In the World of Warcraft guild I study, it’s not uncommon for the hunter character to name their animal companions after their friends in the game. This usually was done to either make fun of someone or to recognize the help that friend has given them in some aspect of the game.
With the latest patch to the game, all WoW players have the ability to name their non-combat pets. These pets are collectible items that never really had a battle-related function in the WoW universe before — they were vanity items, meant to provide uniqueness to the avatar. You could have your character summon your Worg Pup, for example, and a miniature black dog-like creature would appear and follow your avatar around in your adventures. The non-combat pet cannot be killed but it does not deal damage or affect the surrounding world (in most cases), and there are many rare ones that are worth thousands of in-game gold.
Before, these non-combat pets would just have names like “Captured Firefly” or “White Kitten”; only a select few had names assigned to them, and they were not unique to players. Now, all players can individually name their pets, and this has resulted in a number of interesting naming practices in the guild. As an extension of the hunter pet naming practice mentioned above, several players have taken to naming certain pets after guildmates who are associated with those particular creatures — for example, the pet Lil’ Tarecgosa, named after a legendary staff in the game, I’ve named after our guildmate who spent months and months in her efforts to acquire the staff. There’s the Alliance Balloon pet, which most people in the guild independently named after our druid tank who insisted the balloon pet was his good luck charm.
There are also clever naming conventions, usually involving cultural references. Personally, I’ve named my firefly pet Captain Tightpants, and I’ve heard of others naming cat pets “Cheezburger” and little bear pets “Pedo”.
And then there’s this conversation I had on Facebook with a guildmate with whom I regularly engage in hockey-related banter about the evil Philadelphia Flyers:
The naming practices here are another way of linking WoW practices to broader cultural knowledge, which is something that has been done in World of Warcraft for a very long time. With the existence of non-player characters like “Haris Pilton”, who sells overpriced bags and sunglasses, and “Ophera Windfury”, a ‘caregiver’ — this practice of breaking the fourth wall is something that developers and players regularly engage in. These references may be departing from the idea of an ‘immersive experience’, but the practice reflects the idea that virtual worlds and games do not exist independently from the broader society. Especially in a game like World of Warcraft, which is so oriented to player socialization, the player base comes to expect that other players (and the game itself) will bring in elements of the “real world” to the gaming experience. Furthermore, WoW is so well-known outside of gaming circles that it is frequently adopted as a stand-in for gamer culture and even the Internet in general, from South Park parody episodes to the game’s name being a throwaway term in conversations about “net addiction”. In a cosmic reversal, WoW takes elements from the broader culture and makes fun of them inside of its own universe, reflecting the ways that elements of the game are used in other circles.
And now, with the naming of the pets, all players can engage in this practice on their own terms. Whether it’s honoring another player, poking fun at your enemies, or crafting clever cultural references, everybody breaks the fourth wall.