Every Voice Matters: On Creativity in the Warcraft Community
This time two years ago, I got it into my head that I was going to do one of those 365 photo-a-day memes. Of course, since I tend to do things by double rather than by half, I thought it would be a SUPER DUPER REALLY GREAT IDEA to simultaneously take a picture a day in Azeroth as well as in real life.
Yeah, that lasted about two weeks.
Flavor Text’s authors have been tagged by Orcish Army Knife and Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual to participate in the Sixth Meme that’s been going around like a nasty headcold. This post is about the importance of community, so in that spirit, here’s mine:
This screenshot was the first one I took for the 365 meme. It was a bit of a happy accident, truth be told–I’d afk’d for a few moments and came back to find Vrykul-Cat seated like this. Though I find the shot evocative in its own right, the pose of Vrykul-Cat and the composition strongly reminded me of my favorite painting from Picasso’s Blue Period, called The Tragedy:
When I began work on this project, I was in a blue period of my own. World of Warcraft was my escape; my safe haven to recharge. I had a job that was physically exhausting and left me feeling very drained–I had no control over the fact that the bills had to get paid, no control over the fact that I was constantly succumbing to illness due to stress for the better part of a year. I felt trapped; away from the keyboard, I was Vrykul-Cat, hiding my pain beneath an icy iron mask of constructed smiles and hollow laughter. Azeroth was one of the few places I could allow myself to grieve. That wasn’t the first time this game has been my sanity well, and I doubt it will be the last.
I’m glad this was my sixth photo, because it proves a point I’ve been trying to figure out how to make for a while. All of us here, we all share a common interest that runs deep. This game uses a medium that is interactive and participatory; we may not be able to shape Azeroth directly, but we can use it as a conduit to shape one another with our ideas. In one of many emails to me, Narci described World of Warcraft as a petri dish, a focused, controlled environment that lets you attempt and experiment with ideas you might not otherwise be able to (or are afraid to) outside of Azeroth. You can give parts of yourself a ‘trial run’, and if you find it doesn’t work out, or isn’t a good fit, the loss is minimal.
In addition, World of Warcraft gives us a framework on which to hang our ideas. The vrykul screenshot is a perfect example of this–anyone who has leveled a character in Storm Peaks will be approaching this image with an informed context. (Or, as Narci brilliantly put it, “we’ve all been big and blue and disguised, through our characters.”) The Picasso piece conveys a similar mood, but as we don’t know the context, our reactions to the piece are naturally going to be more varied. There’s more room for interpretation in the bigger, ‘real life’ pool of archetypes.
This is what I’m trying to get at in terms of ritual and narrative in my Northrend presentation; we’ve all been participants in this controlled world and its stories, and it gives us a common language.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “Guys, I’d planned to sit down and play WoW, but I ended up talking about it all night to a bunch of you about it instead. WHOOPS.” Those are the evenings which germinate the culture in my petri dishes. Email threads, tweets, blog posts, or silly ingame conversations that somehow always turn incredibly intense (right around when you suddenly realize you’ve been running around Stormwind in circles for three hours). Except these conversations aren’t really about Warcraft. They’re about music, art, ethics, digital culture. There is something about this community that has given me the courage to share parts of myself that I’d previously kept buried or silenced out of fear, and that’s the beauty of it. It proved to me that what I wanted say had value, and could benefit others.
Before I started creating things again, my views were largely similar to Cyn on his blogging heroes. I had convinced myself that I could never live up to what others were capable of doing:
And it all seemed so effortless to them. So, so effortless.
They looked like they had their shit together and all the little details fell into place for them.
I found, after a while, that I was jealous of how easy it all seemed for them . . . Not because of anything they did – they were creative people being creative. No, it was me – unhappy with my own creative output, stymied by looking at really great examples and finding myself wanting.
You’re not good enough, [Cat].
You’ll never write [or draw] like that.
I realized that my problem wasn’t the actual quality of my work vs. that of others, it was my utter lack of faith in myself and my own abilities. The 365 project was a low-risk thing for me to do; it was a gentle way to try and get in touch with a part of myself that I was afraid of but desperately missed. I might have only followed through with it for a few weeks, but do you know why? It was because I decided to take a drawing class in the evenings, for the first time since I’d dropped out of art school several years ago (again, something I had to do due to circumstances out of my control). It was because Catulla’s story and identity was starting to take shape behind the scenes, in gchat conversations and outlines in emails furiously drafted to Perculia on all-too-brief lunch breaks.
Suddenly, after a dry spell that covered the better part of my twenties, I was making things again. That is what that screenshot represents to me, because it was the first piece of “fanart” I had the confidence to make. It was the whisper that started the avalanche.
Taking risks and hazarding rejection is no less terrifying to me now than it was before I started playing World of Warcraft. My evil inner editor (who sometimes takes the form of a hyena) still lives in my head, eternally demanding more from me, deeming every thing I make unfinished and lacking.
So, what changed? The 365 project, the conversations I was having about Catulla’s history, they all helped me realize that my petri dishes needed cross-pollination to thrive. Ideas don’t grow in isolation; they stagnate without an incestuous slurry of dialogue to develop in. I had two options — I could either continue to sit here and futilely hone my work into oblivion on my own (which does no one any good) or allow myself to trust the community of intimidatingly talented people I’d come to care about to help me grow as an artist and a writer.
I chose the latter.
Sarah Pine is an inspiration to me; without her, I would never have thrown my hat into the ring of the Global Writing Contest in 2010. I can remember sitting there, wondering who would ever want to read about two night elves arguing in the Temple of the Moon for 6200 words.
I sat there, physically shaking, as I stared at that blue “Submit” button. I looked at the clock.
6:50PM, Cat. Now or never.
I grit my teeth, and thought of Sally. I thought to myself, what’s the harm, Cat? What’s stopping you? Sally did it. Your heart is in these words. Let Blizzard hear them. Worst comes to worst, no one will ever need to know about your Secret Fanfiction Shame. Send it, Cat. Send it.
Enough was enough; I was tired of letting fear rein in my own voice. I hit submit.
That’s what this community does. We inspire one another to become the fullness of who we’re meant to be, one small step at a time.
Hi, I’m Cat. My real name is Mari, and I’ll be 30 years old next month. I’m a Real Person, just like you.
I can be a sounding board for a post idea or recommend a book to you on drawing techniques that I found helpful. I can boost your alt through SFK because you’ve had a shitty, terrible day and don’t want to think about anything more complicated than the state of your XP bar for a few brief moments. And if you need me to be a listening ear while I moonfare spam worgen into oblivion, that’s fine. I’ve done it a million times, and gladly, because I’ve had friends do the same for me more times than I can count.
I say this because I know how important we are to one another, like some geeky Jenga tower of people just trying to get through the next day and make the world a little brighter and more bearable. This community has gotten me through some truly dark periods in my life. Don’t ever underestimate the value of what it is you have to give, and I’m not just talking about messy things like love and hugs and platitudes, either. It’s the words you think no one wants to read, the drawings you’d rather keep hidden away.
It’s my husband helping me literally tear apart printouts of my drafts so I can piece them together again in a way that makes sense. It’s Erorus telling me to try the game out in the first place. It’s the moonkin Sakuroshi made for me. It’s the lamp noise. It’s Tred and Kierk offering critique on my Northrend paper. It’s Cyn’s On the Forsaken post, which I had open the entire time I was writing Daughter of Lordaeron. It’s the PASSIONATE DEBATE ABOUT FORSAKEN tweets Rades @s me with. It’s digging up notes in my actual master’s thesis about Norse iconography to help Perculia write a post on Vrykul artifacts. It’s Dee drawing a picture of Catulla when I’ve had a horrible day full of bad news. It’s Rith offering to teach me how to use my Prismacolor markers. It’s Pewter and Gazimoff inviting me to a BlizzCon viewing party, because I was new to this sceptred isle and didn’t have a lot of friends. It’s BlizzCon, period.
It’s a simple line from something I wrote inspiring Keliera to write his own short story. It’s conversations with Hamlet about oral traditions in Zelda and WoW. It’s Myth and I writing plot outlines to each other in lolcat, because if you cannot tell your story in lolcat, you cannot tell your story at all. It’s Narci and Ely staying up until three o’clock in the morning to help me edit The Wicked and the Righteous and Daughter of Lordaeron.
It’s Nyorloth, who taught me a priceless lesson through the writing contest itself: Do what you love, Cat, and never second guess it. Keep writing. Your voice is worth hearing.
I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.
Hell, he was the inspiration for this post.
There’s a quote by Jesse Thorn that I want each of you to tattoo onto your forehead right now, so you have to look at it every morning when you wake up and face the truth of it. (I also find it helps when you need to tell Hyena Editor to fuck off so you can get some work done.)
No matter what you make, it will become part of someone’s identity, and if you can help them share that identity with others, that identity will become a community. And connecting with other people is the most important thing we can do.
So: make your thing.
GET IN, LOSER. GO MAKE YOUR THING.
It’s what our dapper, tentacled overlord would have wanted.