This is a game you either love or hate; there is often no in between. Warcraft is the gaming equivalent of Justin Bieber, Marmite, stand up comedians, pineapple on pizza and a hundred other internet memes that divide households and are guaranteed to start fights. When I watch people attempt to quantify why they remain or what made them leave the MMO, reasoning is often so expansive (and often divisive) that is is often preferable to not pursue the discussion and just move on.
When I was looking for a weekly column to contribute to my own site, ‘do a guide’ didn’t even make the shortlist. Only a stupid person would try and write Guides for an MMO playable so many ways, simultaneously. Then, at the weekend something unbelievable happened, and overnight this column was born. Amazingly, if you present an individual version of honesty as a starting point, explaining how stuff works can still have a relevance.
On Sunday I watched a bunch of non Internet gamers discover the real truths that form the backbone of my online existence, stretching back to well before Twitter and Facebook began. Warcraft significantly predates both these behemoths and in those early days even You Tube wasn’t really relevant: if you wanted to make a video or write a Guide, there was nowhere else to go than to start a website for yourself. A lot of that innocence and optimism has subsequently leeched completely from the process, wrapped around the intractable truth that if you want to make money from Warcraft, criticism is never the way to go.[*] In fact, if you want to make a name for yourself in this town, the only manner in which that happens is with 100% understanding that when connecting with the parent company, a part of your soul may need to be sacrificed.
Over a decade plus, an entire service industry has sprung up around Azeroth, the fictional world that Warcraft is based around: thousands of would-be contributors and extras who hope that their efforts at living and ‘working’ in the MMO will allow an opportunity to be noticed by the ultimate of Senpai. It works too: over the years a remarkable number of long-term fans (including several good friends of mine) have taken their devotion to this task an extra step and are now employed at the vast Blizzard campus in Irvine, California. When we went there on holiday in 2015 many people urged me to reach out to arrange a tour, but I declined. At that point had come the realisation that after many years of writing about this game, I didn’t have any desire to visit the place it was made.
This game is not my future, yet I would be foolish to ignore the importance of its influence in my personal journey.
Without Warcraft, I would have not found the confidence and belief in my own writing to move life forward. It has helped highlight a number of injustices (many of which I believe still exist within the MMO) that subsequently illuminated understanding of the more ‘traditional’ approach this game still affords to social status, sex, expected ability and competitive spirit. In fact, without the game as a mirror to hold up to myself, I suspect a lot of the basic beliefs I had coming into the 12 year affair I’m still involved with would exist and continue to hold me back. Instead, as a door into a wider world of gaming, Internet evolution and social media relevance this place continues to be a daily revelation. It is, in effect, like the ‘normal’ people (and yes, I use that expression with tongue wedged firmly in cheek) being amazed that this entire other world exists just behind their Facebook tab and Twitter app. Things move very fast in my version of reality, and keeping up is often an exercise in stamina as well as intelligence.
It means that every Wednesday from now on I’ll be writing what I consider an honest and truthful Guide to what really goes on in this game, from the point of view of someone who a) doesn’t have a paymaster to appease and b) is quite a long way from the bright, shining centre of Warcraft ‘culture’. Someone said to me, with all seriousness in the last week or so, that ‘casual’ players very rarely get aggrieved or make a fuss in the hardcore areas of the Gaming Internets, I suspect because this person felt the potential abuse they’d garner as a result would not be worth effort expended. I’ve been vocalising casual opinions and ideas for over eight years now with only the briefest episodes of drama, so maybe this is the right moment to stick on flame retardant undergarments and wade into the uncensored reality as I see it.
It has occurred to me, in the months following political upheaval in both my native UK and the US that there are those who will not allow me to put an ‘adult’ spin on this game, that combining the shenanigans online with the reality of 21st century living is somehow wrong and dirty. Like it or not, this remains the space where many players escape their inhibitive realities. It also remains, at least in some quarters, both unfair and unacceptable to be openly critical of Warcraft’s contribution to gaming in general. That I don’t accept, and never will, but I can reassure you from the beginning this Guide will not be a place to throw stones at individuals or any specific personal contributions to the ‘Universe.’ I can’t guarantee however that you won’t recognise yourself within my words, because that’s how the best constructive criticism works.
With all of this said, I now understand that if I’m going to make sense of Azeroth from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know class from spec or why Orange beats Green it will require a step up in personal ability. This is not going to be an easy ask for someone who, by her own admission, struggles to construct coherent sentences on any given day. However, if I didn’t feel I was up to the task, I would not have been up at 6.30am and here, taking apart work I’d already written and rejecting it as not good enough. There is a remarkable amount of dross posted in various formats about Warcraft, a lot of which I’ve been personally responsible for, but no more. Nobody seems to really care about the truth behind why this game still lives and breathes, and that bothers me greatly. As long as you’re making money? Nobody seems to care.
Except for every podcaster I know, each blogger that still writes despite little or no exposure, there remains an honest and brilliant beating heart to Azeroth and everything about it. For those who have toiled long and hard without acknowledgement, I dedicate my honest endeavours to you. I understand that you are the true soul of this entire existence: selfless individuals who pay things forward without a thought, who help without prompting. To you, and anyone who ever played this game with the joy that it both deserves and invites, I hope I can make a set of Guides that truly grasps the truth behind the MMO. From the Ironman grafter to the Bleeding Edge Hardcore, this game is for everybody, and remains a place I am honoured and proud to call Home.
If you’re a scrub like me [**], time to learn the real truths around World of Warcraft.
[*] Streaming would appear to fly in the face of this assertion, but that only works to a point. We’ll cover this in a later guide.
[**] There’s a very good reason I picked a pejorative term to title this Guide. See me here next week.