Prelude to Cataclysm (An Addendum): What ELSE Happens When Bartleby Inhabits the World of Warcraft

A few months ago I posted a lengthy entry on a small socio-political experiment I performed in the turgid world of MMORPGs, “Prelude to Cataclysm: What Happens When Bartleby Inhabits the World of Warcraft.” Needless to say, this writing marked a kind of terminus in my experience of Azeroth.  I have been more-or-less entirely absent from WoW since then, but for whatever reason last night I got a burr in my nose and re-visited Thescrivener.[1] As before, I did nothing but hit the number 8, uttering “I would prefer not to.”  (There were also a few variations of this general statement.  What they might have been will become apparent.)  The evening turned out to be disturbing, upsetting, vile, and depressing.

To put it as simply as possible: the political exigencies of a fictional character created by one of the most impressive American writers of the 19th C., when actually explored, turn out to have been perhaps over-stated by some of the very impressive thinkers of the late 20th C.  (Again, see above link.)

To put it even more simply: when Bartleby inhabits the World of Warcraft she gets raped.  Repeatedly.

Last night I made Thescrivener sit in the AH doorway, uttering “I would prefer not to” on occasion, and quite quickly another character came along and began dancing right on top of her.  This would have been funny/fairly innocuous, if not for the fact that a) he was basically rubbing his crotch in her face, simulating fellatio, and b) that this character’s actions were picked up by some less savory folk.  (He disappeared, and I regret, esp. considering what happened afterward, not paying more attention to who he was initially.)  Taking a cue from this man, one Eroza,[2] a female toon (but clearly a male player), proceeded to rub her crotch in my face on and off for well over an hour.  Following this, a whole group of players (see n.2 below), for a really obscenely extended period of time, took turns, well (there’s no easier/less-blunt way to put this), fucking Thescrivener’s face.

The following is some of the dialogue from these unsavory folks:

“I think she’s a keeper.”

“She’s not much of a talker. . . she’ll be too busy w/ this.”  (“This” should of course be obvious.)

“Yes, not polite to talk w/ your mouth full.”

“kk.”  (Slang for okay.)

“Who’s next?”[3]

I am in no way claiming I was raped, nor do I feel like I was raped, but Thescrivener was repeatedly.  And statements like, “I would prefer not to be raped,” and “I would prefer not to give you fellatio,” were not only ignored but laughed at.

Sure, these acts were vile, obscene, wrong, disturbing, and ultimately depressing.  And of course who could expect anything more from people playing WoW, probably teenagers getting their rocks off.  But it does reveal something quite profound about “humanity,” I feel.  Namely, that rape and other violations are assuredly a possible outcome of a Bartlebian stance.  The fact that I was able to maintain the purity of this stance—i.e. I said/did nothing other than expressing my preference not to do what I was being forced to do—leads, quite logically, to horror.  (One can easily extend this in all sorts of hyperbolic ways.)  And though this is assuredly something I considered initially, I was blinded by the politico-theoretical questions posed by the Bartlebian stance to see how Thescrivener could actually be treated in “reality.”  In other words, w/o many people mobilizing to enact Bartleby, a lone Bartleby will be submitted to tortures of whatever imaginable kind, simply b/c people can.  The question then may very well be, how is Bartleby simply not a perfect object for unadulterated sadism?

And this is a question I’m frankly too unnerved to answer, as I woke up this morning profoundly doubting humanity capable of much else beyond rapacious horror.  Kurtz was right.  When you confront the hard kernel of the Real, there is nothing else to say then simply acknowledge it w/ the phrase: “The horror.  The horror.”

Don’t get me wrong, I realize WoW is virtual, a simulation, and that one of its attractions is that people can enact all sorts of fantasmatic desires they can’t in “real” life (like killing hordes of goblins/trolls/zombies/etc.).  But at the end of the day, there are still humans on the other side of the screen doing things to other humans.  The simple fact that these acts have no consequences (legal or otherwise) should in no manner lessen the brutality of the experience.  If anything, it should make it worse.  For if we take the famous Assassin at his word, “nothing is true, everything is permitted,”  then WoW is the hyper-extension of this truth.  It doesn’t, however, mean that we should take the Assassin at his word.  If Azeroth is a world where “nothing is true, everything is permitted,” then I truly wish there were far more Bartlebys there.


[1] Seriously, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the first post.  Link above in the first sentence.

[2] I have no desire to really research the perpetrators of what could be called nothing less than a heinous crime if it occurred in a(nother) World, but I did find these comments by Eroza online.  The other toons involved, if anyone cares (and I urge you to, if at all possible), were the following members of the Galakrond community: Arcangle, Gabrius, Edanna, Galistin (esp. bad), Gonthorean, Malgant, Orhide, and Pathagarus.  Most of them were b/t lvls 60-70.

[3] Thescrivener was also turned into a bunny rabbit for a period of time, and the violation continued.  Why it was necessary to make an already passive creature into an even more passive object for the purposes of degradation were, it seems to me, unnecessary.  But then how necessary is any of this anyway?

Prefiguring Control: The Confidence Man as Protocological Network

Here is the abstract of a paper I just presented at the 2009 WVU Grad Colloquium this last  weekend.  The paper is still in progress, so I will refrain from posting it at the moment.

(btw, if you haven’t seen this, holy moly)

Perhaps what is most striking to a contemporary reader of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man: His Masquerade (1857), is the manner in which it mirrors current experiences of identity mediation through technology. From avatars on discussion boards, to spam and electronic advertisements claiming their authenticity, to the necessity for various passwords proving who one “is,” to identity theft in general—everywhere the postmodern subject is being asked not only to verify who they are, but to have confidence in what things and people say they are, who, like the Confidence Man himself, often have malicious ends predicated upon having confidence in the authenticity of another’s identity. This paper will explore some of the implications of reading The Confidence Man as a postmodern allegory avant la lettre: how Melville’s text both prefigures the multiplicity of postmodern identity, while exploring the inevitability of the fragmentation of the Western subject when faced with the mediating effects of accelerated technologization brought about by the increasingly efficient working of capital towards the reification of that subject. Ultimately, this paper will argue that the Confidence Man can be read parallactically as both a posthuman figure of resistance to the regime of multiple avatars or identities, and as a figure of that regime himself; that the Confidence Man perhaps finds his most appropriate analogues in the ambiguous artificial intelligences found in Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End (2006) and Leinad Zeraus’ Daemon (2006), than previous modes of reading him as an allegory for Satan.