WOW Pod. Image and Video Courtesy of Cati Vaucelle

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There are certain elements of social etiquette that apply in online multiplayer games, and especially in cooperative online games such as World of Warcraft (WoW). Keeping other players waiting while you go walk the dog, have a smoke or do the laundry is usually tolerated among friends, but can earn you a bad reputation if you become a repeat offender. Such “real world” breaks go over even less well with hardcore gamers, who are used to marathon game runs that can last for hours.

Now Warcraft devotees can ease those social pressures — MIT has them conceptually covered with the “WoW Pod,” within which a computer, water and prepackaged food are all within easy reach. Gamers don’t even need to get up and run to the bathroom for those quick “bio” breaks, thanks to a “throne” with both a built-in toilet and surround sound.

Hungry gamers can even choose a dining experience that crosses the divide between real and virtual worlds. By choosing and scanning in food items, players can kick back and let the game physically adjust a hot plate to cook the item — all while their virtual character announces their meal’s status to fellow online players. The computer’s system then puts the player’s character on AFK (Away From Keyboard) mode to allow him or her to enjoy the food in peace.

The WoW Pod is the brainchild of Cati Vaucelle, a researcher with the MIT Media Laboratory’s Tangible Media Group. She describes herself as a hardcore gamer who co-leads a players’ guild within World of Warcraft.

“I got the idea of the WoW Pod and cookset by playing nonstop and burning my lap with my laptop, and wanting to use this heat to cook my snacks!” Vaucelle told PopSci.

WOW Pod Image and Video Courtesy of Cati Vaucelle

Vaucelle and two other colleagues, Steve Shada and Marisa Jahn, received funding for the project from Eyebeam, the Council for the Arts at MIT, and SHASS’s Peter de Florez Fund for Humor. They also created a video explaining the WoW Pod’s intent to address “the health risks of prolonged uninterrupted gaming,” and included the following statement:

“The WoW Pod questions the inducement of pleasure, fantasy, fulfillment, and the mediation of intimacy in a socially-networked gaming paradigm such as World of Warcraft.”

For my part, I can’t help but think of a certain South Park episode that parodies hardcore WoW gamers, including an infamous scene where Eric Cartman enlists his mother’s help during a bathroom break. That episode won an Emmy. I wonder what the WoW Pod will earn.