This game would be great if it wasn’t for everybody else playing.
All of the problems in Azeroth are caused by other people.
When I was looking for a title for this series of essays, I knew there’d need to be a pejorative phrase in there somewhere. If I am going to be truly honest in the words herein presented, then pretending that World of Warcraft is a blessed, drama free environment is roughly akin to suggesting that the Earth is flat. Sure, you can choose to believe whatever you like for a quiet life, but the harsh reality of this existence remains that whenever two or three random people are gathered together in a Scenario, they will argue over the BoE loot. I’d been playing this game for a month when my first serious interaction with ‘other people’ almost caused me to give up and go back to consoles.
I’m rather glad it didn’t happen, that I learnt the lesson (never borrow gold from ANYBODY) and was able to get to grasp that if you want to understand Warcraft, then mechanics are only part of the story. All human life exists in this game, of that I can attest, and across twelve years I’ve met pretty much all of it. If you are lucky and are able to pitch up with people you’ve already gotten to know in reality, you’ve a good chance of surviving largely drama free, but don’t bet on it. That’s the other problem with this MMO: it makes normally sane, adult human beings reveal a side to their characters that is normally only reserved for drunken revelations or stress ridden meltdowns.
As a perfect example of this, there’s the woman who was professional, polite and brilliant ‘IRL’ but logged on as a whiny, needy and ultimately useless player who almost caused my second exit from the game, back during Wrath of the Lich King. This experience often asks a lot from the people who play it: patience, ability and ultimately a need to push through your own perceived shortcomings as a person. Sometimes, the only way to ‘beat’ content is to venture outside your own comfort zone, and for many, this is a step too far, especially as… well, it is only a game, after all. Maybe people should grow up and go do more adult things anyway, and perhaps you can cut people a break because they don’t get the need to win.
That’s a part of the small print that a lot of players are intentionally ignoring even now: games, ultimately, have victors and losers. To get the most from this title, produced by a Company who traditionally only ever make games that need to be won… that is what’s asked, and yet so many choose to never push and fall short. However, and this is important, there are those who don’t ever make pretensions of being here for that kind of experience. As you will discover in the weeks that follow, this game has no one way to be played properly. Everything can and is on the table as acceptable behaviour to someone.
Some of the best friends I have made in over a decade are in this group of casual players, and I am now happy to count myself amongst them. For years I’d strive to be competitive to the best of my ability and then one person effectively destroyed the desire to ever be so again. They’ll be reading this now, of that I am reasonably certain, and I suppose in a way I should thank them for finally shattering the notion I was ever cut out for people management. That schism provided much needed fuel, allowing a final escape from the oppressive gravity of responsibility, and now I’m here with enough space to look back with confidence, I can tell you it is always people who screw up this game. Mechanics are never the sole reason players leave.
When someone tells you that all human life is in Warcraft, they are absolutely right. Once upon a time if you pitched up on the wrong server there was no means of escape, but now for a fee even that choice is reversible, and you can choose to move on and live wherever you wish. I remain on the Server I rolled on with my husband in 2005, not simply because he is happy where he exists. There remain a number of people from those early days for whom the connection I hold is more significant than chasing raiding firsts or even being a more active member of the Community. However, this is an often constant reminder of the failure to deal with other people’s unreasonable demands, and yet I remain, and when I was planning this series that was a question I found myself asking: why stay if so much of this place reminds you of the things you failed to achieve?
The gaming definition of scrub is as follows:
We all know people like this in life too, but in Azeroth this definition is so apposite as to be damning. The biggest failure in my own gaming life, I’ve realised over the years, was making such a passionate effort to try and change people’s habits and perceptions to begin with, when it is abundantly apparent that some who play this game have no desire either to better themselves or indeed help anyone else. In fact, as I have discovered as recently as the last few weeks, what some need more than to be better overall is to ensure that you’re not painting them in a bad light. It is easier to pretend someone else is the problem than deal with issues for yourself.
The small print in this game doesn’t get read as often as it should. If you look at the bottom of the UI what it ought to say, under MMO means its not single player and learning to win does matter would be the following in small, friendly letters:
People are a problem. You’ll have to deal with them, so be polite yourself and don’t expect anything in return. If you get kindness back, consider it a gift. If you make a friend, nurture that relationship with every chance you get. If that friend gives back as much as you put in? Keep them. Warning: your definition of everything else will vary.
This game isn’t just about understanding the factions, or picking a side, and certainly isn’t just playing to max level. If you don’t understand just how indivisible the people are to the game, you will end up getting into trouble. If you’re really lucky you’ll land on your feet and never really see drama in your lifetime, but that’s a pretty big ask if you’re coming to this game cold. For everybody else therefore, read the small print, and assume that everybody is a scrub until proven otherwise. Then you won’t ever be disappointed, and it can be a pleasant surprise when the people you play with turn out to be decent.
Now I’ve got the warning out of the way, we can talk about how this game came into being.