The difference between games like World of Warcraft and non MMORPGs is that it is literally a created world full of real people. Granted they're running around pretending to be axe-wielding dwarves, but most people in life are running around pretending to be adults in the first place so it's not a real stretch. The point is, real relationships are forged within the context of the game.
However, unlike a game real life dozen have an autosave and people die leaving the virtual world forever in the wake of a real life tragedy. Well, the people at Blizzard have hearts the size of a launch day server outage, and sometimes they prove it by creating memorials to the beloved dead within their virtual world.
Robin Williams The sudden and unexpected suicide of beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams caught everyone by surprise. Gamers felt it keenly, as Williams and his daughter Zelda had always been avid supporters of the advancement of electronic whimsy. Williams was an avid WoW player on the Mannoroth server, and fans asked Blizzard to recognize him. Players in beta testing of the Warlords of Draenor has reported finding a genie who boasts of his "phenomenal cosmic power", as well as an egg with machinery referencing Mork and Mindy and other nods to Mrs. Doubtfire and Toys. Look for a full report when the expansion opens to the public on November 13.
Ezra Chatterton Ezra Chatterton and his father Micah were dedicated players on the Norgannon server. Unfortunately, by the age of ten he'd spent several years battling a brain tumor. The Make A Wish Foundation got involved, and Ezra got to join the development team at Blizzard for a single day. He did not let that day to waste.
With Jeff Kaplan, Ezra designed the character called Ahab Wheathoof. He also added a flame throwing crossbow (The fact that a ten-year-old boy had to suggest this makes me wonder who was asleep at the switch at Blizzard), and just for extra fun he got to add his dog Kyle to the game, too.
In 2008 Ezra died of a stroke. Once the word was broken, hundred of players made a pilgrimage to Wheethoof to accept his quest (Ezra was allowed to record dialogue for the character) to rescue Kyle in his honor. In 2009 the Elder in Thunder Bluff was named for him as well.
Anthony Ray Stark Within the Hillsbrad Footfills near Dun Garok there is a small monument on a bluff overlooking the sea. Standing eternal vigil on the monument is a dwarf named Rousch. The headstone reads, "Anthony Ray Stark, 1961 - 2005".
Tony Stark was a friend of several of the Blizzard developers, who would all meet up at the same cigar shop to play the game. Stark died on a scuba diving trip, and his main character, Rousch, was left alone and masterless. The developers decided to put Stark to rest within the game, and had the dwarf watch over his creator as a tribute.
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Dak Krause When 28-year-old Dak Krause died of leukemia, he left a lot of guildmates feeling very sad and missing their friend. One particular friend named Alicia petitioned to include Krause in the game a tribute, and Blizzard agreed. Caylee Dak was Krause's last character, and appears wearing the gear she had on when Krause died. She is accompanied by her pet cat Dusky.
Alicia appears as a small child in Stormwind City. She asks you to take a poem to her friend Caylee in Shattrath City. It's a real poem that Alice wrote in honor of Krause that partially reads, "Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep./I am in a thousand winds that blow, across Northrend's bright and shining snow."
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Bradford C. Bridenbecker When Blizzard's Vice President of Online Technologies, Robert Bridenbecker, lost his brother to lung cancer in 2007, he decided to give the disease an allegorical kick in the nuts to honor him. Bradford was a huge fan of his brother's work and a regular player, so Robert asked Chris Metzen if anything could be done. Metzen offered Robert the chance to include Bradford in the main storyline of Wrath of the Lich King, or as the giver of an epic quest chain.
Thus was born Crusader Bridenbrad. A hero responsible for saving countless lives from the Scourge, he nonetheless contracted the plague of the undying. He chose to stay in the mountains in one last noble act so as to not spread the plague further. Tyrion Fordring seeks a way to redeem Bridenbrad from the curse. Even though you cannot save his life, if you complete his quest chain then Bridenbrad will phase out of existence, earning life eternal and peace in the hereafter after his long fight with the plague. All that's left behind, are the player's memories of honoring a hero.