I think I am starting to enjoy World of Warcraft.
That was unexpected.
When I decided to play World of Warcraft for a month I thought of it a task that would require fortitude and discipline. As someone whose knowledge of MMOs was scarce and mostly limited to memes, jokes and the first-hand accounts of others, I thought of this experience as a chore I would have to endure. At no point did I imagine syphoning any amount of pleasure from the task.
Can you blame me?
Former World of Warcraft players use the language of addicts or – worse -- war veterans. They speak about habits they left behind. They beg me not to tempt them. They prod at my wife: “say goodbye to your husband”.
They prod at me: “say goodbye to your life”.
People rarely use positive language when they discuss World of Warcraft. The ones who remain seem willing to praise anything but the game itself. “I mainly stay for the community." “It’s not what it used to be." "I can't stop playing."
But every now and then someone will cut through the mimetic bluster and noise with a shrink wrapped grain of truth: World of Warcraft is/was and forever shall be a very good video game. It would have to be. Why else would everyone be here? Why would they have come here in the first place?
I remember one conversation I had with a friend. At the mere mention of World of Warcraft his face snapped into profile, his gaze a thousand yard stare. He had seen things, of that I was sure.
“There’s something about that game,” he said, eyes blazing into the distance. “So many MMOs, they’ve come and gone. Knights of the Old Republic, Conan…
“But WoW is still there. It’s always been there.”
I am still a pathetic level 8, even though I estimate I’ve put about four hours into the game.
The tasks given to me are banal, grindy. Kill 8 of these things. Search for 10 of this thing. My last mission entailed entering a mine, killing ten miner guys and searching their broken corpses for Gold Dust.
Something I keep hearing from WoW vets is “the game doesn’t properly start until [insert level here]. That level can be anything from 10 through to 90, but I think it completely negates what is compelling about World of Warcraft: it’s fundamentally fun to just click on things and attack enemies. It’s fun to get new gear and it’s fun to level up. At its most basic, the World of Warcraft gameplay loop is as compelling as swinging a sword in Dark Souls, lobbing a grenade in Halo or jumping in Mario.
The terrifying thing is: I can’t really explain why.
In Dark Souls there is weight and timing. In Halo it’s all about weapon balance and feel. Mario is about traction and ‘stickyness’. World of Warcraft? Its appeal is far more intangible – I’m using the word ‘fun’ – that useless catch-all term – because I can’t think of another way to describe it.
I think that unquantifiable appeal, that ‘Blizzard Magic’, is part of the reason why people are so unwilling to discuss World of Warcraft in terms of how good it actually is. People find it difficult to verbalise what makes it so good to begin with, so they stick to the narrative they can verbalise.
World of Warcraft is addictive. World of Warcraft is a fun way to socialise. World of Warcraft had an awesome South Park episode dedicated to it. Etc, etc, etc.
World of Warcraft is a really well made video game and I want to play it because I enjoy it.
People forget to say that.
I forgot to say that. In fact, I approached this World of Warcraft experiment with all those preconceptions and started using that language to describe my early experiences. But even now -- a week into my time with World of Warcraft, five hours of game time later -- I’m starting to realise how wrong I was.
World of Warcraft is more than a compulsion, even though it’s compelling. It’s more than an addiction, despite being addictive.
I scramble in the mines. I kill monsters for gold dust. Dozens of other low level players have the same idea as me and we’re racing each other to spawn points like toddlers chasing down pigeons. Stumbling over one another, clicking the wrong things – being the complete noobs that we are, basically.
I realise I should be racing towards some arbitrary goal and, in a sense, I am. But I’m also happy just to be here, clicking on the bad guys, clicking on attacks. Collecting the new gear and adding it to my person.
Like I said: I think I am starting to enjoy World of Warcraft.
You can read part one of Idiot in Azeroth here