It is a place where you are as strong as you want to be. Acquiring better armor and gold are the goals. Killing is the way of life.

It is a place where you are as strong as you want to be. Acquiring better armor and gold are the goals. Killing is the way of life.

It is World of Warcraft, a social networking game that allows people from all over the planet and every walk of life to share a virtual universe — without leaving their computers.

Gamers have a reputation for being so absorbed in their roles they neglect relationships and even personal hygiene, but some say they can still live a "normal" life.

"You can play WoW and get your bachelor's degree," says Anthony White, a four-year WoW veteran and living proof. White earned a bachelor's degree from Southern Oregon University and is pursuing a master's.

White began playing WoW with his sister, who lives in Texas, and for them it is a way to stay in touch.

"WOW is mostly about the social aspect," White says.

World of Warcraft is the most popular online social networking game. It is difficult to know who is playing because they exist in a virtual world with virtual character names. But there are places where gamers can come together and play in person. Cyber Center Warehouse and Sports Grill on Automation Way in Medford is such a place.

"WOW has become a couples game. Right now it's probably our No. 1 game," says Gary Speaks, an owner. Some people want to come to one place, Speaks explains, and play WOW while being able to see each other's screens. That makes it easier to go on quests together in the virtual world.

"It is the new millennium social center," Speaks says, adding that most players are between 18 and 35.

Another Medford store that offers Warcraft is Gorilla Gaming near WinCo off Barnett Road, and numerous groups of Warcrafters have popped up in living rooms and social centers. SOU has a WOW group that is open to anyone who wants to play, and there are many others in the valley formed by friends with similar interests.

Warcraft is owned by Blizzard Entertainment, which defines the game as a "Massively multiplayer online role playing game which allows thousands of players to interact within the same world."

It is, however, complex and difficult to describe.

"I could tell you, but you probably won't understand," says Aaron Harleman, a student at SOU. There's a wide range of ways to play and an entire vocabulary that goes with WOW, he explains.

In role-playing games, a character is created based on certain characteristics. It can become extremely detailed. The players create stories that are then acted out by the characters.

"It's limited to how well you can describe, in text, and then play it out," White explains.

The concept is similar to Dungeons and Dragons, which pre-dates WOW by decades and is still one of the most popular role-playing games in the world.

Warcraft can be played with teams, single player against single player, or free-style, in which a character goes into the world and does as much as she can. If you die in WOW, you can always come back. There is no princess to rescue like in Mario Brothers; you create your own quests.

In addition to the online game that costs $15 per month, there is a card game, board game, comic books, figurines and homemade videos with WOW characters as the actors.

While White has enjoyed playing WOW over the years, it has lost some of its charm for him.

"There is no point, it continues forever," he says. "You just go out and kill stuff and that's all you do."

Some gamers, like Harleman, would argue, pointing out there is "end game content." He does admit, however, that it takes a lot of his time.

"I could do other things like go for a hike or drive around," Harleman says.

A "South Park" episode about WOW focuses on how addictive the game can become for some. The characters in the show play for more than 24 hours in order to defeat a terrible foe. Then, when it is all over, they ask, "What's next?" The answer is, "You do it again."

While people who don't game may see it as a waste of time, some people value it as a social outlet. Stories of people from around the world meeting online and forming personal relationships are endless. Some people even get married on WOW.

Anything in life can take over if you let it, White says, from work to smoking to gaming. The trick is to keep a balance.

"Once it consumes your life, it's not good," White says, "but moderation is good."

Johanna Thompson is a senior at Southern Oregon University and wrote this story as an intern for the Mail Tribune.