Days that will live on in infamy
Though we may not like the thought of it, death is a morbidly fascinating thing. Grave misfortunes often draw the eye; rubber-necking on the freeway, glorification of serial killers, and countless movies about natural disasters are all telling signs of our obsession with mortality. In the real world, reveling in such events is taboo. Thankfully, we can gawk all we want at the catastrophes that have befallen World of Warcraft, where would-be tragedies turn into humorous curiosities.
Death in the virtual world is consequence-free, with resurrection boiling down to a quick run to your corpse or a nominal fee for the angelic Spirit Healer. With that in mind, its fascinating to see the amused reactions of the WOW community to apocalyptic events that would send entire nations into disarray. Join us as we take a look back through time (thanks, Bronze Dragonflight) at six of the disastrous death events which stripped away the lives of Blizzards paying subscribers without warning
Hacker goes on a massive murder spree
Usually, the ability to instantly kill another player with a mere thought is reserved for Game Masters (GMs), Blizzard employees who (usually) understand that great power comes with great responsibility. But what if you put that fearsome gift into the hands of an ordinary, mildly vengeful player? Hackers discovered and fully abused a WOW exploit as recently as early October, granting them dominion over death itself by letting them kill player and non-player characters alike in the blink of an eye. The result: Capital cities utterly covered in the corpses of bewildered newbies, hardcore veterans, and automated vendors, with no clear pattern of who might fall next.
That day, death incarnate was not the Grim Reaper; it was a level 1 alt named Haahaahaahah. Blizzard sounded the coder alarm and hotfixed the bug with a patch four hours later, but the hackers had already had their murderous fun. One hopes that these hackers will be brought to ban-hammered justice--but at the same time, their ability to be an insane God for a day mustve been quite the invigorating power trip.
Deathwing obliterates entire zones
Natural disasters are just a part of life--theres no telling if youll be struck by lightning, buried under an avalanche, or be pinned by a rock for 127 hours. But youve likely never feared instantaneous incineration by a massive, malicious dragon when taking a stroll outside. Thats the terror that faced players across Azeroth prior to the release of the Cataclysm expansion. To convey the cause of the world-altering event known as The Shattering, players cowered before the awesome might of upcoming raid boss Deathwing, as he flew through the skies tearing familiar territories apart, permanently.
At any time of day, in a totally random location (save for cities and starting zones), Deathwing could come barreling down from above, turning the sky an ominous crimson and causing fearful players to wet themselves. Upon arrival, Deathwing would spew molten flame on those beneath them, immolating anyone unfortunate enough to be in his path and transforming them into burnt toast. All players could do was take solace in the fact that their pitiful deaths granted them the Stood in the Fire achievement.
Arthas amasses his armies with the Zombie Infestation
Cataclysm wasnt the only expansion involving intentional server-wide slaughter. To herald the return of the almighty Arthas and his undead armies, The Wrath of the Lich King drummed up hype with the Zombie Infestation event. What made this pandemic so mysteriously cool was its multiple phases, which took players on a four-day-long ride from good health to infectious undeath. Things started out unassuming enough: Conspicuous Crates began to crop up around major cities, and from them crawled Plagued Roaches. Those who encountered either of these diseased objects would morph into ghoulish zombies, with special abilities like Retch and Zombie Explosion, which would spread the infection further.
Soon enough, entire zones looked like the WOW version of The Walking Dead. As the population succumbed to the spreading plague, the incubation time sped up rapidly, and players participated in quests to find the cure. The best part: While infected, you would receive whispers from your Dual-Plagued Brain commanding you to give in to your zombification, and succumb to Arthas will. Thats a truly remarkable lore experience, and official MMO events of this caliber are few and far between.
The Alliance raids a funeral
In the kind of aggressive dick move that sounds more characteristic of the Horde, the Alliance decided to imitate real-life gang violence and attack the attendees of a funeral. Well, not the entire Alliance--just the members of Serenity Now, a guild on the Illidan server who made a name for themselves with the wanton slaying of unassuming grievers during an in-game tribute to an actually deceased player. Granted, it did all take place on a PvP server; the pallbearers paying their respects to the real-life death of a guildmate probably shouldve had the foresight to hold the proceedings in a protected area. But the controversial attack sparked deep discussion amidst WOW players, on the morality of being a humongous a-hole in an online video game.
Was Serenity Nows death-dealing the reality of this cruel world, where PvP pacifism is outside the realm of possibility? Were they simply taking role-playing to sickening new levels, killing their enemy on sight no matter the occasion? Whether youre with them or against them, they certainly stirred the WOW player pot in a way few virtual attacks have.
Corrupted Blood spreads like a real-life virus
This unintentional epidemic was one of the first virtual death events of its kind, and was so significant that it served as the prototype to the aforementioned Zombie Infestation. Like any wide-spreading transferrable disease, the origin of the virus started with carriers that couldnt have known better. The first unsuspecting hosts were raiders taking on the new ZulGurub instance, with Hakkar the Soulflayer as its end boss. One mechanic of this encounter was the Corrupted Blood ability, a life-sapping debuff which could spread to nearby players. Players who caught the Corrupted Blood affliction would die during the fight, thus keeping it contained in the instance. But dismissed hunter pets would keep the disease, which could then spread like wildfire when the pets were resummoned in residential hotspots like Auction Houses and banks.
Such an easily transferred, proximity-based disease spread rapidly throughout entire cities, often wiping out the population before players could even figure out what was happening. Though the virus was patched out after racking up a ridiculous body count, players were happy to have been a part of such a groundbreaking, organic MMO disaster--one that unintentionally changed the face of the game for a few days.
Blizzard is known to have some fun with their loyal players, so they did what any ambivalent creator would do on the final day of the original WOWs closed beta: Wrought a Judgment Day upon all the puny inhabitants of their virtual kingdom. At the time, only a small percentage of the betas playerbase had seen anything past The Barrens--so the terrifying Burning Legion monsters which suddenly spawned into existence in low-level areas were a glimpse into the horrors that awaited hardcore players.
We vividly recall our pathetic level 20 troll mage fruitlessly casting Fireballs on an elite level 60 Infernal, knowing full well that any attempt to kill it was simply futile fun. Then we were turned into a chicken and crushed underfoot by a two-headed magma dog. The grand finale came when GMs spawned Onyxia, the original big bad dragon, smack dab in the middle of capital cities like Orgrimmar and Stormwind. We imagine they were cackling maniacally as the colossal raid boss decimated the masses of the unprepared population, which mostly consisted of naked, dancing revelers.
Do fear the Reaper
Though they resulted in the deaths of thousands, many players look back on these catastrophes with fond memories. Do you recall your favorite MMO death event, which shook the playerbase to its core? Pipe up in the comments below, then take a moment of silence for the all those virtual lives lost.