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|And now for something a bit more lighthearted. Those of you who have played World of Warcraft will understand. Those of you who never have, know that God smiles on your innocence.|
|I quit WoW back in October; that was cathartic. I'd been playing for nearly two years, and had just upgraded to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Having conquered both of Azeroth's two main continents as well as the extradimensional realm of Outland, I was ready to pump up the volume.|
I was sorely disappointed. More of the same fetch X items quests / kill X number of things quests / run around aimlessly quests for ten more levels, except now, going up a level takes a week. Oh sure, I could grind it faster if I wanted to, but increasingly I was beginning to suspect I didn't want to. In fact, I was beginning to suspect I didn't want to play the damn thing at all anymore.
I'm no professional gamer, but this ain't my first rodeo either. I can say with some certainty from my experience that WoW is not like other video games, and not in a good way. For starters, one of the first things the friend WHO SHALL POLITELY REMAIN NAMELESS that got me into the game told me was that "dying is a part of the game." This concept absolutely blew my mind as being totally antithetical to video gaming. I had previously been working under the assumption that staying alive was the chief objective of video games, ever since first playing Super Mario Brothers on Matt Ansbro's 8-bit NES back in boarding school. Now you're telling me I'm supposed to die, and frequently? I can't even begin to offer possible parallels in other media. "Falling asleep is a part of the movie!" "Losing your page is a part of the book!" What possible goal can such a game have, where even life and death are arbitrary concepts?
I'll tell you: the goal of WoW is to keep sending Blizzard money. That's it. Everything else is utterly meaningless, from the level grind to the violent horrors of PvP to the why-bother-to-have-a-screen-huge raid bosses that you can only beat by convincing the elder statesmen of high level player guilds that resemble some sort of secret goddamn society, complete with special jargon and handshakes, to let you in because your gear score is just under their arbitrary cutoff. The entire game -- no, let's not even call it a game (after all, Blizzard doesn't). Games have objectives. Games teach useful skills that can be applied to the real world. Games are fun. WoW is none of these things. Its sole reason for existing is to waste your time in increasingly convoluted ways, because the more time you waste the more money you make Blizzard.
Case in point: travel. In WoW, you have a staggeringly vast number of ways to get around. Considering this is a planet-sized environment with amazing technological advances and ACTUAL ASS MAGIC, that's not surprising. What is surprising is that they are all about equally worthless. Let's take a trip back to November of 2010 to the WoW I knew well. Say you're a level 65 in Netherstorm and you need to get to, oh, I dunno, let's say the south end of Un'Goro Crater; there's a month-long quest there for a special mount, so that's plausible. The absolute FASTEST way to get there would be if you happened to have your hearthstone set at the closest inn, which would be... I dunno, Gadgetzan? Cenarion Hold? Shit, I'm embarrassed I can even make an educated guess about this horseshit. Wherever it is, it's the next fucking zone over. So you have to then take a flight path from there to the north end of the Crater, and from there take your fast mount to where you need to go. I guarantee that this entire process will take you something like seven minutes minimum -- seven minutes of game time that is ticking away on your monthly subscription!
Of course, more likely you have your hearthstone set somewhere semi-useful, like Shattrath City. Okay. So you hearth to Shattrath, and then use the handy portals to the nearest capital city. Let's say you're a Horde player and that puts you in Orgrimmar (I know, Thunder Bluff is technically closer, but I could write an entire dissertation about navigating that insane death trap, so let's overlook that). So you hearth from Netherstorm to Shattrath; use your flying mount to get down to the portals; use your fast mount to get to the flight master; take a wyvern to Un'Goro; and use your fast mount to the south end. If you are an absolute professional WoW player who has done this sort of thing a bajllion times this will take you fifteen minutes, and this is assuming you have the fastest possible mounts.
Now do this EVERY DAY for an ENTIRE MONTH -- totaling, for those keeping score, seven and a half hours of time spent just getting there, the equivalent of a real world drive from Philadelphia to Cleveland -- and you'll get to ride around on a dinosaur! Yay! Except, by now you've almost certainly acquired a mount that is just as good or better, so the only reason to have it is for novelty's sake, the bragging rights of hobbling through drudgery for a third of a winter.
What's my point about all this? The entire goddamn world is intentionally designed to waste your fucking time doing meaningless nonsense instead of ACTUALLY PLAYING AND HAVING FUN. Now, let's look ever so briefly at a comparable game: Guild Wars. In that world, you can teleport wherever you've already been. No shit! So long as it's a city you've opened up on your map you can instantly whisk away from the southernmost part of the Crystal Desert to the northernmost section of the Far Shiverpeaks in mere seconds. I should note that Guild Wars doesn't have a monthly subscription fee. THIS IS NOT A COINCIDENCE.
I could cite further examples, but I'm pretty sure I've made my point: WoW is engineered to waste your time doing repetitive, boring tasks. The very infrastructure of the game is set up to make you do this, and it takes up about 80% of all time spent doing anything in WoW, from making first aid bandages to farming for gold to fishing -- yes, MOTHERFUCKING FISHING. I'd say another 15% is spent waiting on other players to get their shit together, whether it be waiting in the random dungeon queue, waiting for your healer to resurrect the party wipe that just happened because your asshole tank wasn't pulling enough aggro (full disclosure: I have been that exact asshole tank many times), waiting on someone to eat/drink to get their health/mana back up, waiting on buffs, waiting on someone to travel to where you are themselves, etc.
But Chisa, that means that there's a 5% margin for actual fun gameplay! Yes, yes there is. And almost all of that is squandered on even more time wasting, by pummeling the players with the same goofy layouts of trash mobs and monster types. By the time you get to the supposedly interesting high-level dungeons and raids, everyone already knows how to handle every creature type, and there's little chance you'll come across a combination of types that you haven't encountered before and know how to deal with reflexively -- again, repetitive time-wasting that is NOT FUN.
In fact, the only times I can actually remember having fun in WoW were when something totally accidental and unexpected happened that had nothing to do with the game's design at all! For example, on the Day of the Dead -- a Mexican holiday which now has a parallel in WoW -- the Alliance decided it would be prudent to siege the undead capital city for 24 hours. No quest, no achievement, no special loot, no real plan. They just rolled posse deep on Undercity and started waling on any poor bastards who happened to have their PvP flag set. I was only level 60, but I stood with my superior level 80 Horde brothers against the onslaught, and we all had a blast.
And none of it had a goddamn thing to do with Blizzard. They couldn't have scripted anything that fun if they picked Willy Wonky as their design lead.
What's more, the higher you rise in WoW, the less interesting and unique the player base gets. At the lowest levels is probably the most fun, because you're basically free to do anything within your level-limited parameters, including play around with your talent trees to customize your abilities. But as you progress to the 70s and 80s, subtle things begin to happen. You have to pay more attention to your armor sets. You have to know your spell rotation automatically. You have to pick a designated role (though for 1000 gold you can hot-swap between two! Yay). And you have to do things like everyone else, because they're all expecting you to, because they're all doing it like everyone else. At level 80 everyone is using the same spells and wearing the same armor sets and has the same weapon glows. As one rises in the pyramid one inevitably accepts their predetermined expectations at it's zenith. It's like a virtual ancient Egypt. Do things differently and be branded a moron and a heretic. Do things the same and advance as expected: slowly and tediously, with little joy.
So I quit. I figured if I was going to waste my money on meaningless virtual nonsense, then by gum, it was going to be something that was at LEAST less mind-numbing than my ACTUAL JOB. IMVU, for example.
Time passed. I started exercising and quit caffeine. I got into steampunk pretty heavily and began writing a book and assembling costumes for myself and the mannequins. I talked more with my domestic partner and my friends. I went out drinking one night and got utterly shitfaced. Life generally got less boring.
Meanwhile, WoW released its fourth installment, titled Cataclysm. "EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT WORLD OF WARCRAFT HAS CHANGED" screamed the advertising trailers, packed with cinematic nonsense that would never actually be seen in-game. I swear, computer programs are the only industry where you can indiscriminately assfuck the user's interface and claim it as a feature. Imagine if you went to buy a car and the dealer said: "Hey, you thought you knew how to drive, but not anymore asshole! Now you have to sit in the trunk and steer via a series of overhead pulleys!" That's basically the marketing behind Cataclysm.
Four months had gone by since I had set foot in Azeroth. I considered it a sort of mourning period, wherein I accepted the death of the old game and grieved its passing. I was ready to move on with my life... or was I? I mean, there was still the new Warcraft, right? It can't be that bad, can it?
So I bought a game card and installed it again. Chronkite, deeply amused by my battered wife loyalty, watched me play from my couch while poking away at his latest sculpture.
The first thing I noticed upon logging into the game was the alert message: YOUR TALENT TREES HAVE BEEN RESET. This did not bode well.
The second thing I noticed was that half the shit I'd had in my Action Bar was simply gone.
The third thing I noticed was that I was in Acherus, the death knight city. Which was impossible, considering I was playing a paladin. Ten seconds into the game and absolutely everything is nightmarishly wrong.
Honestly, I didn't know what to do. My brain locked up in a way that I can only assume happens to autistics when someone interrupts their OCD repetitions. Everything was familiar enough that I could recognize the parts, but none of those parts went together in a way that made sense. It was like a jigsaw puzzle haphazardly assembled with no thought to the picture, with pieces shoved rudely into any space that fit them.
I needed to get my bearings, and fast. Reflexively I hit my hearthstone, teleporting myself to my home base of Dalaran. From there I could take a portal to a capital city and take stock of what had happened to the world in my absence.
Wait... where are the portals? I know they used to be here. What!? Blizzard TOOK THEM OUT? YOU HORRIBLE MISERABLE SONS OF WHORES. YOU MEAN TO TELL ME YOU MADE THE TRAVEL TIMES EVEN LONGER? No, seriously: I fucking hate you. I HATE you.
After a combination rage fit / crying fit / desperately holding back my urge to sock Chronkite in the mouth for laughing fit, I begrudgingly got onto a flight path back to Howling Fjord, climbed the frustratingly ridiculous stairs up to the zeppelin ramp, and headed for Undercity. The undead realm, unbelievably, was completely untouched by the so-called Cataclysm. I guess everything I knew about World of Warcraft hasn't changed.
In fact I was rather shocked at how little everything had been altered. Starting a new Alliance human, I went through the new opening quests at Northshire Abbey, which is basically exactly the same except now everything is on fire. I'm not even kidding, it's literally just the same area plus burning trees. A rogue character I'd made previously, stationed near the Barrens, ran for ten minutes before he found anything remotely different. So, what, you guys are reduced to outright lying now?
Orgrimmar did get a major facelift, but that just meant that now it was as treacherous to navigate as Thunder Bluff. SWELL, ANOTHER TIME-WASTER. Now I have to use these fucking slow-ass elevators to get to the ground level. What an improvement.
The whole experience was just kind of surreal. It felt like I was an escapee from a religious cult, touring the compound again for old times sake, decades after Jim Jones had poisoned everyone and a mini-mall had been built over the razed ground. What am I doing here again? Everything is so familiar, yet also alien. Did I really have a good time doing this? Am I really cured? Because here we are again, back in Azeroth, wandering around aimlessly with no idea which direction to go or what's important to focus on.
Then I saw it.
The single most infuriating thing I've ever seen in any video game.
A level 85 goblin.
No. No, that's just fucking terrible. Goblins are a new playable race. They were released in the Cataclysm expansion. You mean to tell me in two months this motherfucking player has grinded up an entirely new species to the level cap? Okay, you know what, maybe he didn't. Maybe he had a level 80 on another race and he paid for a race change to goblin and then played up the last five levels. That's still terrible, though. You went 80 levels with your goddamn Tauren shaman only to dismiss him for the next shiny bauble to come down the pike? What's the fucking point of playing an individual character if it's not going to have character?
Disgusted, infuriated, and defeated, I flipped the screen the finger and uninstalled WoW after a mere three hours of play. And Chronkite laughed harder than I'd ever seen in my life.
Jonathon Blow, creator of the highly acclaimed game Braid, once noted that "the meaning of life in WoW is you're some schmo that doesn't have anything better to do than sit around pressing a button and killing imaginary monsters. It doesn't matter if you're smart or how adept you are, it's just how much time you sink in. You don't need to do anything exceptional, you just need to run the treadmill like everyone else."
I am not a good WoW player. I'm a tank that sucks at holding aggro. I can't keep my party alive, and I'm usually the last one standing, primarily because I've conditioned my character for solo questing, which is patently incompatible with dungeon crawls. I'm probably the worst paladin you'll ever meet: instead of diligent, masterful and penitent, I play distracted, dumb and self-centered. I'll verbally and structurally abuse a whole five-man party just because I know they won't kick me, because it's hard as fuck to find another tank at 3 in the morning. I'll ninja loot that item you've been running this dungeon ten times to get, and then I'll leave before you get to the end boss. I suck at Warcraft. And I've sucked all the way up to level 71, because no matter how badly you play, you will advance so long as you keep sending Blizzard their 15 dollars a month and logging in.
I'm not saying I haven't had any fun. One of my proudest moments was in Sethekk Halls, the first time I went toe-to-toe with Talon King Ikiss. The more experienced party members knew to run when he released his insanely powerful AoE blast, but I didn't. That one attack took out 5000 hit points -- but ironically, because I'd honed my equipment and abilities for survival instead of selfless sacrifice, I had well over that amount of health and could heal myself to boot. So I just laid into the bastard, letting him blast me again and again and healing myself after each one, to the shock and horror of the rest of the party. And I took that fucker down.
That wasn't the way it was supposed to be done. If I had done it the right way, it would have been just another dungeon crawl; just another non-notable loot grab done by the book. Instead, it was glorious, a battle worthy of song and story, now recorded for all time here on GFD. The lesson, obviously, is that fun cannot be scripted. It is spontaneous, magical, and lawless. Anything that becomes regular and expected naturally becomes tedious.
The morning after my three-hour WoW debacle, I headed to work. I decided to bring my turntable, since there were some things I only had on vinyl that I wanted to listen to that day. I walked in carrying the portable Numark and my record bag, decked in my wool Kangol and wraparound shades.
Jay, the local baller, was there buying some Funyuns, and looked down at my ensemble as I passed by him. Shaking his head, he exclaimed: "That dude is the blackest white guy I know!"
That's an achievement better than anything I'd find in Azeroth.