As if World of Warcrafters needed another way to isolate themselves from the world, the WoW Pod, as described by its creators at MIT, is "an immersive architectural solution for the advanced WoW (World of Warcraft) player that provides and anticipates all life needs." Translation: it's an individual bungalow simulating the look and feel of an authentic hut within the Azeroth universe, and if you think the outside is scary, wait until you open the door.
Once inside the tiny space, you'll notice that it's entirely self-contained, and that's to discourage the player from ever leaving. Almost all basic human needs are provided, including a throne that doubles as a toilet (gross), a cookpot, stovetop, and, of course, a computer and monitor for WoWing.
Most importantly, the hut solves one of WoW's biggest pitfalls: breaks. See, a quick pause of the game to take a break can be catastrophic to a player's avatar. Even a bathroom run or a simple snack can result in death, or worse, banishment from one's guild, so anything a player can do to restrict distraction is good. And here's where it gets scary.
When a player gets hungry playing inside the hut, he or she just selects one of the prepackaged food packs on the wall (labeled "Soothing Turtle Bisque" and Beer Basted Ribs" to further the fantasy), holds the printed semacode under a scanner, and places it on the hot plate. From here, the hardware takes over and physically adjusts the hotplate to cook the food for the right amount of time while the player's corresponding avatar pauses the game and loudly announces the progress to others in the realm: "Vorcon's meal is about to be done!" "Better eat the ribs while they're hot!"
When the meal is done cooking, the game is automatically placed in AFK (Away From) mode to allow the gamer sufficient time to eat without fear of a quick strike. Once satisfied, the avatar actively returns to continue exploring, but there are virtual side effects; for example, overeating can result in avatars feeling sluggish and unresponsive to control.
To me, this feels like a giant step backward. I thought online multiplayer games did good to encourage teamwork and build communities, but never in the name of intentional escapism. This hut is the grown-up version of a children's playhouse, except that these players will probably go in and never come out.
The idea is clever, and I like that it provides and anticipates all the needs of a WoW fanatic, but I'm not whipping out my credit card for this thing. Can you imagine having a friend walk in on you using the throne and cooking food at the same time? Sounds humiliating. On top of that, the thing is missing the one amenity that ALL nerds truly, desperately need: a shower. And where is the throne for my virtual girlfriend to use?
I'll consider this the preproduction beta model.
Click through the slideshow below for more pictures and definitely watch this video for more detail on the WoW Pod.