World of Warcraft, Digital Community, Virtual World – Personal Review

What is this painting all about? Just for the record, is a painting by Bruegel, and even though I used as a cover a 16th-century painting, I have no intention to start a discussion around 16th century’s art. No, I will be writing about a pretty unusual subject, at least for me, World of Warcraft.

I will start by saying that I am no gamer. So, do no expect to find any new tactics or tips on how to pass the levels, far from that. I am just a newbie. If I remember well, my blue character with horns, just passed level 6, or was it 7? From what I just said, you already understood that I am not the biggest fan of video games, and some of you might tell me: Well you do not know what you are losing and I might just agree with that.

I will admit I was really skeptical at first; I might still be a little. Playing a video game of this amplitude can be addictive, and I had the impression that I could find better ways to pass time. I do know people who used to spend nights after nights in front a computer pursuing heroic mission and trying to save the virtual world, and I was against it because it affected their daily activities and sometimes they could just not keep up with their responsibilities because of the immense amount of time they spent playing video games, and if I recall well, it was exactly World of Warcraft. Then, as I was disinterestedly scrolling my Facebook timeline in absence of a better occupation, it just struck me, scrolling my Facebook timeline was definitely not a better way of passing time. I do not militate for video games, even as a WoW player now, a very new and inexperienced player, but a player nonetheless, I still believe that the world outside my Windows is such a vast and wonderful place, and I should use every second and every means to discover it. But, and there is a really big but, this world we are all living in is constantly changing, and digital culture is a part of it now, an important part I must say, and it has been so for quite a while.

Gadgets, online platforms, virtual communities have entered our world and are here to stay, so we would better get used to it. And most of us already did. Who does not have a mobile phone today? Or a computer, who does not have a Facebook account and does not communicate with friends, family, coworkers, and professors online? Our grandparents, maybe… but mine do have a mobile phone, newborns, but they will soon have all of these as well. So, the internet became nowadays, at least for the western world a vital element, a facility without which, none of us can even imagine our lives. Thus, as in the so-called “real world” where people are organized in communities, starting from villages, towns, cities, countries; friend communities, family, students in an university, colleagues in an office, members of the same church, the same knitting club or football enthusiasts, the digital, virtual world is also formed of communities, based on common interests, principles, hobbies, or simply by having an account on a specific online platform. Idyllically, a community is a group of people united by a common specific, who are always ready to help, support, listen to the other members; an abstract place where you can feel wanted, needed, heard. A community is, probably in a utopian world, a home without walls, floors or a roof. Sadly, utopias do not exist, hence neither do these idyllical communities, unless you are playing a video game, and here I will just concentrate on World of Warcraft (I certainly do not consider Counter-Strike community an idyllically one, though gamers do form teams and help each other accomplishing a certain mission as a team). As Jane McGonigal advocates in her conference from February 2010, Gaming can make a better world, a world as the one proposed in World of Warcraft is, in spite of the imminent danger of falling apart due to evil forces, a utopia. Every gamer, experienced or inexperienced can find its own place and be a part of saving the characters’ world. More bluntly said, World of Warcraft gives his players the opportunity of being heroes. And if you are not interested in being a hero, it still does not lose its appeal. By proposing this whole new universe, only exploring Azeroth might be enough to convince fantasy enthusiasts to keep on playing. Of course, in there you have your own missions, you can not possibly feel unwanted, and who would reject a Blood Elf who is trying to save the world?

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Coming back to the start, the reason I used a Bruegel’s painting as cover is because it shows a community, a medieval one it is true, but a community gravitating around crafts and organized, just as the one in World of Warcraft in guilds, and every and each one of these guilds plays its own important role in making the world go round. There is no unemployment, no character who graduated a Law School and the only place hiring him is McDonalds or KFC, there is no loss of potential, because everyone has its own place, and other experienced characters are willing to give you missions, and world-saving tasks, in spite of your own lack of experience. In World of Warcraft you will never hear: Oh, you are twenty, you just graduated, and have no experience, we can not hire you, we are looking for a young person with more experience, we are really sorry. But the reason this universe is so appealing is that it is not real, it is programmed in such a way to let everybody win. You die but you revive, you mess up your mission, but there is a way of remedying the situation, you do not win now, you just have to log in later and try again, and again, and again. Some of these might apply to the real world, but not every time.

Games are a mean of relaxation, of gaining certain skills, of learning, but these should not only resume to the world of games, should be transposed in the real world.


References:

Brignall, T.W. ; Van Valey, T.L. (2007) ‘An Online Community as a New Tribalism: The World of Warcraft’. 40th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences [online] 179b-179b. available from: <http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/4076738/> [1 December 2016]

Jane McGonigal, (2010) ‘Gaming can make a better world’. conference [online] available from: <https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world> [12 October 2016]

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