The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Mourning an online friend

It has been a while since I started this post but I just can’t seem to get Kasper ‘TaZz’ Kataoka Sorensen off my mind. I never met TaZz. I doubt that I ever even talked to him online. TazzBut I joined an online community hungry for any news about him at all a few weeks ago when he never returned from a rock climbing expedition in Tasmania. His story and the outpouring of support from other people he probably never met reinforced to me the power the Internet has to forge lasting real world relationships.

My only real association with TaZz is that it seems we have the same taste in games. I learned about his plight from dota-allstars.com, a site dedicated to a fan-created Warcraft III map called Defense of the Ancients. (I actually wrote about it here.) This map is so popular that online tournament sites such as Meet your Makers or MYM have included it in their calendars. TaZz worked at MYM.

I’ve struggled trying to write this because I don’t want to make it seem like TaZz and I were best friends. I only knew him from a post on a game site I frequently visit. But I also can’t deny following his story closely and wondering why such a weak link led to such a strong attachment. It’s a common criticism of the Internet that it turns its most ardent users into mindless zombie, lost in fantasy worlds. But TaZz reinforced to me that even fantasy realms have real world implications. The interactions that occur over DOTA can rival and potentially exceed any real world club or organization I have ever belonged to.

From the time I started my journalism career, I thought this is what newspapers should do. They are remain the best organization to bring a community together, and I think the Internet could make that job so much easier. But too often, they miss the boat. If you were to replicate TaZz’s story in the newspapers, the best you’d get would be an inverted pyramid story about his disappearance and when rescuers found his body, and maybe an obit written by the funeral home.

One way newspapers are trying is Legacy.com, which publishes obituary from across the country and allows people to sign online guest books, cannot come close to fostering the kind of support the online game community offered. While this is a good first step, why don’t more local newspapers host this kind of forum on their own sites. Growing up in the same town as someone is probably a stronger connection than playing the same video game as him, but in order to test this, news organizations need to do more than just allow us to talk about their stories. They have to relinquish a little control and let their readers build the community around topics that interest them, whether they be the news, video games or high school sports. Maybe then it won’t take a group of people who have never met to support and sustain each other.

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August 21, 2007 - Posted by | Hans Meyer

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