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The WoW project is a workshop and intervention in public space that uses computer play-worlds as a means of calling attention to the changing ways people deal with privacy and identity in the public sphere. Every day, millions of people spend a great deal of time in online virtual worlds like World of Warcraft. They congregate there to go on adventures, solve puzzles and experiment with new digital artifacts.
Many players remain in these worlds many hours a day. Even when they’re seated alone before their computer, they have lots of friends in the online world and share experiences with them. Although these experiences are played out “only” in the realm of virtuality, they nevertheless become memories in the particular person’s overall wealth of experiences. When 40 players operating according to a precisely organized division of labor being executed every weekend over the course of months “play” out an adventure and finally vanquish their ultimate opponent, a gigantic monster holed up in a cave, the screenshot of all the members of this tightly-knit group constitutes a graphic document commemorating this important occasion in their lives. The process of social bonding that occurs in such groups that frequently communicate only via messaging in the virtual realm ought not to be underestimated.
Each player is represented by an individual avatar, which is given an unalterable name that by no means corresponds to the real name of the player but serves as a clear means of identification in the online world. This so-called nickname floats above the avatar’s head and is constantly visible by all other players. There is no anonymity for the avatars themselves; each on-screen game figure is clearly labeled with its nickname. Nevertheless, changing roles via multiple accounts and avatars presents no problem to the users behind them.
The WoW project takes this mode of publicizing players’ names that’s typical of online 3D worlds and transfers it into the physical domain of everyday life. Participants of the WoW-workshop will be able to construct their own name out of cardboard and then parade around in public with it hovering above their head. What happens when a person’s customary anonymity in the public sphere is obliterated by the principles operative in virtual worlds online?