Fake it till you make it

By Laura Vivanco on

This post, for once, isn't about a work of popular romance fiction. It's about a Mercedes Lackey short story, "Ghost in the Machine" (2010), which centres around a game called "Many Worlds Online, one of the most popular multiplayer online games on the planet" (264). This game, like

World of Warcraft [...] follows a model of role-playing games that are based on a fantasy world, complete with magical powers and created mythologies. As such it is a very good example of what Possamai calls "hyper-real religion." Participation in the game, then, allows gamers to choose to engage in ritual and mythology that is deliberately created. These creations may draw from pre-modern traditions, ancient mythologies, and bygone ritual practices. (Klassen 184)

In Lackey's story a new "Dark Valley" zone has recently gone live, containing "a Boss Monster that [...] was a fairly accurate interpretation of the Native American Wendigo" (267). Her worldbuilding takes as its starting-point the lived experience of  gamers while in the magical worlds they inhabit: "In an interview study of players of World of Warcraft, Stef Aupers discovered that the majority of players he talked with named themselves atheists and specifically rejected traditional religions" (Klassen 185) but

players admit that they often experience their magical self and its magical actions as real. While immersed in play they often 'forget' that World of Warcraft is in fact a computer game, mediated by technological hardware, software, keyboard and a screen. Typical are statements like: [...] "[e]specially when you are a wizard, someone who knows how to cast spells, you really feel you have power. Like Gandalf in the movie ... The evil ones are just scared. It has impact." [...] Experience is key; over and over again they conclude: "I experience it as real." (Aupers 240-41)

Lackey takes this experience of reality to a logical, if faith/magic-imbued conclusion, by supposing that such in-game belief might lead to the creation of "something in there that you never coded" (268) but which becomes real as a result of the players' belief. The game developers have, in other words,

basically built a mythago, because you adhered so faithfully to the Native American descriptions. [...]  a 'mythago' [...]'s a term invented by Robert Holdstock to describe idealized mythic images come to life. [...] The more realistic you make games, the more people believe in them as they play them. If any of your players have untapped magical ability, the more they believe, the more of that gets invested in the reality of the game. [...]"

"Belief can be very powerful," Taylor said [...]. "Powerful enough to create things in the real world. I'm not surprised it can create something in cyberspace." (296-97)


Aupers, Stef. "'An Infinity of Experiences.' Hyper-Real Paganism and Real Enchantment in World of Warcraft." Handbook of Hyper-Real Religions. Ed. Adam Possamai. Leiden: Brill, 2012. 225-245.

Klassen, Chris. Religion and Popular Culture: A Cultural Studies Approach. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Lackey, Mercedes. "Ghost in the Machine." Trio of Sorcery. New York: Tor, 2010. 259-351.