World of Artcraft

Prelude

Imagine that you’ve just created a character, and now you’re watching the opening cinematic. The epic voiceover describing the plight of the blood elves drones on and on while the camera spans the area. Once it’s over, you’re in the Eversong forest, and standing near you is a female blood elf with an exclamation point over her head. You walk up to her, and start the questline to save Azeroth.

Introduction

The above is a short introduction of what a player of the game World of Warcraft might experience when they first start playing, which is the game I will be discussing for my final analysis. World of Warcraft is a game developed by Blizzard Entertainment in 2004. World of Warcraft, often coined WoW is the fourth “installment” of the Warcraft franchise. It follows the storyline from the previous 3 Warcraft games, but is it’s own game.

Warcraft has a very distinct playstyle that is different from WoW. Warcraft is a Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game whereas WoW is a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG). There are major differences between the two in that an RTS game is where one is the “overseer” who creates units and structures and manages those to essentially beat the other team or finish the objective. It requires planning, thought, and timing. An MMORPG is vastly different from that in that the MMORPG genre combines two genres together. It takes RPG elements and combines it with online multiplayer elements into a virtual world.

WoW is no exception. It is the biggest and one of the most well known MMORPG’s to date. For the purposes of this analysis, I will be arguing that World of Warcraft is art. The importance of WoW is that it is one of the first MMORPG’s that did it right. Of the other MMORPG’s out there, WoW is the most popular. Games such as Everquest and Runescape came before WoW, however there wasn’t much of a player base. Games like Rift and Guild Wars, which came after WoW were also unsuccessful in creating the enormous  base that WoW has. In order to improve Everquest, rather than modify the game they had, Daybreak Game Company (formerly Sony Online Entertainment) made Everquest 2 and released it in 2004 – around the same time as WoW. It was enormously overpowered by WoW.

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Everquest 2
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WoW early in it’s release

WoW is constantly expanding and patching, creating new content for players to enjoy. WoW is an RPG. It allows the player to essentially do whatever they want within the game world. It has such a large community and following, that it’s one of those games that can stand the test of time.

WoW and Community

Howard Becker states that:

“All artistic artwork, like all human activity, involves the joint activity of a number, often a large number, of people. Through their cooperation, the artwork we eventually see or hear comes to be and continues to be” (Becker, p. 1).

WoW is one of those games that a lot of people worked on to make. Even though the game came out in 2004, it is still being added to and modified to this day. There are thousands of people employed by Blizzard, and many of them work on WoW on a regular basis, 24 hours a day.

The point is, there are a ton of people who work together to make WoW the game it is. If it weren’t for those people making sure the servers are working and adding to the game content, the game wouldn’t be the same. There would people be complaining about the amount of lag they might be experiencing or the fact that they are unable to login. There are times when that happens, but the people work hard to make sure that when it does it’s not for very long. The fact is is that WoW is a game that a lot of people have worked on and are still working on. Their collective activity is what makes WoW a game.

Becker also focuses on Art worlds, saying that “Art worlds produce works and also give them aesthetic judgement” (Becker, p. 39). This means that art worlds are the community in which the art is created and through that creation allow for aesthetic interpretation. The people within the art world are the people who judge the art within it. WoW is it’s own community. It has a huge following with many websites dedicated to information on it, from in-game content to specific classes and what they can do. Just look at the Reddit page solely dedicated to WoW.

The community that surrounds WoW is incredible. People of all ages play the game; some have been playing it since it first came out. While some may believe that it’s not as popular as it used to be, it is played around the world by thousands of people everyday.

Both the virtual world and the world that WoW resides in are huge. The virtual world consists of three different worlds that have alternate timelines and long stories for the player to experience. It’s one of those games where you can really got lost. New players can have a lot of trouble navigating maps and trying to find objectives, or where exactly they should go without following the questline exactly as it should be followed. Many people skip over beginning quests if they know the story and know where to go, whereas others may struggle more. The fact is is that the game is huge and depending on what level you are, you could experience an alternate timeline that needs to be fixed (as seen in Warlords of Draenor).

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The World of World of Warcraft

WoW and the Player

World of Warcraft is a game made for the player experience. According to Barthes, that player experience comes from the death of the author. (Barthes) In order for the player to really gain their own experience of the game, the author must be “killed off”. Then the player can truly enjoy the game and experience their own way of playing. WoW does just that.

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Character Creation Screen

It has multiple classes and races to choose from, two different factions, and multiple ways to play the game. If you’re a new player, you can choose to play through the story like normal. But once you hit level 15, you are given the option to team up with 5 other players (random or in a group with you) that are around the same level to defeat dungeons. Dungeons are a great way to gain experience and gold quickly. It’s one of the fastest ways to level up in WoW if you’re not keen on doing it the old fashioned way of questing. Some people prefer to do a mix of both questing and dungeons until they are a high enough level to Raid. Raids are different from Dungeons in that they require more than 5 people, take longer, and require a lot of planning in order to get it right.

People are given many options within the world of WoW. Some people don’t even want to do that. Once they’re a high enough level and on a PvP server, they can hunt down lower leveled people who might be questing and kill them for fun. It may not be fun for everyone, but they have that option. Players are also given the choice to join a guild (an association of people who join together for mutual purposes) and effectively “Leeroy Jenkins” themselves into a Raid.

Maeda believes that video games go beyond design – as some people believe that is all they are – into the art realm.

“Because unlike the mechanical function of a car, a narrative replaces the act of physically getting you from point A to point B. A narrative that you, the player, gets to drive and live through until it’s game over. This is where videogames become an art-like act of “personal imagination”…the creators of a game haven’t “ceded the responsibility” of their personal visions; rather, they allow a space for users to construct their own personal experiences, or ask questions as art does” (Maeda).

Each person gains a different personal experience from playing a video game like WoW. The personal experience is what drives the game, and the fact that it’s different each time is what makes it art. People have different perspectives on what the meaning of an art piece is many times. If someone were to believe that a squiggle of lines is art, someone else may not. Or the message behind what the squiggle of lines might be – the inner struggle of the artist, the power struggle of politics – anything that an art critic might take away from the art. That’s what makes it art.

People gain their own thoughts and opinions on games like WoW and that experience of having different opinions and different experiences is what makes it art.

WoW and Progress

In 2014, with the release of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, WoW received a visual update to character models and scenery. It changed quite a few aspects of the game and made the game more visually appealing to players.

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WoW Now

Hegel refers to the dialectic of progress. He believes that beauty and art equal progress, stating that:

“Ideal unity can enter the art-consciousness only through the unfolding and then the reconciliation of the particularizations of the Idea, and through this development, artistic beauty acquires a totality of particular stages and forms” (Hegel, p. 84).

In other words, progress is what it means to have artistic beauty. The improvement and progress is what makes the art beautiful. WoW has had several expansions over the years. It started with Burning Crusade, then Cataclysm, Wrath of the Lich King, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor, and the most resent expansion, Legion. Each expansion has brought new zones, better content, and more and more interesting aspects of WoW.

WoW is part of that dialectic of progress. Blizzard is always looking to improve their content, whether it be visual, gameplay, or any bugs or issues players might be experiencing. Anything to improve the player experience. This is part of what makes WoW art – the idea that it is always moving toward something better.

Why it Matters

WoW is an important game for the gaming community. A ton of people play it and several at least know of it in some way. It was one of the first MMORPG games that was effective in its message – you can play a game online with friends and strangers from all over the world and enjoy it for hours on end. Not only that, but it was one of the only ones that has really stood the test of time and continues to be enjoyed by people of all ages.

WoW is art. It matters because of the community in which it was founded and how it has been expanded upon. WoW is one of those games people can play for hours. It has such a huge following; most people know the Leeroy Jenkins reference at least to some extent. I’d heard about Leeroy Jenkins even before I started playing WoW. It isn’t that it’s one of the most popular games out there – it’s more than that. A lot of the MMORPG’s out there aren’t as well known. This is because WoW is one of those games that keeps adding new content on a regular basis. It keeps it interesting and players wanting more.

A lot of games now have WoW easter eggs  (undocumented, obscure, or otherwise “hidden” content), or there are different games referred to in WoW. There is so much rich history behind and within WoW – the history of the game as well as the actual story within the game. The world of WoW is so vast and expansive, and the lore is incredibly interesting and immersive. Some people are extremely well versed in the lore of the game.

The reason why it’s so important to understand WoW as art is because of the players. People should believe that it is more than just design and that the real experience stems from the players. The artists who made the game wanted to create a game that anyone could play and enjoy. That player experience is really what makes the game.

Now go out there and save Azeroth. (And dance)

Happy playing!

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Sick Dance Moves

References

Roland Barthes. (1977 [1967]). “The Death of the Author.” In Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang.

Howard Becker. (1982). “Art Worlds and Collective Activity” in Art Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press: pp. 1-39.

G. W. E. Hegel. (1998 [1826]). “Philosophy of Fine Art.” In The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, edited by D. Preziosi. Oxford: Oxford University Press: pp. 80-88.

John Maeda. (2012). “Videogames Do Belong in the Museum of Modern Art.” Wired Online. December 4.

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