Occasionally, when I’ve had some spare time, I’ve been playing “World of Warcraft”:http://www.worldofwarcraft.com. Usually I’ll spend a few nights or afternoons playing for several hours, then have a long break while I do other things. The game (commonly known as _WoW_) is the first MMORPG(Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) I’ve ever played seriously. It’s also, today, the first arena where I’ve ever had fun actually role-playing.
World of Warcraft is currently home to the avatars of over 1.5 million players worldwide. This population is split over just over 100 different servers, or “realms,”Â each one of them a complete, parallel instance of the fictional world of Azeroth. Players on each server mostly have the same fantastic quests available to them, but the servers come in three different flavours: Player vs Player (PvP), Player vs Environment (PvE) and Role-Playing (RP). Each of these flavours offers a different kind of gaming experience.
Until now, I’d stuck to PvP. Whatever kind of server you choose, _WoW_ makes you pick a side. The Alliance are the “good guys,”Â humans, dwarves, night elves and gnomes. The Horde, while not really evil, has a darker, more brutal feel, and consists of orcs, trolls, the minotaur-like tauren, and the undead Scourge. But on a PvP server, unlike the other kinds, killing players of the opposing side is a major part of the game. The developers, Blizzard, are currently testing a reputation system that will reward players for killing their racial enemies. This race-war element, I need to point out, I find a little disturbing.
I also find the race-war inconvenient. A few of my real-life friends play _WoW_, but I started playing before I knew what servers they had characters on. Unfortunately for me, I had chosen to play a human warlock on the Blackrock server, where many Australians play. This character couldn’t talk to one of my friend’s characters, since he had chosen to play an orc warrior, my warlock’s racial enemy. But I couldn’t just start up a Horde character to go adventuring with my friend, because PvP servers don’t allow you to play both sides. Eventually, I managed to migrate my warlock to another server, and start up a Horde character, a troll shaman, with which to talk to my friend. He, however, hasn’t been online this weekend.
Building up the troll character, though, I noticed that a lot of the people playing Horde characters, like many of the people playing Alliance characters, were either boring, or idiots. Late one night, when it was nearly time for me to sleep, another person asked me to join a group with them, to do a quest. I joined, and then ended up following them around for over an hour while they went shopping in one of the game’s major cities, Orgrimmar. Finally, I gave up, and logged out, but before I went, I told my shopaholic companion: “next time, get your shit together before you go looking for buddies.”
In the whole PvP experience, things were lacking: seriousness, camraderie, even civility. This shouldn’t have surprised me: a lot of people are playing WoW, and as Harvey Lee told me, this means “the dregs of society are playing, too.” But there was one way I might get away from those dregs: join a Role-Playing server.
One one of the _WoW_ web forums, I saw somebody describe RP servers as being like a vegetarian option at a fast food restaurant. They’re for people who are picky about their experiences. The rules for RP servers state that you aren’t allowed to say anything in public chat that is Out of Character (OOC): you have to behave, to everyone else, as if you are your character, with the perspective of your character, who knows only their own world, and nothing about real life or about the mechanics of the game. I expected this rule to act as something of an idiot filter.
I logged on to Feathermoon, expecting just to try it out for a few hours and see if I liked it, but soon I was hooked. At the inn in Kharanos, I ran into some members of a new guild, the Hardbeard Clan, and saw them riffing off each other, their characters discussing and joking about how they fit into the _Warcraft_ series’ lore. One of them had clearly done his homework and, as I had, read “the extensive backstory”Â:http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/info/story/ from start to finish. Here was someone, no, several people, who had approached the game with seriousness and, as a result, were more obviously having fun than anyone I’d seen playing _WoW_ in PvP-land. I asked to join their guild, and was soon in the midst of a hilarity-filled guild meeting. For the first time in the month and a half I’ve been playing _WoW_, I began to feel part of the fictional world. I felt both challenged and rewarded: for the glorious effort of playing a character, I got to play a game of improvisation with other people. Further down the line, I spent two hours chatting about real-life with a fellow guild member, getting killed by monsters several times as I neglected to take care of my mage’s bodily welfare. Another guild member gave me several silver to deliver a knife to another of his characters. Civility, playfulness, seriousness, sincerity, helpfulness, intellect: this is what I encountered on the RP server, and what I had been missing in PvP.
So, for the first time ever, I have had fun role-playing. I played D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) a few times, but, like Bill Clinton smoking marijuana, I didn’t inhale, or rather, I didn’t enjoy it. I blame the DMs, who shall remain nameless. This time, though, I _did_ enjoy it. I’ll mark up a few more points on my geek rating. Thanks to everyone who made my first day on Feathermoon such a pleasure.