For me, this question is a quirky but pithy way of encapsulating some of my recent work on environment in games, and the form of the question is given to me by two books that have recently been brought to my attention: Bonnie Nardi’s My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of WarCraft, and Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. It will be interesting to put Louv’s thesis alongside Henry Jenkins’s writing on video games as virtual playspaces.
In the World of WarCraft universe, Night Elves constitute perhaps the most “tree-hugging” race (or at least are in a close tie with the shamanistic Tauren). Their homelands are restful and serene deciduous forests, their buildings and their capital city merging treetop dwellings with classical Greek architecture. While the Tauren are most closely related to Native Americans in their practices and lore, Night Elves seem to be aligned with Asian mythology, as every year when the Lunar Festival rolls around the Night Elves celebrate with fireworks, the visiting of spiritual elders, homage to the moon, and ornamental silk dress clothes.
Surrounded as they are by natural beauty in apparent harmony with built structures, are the night elves (or more accurately, the players who play night elves) nonetheless victims to what Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder”? Simply because the nature that surrounds them is virtual? Does the nature that surrounds the night elf player teach him or her anything about nature as it exists in the “real world”?