I am embarrassed to say that I have never heard of Leroy Jenkins until yesterday. (Here’s the Internet video that made him worldfamous). Joel Warner wrote a great long profile about Leroy Jenkins and his reaction to his unexpected fame.
“Alex Trebek said my name,” says Ben. “When I saw that, I realized it had gone beyond anything I could control.” He shakes his head, flabbergasted, and returns to the game — more Ghostly Essences to collect. Soon, however, there’s another whisper. “Was the video really on purpose?” a character named Lucifuge wants to know. People ask him this constantly. Did the movie capture Leeroy accidentally screwing up his guildmates’ plans? Is the rumor true that Ben was away from his computer, reheating some KFC, while his buddies planned the famous dragon attack — hence his imprudent charge and his enigmatic last line, “At least I got chicken”? Or was it all completely staged, a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the geekiness of World of Warcraft gamers? Ben smiles while reading Lucifuge’s message. “I like people to decide for themselves,” he responds. “It is more fun that way.” This is his patented response on the subject; it’s all he’ll ever say.
That Leeroy is the game’s biggest failure rather than its highest achiever may explain why he’s transcended the self-referential sphere of World of Warcraft and moved into the realm of pop culture. Everyone everywhere has pulled a Leeroy. “There’s something more universal about this guy who screws things up for everybody than someone who is the best at something,” says Henry Lowood, curator for film and media collections at Stanford University. “If you’re not a player in the game, you are not going to be that interested in how spectacularly good a player is. But you can relate to someone who messes up.”
These days, says Henry Jenkins, co-director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, people don’t just identify with the lowly underachiever; they take subversive pleasure in using the Internet and other new social mediums to elevate him to a status previously reserved for the rich, talented or otherwise successful. As proof, Jenkins points to atrocious American Idol contestant William Hung scoring a record deal, Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf winning the popular vote for People magazine’s most beautiful person and Leeroy Jenkins becoming enshrined in video-game history alongside Pac-Man and Mario. “For the first time, we as a society get to decide who’s famous,” he notes. “Having gained the right to project celebrities forward, we often choose losers, because in the past it was always success that connoted celebrity. If Leeroy Jenkins can become a celebrity, anybody can.”
(BTW, it was okay to do when he wrote it in 2005, but isn’t it time for a moratorium on quotes from Henry Jenkins?)
See also: South Park’s Make Love not Warcraft episode.