For those of us who grew up in a mostly physical world, there are some virtual curiosities that cause us to pause and ponder. One of the most fascinating to me is how people relate to one another through games and social tools. One of my talents in real life is the ability to read nonverbal cues and adjust to the social situation accordingly. Since most virtual worlds are devoid of such cues, I have at times been left in difficult, sometimes even embarrassing situations. Suffice it to say, I’m still learning how to interact with other people through the electronic tools that are now so pervasive in our lives.
I was dismayed last week to learn that a longtime LOTRO community member had died. He played a little hobbit lass named Tinki in the popular Lonely Mountain Band kinship. I did not know him well, but being that he was a constant fixture at the annual Weatherstock concert, passing out ale and pipeweed to any who had need, I knew of him. It’s possible I’d even interacted with him at one of those events, but I can’t be sure about that. I learned that he (his real name was Ron) had battled cancer for some time, but had finally lost said battle. LOTRO is a game that has retained a core group of players and role players for a very long period of time, and as a result, consists of some very tight-knit sub-communities. One of these sub-communities, the role playing/music folks, threw a fantastic memorial yesterday, complete with Tinki’s trademark bright yellow “vendor” costume and several eulogies.
I know, this isn’t the first in-game memorial and it won’t be the last. But it was the only one I’ve ever been to, and it was quite moving. First of all, there is a reason that Tinki was so well known within the community, even by folks who weren’t personally acquainted. His reputation consisted of always being extremely helpful to any in need. So much so that he actually stood out within a community that is known for such kindnesses. Secondly, the LOTRO music system lends itself to extreme customization, so the mood was tailored to the occasion. The players in the band were all personally acquainted with Tinki, he being a part of their kinship, so they were able to choose songs that Tinki personally enjoyed, and most were of the somber variety. Some had lyrics about Tinki, himself. Which means that he has now quite literally been immortalized in true heroic Tolkien style! And then, there was the stout dwarf Mithrilfist, who gave a eulogy that would have put any NFL motivational halftime speech to shame. By the end, hobbits were roaring, fireworks were blasting and men were toasting the name of Tinki at an unprecedented decibel. It was a party if I’ve ever seen one.
It was around this time of the tribute that I tweeted the following:
It’s quite a contrast, isn’t it? It’s strange when reality intersects with our virtual game worlds. So many people play video games to escape various aspects of our real world. The comfort that comes with logging into a constant, unchanging world (LOTRO is nine years old, now!) while dealing with family issues, health issues, work stress, or general dissatisfaction with the state of the world cannot be overstated. But there are some things from which we cannot escape. At the end of the day, even these avatars we hide behind are pushed around the screen by real people. People with problems. People with feelings. People who die. When a loss is seen and felt within the game world, itself, how do we cope? Where do we turn when we need an escape from our escape? I believe that these types of things are best dealt with head-on, anyway. Grieving is important, and is best done while surrounded by friends, be they in-person or virtual. From what I saw, Tinki had a lot of friends. And he touched a lot of lives through his in-game acts of kindness. The mourners you see in the picture above are a testament to that.
I’m still trying to figure it all out. I suppose since our relationship with and through technology is constantly evolving, I’ll never really get there. But it was fun and interesting to see the “streams crossed” between real life and LOTRO yesterday. In some small way, I think it bolstered my faith in where humanity is headed. Just the way I imagine Tinki would have wanted it.