“I haven’t seen him for six months!” So says Barliman Butterbur, the bartender of the Prancing Pony. In Fellowship the movie, Butterbur, a chubby, middle-aged Man sporting a Melancholy Motorhead* mustache seems like the only semi-decent person in the place. After Frodo, Sam, and the crew are rocked by the disappointing news of Gandalf’s absence, they scan the crowd of mangy drunks. One guy looks like he hasn’t had a haircut in years, another laughs with his mouth open as far as humanly possible, and a third sits quietly, stroking his white mole rat. When I watched this scene, it was Obi Wan Kenobi’s words that first came to me (presumably from the afterlife): “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Sam, Frodo, Pippin and Merry sit at a table, clearly intimidated. The Men in the bar stare suspiciously at the downtrodden Hobbits. With eyes cast downward, they nervously ask Butterbur a question. The Hobbits sit uncomfortably in this alien environment.
If Vanderbilt is Middle Earth, and Worlds of Wordcraft is Bree, then surely LOTRO is my Prancing Pony. I’m a n00b, through and through. I was late entering the game and I am only a level six. Even though I completed the introduction, I am still relatively unfamiliar with the Graphical User Interface (GUI). I can’t easily access my skill bar, open my five sacks, change my clothing, or look at my quest guide. In LOTRO, I am totally out of my element. I have never MMORPG’d before and, quite frankly, I am wondering how my XP and my HP will affect my GPA. So, like Frodo, I ask questions. I come in early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, fire up Windows and enter Gladden. I usually get frustrated with some aspect of the game: Glugnar the Dwarf Guardian will get stuck on something or I’ll get lost hunting frost wolves. Next comes the pestering. Because of proximity, I ask Alec first. I fire off a series of questions, distracting him from his own quests. When I feel that his well contained annoyance is at its tipping point, I move on and ask someone else; the process continues until all the ‘early kids’ are fed up with me and, still frustrated, I quit. I run away to the welcoming arms of Mac and Leopard.
When I think about it at my desk, I don’t think Alec is ever actually annoyed by my questions. I mistake his bored assistance for passive aggressive annoyance. My attitude and frustration alters, nay dictates, my perception of the classroom. Similarly, the representations of the Prancing Pony in LOTRO and in Fellowship the movie differ significantly. This is chiefly because the attitudes and circumstances of the characters entering the Pony are tremendously dissimilar. If Glugnar ever enters the Pony he’ll find a warm, happy environment. In the film, Frodo, carrying the Ring, was pursued by the Nazgul. He found a scary, intimidating environment. Both Tolkien and the game designers of LOTRO crafted their Prancing Ponies based on the attitudes of their characters. If I calmed down and patiently mastered the layout and GUI of LOTRO, I would undoubtedly feel more comfortable in the virtual world. Who knows? Soon I may be able to slay even the mighty Breon.
Jake Karlsruher AKA Kar-El