What WoW Gives Us
In solidarity with Gazimov’s (of Mana Obscura) Smile Week, I thought I’d follow up our discussion of what we bring into WoW with a discussion of all the great things WoW gives to us. I think it’s fitting to follow a discussion of our own baggage with an analysis of what it’s interacting with, because, to be frank, there’s a reason WoW has been the most powerful, most popular, and most profitable MMO ever made. We complain about it so often that sometimes it becomes easy to miss the forest for the trees, and it really is a beautiful forest, much more Grizzly Hills than Darkshire. So today, dear reader, I thought we’d look at the lessons Wow teaches (it’s me, so of course we’ll start there), the gifts of awe that WoW provides, and how the developers work to keep us into a game that by all rights could have waned after 3 months, like so many others did.
What Wisdom WoW Endows:
(I’ve been told that alliteration in writing is cheap. Oh well, you can see where I stand.)
You had to know, dear reader, we’d start here. WoW teaches all sorts of things, and it does so in a fun fashion. It teaches many mental skills, such as priority management through multiple-mob encounters, timing through its cooldown system, and perceptual awareness through its point of view.
It teaches us physical skills, as well, such as hand to eye coordination through its click to target function, fine motor skills through its tiny UI buttons (that could be taken sarcastically, I know, but I mean it literally here), and left-hand right-hand coordination through its WASD movement combined with mouse looking.
It also teaches a slew of social skills. WoW gives us teamwork through BGs, dungeons, and raids. It gives us leadership opportunities within guilds as well as during actual play. WoW is a huge proponent of self-education (especially for Gevlon) and communication (for most everyone else – I jest, really, as I think self-educating is very important for everyone as well as communication).
Lastly, it teaches emotional skills. It teaches us to trust our instincts and improvise through boss encounters with multiple solutions. It teaches us to have some self-confidence in our actions. It teaches reflection for when we fail, and it wraps all that up with a big helping of determination, since nothing goes perfectly in WoW and you’ll always have to try at least twice, but that’s the beauty of WoW: you’re allowed to. Life doesn’t give as many chances.
How WoW Wows:
On top of the fantastic lessons WoW offers, its packaging is quite attractive, as well, like the sexy foreign language teacher you had in college (or will have, if you’re that young). I can’t count how many times I’ve walked into a new area, seen a new boss, or even just glanced at some minute added detail in Wow and have been awed by its grandeur. The twisting spikes of shadow rocks that make the Bastion of Twilight come to mind, as does the grandeur of Zul’Gurub. For those of you who never saw the original, it was as amazing to see as it is now and more so, as Hakkar was visible in the center, watching, waiting for you to make your way to him. The creativity of some of the mobs, such as the patchwork golem dogs (Precious, for example) also impressed me. There are so many little visual pleasures in the game that I can’t even begin to enumerate them all here.
The audio is nothing to sneeze at, either. The music in WoW is fantastic, as is the voice acting when it’s present. The dirge playing for Horde side as they enter Twilight Highlands is fantastic both in its composition and the mood it sets for the voyage. It’s by far my favorite sound. However, the Lament of the Highborne also comes to mind, as a secret song that so many players have never heard. If you’re at stranger to it, give it a listen, look into the lore of it. It certainly adds a softer side to the Dark Queen.
More recently, the developers decided to wow us with Cutscenes. I found them excellent. The dev team is finally moving in a direction that gives us story without the clunky mechanic of asking players to read a quest text. While we probably all do to start the game, basic human behavior dictates that as we progress, we’ll read less and less and focus on our tasks more and more (that’s a more male response, but females are prone to it over the long term, as well). Cutscenes allow us a moment to breathe, where we’re not being sent on a new task but are allowed to understand and enjoy the results of our previous one. The introduction of Cho’Gall springs to my mind as one of my favorite, though the most dramatic is probably Ozumat’s arrival the first time you go through Vash’jir, including into the Throne of Tides. Seeing that monster arrive, such a huge beast, impossible to fight on a normal scale, is terrifying.
Another way that the designers work to keep us involved is through the development of new mechanics. While sure, we sometimes see mechanics reused, if we really stop and consider how many different mechanics bosses employ, I think you’d be surprised. Whether it’s a lot of CC (Karazhan, Moroes), vehicles (Ulduar, Flame Leviathan), multiple un-CCable targets (ICC, Blood Council), one giant mob with a slew of abilities (Gruul’s Lair, Gruul), territory control (Karazhan, Prince), a combination thereof (Naxx, Heigan), or other more basic mechanics like bleeds forcing a taunt switch (Gluth), burn phases (Tempest Keep, Solarain), Mind Controlling – both by the boss (Naxx, Kel’Thuzad) or too the boss’s minions (Naxx, Grand Widow Faerlina), there’s really a ton of different boss mechanics that have been developed throughout the ages. Undoubtedly, there’s many I’ve missed, but this list clearly shows my glory days of raiding and, unfortunately, I haven’t been much beyond that (Oh, raid splitting on Thorim and Conclave of Wind). Every boss isn’t just a tank and spank, and that keeps us learning and interested in the game, and if the new Deathwing encounters are as original as Blizzard claims, then they’ll be a great addition to the list (I think we’re going to ride him at one point).
How WoW Woos:
Lastly, we should take time to appreciate how the developers have worked to keep us interested in a game for more than six years now, going on seven. While some only focus on the profitability end of it, the truth is that WoW devs have worked hard from a creative standpoint, as well, and no artistic project solely focused on profit can survive as long as WoW has. There’s passion there, too, and that’s what really keeps the inspiration flowing, though admittedly more at some times and less at others.
For one, the dailies (both quests and dungeons) work to keep us interested. Before dailies existed, if you were at level cap and were doing the raids, all you had to do was the raids, which were on alternating lockouts (some were 3 days, some seven – it was very confusing). Now, you can play with your friends earning cash, points or marks for new goodies, or just for the glory of 3-manning heroics.
Also, WoW works to produce new, free(ish) content for us every few months. Each patch brings a lot of new things to do, with more things each patch. Whether it’s new dailies, like with Argent Tournament or Firelands, new dungeons like the ICC 5 mans or the Zuls, or new raids, which are released with every patch, every few months we’re provided with new content to keep the game fresh. True, it’s precisely the service we’re paying for, but at the same time, how many new features has your phone provider given you for free in the past? Voice mail? Caller ID? Those are new (well, not any more), but usually not free. WoW, on the other hand, provides you with the service of WoW itself as well as new content, and frequently what they get in return is a lot of, honestly, bitching. Consider all the things you pay for on a subscription basis. Consider their costs, and consider how much you get out of WoW. There’s no comparison, really.
The final footnote to all of this is the excellent community that WoW has engendered. While we’re the heart of it (I’m probably only a hair follicle at this point, but I’m working my way up to major organ), the simple fact that there’s enough to say about WoW that this community exists means that Blizz deserves a lot of credit. Whether it’s the comics that frequently bring a smile to my face, the fan art that blows my hair back (some of it is really amazing in detail and techinique!), the screenshots that fill me with nostalgia or make me laugh, or the endless topics on the thousands of boards that people discuss, the community keeps us coming back. It’s a powerful wooing force, the quasi-friendships (I went with pseudo first, but that didn’t seem right) we’ve formed through the game community.
At any rate, it’s easy to get lost in the complaints sometimes, and I’m sure this week will be no different. The decision to nerf Firelands “already” is going to be met with complaints about it being too soon (which are probably legitimate, but I’d like to see a list of each expansion, each patch, and when things were nerfed – if someone can make that, it’d be very illuminating), complaints about the game being tweaked for casuals, complaints about the nerfs not being enough, etc etc ad nauseum. Take a moment, though, to put it all in perspective. We’re going on seven years of playing the same game, and no matter how things may have changed, it is still fundamentally the same game.
Peek-a-boo, our first game, didn’t last nearly as long. Tic-Tac-Toe didn’t, either. Snakes and Ladders, Candyland, Monopoly, Risk, Chess… most of us haven’t dedicated as long to any of them. Do an accounting of your /played on all your toons. You long termers are probably over a year of playtime. A year of actual time, in game, where you’ve played. That’s almost 9000 hours. Short-termers may be surprised how much time they’ve put in.
This was my longest letter to you, dear reader, so far, and I’m glad of it. I’m glad I still have so many good things to say about WoW. I want to thank Gaz for the excellent idea of making this a smile week, though it’s only going to be a smile day for me, as Friday we get back to regularly scheduled QQing. Great idea, Gaz, and I hope some others take up your torch and carry it.
Stubborn (and pleased. Thinking about the good things can really brighten one’s day.)