Pretty much everybody that plays World of Warcraft has heard of Leeroy Jenkins. (If you haven't, here's the video clip.) It's one of the defining moments of WoW history, and references to it have even appeared in places like Jeopardy.
It begs the question: why did this video become so popular? When all is said and done, staged or real, it's just a video of a wipe on Father Flame in Upper Blackrock Spire. I'm sure that there's been hundreds of wipes filmed, on all sorts of bosses. Why did this one become a touchstone of WoW culture?
It is a funny video, and the name "Leeroy Jenkins" as a battlecry has a style all of it's own. But I think the real reason Leeroy Jenkins became so popular is that it captures a deep truth about World of Warcraft.
In many ways, instancing in WoW is a cold, mechanical endeavour. We plan, laying out everything in minute detail, for maximum success. And sometimes we wish that we didn't have to plan so much, that we could just charge in and revel in the chaos and battle. But charging in recklessly usually leads to wipes, and so we restrain ourselves, giving ourselves over to the methodical process for success.
The first part of the video illustrates the cold nature of instance planning amazingly well, even down to the absurdity of calculating the odds of survival. The fact that the plan is terrible is just icing on the cake. We've all been in this situation, where we keep going over and over a plan to a degree that is simply unnecessary.
This is the duality that the Leeroy Jenkins video captures perfectly: we are terrified of being in a group with a Leeroy Jenkins, someone who runs off and wipes the group needlessly; yet at the same time we want to be Leeroy, to have the guts to throw caution to wind, and charge in recklessly, a battlecry on our lips, with our friends charging behind us.
That too is an important part of the video. If the rest of the group had just stayed outside and watched Leeroy die, I don't think it would have been anywhere as popular. We would have chuckled, called Leeroy stupid, and forgotten about the video the next day. But Leeroy cut the planning short and led his group into battle, and into WoW immortality.
And if it ended badly, well, at least Leeroy had chicken.
(That could possibly be interpreted as a metaphor for life in general, but sometimes chicken is just chicken.)