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  ‘Toronto Star’ Takes Bizarre ‘Warcraft’ Trip  
Posted 2006-11-16 by Tony Walsh
Wow. There are so many things wrong with this Toronto Star article on World of Warcraft. I barely know where to start. Wait, yes I do: The reportage is terrible. I'll just pick on a few of the worst points so you know where I'm coming from on this. Writer Christian Cotroneo claims:

"...World of Warcraft is the granddaddy of online communities. On one hand, it’s a sprawling, seamless fantasy, where you choose an avatar — a rogue, fighter, Mage — and go forth in this virtual world to hack, slash and maim your way to glory." World of Warcraft is not the granddaddy of online communities. It's not the oldest one by a long shot, and it hasn't spawned any sequels ("grandchildren," keeping with the metaphor), and it isn't even the largest "online community." And why is "Mage" exclusively capitalized? Don't they have proofreaders over at The Star?

"On the other hand, it’s supremely social. Players band together, chatting incessantly. They hook up for virtual drinks at the inn, share a slab of wild boar meat. They dance, they have picnics in the woods, they even share a bed on occasion." Dude, I don't know what server you are playing on, but I have never heard of players going to an inn in Warcraft for a pint and a slab of meat. Picnics in the woods!?! Cotroneo is embellishing here. Maybe he plays on a server dedicated to role-playing, where players imagined they were eating and drinking together, or having cybersex in the woods, or whatever the hell he thinks he's talking about.

"'Yay! I got my Voidwalker!' some warrior declares in the general chat window that runs along the bottom of the screen. He is, I assume, referring to some fancy piece of equipment earned in battle." For the uninitiated, a Voidwalker is a minion of a Warlock and has nothing to do with warriors or equipment earned in battle.

What I have been seeing a lot of lately are mainstream media outlets increasing their coverage of games and virtual worlds, but not applying the same journalistic skills, methods or ethics to those spaces. No "average" audience member would ever catch the errors, although they might walk away with the wrong idea. But gamers and virtual world residents (of which there are increasing numbers these days) know better.
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Comment posted by Scott McMillin
November 16, 2006 @ 4:35 pm
The crazy part is that fact-checking an article on WoW would be so easy. 4 million WoW subscribers, even more MMO players. And it's not like they're hiding somewhere or unavailable. Are they just being incredibly lazy? After reading the article, it feels more like entertainment than news, which, these days, shouldn't surprise me at all.
Comment posted by csven
November 16, 2006 @ 4:47 pm
"but not applying the same journalistic skills, methods or ethics to those spaces."

Actually, maybe they are. Gives one pause for thought, eh?
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
November 16, 2006 @ 5:22 pm
Scott, I wish I found the article so entertaining. I think the writer was more interested in entertaining himself :) I think the fact-checking issue is a combo of lazy reporting and lazy editing. Why fact-check when it's "just a game?"

csven: heh!
Comment posted by Scott McMillin
November 16, 2006 @ 5:43 pm
Yep, my thoughts exactly, csven. In fact I deleted a line in my initial response with the words "it's just a game" in it.
Comment posted by Groane
November 20, 2006 @ 8:04 pm
Well, at least you got me to read the story... Gotta admit though, you seem to be going a little over-the-top on this one.
Since when does using the term 'grandaddy' have to imply siring children and grandchildren to sustain a metaphor? Couldn't it also just mean, it's the biggest ass mmo out there?
And as a guy who's been playing since it was released, I think we both know that avatars are often sitting around in the middle of nowhere chatting it up.
Take a trip to the Lion's Pride tonight and at some point you'll find a couple or two or three sitting around on a bed. On the floor. Wherever.
And as for eating and drinking and carrying on... ever use the old "/drink" command? Or "/eat"?
He's dead wrong about the Voidwalker though. Then again, he says he assumes, which tells me he's a NOOB and he's taking a stab at this. He missed.
Anyway, bottom line is the story's pretty lightweight. The angle is downright weird, but I can't see how it's worth all the venom.
Comment posted by Scott McMillin
November 20, 2006 @ 8:29 pm
I'll take a stab at this. Groane, one reason I think we may be a bit more sensitive to how journalists are reporting on virtual worlds is that over the past month or two, reputable news outlets have continually mis-reported information about Second Life. Not sure if you are in Second Life or follow it, but there's been an unceasing parade of factually incorrect reporting lately, and it's just getting a bit tiring.

(Oh, and Tony I was responding to your comment above and said csven by accident.)
Comment posted by Groane
November 20, 2006 @ 8:36 pm
True. I guess it's all cumulative. I'm no Second Lifer, but as far as Warcraft goes I didn't really catch much of a parade of inaccuracies here. Semantics, maybe. But I guess I'll have to really start looking at other Warcraft-related writing. Or... maybe not.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
November 20, 2006 @ 10:51 pm
Groane, thanks for sharing your views. Personally, my reaction to Cotroneo's article has a lot less to do with Second Life and a lot more with my opinion of his skills as a researcher and writer. He can't make up his mind whether or not he's writing fact or fiction, and he doesn't do a good job at either.

His facts aren't very precise (we wouldn't need to bring semantics into this if he'd been more accurate) or informative. His fiction could be mistaken for fact because he hasn't decided which he's writing. Yes, characters can /eat and /drink as you point out. But can they honestly be said to be "sharing" a slab of boar meat or having picnics in the woods? If the entire piece was written as if Warcraft's world was real, I would have no problem with these embellishments. But I don't think the reader can tell what *really* goes on in World of Warcraft, based on the article. And that's really inexcusable for a mainstream newspaper. It would be like a travel writer describing life in Cuba when in reality he spent one drunken weekend there. I bet Cotroneo got himself a 14-day trial, spent two days in WoW, and farted out his article.

I added in previous comments that Cotroneo's article seems to be part of a mainstream media trend where games are not considered important enough to fact-check and research properly. This sort of reportage doesn't fly in other subject areas such as travel or music or movies. When a music writer screws up an article, music experts will take him to task. Why should games be any different?
Comment posted by Groane
November 20, 2006 @ 11:46 pm
Ummm... still not getting it. Just see somebody taking a stroll in a place he doesn't go very often. Very tourist-like but not terribly inaccurate. And this is coming from a Warcraft Machine. :)
But speaking of tourists... consider doing something about gaming reportage if it really bothers you.
Anyway, to each his own. Moving on...
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
November 20, 2006 @ 11:55 pm
I can appreciate we don't see eye to eye on the matter.

As far as "doing something" about gaming reportage, I have written professionally about games and game culture for national publications, and occasionally appear on television as a commentator about games, gamers, and gaming. In addition to blogging regularly on the subject, I teach a postgraduate college course on Game Culture and Design, where I dedicate at least one class to the state of games journalism.

So clearly I'm "doing something," bub.
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