You might think you know World of Warcraft, but you don’t know it the way Ian Bates does.
Like many of the millions of players of the massively multiplayer online game, the Florida teen obsessed over WoW’s fantasy world. He devoured all the non-fiction books written about Warcraft, and tried his hand at writing fan fiction set in the land of Azeroth.
One day in 2010, when he was 17, Bates was reading another Warcraft novel and noticed that something was out of whack. There was a character described in the plot of the novel, Falstad Wildhammer, that should have appeared within the game’s world, but he was nowhere to be found.
So when Bates went to that year’s Blizzcon, the annual weekend event where developer Blizzard meets its fans, he had one mission. During a Q&A session, he stepped up to the microphone to demand an explanation of the discrepancy from the lead writers of Warcraft lore. Clearly amused but grateful, Blizzard’s story leads promised to fix the plot hole.
Video of the question went viral, earning millions of views. They called him “Red Shirt Guy.” But it wasn’t the color of his clothes or the content of the exchange that caused people to share the question, it was Bates’ cringeworthy awkwardness: the stammering, the unusual rising and falling pitch inflections of his voice, and the intense concentration on remarkably minute details.
Bates has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that he says makes him feel extreme anxiety in certain social situations. Speaking at that microphone, he said, was one of the hardest things he’s ever done. His voice sounds “robotic and weird” if he has to initiate a conversation, Bates says. I point out that he seems comfortable talking to me on the phone. “You started talking to me first,” he says, matter-of-factly.
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