Death + the Law Death + the Web

This is What It Sounds Like When Avatars Die…

Virtual Estates Lead to Real-World Headaches
Chris V. Nicholson, The New York Times (November 02, 2009)

I am not an online gamer so I don’t have any experience with the bazillions of virtual worlds inhabited every day by living people. That said, it’s impossible to spend any time online these days without hearing about World of Warcraft, Second Life, or the Sims, so I know all about these places. I never really gave much thought to what happens to a person’s accumulated virtual world wealth until I read this article.

Death Avatar

The key question is this: who (or whom) inherits or keeps your ‘stuff’ after you die but your online persona hasn’t? A number of e-mail services and social networking sites have changed their policies to deal with user deaths. I wrote about a recent Facebook change here. And, as the article linked above describes, Yahoo ended up in court over the release of a dead solider’s email to his next of kin.

The article mentions a company which handles many of these online-property issues, The Digital Beyond, and if I were going to law school right now I would absolutely focus on individual internet property rights. More and more of everything is online and unless the national power grids all go down then that situation won’t change anytime soon.

Lady DeathThe article also discusses this apparently HUGE online incident (based on what the almighty Google showed me) from a 2005 World of Warcraft funeral. Mourning avatars gathered in-game to pay their respects and were slaughtered by a rival group. It’s all like some kind of crazy drive by shooting at a funeral for a rival gang member or something.

But since this incident involves an online funeral turned avatar massacre, someone produced a YouTube video. I won’t pretend to understand what is happening in this video but it looks like a lot of gaming nerds got really really upset:

This kind of makes me want to know what is going on in these online worlds. But not enough to actually become a gamer. Death already eats up enough of my online time.

Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture

Video Game Ways to Die

King's Quest III

I am not a gamer. All those newfangled surround sound polygons make me want to hurl. But as a plucky youth with a computer geek dad, I had the fond and formative experience of devouring Sierra computer adventure games, especially the King’s Quest series.

I recently discovered via MetaFilter that a handful of painstaking souls have recorded and compiled all the various ways to die in these games and several others. In particular, YouTuber MrWhitman has posted dozens of retro game “Ways to Die.”

Ah, King's Quest! Instilling bad puns and ogre fear in children of the '80s everywhere!
Ah, King's Quest! Instilling bad puns and ogre fear in children of the '80s everywhere!

Reliving the King’s Quest deaths with nostalgic glee, I can’t help but recognize that, given the care in capturing every death in a wide range of titles, even and especially when that death is terminally boring, Ways to Die videos are more than just for the laffs and (perhaps) reminiscing the age of less gruesome gameplay. It is also about documentation — the compilation and collocation of information, even if that information seems trivial.

How is it important or useful? I’m not exactly sure. And yet, I approve — not just for the jolt back to childhood, but the belief that in some weird way, this is a cultural and generational transmission. Back in the olden days, you could die from a scratch from a scraggly 8-bit scribble, and it would devastate you.

King's Quest II

And like the games of today, discovering all the creative and absurd ways to off yourself is just as challenging and fun as avoiding it. Are these expressions of thanatos, exploring death and dying in a safe environment? Or perhaps just getting one’s money worth? After all, once immersed in a spellbinding narrative and mesmerizing virtual world, you never want the game to end — even if that means finding every way possible to die in it.