Fiercely fighting through woods, swimming through lakes, slashing my way through the jungle…I was an Orc Warrior furiously trying to gain experience points to level up in World of Warcraft, or WoW. Five years ago, I was one of the 9.6 million subscribers to an MMORPG called World of Warcraft trying to make friends online and experience a world unlike any before – a world that keeps every player engaged, no matter their skill or age.
When my friends first mentioned WoW to me I immediately imagined the stereotype associated with most MMORPGs – it’s for nerds, for people with no friends, for losers. Oh how I was wrong.
I still remember the first time I logged onto the game at my friend’s house 7 years ago – after hours of my friend’s insisting and persuading I finally gave in and gave the game a fair chance. When the login screen finally loaded, I was prompted to create my character – first by choosing the faction (Horde or Alliance), then race, then specialization (or class). It was an exhilarating experience. I chose what scars my character would have, what facial hair, skin color, hair style, etc. I was creating my own personality, a personal avatar to explore the world of Warcraft with. Over time, you build a connection with this character. After spending hours upon hours to get experience, level up, acquire superior pieces of equipment (gear), you feel a bond. This virtual bond, along with the ability to communicate with different people, form groups with friends and random people to achieve a common goal, and always have something to do are the main features that got me addicted to the game.
Image courtesy of Flickr user goldiekatsu
One year later I felt as if I were an expert at the game. My character was at the highest level possible, I was in the second best guild on my particular server, and my character’s gear was almost full “best-in-slot” – a term used when you have acquired all the best possible gear for each armor slot: such as the leggings, arm-guards, boots, helm, etc. However, the best part about this game was the fact that I could socialize both offline and online. A lot of my school friends and I played WoW together; after soccer or football practice we’d all play together and have a good time. This allowed us to maintain and grow our offline relationship online. One way that WoW promoted this was through an in-game friends list; a list that highlighted your name if you were online and facilitated communication. I also had many online friends, five of which I added on Facebook and still regularly talk too.
To my surprise, these people weren’t the typical “nerds” you’d expect to find in an MMO; in fact, everyone I knew that played WoW was the complete opposite of my preconceived stereotype. For example, one of my online friends was a basketball player who went to Duke and another was a pre-med student at UCONN. WoW’s similarity to a social networking website made it that much more appealing – spending time with guild-mates, talking on forums or the guild’s website, or even communicating over Skype, Ventrillo, or TeamSpeak (push-to-talk applications that allow you to communicate with players across the world) allowed us all to have fun and grow our relationships despite never meeting in person. Although I stopped playing, due to lack of time, it was quite an enjoyable game that catered to a very wide audience.
To further the online social networking experience, a website – called facesofwow – was specifically created for WoW players to stay in touch, share photos and videos, and create closer relationships with people they meet online. After closer inspection, it seems that people use this website for multiple purposes. From socializing with online friends, to asking for help within the game, to even arranging offline meetings – particularly at events such as BlizzCon and Comic-Con. Although many people may look down upon World of Warcraft, its “in-game” similarity to a social networking site, as well as the newly formed social networking site specifically for WoW players, makes it appealing to a wide audience and creates an addicting atmosphere. After experiencing the game firsthand, I can safely say that World of Warcraft is extremely similar to a social networking site – one of the main reasons why I played for so long.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Yu-Cheng Hsiao
Feature image courtesy of Flickr user Mark Grealish