Journey to the Centre of the Internet: The World of Warcraft

The Journey to the Centre of the Internet is an ongoing series about web culture as navigated by Ted Raymond. See parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Welcome back! It’s time to grab your sword and fight the Horde this week (or maybe fight FOR the Horde) as we jump headfirst into the biggest Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft.

You’ve probably never heard of it.

WoW, as it’s known, has been active since 2004. It has boasted upwards of 12 million “active subscribers”, though that number is a bit closer to 10 million now, and not every one of those is playing at any given time.

Still, most MMO games are lucky to make it to a million subscribers, let alone 10 or 12 million, so WoW can certainly rest on its laurels in that respect. And with a player base the size of a large city, the players have adopted a number of diverse cultures and subcultures within the game environment, and throughout the web.

But it’s a world of war, so these cultures don’t always get along. I’ve always found it fascinating that people, all participating in the same leisure activity, can develop the same grudges, prejudices and feuds that crop up in the real world. Why is there racism in the World of Warcraft when there’s no way for you to know the player’s ethnicity? Simple. Every character you create can be from one of 12 fictional races, such as Humans, Dwarves, two kinds of Elves, Goblins, Orcs and even stranger. The players have developed some widespread opinions about the players of  certain character races. It’s generally assumed that players who play as Elves are worse at the game than players of other character races.

On the other hand, players sometimes band together with members of their own character races. Gnomes, for example, are more likely to form “Gnome-only” guilds.

Your character’s job can also be a source grief. Every character picks a “class”, which is basically their job. Warriors use big weapons and heavy armor to fight face to face, mages are wizards who fling magic from a distance, rogues are sneaky thieves who stab their enemies, quite literally, in the back, priests are robe-wearing healers who mend the wounds of other players. That sort of thing. There can be prejudices about classes as well. The Hunter class has classically suffered a lot of hate, and players of Hunters say they sometimes have to work harder to prove themselves as competent players because the idea that “Hunters are bad at the game” has been so ingrained in the popular discourse of the players.

I don’t know, a guy with a two-headed, lava-breathing dog sounds pretty useful to me.

Of course, it’s not all hatred. A lot of people have made life-long friends through this game. If you play with the same people for five, six, seven years, you’re likely to find you get along. Some people will tell you that putting guild management on your resume (that is, you’re in charge of a group of people all acting toward a similar goal, and you often work together in numbers sometimes as high as 40 at once) is actually a good thing.

Players love to self-identify with their characters. And this is no more obvious than in the big divide within the game, the reason it’s a world of WAR craft and not a world of LOVE craft, and that’s the two main player factions, the Alliance and the Horde.

Specifically the Horde.

(People get tattoos of this! Seriously!)

The Horde is comprised of monster races. The green-skninned, tribal Orcs, explosion-loving Goblins,  voodoo-practicing Trolls, nature-loving Minotaurs (called Tauren) and Zombies. Also Blood Elves. The Alliance is where you’ll find your typical fantasy races, your Humans, Gnomes and Dwarves, as well as Night Elves, which are a bit more feral than your typical Tolkein-esque Elf (that’s the Blood Elves), a race of extra-terrestrial beings of pure kindness called the Draenei (DRAN-Eye) and a race of werewolves, who were once human, called Worgen.

My point is, Horde players assume the roles of creatures that, for the longest time, were just mindless monsters in many fantasy RPGs. You didn’t learn about their culture or history or identify with them in any way.You just killed them. And I think that’s why players identify with Horde a lot more, because it’s something a bit fresh,  a bit different and a bit rebellious, too.

It’s strange, really. Maybe this kind of culture exists with other video games, and certainly first person shooter players or fighting game players have attitudes about their play-style, and how they’re better gamers than others, but the World of Warcraft has exceeded expectations in the creation of an actual  World. And it comes with all the triumphs and pitfalls of humanity, even if most of the players you meet won’t be playing as a Human.

A lot of people do just play the game casually and don’t get into as much as others. In the nearly eight years the game has been active, a lot has changed in the game’s community, but you’ll find plenty of people who identify themselves as WoW-players. It’s just a game, but there’s a culture there too, and it was created by the players.

- Ted.

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Technology. Social media. Communications and marketing. We cover it all on Talknowledgy! Posts from the mind of Ottawa communications professional Phil Gaudreau. To email Phil, it's phil.gaudreau@gmail.com/ Please note, views expressed on this blog are those of its participants alone. Our website is http://www.talknowledgy.ca.

Posted on 05/16/2012, in Opinion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.

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