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My World of Warcraft character is a squat, scowling woman with bushy green pigtails, flowing robes and hoop earrings. Because why the fuck not. I remember picking some sort of classifications for her (magician maybe? dwarf?) but given the brief period of time we had to explore the magic circle of WoW, I couldn’t make myself care terribly about the fashion choices of my avatar.

After finishing the point-and-click tutorial quests and escaping the toxic waste filled underworld, I arrived fresh-faced and full of hope on the surface of a low-poly, steampunk alpine village which seemed to be in the middle of a kind of siege by … I don’t even know what. Something green and slimy. I guess the title World of Warcraft should have clued me into the fact that siege is a pretty quotidian affair in this universe. Suddenly, my diminutive stature and lack of any notable weapon seemed much less adorable and much more ill-thought-out.

Appropriately enough, I was almost immediately killed.

When you die in WoW, you awaken as a ghost in a cemetary in a black-and-white version of the world that reminds me forcefully of those artsy-fartsy infrared camera shots of normal forests. The only major differences in gameplay are the moody color scheme, the ethereal swirling vortex in the sky, and a total lack of other beings to brutally dispatch your innocent little self. Given my nature as more exploratory than combatant gamer, death was possibly the best thing that could have happened to me in the World of Warcraft. Only then did the work of moving from one quest to the next become the play of discovery. I spent the next 45 minutes wandering around woodland trails and fantastic castles undisturbed by bothersome quests and frightful beasts.

There’s a concept in game development called Time to Penis, or TTP. The TTP of an individual game is the time in which it takes a user to work within the rules of the game-world in order to create a representation of a phallus. For a game like Minecraft, this could be on the order of half a minute or so. Sim City might take you a bit longer. Due to my unfamiliarity with the game, I’d have a hard time estimating the TTP of World of Warcraft, but I don’t anticipate it’d be very long. There seems to be an innate force within some human gamers driving them to this subversive goal. It’s as if to say: Look, game developers, you don’t entirely own your creation. And here’s a massive cock to prove it.

I’m reminded of TTP by the fun of playing WoW as a ghost. I think the typical gameplay strategy is to find your way from the cemetary back to the place of your death, reincarnating yourself to continue on fulfilling quest after quest — continuing on in the game’s intended narrative. In the same way that Sim City isn’t for making dick-shaped villas, WoW isn’t for haunting around. But people still do these things. Subversion is, for better or for worse, a part of human nature. Games, and online media in general, seem to have an uncanny capacity for intensifying this desire.

Perhaps it’s the anonymity — as a fictional, polygonal avatar, the gamer is somewhat distanced from the consequences of their actions. Perhaps it’s the fiction itself — the game world is a game, somehow less serious than reality. Acting on intrusive thoughts is more acceptable here. Perhaps it’s the implication of competition — a game invites us to one-up each other, and by extension to one-up the world itself. By coloring outside the lines, so to speak, the gamer proves themself better even than the game.

The relationship between the intent of the creator of a piece of media, and its interpretation by an audience is typically complex. Many a text goes misinterpreted, sometimes with disastrous consequences. The relationship between playing a game as it should be and as you want to is no exception.