Even if you’ve never set foot in Azeroth, you’re not immune to World of Warcraft. Everyone has a friend who plays. I confess I took it up for a while, but found I was more interested in studying the game instead of playing it. So I sat down with three World of Warcraft players to talk about their relationship with their characters, online economies, and gamer identities.
There’s no lack of opinions from gamers and nongamers alike about World of Warcraft.
“I think that there is sort of a stigma attached to it,” said Allison Hughes. “People who have never played will look at you like ‘why are you playing this? What’s your problem? Obviously you’re a nerd with no social skills.’”
Hughes is a senior and anthropology major. She started playing the game the first day it came out.
“It’s constant, indirect, passive verbal abuse towards the game from people that don’t play,” said Colin Bean, a junior and biology major.
“But often when we see people not playing video games, we see them sitting there watching TV,” said Bean. “It’s gotten to a point where for me I think it’s getting in the way of a lot of things that I would do.
World of Warcraft’s own dialect of internet lingo may be part of the tension.
Bean gave me an example. “Alright dude I’ll meet you in the UC in like three minutes, should I hearth or do you think run to the zeph? I’m going to be afk for a bit, bio break.”
Translation: I’ll meet you in Undercity (the zombie hometown) in three minutes. Should I teleport or take the airship? I’m going away from the keyboard for a bit, I have to pee.
“You can say a bunch of stuff that’s actual English words, but it’s shortened, and there’s so much of it that it sounds like nonsense when it’s strung together,” said Bean. “I’ve had friends comment, ‘I didn’t understand what you said for the last five minutes.’”
In World of Warcraft, players buy and sell items for their characters with gold, the game’s virtual currency. This behavior is frowned upon and players who participate may be shunned because it inflates the game’s economy.
Bean admits to buying gold, the currency in World of Warcraft, one time. He went in on it with friends.
“Buying gold is kind of ridiculous. You’re spending real money to buy fake money,” he said. “It saved us some time in the game, which is how we thought about it, because epic mounts are really expensive, and that’s what we used it for.”
Abby Wilson, at junior at Fairaven, said she never would buy gold.
“Spending my real money to get something that is pretend and doesn’t affect me in the real world doesn’t really make sense to me.”
Hughes also had a negative opinion of gold-trading. “I’ve never bought gold. I’m very against buying gold. It’s cheating.”
Players also buy and sell entire accounts with high level characters. Bean plans on quitting soon and is going to sell his account.
“My account was probably worth 500 dollars, but now that they’ve changed things I don’t know,” said Bean. The release of the new expansion pack, Burning Crusade, may affect the game’s economy.
Wilson started playing World of Warcraft about a year and a half ago when she checked out the free 14-day trial at a friend’s urging. Now, her main character is Zebgorai, a male troll shaman.
“Zebgorai is like a really cool friend,” she said.
I asked Wilson why she chose a male character.
“I think the male trolls sound better, they have funnier jokes,” she said. “I don’t want to fit into the stereotype of the really nerdy girl who dedicates her whole life to gaming.”
Gender-swapping is pretty common in online games. Bean plays several female characters. Loneliness, a level 60 female undead warrior, is his favorite.
“I guess it ties into the whole aesthetic thing. They look better in armor,” he said.
Hughes plays Surabhi, a level 60 tauren druid. Taurens are a race of giant bipedal bovines. “When I first made her, a lot of it was kind of seemed whimsical, like this is the cutest, biggest one, and that’s what I want to be,” she said. “I think the bigness comes back to me being a small person and having a bit of a Napoleon complex.”
“I think of her as a sidekick. She’s sort of like part of me,” Hughes said.
In the Warcraft mythos, the playable races are divided into two conflicted factions, the horde and the alliance. Everyone I interviewed preferred the horde.
Wilson said she finds alliance players more helpful towards beginners, but feels a stronger sense of community among the horde.
Some of the tension between factions bleeds into the real world.
“When I find out someone plays,” said Hughes, “I’ll ask them what faction they play, and if they say alliance, I’ll think, ‘there must be some flaw in your character that would make you want to play alliance!’”
Recently, the characters on South Park got into World of Warcraft. Hughes pointed the episode out as an example of the game’s cultural impact.
“You’ll be in a restaurant,” said Hughes, “and you’ll hear people talking about [the game], and you’ll be like, ‘I know what they’re talking about!’ You can’t go in a coffee-shop without some kid playing.”
Perhaps the ubiquity of World of Warcraft comes from the number of people who play.
“7 million people play,” said Wilson. “That’s more people than who bought Britney Spears’s last album.”
Blizzard, the game’s developers, announced this past Thursday that there are now 8 million players. 2 million of those live in North America.
“I don’t think anything I could say in this article could redeem this game,” said Wilson. “My mom thinks it’s geeky. My sister thinks it’s geeky. Even my brother who has a level 60 and is in a raiding guild thinks it is geeky.”