Virtual memorials

One of my research interests is heritage sites in Second Life. I’m currently looking at memorials – for real-world events, for virtual events, and for cross-overs – when the loss of the avatar appears more real than the death of the person.

Such virtual memorials can be intensely moving, as I found when one of the Schome staff died, and a series of in-world events were held to mourn her and celebrate her life.

So I was interested to hear of this YouTube video, filmed in World of Warcraft, in which Serenity Now bombs a World of Warcraft funeral. This was a cross-over event – the player had died in real life. The guild held an in-world memorial, removed armour, let down their guard… and another guild broke in and killed them all.

I feel really divided about this. When I first saw it, I found it very upsetting. Not because of the sight of little World of Warcraft figures blowing each other up (I’ve never been keen on the WoW graphics) but because I identified with the mood of the mourners, and it took me back to similar experiences I have had. So I genuinely felt outraged at the attack, and started comparing it with the Glencoe massacre and other real-world atrocities.

On the other hand, when I got home and described it to my husband, he thought it was extremely funny (as did the person who posted the video). Seeing an outsider’s view on it, I had to laugh myself. If you want a peaceful funeral, the World of Warcraft probably isn’t the place.

I’m still torn. I still can’t tell whether it is tragic or hilarious. But, looking at You Tube, I see that there are a lot of memorials filmed in World of Warcraft. Memorials for guilds, for avatars, and for real-life players. For some people, in-world characters may be just another set of pixels – but for others a death experienced in world may be their first real experience of grief and loss.

by Rebecca Ferguson

About Rebecca

I am a research fellow at The Open University. My research interests focus on how people learn together online and in blended environments, and I have studied blogs, online conference and interaction in both Second Life and Teen Second Life.
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