Online gamers to take on Middle Earth

by Paul Jay, CBC News Online

The popularity of massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft owes much of its popularity to the swords and sorcery fantasy first popularized in the paper-based roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons. But D & D itself owes an even greater debt to J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which is why it should come as no surprise that someone has come up with the bright idea of turning Middle Earth into its own massively multiplayer online game.

The game, entitled The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, is set for release on April 24. The game's creator, Turbine Inc., is the same company behind the recently created the Dungeons & Dragons online world.

But as reports in the New York Times and CNet suggest, not all Tolkien purists are thrilled with the game adaption. As Wayne G. Hammond, co-author of the J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide told the Times in an e-mail interview:

The online game "may indeed trivialize Tolkien’s legacy if one comes to view 'The Lord of the Rings' as popular culture more than as a work of literature, or feels that it cannot be a serious work of literature if it has outgrowths in popular culture."

Tolkien enthusiasts at theonering.net haven't yet weighed in the game, but perhaps that's because they are focused on whether Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson will ever make the Hobbit movie.

So we'll leave it Tolkien to settle this thing: an old Boston Globe story said Tolkien wrote to his publisher in 1955:

"I am not now at all sure that the tendency to treat the whole thing as a kind of vast game is really good... cert. not for me, who find that kind of thing only too fatally attractive."

That's right: had Tolkien been alive today he'd probably be too busy playing Warcraft to concern himself with the language of elves.