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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

World of Warcraft is an online game. It's a virtual world of violent fantasy. More than eight million people play it worldwide. The game has gone far beyond slaying orcs, though. For many players, it has become a real-life meet-up.

NPR's Celeste Headlee reports.

CELESTE HEADLEE: Most Warcraft players are adults and on average they spend more than 20 hours a week killing ogres and demons. And surprisingly, most of them aren't shy about admitting that they play - far from it. In fact, they're probably wondering why you're not playing, something the "South Park" folks exploited in an episode last year.

(Soundbite of TV show, "South Park")

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As Nelson) Randy, you're working on that sediment analysis?

Mr. TREY PARKER (Actor): (As Randy) Not now, Nelson. I just joined a big party of Night Elves and we're going to explore the Tower of Azora together.

Unidentified Man: (As Nelson) Is that a computer game?

RANDY: No, R-tard. It's an MMORPG. These are real people I'm playing with, see?

HEADLEE: MMORPG, by the way, stands for Massively Multi Player Online Role Playing Game. The reason I know that is I myself am a player. World of Warcraft, or WOW, has elves, dwarves and trolls either questing together or battling it out.

Imagine playing a virtual character inside "Lord of the Rings." But it's not the sophisticated graphics and complicated tasks that attract people; it's the interaction with other human beings.

Unidentified Man #2: Straight across and to the left a little bit.

HEADLEE: Warcraft includes a voice chat options, so players can talk to each other, just as if they were on a conference call.

Unidentified Man #2: Are you guys ready?

(Soundbite of Vengeance guild)

That's the sound of my guild, called Vengeance. Beside the occasional high schooler or a college student, my guild includes an orthopedic trauma specialist, a New York City bouncer, and everything in between.

Most guilds are pretty diverse. John Gazinski(ph) works at a bank in Illinois during the day, but by night he manages the Ars Brute Squad(ph), a guild that crosses national boundaries.

Mr. JOHN GAZINSKI (Warcraft Player): We have members all over the world. We have a gentleman who's in Australia right now. Several people from Europe. We've had military members in Afghanistan that deploy - actually log on and we could catch up with them that way.

HEADLEE: Gazinski says he and his guild mates have formed strong friendships outside of the game.

Mr. GAZINSKI: We had a guild member actually go missing and his mother reached out to us to help try to track him down. Luckily, he was okay. And we were able to find him and he got back in touch with his family. But it turns into a very tight-knit community, almost a family in itself.

HEADLEE: If that sounds odd to you, how about this? Arwen Lietz is the host of Onwarcraft.tv. She recently decided that Michigan was too far removed from her Warcraft buddies.

Ms. ARWEN LIETZ (Host, Onwarcraft.tv): I moved closer to my guild. I just two days ago drove down here to Texas and set up shop here to be closer to the 20 or 30 folks that meet every week.

HEADLEE: Lietz says her guild mates have welcomed her into their homes while she's looking for an apartment and a job. Canadian Rob Kiley(ph) is one of the elders in our guild. He's a public health official in Northern Alberta and a proud Level 70 Night Elf Hunter.

Mr. ROB KILEY (Warcraft Player): We have a very social guild. We all get along quite well. Like any group of friends or co-workers or anything else, we also have our moments where we have our little arguments and disagreements and that type of thing too. But that's okay.

HEADLEE: For many, Warcraft has replaced television. Players say it's better than TV because you're active and you're socializing in a totally relaxed atmosphere.

Unidentified Man #3: Don't do that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HEADLEE: While I'm wandering around this virtual world, slaying giant dragons or robots, I'm among friends, and the chat is often not about the game at all.

Your daughter is very, very talkative tonight.

Unidentified Man #1: Is that different than other nights?

HEADLEE: But some of it actually sounds like words.

Unidentified Man #4: Could be pretty bad if her first word is Agro…

HEADLEE: Okay.

Unidentified Man #4: Or something like that.

Unidentified Man #1: I heard her say cookie a couple of minutes ago.

HEADLEE: Yeah, I thought I heard her say cookie too.

Unidentified Man #1: You were about cookies?

HEADLEE: This is the normal banter between us while we're guiding our characters through the halls of a dungeon. When we get to the terrace where we have to kill an enormous hoofed demon…

(Soundbite of video game, Warcraft)

Unidentified Man #5 (Actor): (As character) Madness has brought you here to me.

HEADLEE: …the mood changes.

Unidentified Man #6: Running right on top of us, running across. We got to get out of here. Run all the way…

HEADLEE: A group of 10 of us was trying to kill Prince Malchezaar and avoid the flaming rock monsters that fall from the sky.

Unidentified Man #7: Come towards us big time, big time.

HEADLEE: This attempt doesn't end all that well.

Unidentified Man #8: (Bleep) I'm dead. What the hell happened there?

Unidentified Woman #1: (Unintelligible). I couldn't keep my (unintelligible).

HEADLEE: Erin Delwich(ph) uses World of Warcraft in his communications courses at Trinity University. He says perhaps it's the games like World of Warcraft that offer the best models for a future with completely virtual workplaces.

Mr. ERIN DELWICH (Trinity University): Just in the same way that we have a Web browser on our desktop now that's become essential to all of the work that we do, we'll have a window in a virtual world, and in that virtual world our colleagues from the Tokyo office and the Johannesburg office and the San Antonio office will be available to us.

HEADLEE: But World of Warcraft is a social community. Delwich believes the game is really the "Cheers" of the modern generation. Much like the neighborhood bar, it's a new place where everyone knows your name, or at least the name of your online character.

Celeste Headlee, a.k.a. Rosetta, NPR News, Detroit.

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