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ART AND ABOUT: Questing brings real world effects

I’m not going to lie to you.

Upon first hearing that Laguna College of Art & Design was presenting an exhibit on art from Blizzard Entertainment’s role-playing games, my nose rose further into the air than my eyebrows did.

I went to the show with trepidation, conjuring visions in my mind of scantily-clad Draenei warrior chicks with ponderous chests and equally ponderous Mithril axes, generic orc/troll/trogg creatures covered in blood, and my friend’s husband, who hunches over the computer until all hours of the morning, muttering about needing to bring Ishamuhale’s fang to Jorn at Camp Taurajo before going to sleep that night.

To be sure, the warrior chicks and nasty beasties were there. But the exhibit surprised me with its depth.

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World of Warcraft’s landscapes were alternately lush, verdant meadows or dank, murky grottoes; either way, their attention to detail was remarkable.

The living things that inhabit the World of Warcraft and Starcraft were similarly full of distinctive character; no hordes of cloned, EGA-pixilated, vaguely green things here.

Millions of gamers, the majority of whom are male, spend the majority of their free time in Blizzard’s World of Warcraft massive multiplayer online role-playing game, which boasts 9 million users worldwide, according to the company.

Gamers can choose to have a different hair color, sex or species, forging relationships with people around the world — but objectors say the relationships are often a superficial, fast-food version of the real thing.

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Harris Interactive finds that nearly 1 in 10 gamers can be considered “clinically addicted,” like my friend’s husband.

Therapists have created a new business dealing with the gamers, or their spouses, parents or children.

Another new industry, the Internet equivalent of a maquiladora, finds Asian employees paid diminutive wages to build up clients’ characters while they’re at work or school. Souped-up characters are also bought and sold on eBay.

But gamers contributing to The Daedalus Project, an ongoing study of online games like Warcraft, find the experience to be cathartic; after being dressed down by their real-world boss, they can slay a few hundred orcs in Warcraft and be lauded as a hero. Some call it cheap therapy. Others call it a procrastination tool.

Laguna College inaugurated its Game Art undergraduate major this fall, and is poised to introduce graduates to an incredibly lucrative industry. The current tenant of our rental property, who is in his early 20s, is an artist for Blizzard. He sports a mohawk and drives a Lotus.

Quotes from Blizzard on the gallery wall detailed the company’s devotion to maintaining a colorful world that envelops the viewer.

The company, which is based in Irvine, focuses on personality rather than realism, which creates a rich environment for its gamers.

Within their collaborative environment, the quotes read, if a storyline writer sees a particularly cool mask or other item created by an artist, they will take that item and create a quest or story arc around it.

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Companies are taking notice, as well. Gamers are found to have higher skills in spatial reasoning, problem solving and even leadership.

IBM has studied the leadership qualities of top online game leaders, and translated them to real-world abilities.

Toward the end of the list of quotes on the college’s gallery wall was a list of guidelines for Blizzard artists. I laughed when I read the last one:

“If all else fails, add skulls and spikes and paint it red.”

Ah. Right.


CANDICE BAKER can be reached at candice.baker@latimes.com.


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