Martin Gibbs

Martin Gibbs is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computing and Information Systems at The University of Melbourne. His current teaching and research interests lie at the intersection of Science & Technology Studies (STS), and Human-Computer Interaction and are focused on the sociable use of interactive technologies.

Contact information:
martin.gibbs at

Joji Mori

Joji Mori is a Ph.D. candidate in the Interaction Design Lab at The University of Melbourne. He has recently worked in industry as an interaction designer and usability consultant. His research interest is the role of digital technologies in society with a current focus on memorialization within disaster affected communities.

Michael Arnold

Michael Arnold is a Senior Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science Programme in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, at The University of Melbourne. His on-going teaching and research activities lie at the intersection of contemporary digital technologies, societyand cultures.

Contact information:
mvarnold at

Tamara Kohn

Tamara Kohn is a Senior Lecturer and Discipline Chair in Anthropology, Development Studies and Social Theory in the School of Social and Political Sciences at The University of Melbourne. She has conducted extensive field research on identities and mobility. Recent research and teaching interests have included trans-cultural communities of practice (ranging from caring practices to embodied experiences in sports and arts), and the anthropology of the body, death, and memorialization.

Tombstones, Uncanny Monuments and Epic Quests: Memorials in World of Warcraft

by Martin Gibbs, Joji Mori, Michael Arnold, Tamara Kohn


Many people are increasingly carrying out more of their social life through online media such as online games. It is unsurprising to find these media are becoming vehicles for expressing grief and for memorializing the dead. In this paper we document a series of memorials found in the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft and outline the repertoire of game elements the game developers have used to build these memorials within the game world. We argue these memorials draw on a range of material and semiotic resources. They use a variety of game elements to produce memorials that resemble and allude to traditional and contemporary forms of memorialization. We also consider how game designers draw on diverse cultural materials to speak to profound issues associated with death and dying.

Keywords: Death, memorials, memorialization practices, online games, World of Warcraft, game design


Death is a profound event that matters to us as individuals and as collectives. The ways that bodies are disposed of and ritually treated after death, and the memorializations of the dead that are individually and communally constructed within different societies, offer important clues to help us understand how, in ever changing ways, the living mark their relations to others within the emotional context of loss after death.  There is a rich and growing literature in the social sciences that examines death ritual, grieving and memorialization through time (Kellehear, 2007; Aries, 1983; Garces-Foley, 2006; Klass et al., 1996) and across different cultural and social spaces (Hockey, Komaromy & Woodthorpe, 2010; Parker Pearson, 2000; Metcalf & Huntington, 1991; Robben, 2004; Bloch & Parry, 1982).

In recent years, scholars have studied emerging forms of mortuary, ritual and memorial practices that are less bound to institutions such as the church, and more meaningfully connected with individual and community’s everyday experiences and activities (Margry & Sánchez-Carretero,2011; Walter, 2005; Wouters, 2002). Examples of secular alternative ritual practice of these kinds include roadside memorials (Clark & Franzmann, 2006) and woodland, or ecological, burials (Davies & Rumble 2012). Importantly, these studies illustrate how changing lifestyle concerns such as for the environment, the welfare of future generations, and 'nature' in the case of woodland burials are symbolically and performatively brought in line with so-called 'deathstyles'; death, and the rotting body, are reconstructed in such practice as gifts to nature and future generations (Davies & Rumble 2012). The innovative ways in which tradition and modernity, old and new, religion and secularity, the expected and the fantastic are hybridized to create meaningful practices for grieving, commemorating and celebrating the loss of a loved one is an increasingly common theme emerging from contemporary death studies.

New forms of memorialization associated with emerging technologies and media forms have attracted the attention of ethnographers and historians, media and cultural studies scholars, as well as thanatologists more generally. Unsurprisingly, forms of online memorialization emerged as the Internet became readily accessible and an integral part of people's communicative practices (Foot et al., 2005; Jones, 2004; Sofka, 2009). Roberts began studying what she called "Internet cemeteries" from the mid-1990s (Roberts, 2004; Roberts & Vidal, 2000) and Sofka (1997) drew attention to how online sites could be used for commemoration and social support. Veale (2004) has highlighted the role of online memorials in contemporary collective memory and de Vries & Rutherford (2004) have explored the emergence of new rituals and practices associated with online commemorative sites. Others have examined online grieving (Gibson, 2007; Moss, 2004) and social support (Walther & Boyd, 2002). More recently attention has turned to social network sites with particular focus on the practices of teenagers (Williams & Merten, 2009), and the governance issues created by people "trolling" and vandalizing memorial pages (Kohn et al., 2012, Phillips 2011). Interaction designers are also increasingly interested in addressing the many design challenges presented by the development of online memorial practices (Mori et al. 2012; Brubaker & Hayes, 2011; Massimi & Baecker, 2010; Odom et al., 2010).

As people devote more leisure time to online video games, and as they form social relations associated with these media, it is unsurprising to find that these games become vehicles for expressing grief and for memorializing the dead (Wachowski, 2008). These games provided a social context in life, and they also provide a social context for people's attention to death. Many examples of funeral rites conducted within multiplayer games can be found through player-generated materials posted to video hosting sites such as YouTube that document the funeral and act to memorialize the dead. Much like book dedications, the developers of games also have been known to place epitaphs and mementos acknowledging the deceased within games. Sometimes these can take the form of a dedication in the manual, or release notes for the game.1 More interestingly, developers have placed memorials within games. At times, these memorials take the form of "Easter eggs" (Consalvo, 2007) — text, images or sounds hidden away within the game. Other memorials are more explicit. For example, memorials to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the co-creators of Dungeons and Dragons (Gygax & Arneson, 1974) were added to Dungeon and Dragons Online (Turbine 2006) shortly after their deaths in 2008 and 2009.2 With one notable exception to date (Bainbridge, 2010), the construction of memorials within the fabric of video games by game developers has not received scholarly attention. However, these developer-created game memorials are the subject of interest, intrigue and investigation by many players of these games. 

In this paper we document and discuss some examples of memorials found in the game World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, 2004). We argue that online game engines provide game developers with a range of materials for memorialization. These memorials can resemble traditional stone monuments, gravestones, and cenotaphs. They can also resemble a form of mummification through the preservation of avatars. They can also take dramaturgical forms, drawing players into an interactive story that honors, evokes or remembers the deceased. The aim of this paper is, in part, to document these memorials, which arguably represent a innovative set of practices in a medium not previously used for these purposes. It is also to explore this new genre of in-game memorials and begin to sketch the repertoire of materials game developers can use to build memorials. Finally, we consider how these constructions provide a pastiche of traditional and innovative commemorative practices that use a variety of game elements to produce memorials that resemble and allude to common tropes for death, dying and memorialization in contemporary society.

World of Warcraft3

World of Warcraft was released on 23 November 2004. Since that time there have been three expansions to the game. The first expansion, The Burning Crusade, was released on 16 January 2007 and the second, Wrath of the Lich King, on the 13 November 2008. The most recent expansion, Cataclysm, was released on the 7 December 2010. Each expansion introduced large amounts of new playable content to the game. Also, in the third expansion, much of the original content of the game was given a makeover and substantially refreshed. 

World of Warcraft has a detailed background story that players can engage with and investigate if they wish. This story, or "lore", has been developed through Blizzard's earlier Warcraft games, and through licensed works of fiction such as novels, short stories and manga style comics, as well as through detailed histories and timelines provided in the game manual and on the Blizzard website. The creative development department is responsible for ensuring "cohesive and correct use of characters and lore" through the various World of Warcraft narratives, including the design of quests and story arcs in the game, as well as those provided through licensed works. Krzywinska (2008, p.123) has argued that World of Warcraft is a rich text replete with "allusions, correspondences, and references" to an eclectic and diverse array of other texts drawn from various genres ranging from popular culture to classic mythology. By drawing on a range of pre-existing, fantastical texts, World of Warcraft evokes a rich, fantasy-world experience for players, which feels strange and other-worldly, yet familiar and real. This evocative space created by the rich layering and deliberate placement of intertexts are crucial in creating the "world" of Warcraft and the experience of game play.5

"Easter egg" is a term used to describe an intentionally hidden message, in-joke, or feature in a video game (Consalvo, 2007). Easter eggs can also be found in other products such as movies, books, software and so forth. The developers of World of Warcraft have hidden numerous Easter eggs in the game world. The World of Warcraft world has a liberal sprinkling of popular culture references. Players have identified hundreds of these Easter eggs, and many players make a point of hunting them out and sharing them with others. Identifying and "getting" the joke or the reference is, for many players, an important element in their enjoyment of the game. The most recent expansions of the game in particular are laden with allusions (Irwin, 2001) to elements of current popular and gamer culture (e.g. Bainbridge 2010, ch.2). 

All the memorials described in this paper are regarded uncontroversially by the World of Warcraft player community as being memorials. We identified these memorials through a variety of sources, including third party websites with user-generated content such as WoWhead, Thottbot, Wowpedia and the like. We have also drawn on reports from blogs and news outlet sites such as Wowinsider, Massively and MMO-Champion. The first named author has also been involved with the World of Warcraft game and community for many years and visited each of the memorials sites, and played through the various quests and so forth associated with these memorials. Each memorial was documented with screenshots and video capture. We have only included in this paper examples of memorials that we were able to verify in some way for ourselves, unless otherwise indicated. That is, we have verified from independent sources that all the memorials discussed are for people (as opposed to game characters), who had a relationship with Blizzard, and are in fact deceased. Numerous other claims about other memorials in World of Warcraft have been made by the Warcraft community, but little in the way of evidence is available to support these claims, and their status as genuine memorials remains contested within some player discussions. Although they are not the only examples of memorials within World of Warcraft, the memorials discussed in this paper are the most interesting and revealing ones in the game. They represent a set of clear examples of the diverse possibilities for memorialization in games.

The following section has three parts. In each of these parts we present examples of World of Warcraft memorials. Each part describes memorials that roughly align with major expansions of the game. We show that the repertoire of forms for the memorials, from quite simple to highly complex, has grown with each expansion of the game, and that subsequent forms of memorialization add sophistication in terms of interactivity and player involvement.

Patch 1.0 — Static Grave Markers and Monuments

From the outset, Blizzard has used the game world to memorialize deaths. The Shrine of the Fallen Warrior can found on top of a small, difficult to climb mountain, a short distance west of the town of Crossroads in The Barrens region of Kalimdor. The shrine is a memorial to Michel Koiter, an artist who died suddenly at the age of 19 from heart failure while working as part of the World of Warcraft development team (Bainbridge, 2010, p.61). The shrine consists of a stone monument, with the angelic form of a spirit healer named Koiter hovering over the body of an Orc warrior holding a sword to his breast laid to rest on stone plinth etched with the runes MK, surrounded by grave goods and a totem. The body of the Orc is said to be the character model for an Orc Warrior played by Michel during beta testing of the game.6 This site is often used by players as the location for in-game memorials services.

In Hillsbrad Foothills, on a cliff overlooking Baradin Bay and out to The Great Sea, a level 48 dwarf non-player character (NPC) called Rousch can be found beside a grave marker. On the grave marker is a readable plaque with the object name, "In Loving Memory" and it reads "Anthony Ray Stark 1961 - 2005". Occasionally Rousch will emote, salute or kneel. Rousch, is friendly to both factions. One consequence of this is that he cannot be attacked and killed by players. Apparently, Rousch was the character played by Anthony Ray Stark who was a friend of members of the development team. Stark passed away in 2005 as the result of a scuba diving accident. Rousch has been saved at the level Stark's avatar had reached when Stark died.7

Also in Hillsbrad, in the alliance cemetery near the village of Southshore, a "Decorated Headstone" can be found. Unlike the other grave markers in the cemetery, this one is classed as a "book" object and can be read. It says, "In loving memory of Jesse Morales". Jesse Morales was an artist working for Blizzard, who died while World of Warcraft was under development, or so the story goes.8

Patch 2.0 — Uncanny Quests 

Dak Krause was, by all accounts, a well-liked member of the alliance guild, Boulderfist Heroes, on the Boulderfist realm. He played a female night elf hunter called Caylee. He died of leukemia on 22 August 2007 aged in his late-twenties. A memorial service was held for him at 6:00pm on the 5th of September, Boulderfist server time. A score or so members of his guild and other friends gathered in the Valley of Heroes outside Stormwind City and then proceeded to walk to Stormwind Cathedral where they gathered and kneeled in front of the altar. A moment of silence was followed by a 21-gun salute. The funeral party then gathered outside the cathedral and used various fireworks and spell effects to create a light and sound show. A video of the funeral posted to YouTube is accompanied by the Funeral March played on a lone piano and solemn voiceovers paying tribute to Dak Krause, and the video ends with a poem Dak had written in memory of another friend who had died the previous year.9

As the story goes, Alicia, a friend of Dak, adapted the poem "Do not Stand at My Grave and Weep" with game world references as a tribute to her friend.10 She then petitioned Blizzard to make an in-game memorial for Dak. Whether or not this story is true, an NPC in the form of a young human girl called Alicia can be found running and playing about in a garden courtyard in Stormwind Keep. When engaged in conversation she stops and offers a quest called Alicia's Poem, with the dialogue,

"Hi, I wrote a poem for my friend Caylee. She likes to hang out with the Aldor in Shattrath City. You know, in Outland? Could you take my poem to her? My mommy says I'm too young to go to Shattrath City!"

The quest charges the player with the delivery of the game object, Alicia's Poem, to Caylee Dak in Shattrath City, in the Outlands. The object can be opened and read by the player:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am in a thousand winds that blow,
across Northrend's bright and shining snow.

I am the gentle showers of rain,
on Westfall's fields of golden grain.

I am in the morning hush,
of Stranglethorn's jungle, green and lush.

I am in the drums loud and grand,
the thunderous hooves across Nagrand.

I am the stars warmly gleaming,
over Darnassus softly dreaming.

I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

Caylee Dak can be found on Aldor Rise in Shattrath City. She is a night elf hunter, accompanied by her combat pet; a large cat called Dusky. When the quest is completed by giving her the poem, she replies, "What a touching poem, thank you!"

Caylee Dak's attire and equipment is identical in appearance to Caylee's equipment recorded on the World of Warcraft Armory site.11 In appearance, she is a consistent representation of Caylee the last time she was logged into the game, and a representation of how she was at the moment of Dak's death.

Knowing the story, seeing the memorial in game, and connecting it to Caylee's character profile on the armory is an uncanny experience. The effect is well-described by a comment on the Wowhead website:

"I hadn't heard of Dak Krause when I picked up Alicia's Poem, but when I saw Caylee on Aldor Rise I knew it had to be a memorial. With her mismatched gear she just looks like a player character; I thought she was one at first. I went looking for her in the Armory, and it really struck me when I found it: Not because of her gear or anything like that. It was the same kind of feeling you get when you walk into the room of someone who is gone, but whose possessions are still where they left them."12

Caylee's armory profile remains active, but his account does not seem to have been played since Dak's death. It is interesting to speculate as to whether someone close to Dak has continued to pay his subscription fees to preserve his avatar's existence, or if Blizzard has maintained the account on the armory as part of its memorial to this player. Either way, the elements of this memorial — background story, Armory profile, NPC modeling — work together to create the uncanny effect described above.13

In 2007, after being approached by the American Make-A-Wish Foundation, members of Blizzard's World of Warcraft design team hosted a day long visit from a young, 10-year old boy named Ezra Phoenix Chatterton who was an avid player of World of Warcraft and was dying from a brain tumor. The visit and events of the day were reported widely and are well known within the World of Warcraft player community.14 

As part of the visit his Tauren hunter character Ephoenix was raised to the maximum level of 70, and "stocked with gold and equipment" (Chuang, 2007a), including the Ashes of Al'ar; a very rare, epic flying mount in the form of a fiery phoenix. He was also given a tour of The Black Temple raid instance. Ezra also specified the design of a crossbow, usable by his hunter character, Ephoenix. The Merciless Gladiator's Crossbow of the Phoenix he designed carries the flavor text "Finely crafted to Ephoenix's specification". Finally, he designed a quest for the Tauren starting area of Mulgore.15

The quest he designed, Kyle's Gone Missing!, involves feeding a dog that has gone wandering. The quest begins with Ahab Wheathoof , an adult male Tauren NPC who can be found on the northern edge of Bloodhoof Village in Mulgore, hammering a sign to a pole that is part of a bridge crossing a stream. Ahab is dressed like a farmer, in a floppy broad brimmed hat, bib and brace overall, and he carries a large hammer. When approached and spoken to, he will offer the above-mentioned quest. In offering the quest he says,

"Help, ! My prized puppy, Kyle, has run away! I just know he's running around Bloodhoof Village, lost and hungry. Will you find him and feed him? Once he eats he will settle down and come home."

After killing a large emu-like bird and gathering some meat Kyle can be fed but first he has to be found. He runs frenetically around the village. When the meat is dropped on the ground near him, he runs over and begins eating. He then does a little dance on his hind legs before racing off again. Upon returning to Ahab Wheathoof to complete the quest he states: "Fantastic work, ! Kyle came home as soon as he ate and went straight to bed. Thank you for your help."

According to news reports from a reporter who accompanied Ezra during his visit, the dog was "named and modeled after Ezra's own dog" (Chuang, 2007b), also called Kyle. The model used for Kyle is a standard wolf model, so it is fair to assume that the modeling referred to above is the modeling of Kyle's behavior.

Ezra also did the voice acting for Ahab Wheathoof, the quest giver and owner of Kyle the Frenzied. When engaged in conversation, Ahab will say a variety of phrases, including: "Where is that dog?"; "Will you help me find my dog?"; "I miss my dog so much"; "Go in peace"; "May eternal sun shine upon you"; "Greetings, traveller"; and "I have no time for playing." All these phrases, as well as a handful of others, are voice acted by Ezra who does a passable job of voice acting a slow talking Tauren "old rancher", although the phrases retain a childlike quality. Ahab Wheathoof is one of the few NPCs in the game to have unique sound files for his voice emotes.16 Only members of the Horde faction can obtain and complete Ahab's quest. However, he is friendly to both Alliance and Horde players so cannot be killed by players, unlike other NPCs in the area. Players from both factions can hear and understand his voice emotes.

Ezra died October 2008, at the aged of 12.

Conversing with Ahab Wheathoof is also an uncanny experience. It is certainly unsettling to hear the voice emotes from a dead child acting as an old Tauren rancher as he plays out his concerns for his dog's welfare. It is also strange and uncanny to think that his pet dog remains well fed and cared for by the passing community of World of Warcraft players who complete the quest, even if this only occurs in the land of Azeroth.

Since his death, another NPC has appeared in the game in tribute to Ezra. Elder Ezra Wheathoof has appeared as part of the Lunar Festival world event since January 2009. Elder Ezra Wheathoof can be found in Thunder Bluff, the Tauren capital city. He is accompanied by a small phoenix vanity pet (Whitcomb, 2009). The Lunar festival is an annual world event, timed to coincide with the Chinese New Year. During this event, spiritual elders visit the worlds of Azeroth and Outlands and players can complete a series of quests in which they pay their respects to these ancestral beings. So, as part of this festival, players now pay tribute to Ezra, the departed Elder and, from the game's naming conventions, the ancestor/creator of the NPC, Ahab Wheathoof.

Patch 3.0 — Epic Trajectories

Bradford C. Bridenbecker was a husband, father with two daughters, and the brother of Robert Bridenbecker, Blizzard's Vice President of Online Technologies.17 Brad grew up in Orange County went to a local college, did graduate studies the University of Southern California and worked for the neighboring City of La Habra as City Manager. Brad was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 at the age of 31. According to his brother Rob, Brad was an enthusiastic fan of the Warcraft franchise and he enjoyed playing the games with his daughters. He also played World of Warcraft when he was at home during his illness. His illness lasted five years and followed what we can assume was a typical illness career/trajectory for fatal cancer cases (Glaser & Strauss, 1968), involving a host of different, sometimes painful and distressing treatments; remissions and periods of improving health; relapses; and the inevitable spread of tumors throughout his body leading to death.

A memorial to Brad Bridenbecker can be found in the form of a chain of quests in Wrath of the Lich King, the second expansion of World of Warcraft. In this expansion, players move to the continent of Northrend to take up battle against the forces of Arthas, The Lich King. Through various means such as corrupting plagues, the Lich King turns living beings into his undead minions. A major portion of the storyline and quests for the expansion engage players in various battles with the forces of the Lich King. At Crusader's Pinnacle in Icecrown players can get a quest from Highlord Tirion Fordring called, A Tale of Valor. In this quest, players are asked to search for the "missing hero" Crusader Bridenbrad.

Heading north into Icecrown, in a secluded snow covered valley up in the mountains, players can find Crusader Bridenbrad lying on the ground beside a small camp fire. Bridenbrad is sick and dying. He refuses the players aid, stating: "I carry the plague of undeath, , and I'll not share my fate with those near me. No, I shall stay here."  Upon returning with the news, Highlord Tirion Fordring declares: "I cannot imagine a worse fate for one who has devoted his life to the ways of light, nor can I fathom leaving him to die without lifting a finger to help." He then sends the player on a series of quests to seek help for Bridenbrad from a variety of powerful beings around the Warcraft world.

First, players travel to Moonglade and are given a quest by Keeper Romulus, a centaur-like creature. He sends the players on a quest to enter the Emerald Dream, where they must fight nightmarish phantasmagoria to retrieve Emerald Acorns. Upon planting the acorn in the ground beside the crusader, a flourishing bed of healing flowers emerges. Bridenbrad declares himself "refreshed... renewed... but the plague still grips me" and extends his thanks to the player for proceeding to such lengths for him.

The players are next sent to request aid from the Dragon-queen, Alexstrasza. Alexstrasza sends them to gather a Dahlia's Tear, a flower that flourishes on ground burnt by her red dragons beneath the feet of the undead. Once gathered, she magically imbues the flower with her breath. It now feels "warm to the touch". She warns the players that Bridenbrad may not be able to endure its cleansing fires.

Players travel back to Crusader Bridenbrad, with The Breath of Alexstrasza. Again, Bridenbrad expresses his gratitude for the player's efforts to help him. He also understands the risks and is ready. Upon completing the quest, Bridenbrad's body can be seen to burn with flames, and a new quest appears:

It was nearly as painful as it looked, but it was as if I could feel some of the corruption being burnt away from within my body. It seems the plague is not so readily bested though.

Returning to Highlord Fordring with the news that the plague has not been defeated, players are sent on one last errand to seek help. The players are sent to Shattrath to speak to the naaru A'dal. The naaru are powerful, dimension-travelling, sentient, energy beings. They have a deep affinity with the magical forces of the Light of Creation. Upon approaching A'dal, it declares knowledge of Bridenbrad's fate and of the player's efforts to save him and states: "I will extend my blessing to Bridenbrad and he shall not endure the corruption of undeath."

The player now returns to Crusader Bridenbrad one last time. From his pale hue and shallow breath "it is clear that he has little time left".  Completion of this penultimate quest in the chain starts an in-game event. A'dal and two other naaru appear. A column of white light descends to Bridenbrad's body. His spirit is then seen standing in its place before being gently raised aloft. A'dal says, as his spirit rises up and disappears: "In life, Bridenbrad was the bearer of great deeds. Now, in passing, he shall taste only paradise."

Plainly, the quest chain is a metaphor for a battle with terminal cancer and captures some of the battle's cycle of treatment and hope, followed by relapse and resignation. It also evokes ideas of "dying well" and the possibility of redemption and afterlife.

Following the death of his brother, Rob sent an email to the design team asking them if they could "do something" for Brad. Chris Metzen (Senior Vice President, Creative Development) and Alex Afrasiabi (Lead World Designer) developed the story: "And we wanted to do something for Rob and just honor his brother and just rally around the family a little bit" (Chris Metzen).

The development of the quest line seems to have been a profound experience for Metzen and Bridenbecker. Both single it out as the most important "personal moment" in their long involvement with the Warcraft franchise: "It was wild because he [Chris Metzen] was able to take my brother's struggle for about 4 or 5 years and represent it in this fantasy universe" (Rob Bridenbecker).

The story has both a personal dimension in terms of grieving and the emotional impact of the death of a friend or family member, and a public dimension in terms of memorialization. Regarding the personal dimension, the quest design seems to connect very differently for different people in Brad's life. Rob reports that when he described the quest chain to his dad, "my dad didn't know how to react. He was obviously moved by it. But he's not Mr. Emotional Dude" and his mom "refuses to watch" a DVD montage of the quest chain events, "just because it's too much for her". However, Rob is also able to report positive responses from others: "Some of his friends that have e-mailed me that play WoW and they're just like: 'Dude, that was epic. That was a thing you needed to do for Brad.'"

In reply to a request for more lore about the Bridenbrad NPC in the comments section of the Wowhead entry for this NPC, one respondent writes18: "It is bits like this that lore is made. Not all lore is grand epic tails [sic] of princes falling into darkness."19 Others write of being personally touched by the quest line and what it represents: "I nearly died at 18 because of Hodgekin's Lymphoma. So I can quite relate to the struggle Brad and his family went through."20 Others report finishing the quest chain "with tears in my eyes"21, or that it "made me cry a little bit."22 Others report finding the quest chain to be very satisfying and rewarding, both narratively and in terms of in-game accumulation:

In spite of running around the world on errands and repeated trips back to Bridenbrad's camp only to fail again and again, I found this one of the best written, most satisfying quest chains I have done. The ending of the story line was reward enough for me, and I got 22 gold and a nice ring as a bonus (not to mention all the other quest rewards along the way). Well worth the effort.23

One last task remains for the players to complete the quest chain. They must return news of Crusader Bridenbrad's fate to Highlord Fordring.  The quest chain ends with the player returning Crusader Bridenbrad's tabard to Fordring, who replies, "He has departed, hasn't he? I felt a small bit of light leave the land."  Robert Bridenbecker died 18 June 2007 after a long, five-year battle with cancer. The Wrath of the Lich King expansion, with this quest chain, was released November 2008.


It [Bridenbrad quest chain] was just such a great moment for me fictionally and, more importantly, personally... that sometimes this clumsy craft of making video games and things can sing beyond the game itself, beyond the gameplay itself and really touch people and I get a huge kick out of that (Chris Metzen).

World of Warcraft is a single game in a complex and evolving industry. The ways in which the designers have chosen to represent and memorialize the death of friends, family, colleagues, and even members of the player community, provides interesting insight into how death and memorialization may be treated in online game worlds, and the Internet more generally, in the future.

The in-game memorials we have identified have exhibited certain shifts in form and elaboration over time. Each of these shifts is approximately aligned with Blizzard's roughly biennial release of expansions to the game. With each expansion, these memorials have drawn on an expanding repertoire of elements from the MMORPG genre; ranging from objects, through avatars, to quests.

Initial memorials took the form of static objects, tucked away in secluded regions or hidden in plain sight. The early ones, such as those dedicated to Anthony Stark, Jesse Morales and Michel Koiter, were simple affairs with an aesthetic that would not be out of place in an offline cemetery. They have been designed to resemble offline gravesites through depictions of stone monuments, plaques, epitaphs, plinths, grave goods, headstones and the like. Their resemblance to offline memorials is straightforward, although the designers incorporate some objects not usually found in western gravesites such as the virtual body of the deceased and the angelic form of a spirit healer. These memorial sites are located in particular places, and the style of the monuments reflects the cultures of the local inhabitants. Rouch, a dwarf, has a neatly dressed stone monument, which fits the style of the dwarves: Scottish stonemasons. Jesse Morales' headstone does not standout in the small graveyard of a human town. Koiter's memorial is located on a hilltop in the tribal regions of The Barrens. Its style fits the built forms of the surrounding cultures and recreates a western imaginary form of a tribal sky burial (see Langer, 2008 for discussion of post-colonial aesthetics in World of Warcraft). The first element in designers' repertoires for building memorials is through the construction of objects in a game that resemble gravesites from existing cultures, or more creatively draw on tropes from imagined cultures.

A second element available to game designers for building memorials is the avatar of the deceased. For both Anthony Stark and Michel Koiter, a representation of the player's avatar at the time of death seems to have been reproduced as part of the memorial. However, these avatars remain as mute and static objects incorporated in the gravesite. The most striking use of a player's avatar as a memorial is found in the case of Caylee Dak. His avatar and armory record are preserved in the state they existed the last time he played the game. This mummification (if you will) combined with the poem, YouTube videos of his in-game funeral service, and forum posts entwine to create a powerful, yet subtle, memorial. The NPC's name melds the player's and the avatar's names: Dak Krause and Caylee gives rise to Caylee Dak. The effect of the juxtaposition of these elements has been described by some forum posters as unsettling. It has an unsettling effect because the meaning and significance of the avatar and armory profile is dislocated from its usual association with a living player and relocated with the dead through the traces of Dak Krause's life and death found on forums and YouTube videos. Memorials of this kind that draw on and preserve the avatars of players traverse Mori's (1970) "uncanny valley"; the negative response to robots, and animations, that seem to be almost, but not quite, human. The challenge and opportunity in such cases is to create memorials that unsettle and provoke contemplation, that are uncanny, without becoming abject or distasteful.

Memorials introduced later in the game moved away from resembling monuments and gravesites, and preserving avatars, and shifted towards the use of NPCs that the player can interact with. Many of these interactions are rudimentary, such as honoring Eldar Wheathoof during the Lunar Festival. These NPCs do not resemble the dead — neither physically nor their avatar — but their choice of names alludes to the person being memorialized. Thus, a third element in the memorialization repertoire is naming NPCs in ways that honor and/or allude to the deceased. Although we have not found examples in the current game, this also suggests a fourth way the dead could be remembered and that is through naming regions or geographical features, such as rivers, mountains, towns, and cities, in the game world in ways that honor the deceased.

While we have found no evidence of place names honoring the dead in World of Warcraft, several locations in the game have taken on significance in terms of memorialization. Locations like the Tomb of the Fallen Warrior and Stormwind Cathedral that resemble places commonly understood as sacred are often used by players to hold memorial services. They seem appropriate and tasteful places to do so. They are also easily accessible to players of the corresponding faction. They are relatively popular places for these services.24 In addition, players appropriate game objects such as dress clothing, visual spell effects, smoke flares and fireworks for "ritual" purposes. From a materialist perspective (Hetherington, 1997, p.184), places in game worlds are generated through the placing, arranging and naming of objects. They are generated through the spatial ordering of materials in the game world. Player experiences, memories and the like also invest these places with meaning and significance and these experiences and the materiality of the design are imbricated.  The construction of places and objects for players to appropriate and use in memorial services is another element in designers' memorialization repertoire.

Other game objects, such as Alicia's poem, can also be used in memorialization. Many objects in the game contain "flavor text", short textual descriptions that can be read if the object is examined. While produced before he died, the flavor text on the Merciless Phoenix Crossbow is regarded as a form of tribute by many players to Ezra Chatterton. The dedication of objects through naming and flavor text is an unobtrusive way to commemorate the deceased. The design, description and naming of objects provides another means for designers to honor the dead.

Finally, the examples documented in the previous sections also show that the design of quests in the game can be used as an element in memorialization. These quests can be as straightforward as feeding a lost dog or delivering a poem. However, as we saw, they can be extended over many stages and require complex game activities to complete. Quests can be understood as sitting at the intersection between game play and game narrative (Juul, 2005; Howard, 2008). Quests require performative activity from players to complete. Through engagement in these activities players can be drawn into the narrative flow of the game. Quests give designers the opportunity to depict the act of dying as a process and/ or to tell a story of a person's life. In order to complete the Bridenbrad quests, players need to perform the role of carer in the dying "trajectory" of the crusader. As Kellehear (2009) has pointed out, the theme of dying as a linear journey through various stages is a common one in contemporary understandings of death, and these stages can act as "points of orientation for carers" (p.6). In this way, the narrative structures, and game play, contained within quests can draw players into performing various tropes associated with death and dying. While the above example draws most explicitly on the trope of dying as a journey or trajectory through various stages, other themes within the literature on dying could also be drawn upon in quest design, and indeed can also be read as layered within the narrative structure of the Bridenbrad quests. For example, Kellehear identifies other themes such as: fluctuation, or dying as an oscillation between decline and recovery (Bridenbrad's brief recoveries); disengagement, dying as withdrawal from social engagement and interest (retreat to the mountains to avoid infecting others); and transcendence, dying as transformation (The naaru carry Bridenbrad's spirit away). Some of the other themes identified by Kellehear could also be drawn on in the design of quest structures. The theme of agency, or dying as personal control, highlights the way people make ready for death, setting their affairs in order, and making provisions for social organization beyond their demise. This theme "tells us how the dying reciprocate their social obligations in life right to the very end" (Kellehear, 2009, p.4). The theme of dying as collapse could be drawn upon as well. This theme draws attention to the physicality of dying and the body as failing and disintegrating in the process of dying.25 These various tropes offer game designers a rich vocabulary that resonates strongly with contemporary western understandings of death and dying that can be used to construct emotionally powerful quests and game narratives.


"For a vast percentage of new media titles, backstories are probably more interesting, in fact, than the narratives themselves"
(Lunenfeld, 2000, p.14).

World of Warcraft is a carefully designed and meticulously crafted artifact. It is a vast and complex game world. It has changed over time, through patching of code, new releases of materials that open up new areas of game play, and through major expansions that have added new continents to the world, or radically reshaped the continents already there. Each expansion represents a massive addition of content to the world, akin to the release of a new volume in a multivolume book series. In these expansions, the game designers have placed memorials to players, friends, family and members of the development team within the game. These memorials are of the game world, but like many Easter eggs they reach beyond that world through allusion. As the game has developed and matured some of these memorials have become more complicated and more intricate; they have drawn on and juxtaposed more elements in their configuration and construction. All use the repertoire of materials and objects available to the game designer. They use the palette provided by the game engine. However, over time, in terms of memorial construction at least, the designers seem to have grown more confident and more assured. With each successive expansion of the game, they have extended their use of the repertoire available to them. It would seem that long having utilized online "death" as integral to the gaming experience (in the context of player-characters) (Klastrup, 2008), they are now prepared to weave offline death into the fabric of the game. This is, of course, consistent with an analysis of online environments and experiences of all kinds, which reads them as integral and contiguous with offline environments and experiences, rather than discrete "alternate worlds".

Emerging, alternative commemorative practices such as roadside memorials and woodland burials have hybridized tradition and modernity, religion and secularity, the old and the new, to create vernacular rituals and memorials that connect meaningfully to the contemporary lived experiences of individuals and communities (Margry & Sánchez-Carretero,2011; Wouters, 2002). In much the same way, the memorials described in this paper are also hybridizations that translate many of the traditional and common tropes for death, dying and memorialization in contemporary society and render them in ways that connect with the daily activities and practices of the World of Warcraft communities.

All of the monuments documented in this paper tell a story, but the story is told in different ways. The early monuments do not prescribe a story. The story must be constructed and discovered by the player, often using resources derived from outside the game. So while these monuments exist in-the-game, their meaning is derived through paratextual resources (Consalvo, 2007; Lunefield, 2000) generated by players on third party websites who weave associations between game elements and other media objects. However, monuments are not passive or mute; the arrangement of game objects by the designers turns each of each of these locations into a particular kind of place (Hetherington, 1997) that players have the option to draw on in their game experiences. Later monuments have a quest structure. They have a narrative, a story to tell, built by the designers and enacted by the players. There is an arrangement of objects that makes these locations and events into particular kinds of places to be experienced in particular kinds of ways.

Game designers have a choice in how they express their grief and how they choose to commemorate the deceased within the virtual environments they construct. They have a repertoire of materials — both material and semiotic — that they can draw on in these constructions. Materially, within the virtual spaces of the game world, they can chose discreet objects hidden in plain sight. They can place signs, poems and messages and the like in the game for players to find, seek out, or stumble upon. They can erect the whole world as a memorial, or choose to draw players into one or more narratives that literally, or metaphorically, tell the story of those departed. They can use their skills and tools as programmers to build particular material elements with the game (information is material in this sense). They can also use representational elements and semiotic styles in the construction of memorials that draw on a repertoire of intertextual references and allusions to other cultural elements to invest parts of the game with meaning. As Krzywinska (2008, p.124) has argued "the presence of multiple and deliberately planted intertexts encourages a certain type of depth of engagement with the game, which extends beyond but also informs the type of gameplay tasks offered to players." These references may resemble other memorial forms, and take the shape of a gravestones, plinth, dedication, or poem. They may allude to other memorial forms through similitude (Foucault, 1983; Hetherington, 1997) and take the form of an avatar, a quest, or a name. Of course, many other approaches are possible and the possibilities have not been exhausted here.

Contrary to Bartle's (2010) misreading of the academic enterprise in his review of Corneliussen & Rettberg (2008), it is not our purpose to suggest game designers are "ignorant" cultural dupes unaware and unknowing about the status of their work as cultural productions. In our approach to the study of memorials in World of Warcraft, we have attempted to see World of Warcraft as not only "craft", but also as a creative work. That is, we have come to understand how game designers are knowingly engaging in cultural productions that make significant contributions, both playful and profound, to online/offline cultures. In their development of memorials, especially those found in latter expansions of the game, the designers have set out to draw on an intertextuality of cultural material and human experience to create emotional journeys that speak to profound issues.


1 See for example the dedication, "In Memoriam: Gary Gygax" in the patch notes for World of Warcraft patch 2.4.0, Fury of the Sunwell. URL (consulted February 2011):

2 Memorials were added to Dungeons and Dragons Online as part of module 7.0 and 9.0 respectively. Thanks to Bill Bainbridge for drawing our attention to these memorials. URLs (consulted February 2012): and

3 Unless otherwise indicated, all Internet sources cited in this paper were accessed in April and June 2010 while writing the first draft of this paper.

4 "Ask Creative Development — Round II, Developers Blog"; Posted 25-Jan-2011. URL (consulted April 2011):

5 It is also worth noting that the ludic, or play, elements of the game draw on material, or performative, intertexts. Game actions, the structures of play and so forth, draw on a repertoire of performances and actions found in other games. Thus, World of Warcraft is built not only from a repertoire of symbolic remediated intertextual elements, but from material game play ones as well. This material, game-play repertoire is also given, in part, by the game engine that are used to create and set in motion the objects of the game world. See for example Montfort & Bogost (2009).

6 Additional information can be found in the entry for Koiter; the Wowwiki page for The Shrine of the Fallen Warrior A memorial site produced by Michel 's twin brother René can be found here:

7 Information from "Rousch" URL:; "In Loving Memory", URL: Drysc, a Blizzard Community Manager, confirmed the memorial story in a "Blue Post" on the World of Warcraft forums on 19 July, 2006.See the archive, "WoW BlueTracker", URL (consulted April 2011):

8 See "Decorated Headstone", URL: and We have been unable to confirm the story behind this monument.

9 Video tribute, "The Memorial". URL: Another tribute video to Dak, "In Memory of Caylee". URL: "Boulderfist Heroes" forum, URL:

10 The original poem "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" is a popular memorial reading and authorship has been attributed to Mary Elizabeth Frye.

11 The armory is a publicly accessible database maintained by Blizzard that records detailed information about all player characters in the game. Entries for each character show the character and all the equipment they are wearing when they last logged off; their various abilities; and information on various achievements and activities. For Caylee's armory record see:, retrieved March 2012. Note, Calyee's armory profile was unavailable for much of 2011, and was re-instated some time between late-2011 and early-2012.

12 Comment posted by adashiel on 21 November 2007 in the comments section to the NPC Calyee Dak

13 Armory URL: , retrived 07 March 2012. Quest and NPC information from Wowhead plus comments: The quest, "Alicia's Poem", URL:; item, "Alicia's Poem", URL:; "Alicia", URL:; "Caylee Dak",; and her cat "Dusky", URL:

14 The account here is based on the following sources: Chuang 2007a, 2007b, 2008a, 2008b. Also used were the following entries and associated comments at "Merciless Gladiator's Crossbow of the Phoenix", URL; "Ahab Wheathoof ", URL:; "Kyle's Gone Missing", URL:; and "Kyle the Frenzied", URL:

15 Memorials to Ezra Chatterton have also been made in the Warcraft Trading Card Game. The card "Ezra Phoenix" is a Tauren hunter ally card; the same class and race as Ephoenix.

16 The sound quality on the sound files for these voice emotes, while good, are still noticeably less than other sound files used for voices in the game.

17 The following account is based on: interviews with Chris Metzen (Senior Vice President, Creative Development) and Rob Bridenbecker (Vice President, Online Technologies) published online by Blizzard as part of the Warcraft universe's 15th anniversary, URL:; obituaries for Brad Bridenbecker in the newsletter from the Republican Assemblyman for the Sacramento District, Government of California, URL:; and an online obituary written by Doug Mitchell, a friend of Brad's, in his blog, "Moments of Clarity", URL:

18 (Cedret on 17 February 2009)

 19 (Jaylen on 24 January 2009)

20 (NecrochildK on 27 November 2009)

21 (Chyvaelry 27 November 2009)

22 (Pamedar on 1 November 2009)

23 (Nekrotik on 1 December 2008)

24 Other places, such as the Bridenbrad's lonely campsite, or the Scarlet Monastery, which might at first glance seem to be appropriate sites for memorial services, do not seem to have been appropriated in this way. We believe resemblance and accessibility are the two most important elements in player appropriate of locations as sites of memorial services.

25 Another theme identified by Kellehear, and one not easily incorporated into quest design in a game like World of Warcraft, indeterminacy, or disenfranchised dying, points to the work of authors who have argued that death, in contemporary Anglo-American society, has become hidden, institutionalized, and often unacknowledged.


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