The Legend of Leeroy Jenkins

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"I know this is kind of disgusting, but adding up all the time I've spent on it, I've played this game for ninety days of my life. Four hours every night will do that," he says. But it's not an addiction, he says, "It's just another form of entertainment. I don't watch TV. Cut down on two movies a night and you have the time for this."

His pale face, its newly sprouted orange beard illuminated by the glow of his computer screen, frames a thoughtful smile. "I am starting to get tired of the game," he admits. "I'm not going to play it forever. Nothing lasts forever."

Not even the legend of Leeroy. Maybe.

When I asked Gogger where I could find more World of Warcraft folks who might talk about Leeroy, he pointed me toward the city of Stormwind. Using his directions, I wandered down tranquil forest paths until I reached a pinnacled stone citadel that looks like Cinderella Castle.

But now, as I stroll down Stormwind's bustling cobblestone streets lined with quaint, shingle-roofed houses, the Magic Kingdom aura melts away. Everyone here is feverishly hawking or buying digital wares. Their incomprehensible trading-floor chatter fills my chat window: "Plus 35 agi to 2h, have mats," "WTS ENCHANT WP +7 DAMAGE ON 2H, BOOTS +5 AGI +5 STAM." They all seem extremely busy -- too busy to be bothered by a meddling online reporter.

I bother them anyway. I find a druid standing in the town square and tell him I'm writing a story about Leeroy Jenkins. "$#^^%& Leeroy," he shoots back. "Leave dude." I try approaching others about Leeroy and get the same reaction. Many ignore me or run away. One inundates my chat window with rude comments: "Rurneji shoots you the finger! Rurneji shoots you the finger! Rurneji shoots you the..."

I get the picture.

I finally find someone willing to talk: Netti, a female gnome dressed like a 1970s pimp who's riding a flaming-hoofed steed. I ask why everyone is down on Leeroy. "Well, all these random people get on this server to talk to Leeroy, so people who actually play here have to wait like hours because the server is full," she explains.

Since having eight million people concurrently play the same version of World of Warcraft would completely overcrowd the game, Blizzard has created many different servers, with several thousand gamers inhabiting each one. I'm exploring Leeroy's home server, Laughing Skull, to get the locals' take on their homegrown celebrity. It sounds like they're sick of him.

"Personally I think the video is lame," continues Netti. "I really don't care about Leeroy. He's just a loser who made a video -- wow, big whoop. If you log onto MySpace at all and search videos, there are tons of World of Warcraft videos there."

Netti's right. Gamers have created endless World of Warcraft movies: orcs dancing to MC Hammer, taurens lip-syncing to Broadway musicals, trolls and humans enjoying the love that cannot be named. The quality of many far surpasses that of "A Rough Go." So what is it about this one clip -- and Leeroy Jenkins?

Ben is as astounded as anyone else by the cult of Leeroy Jenkins. "I think it's absolutely ludicrous," he says. "I chuckled a good amount when we first released it, but I don't think it's the epitome of comedy by any means."

Ben hails from a dramatic family: His mother is a theatrical director and his father, a retired chemical technician, designs theater sets. Ben himself has considered voiceover acting; he has a great, deep voice and has taken classes to improve it. But no one in the family has ever achieved the sort of global fame that Leeroy has, thanks to a handful of words mumbled into a computer microphone one night.

"You could take the most famous theatrical production and I don't think you would get the broad awareness of it that you get with this thing," says James Schulz, Ben's dad. "I'm sure Shakespeare or any great playwright would just be dumbfounded at the possibility of it."

To even begin to understand "A Rough Go," Shakespeare would first have to wrap his mind around the concept of "machinima," the emerging form of filmmaking in which movies are created entirely inside video games. The term was coined in the late 1990s, when players began using game-play recording systems in titles such as Quake and The Sims 2 to make increasingly creative films. Machinima productions have now been seen on MTV, the Independent Film Channel and in Volvo commercials, and a few enterprising gamers have turned their cinematic hobby into commercial success.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner