I played the online game World of Warcraft from late 2006 to early 2007, quitting just after this game's first expansion pack was released, and just before I started seriously preparing for the law school admission test.
One way I made it through law school was by promising myself that once all this was over I'd spend at least a few days completely WASTING time. And, since I don't like doing anything halfway, about ten days ago I reached a second time for World of Warcraft: the brass ring of time wasting.
By the time I quit earlier today, I'd finally learned to play my paladin class competently enough to where I was genuinely useful as a healer in most 5-man groups.
So, what are my take-aways from this experience, both positive and negative?
Here are three good things about World of Warcraft:
- Although this game is addictive, the addiction's vector is (and I realize how obscene this sounds) actually a good one - the positive feeling you get from bettering yourself, in this case vicariously through your World of Warcraft character.
- It's arguably mind-expanding to work together with other players toward some shared goal, when you have no idea where those players physically may be: I strongly suspect our species improves to the degree we each no longer automatically assume the farther away people are from us the worse they are than us, and global virtual environments like this one just might be the quickest way to shed this misconception.
- It strips away part of my generation's fear of aging. Personally, one of my greatest fears has always been being locked into boredom (e.g. being forced into employment where I do nothing all day long but feed pages into a photocopier). For earlier generations, old age was like this or worse: you sat in a wheelchair in a nursing home for all of your waking hours, the boredom only punctuated by nurses who assumed you were mentally disabled and condescended to you accordingly. With my generation, we at least have the option in our fading years of losing ourselves in challenging virtual environments like this one, where neither physical disability, nor age, nor geographic location make one shred of difference.
By contrast, here are three negative things about Word of Warcraft:
- It has an unfortunate "Hope for the Flowers" character: the drive is to achieve higher levels and better gear, so you can fight monsters who are higher level and have better gear. If you multiply your statistics by ten, and the monster's statistics by ten, that doesn't mean defeating that monster is any more of an achievement.
- This game's popularity is skewed exactly toward the demographic which needs it the LEAST. When you're young, your options aren't limited by the physical changes which unavoidably come with age, including disabilities and frailties. This, frankly, is depressing: even in the game's most enjoyable moments, you know most of the people enjoying it with you will eventually look back on that EXACT time and wish they had been doing something else.
- Both humor and courtesy are limited by the game's prevailing age demographic. In other words, if you make a subtle and ironic, joke, you can count on nobody getting it. By contrast, you can expect crude and graphic insults from other members of your "team" if you make a single mistake while playing. I guess the best I can say is that I look forward to sampling future virtual environments which somehow mitigate this overwhelming "maturity gap."
Personally, what I'd like to see is a virtual environment as high-quality as World of Warcraft which attempts to duplicate the REAL WORLD. In other words, which would let me visit any place on the planet, and converse with people (specially flagged) who verified themselves as being residents of that place. I'd be happy to enter a virtual world and spend some time sharing what I love about Seattle, if I could virtually visit McMurdo Station, or Mecca, or Moscow, and chat with people whose lives are rooted there.
But whether or not that happens, I will probably always keep an eye out for any announcements to the effect that World of Warcraft is being canceled. Eventually, the company that makes it will either fold, or want to move on to more profitable things. And should such an announcement be made, I think I'd like to pick up World of Warcraft again one last time, just before the servers are finally powered down, and have one last dance at the end of the world :)