I will admit, I am largely ignorant about gaming. I am not wholly ignorant…I have my intermittent addictions to casual iPhone games. I helped to advise a design thesis on gaming IRL (“in real life” for you other non-gamers). I think that captures just how far from a gamer I am. Part of the problem is that I get really sucked into the activity on the screen, enough so that my vestibular system is terribly confused and it looks like I’m moving when my body says I’m not. In short, I like games, but they make me want to throw up.
Recently, I have become really interested in a phenomenon I’m told happens in World of Warcraft, or WOW, as I’m told the more clued-in members of society call it. This is the phenomenon of raids.
I actually have never seen a raid. I’m not terribly curious to see one. What I love is to ask gamers about raiding, because raiders get very excited. Raids, it’s been related to me, occur when bands of players gather to take on a quest or a boss character. It takes social coordination, strategy, and patience to pull off a raid. In a raid, players need to forget themselves a little and dedicate themselves to some larger purpose. Raids are for people who can see the big picture. Raids are for people who really understand the world and their place in it, and that understand WOW is not just a game, but a parable for life and its challenges and how if you band together you can conquer anything. Or so I’ve been told.
I love hearing about raids in part because I am so much the solitary bookish nerd that I can hardly relate to the frenzied excitement gamers apparently feel for raiding. As I watch them gesticulating and feinting, reenacting their last raid in their retelling, I wonder what in my life would be raid-like. What would a literary raid be? Would we all take up our pitchforks and arrows and demand our favorite authors hurry up and write their latest magnum opus already? Would we all quest to translate obscure literary texts? Is a book club in any way raid-like?
Ah, I’m sitting next to Kiyash, and across from Lee. Let us consult the wisemen: “People need specific tasks and roles,” says Kiyash. Maybe you make a story appear in distributed books and pieces and people have to get together to reconstitute the story. Now Lee is involved: there’s something like this in William Gibson’s Agrippa (1992). Needs to be time constrained. Can’t be persistent. Maybe the bits and pieces need to appeal to different kinds of people with different skills so that you really need lots of people to put it together.
I think what I love about reading is in many ways that it is a quiet, solitary, cloistered activity. It is focused. It is contemplative. It is individualistic. It is personal. Reading occurs at a scale that is as large as my mind, and just as small. It might be the antithesis of the raid, with all its hurly-burly simultaneous collective action. Trying to think of a raid of readers takes me back to my grad school days at MIT. I would take the Red Line from Harvard Square to Kendall, a short two hops. On the platform, on the train, nerds everywhere. I read a research paper. You had the news. That lady there has a well-worn paperback. You could look up and down the cars and everyone would have their nose in a book. Often people couldn’t be bothered to stop reading even when they got to their stop and had to step off, make their way to the turnstile, go up the stairs. We were together, underground, moving in concert, going to the same place. And still. Still. Still. The thing that bound us was that we all had trouble stopping reading.