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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.

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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.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user Yu-Cheng Hsiao

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user Mark Grealish

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One thought on “WoW: Play or Chat?

  1. Pat, I agree with a lot of the points that you make in your post. Online games such as World of Warcraft can absolutely serve as platforms for friends to further their offline bonding experiences. I have also found that in my own experience, games can lead to online bonding with people from different racial as well as social demographics.

    I would also like to point out a distinction between different types of online games. Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) that have an open sandbox world typically have a much stronger sense of community between its players because many of the activities in game (questing, trading, raiding) requires regular communication between individuals playing the game. Tasks necessary to level up and build better gear are dependent on working together and communicating with other people. On the other hand, games such as Call of Duty are not as open ended and have clear objectives that you can achieve through your own actions. Teamwork is much less a factor, so games like these do not contribute as strongly to an online community. Therefore, I think its important to note that there is a difference in the overall umbrella of “online gaming” because there are some specific genres of games that are much more conducive to building relationships.

    I also think it’s very interesting how people have taken the game to a level where they build offline relationships based on their in-game interactions. I think that your example of “facesofwow” is a perfect display of how this online community has really translated into offline relationships in the real world. I personally feel like many MMORPGs have evolved to the point where some people are using the games more as a social network than actually a game. One example we talked about in class was when a guild held an online funeral for the real death of one of their guild members.

    Something else that you mentioned in your post was the negative connotation associated with gaming. This is something we’ve touched upon in class and I was wondering if today’s growing world of e-sports, how prevalent this stereotype still was. After doing a bit of research, I found that Nintendo had actually released a commercial around a year ago that touted the tagline “I’m not a gamer.” Nintendo is known to cater to the casual gamer, and the purpose of this advertisement was to attract attention from girls and people who did not want to associate themselves with the “gamer” stereotype. It seems as if Nintendo believes that people may be interested in playing casual games but do not want to be associated with “no life” or “hardcore” gamers. However, I actually view the “no life” label of online MMORPG gamers as very similar to how people are reacting to the advent of social media.

    I see many similarities between social media and online gaming, where people begin to build up an online reputation to a point where they believe that the social capital that they can receive from an online source is sufficient to satisfy their offline bonding needs. In the same way a person spends hours of their day building an online social media presence and sometimes even forgoes offline social activities in order to perfect their virtual profiles, gamers may see their online avatars as just as critical to their social wellbeing as maintaining positive offline relationships with the people around them. Both platforms allow for social interaction and the formation of new relationships, with the only difference being that the medium is vastly different. In both cases, some people actually sacrifice offline bonding time in order to continue to engage in online activities. Therefore, I personally do not believe that the online gaming stereotype should be seen as any more “no life” as the incessant use of social media.

    Nintendo Commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQSTtArancc

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