on RP servers, it is common for a hardcore RPer to actually call out any mention of the real world in an attempt to maintain the fantasy; I obviously chose not to do this, since I willingly joined a non-RP server). The identity I forged for Lyon stole in places from the story of Drizzt D’Orden (from the numerous RA Salvatore “dark elf” novels) and from my own sort of “if I were an elf” self-image. He’s a loner with tremendous love for animals and is wickedly sarcastic when he does associate with people (as a defense mechanism). He likes to regale people with stories of how he obtained the various things he carries (most often his pets—he loves to tell the story of a good hunt). He does not, under any circumstance, talk about himself beyond these two instances (which is mostly a character trait developed to keep me from breaking the character and talking about myself, though it does make him whimsically mysterious).

Early on in the gaming experience, these little quirks of my own creation didn’t make Lyon all that unique. He looked like every other low-level hunter (this tends to be true until a toon is high enough level to leave his “origin” area, as most of the early armor and weapon upgrades are so similar that no one really looks any different than anyone else at their given level).  Because I wanted to be able to define myself as someone different, I decided to leave the blood elf homeland early and did my early leveling in the starting area for the Undead race. When I reached level 10, and could finally tame creatures so that my poor defenseless hunter could utilize a pet, I discovered a website called Petopia (http://petopia.brashendeavors.net/). The site lists “rare spawns,” which are animals that are uncommon. With the listings, I was able to turn Lyon into a “rare pet” hunter, and for a long period I was the only person on our server to have certain pets. Lyon finally had something to make him “stand out.”

The most difficult of his “rare spawn” hunts was for the cat that became HooMahn, a rare lion called Humar. Humar is level 15, which means that a hunter trying to tame it must be at least level 15 him or herself. It spawns every 18 hours (less than once a day) under a tree in the middle of a pack of lions near a heavily trafficked town. Since it spawns so rarely, and could be killed within seconds of spawning by someone coming to or from the city—tracking the cat down took weeks of logging in, sweeping the area, logging out, and trying again. Lyon actually tamed it one night when I was battling insomnia and happened to log into World of Warcraft at 4:45 in the morning, barely managing to survive the onslaught of the pack of lions surrounding the beast. For weeks Lyon was known as “the dude who tamed Humar!”

World of Warcraft avatars have a strange sort of real-life implication. Unlike games that allow for more customization, it’s difficult in WoW to make a toon that looks like the player (please save all “But Phill, you’d make such a sexy Tauren!” jokes until all our speakers have finished), so there is a level of visceral separation between me and Lyon that I don’t feel nearly as distinctly, for example, with my Second Life avatar (which in one form looks frighteningly like me), or even the created shooting guard Phill Alexander I use in NBA Live. And there’s no tangible way for other players to tie Lyon back to me, so there aren’t the real life implications that exist with something like my Facebook profile (which many people used to tell me happy birthday today—thanks everyone, you’re the sweetest!). Still, though, there are connections that exist. One of the guys I play with occasionally calls me “L-word” outside of the gaming environment, and while I don’t actually think of myself as Lyon, I’d feel a true sense of loss if he were eradicated in a server crash or if my account was terminated, or if some creature could kill him in such a way that I didn’t have to just jog back to his corpse and click a button to start playing again. I’d miss his goofy chocabo rip-off mount and his two cat pets. I’d miss the owl he ran all the way into opposing territory to tame, just so he could name it “The Blowfish” and see if anyone got the joke (that’s two times in a day! A third Hootie joke and Darius Rucker will have to grant me three wishes). I don’t spend as much time playing him now (it’s difficult to level after 60), but for a stretch of several months, for an hour (or more) every night I wasn’t a blood elf hunter but I played one on TV.

Recently Blizzard—the company that created World of Warcraft—forged an agreement with a group called FigurePrints (http://www.figureprints.com/) to make custom action figure likenesses of in-game toons. They’re actually statues, under glass, but I’ve entered both of the drawings so far to attempt to obtain my very own $100 glass enclosed Lyon figure. I’m not sure how I’d react to a physical representation of one of my digital identities standing on the corner of my desk, but I think it would be an interesting example of the virtual being made material in a literal sense (as I would argue, at another time, that Lyon is already material in a rhetorical sense). He’s not me, but he’s a little piece of me, and I’d feel strange if he wasn’t around. Somehow I wonder if I’m still talking about what I started with.



Note: this  post was generated in part as a response to a prompt from Julie Platt’s class. Julie’s a great teacher, and this is a crummy example of what she asked for, but I hope those who read it are amused and get a general idea of where things should be going. Check back next week for my reflections on the materiality of my WoW rogue’s daggers, or what I lovingly call “Come on , Vanus, just one more run of SM for that 4% drop!”