November 11, 2008

Changing the World of Warcraft

by Brian Chang

This Thursday, the World … of Warcraft will change forever. That's right, on November 13th, the latest addition to the World of Warcraft (WoW) series, The Wrath of the Lich King is expected to be released. With more subscribers than the entire population of Portugal at more than 11 million, World of Warcraft's latest change is causing excitement to mount for the new expansion pack. Furthermore, some speculate that subscriptions will increase further with the release of The Wrath of the Lich King.

This Mass Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) seems to garner such a wide audience because it provides an alternate reality and virtual, social environment for gamers. In many ways, Warcraft presents striking similarities to our own world. There is customization of characters that allows for individual identities similar to the real world, there are voting procedures, auctions, and a common currency, the Gold. But Warcraft's huge success seems to lie not in its comparable parallels to our universe, but in its distinct differences from reality. Warcraft players, upon logging on, are immediately immersed in Azeroth, a diverse realm of magic and mysticism populated by rival factions of humans, elves, and orcs.

There are several advantages in playing the online game. Warcraft allows for a social environment through which gamers can chat and build relationships with other gamers. Critical skills such as teamwork and cooperation are encouraged under the guild (specialized team) centered missions and tasks.

However, the enchantment and fascination for World of Warcraft has given rise to an addictive brand of Warcraft subculture. Starting with the $15 monthly membership fee that allows only payers to be part of this exclusive community, this near obsession with the game series has resulted in the culmination of countless fan pages, forums, shirts, novels, and toys. Avid Warcraft fans even utilize game jargon such as "tank," and "undead," terms that have very foreign implications to those outside the community.

It is safe to say that Warcraft for many of the 11 million gamers has become something more than just a hobby, or social computer game. With its worldwide distribution and reasonable price tag of $49.99, Warcraft has become a craving source of addiction, comparable to porn, gambling, and drugs. I compare the MMORPG to the likes of porn and drugs with reason. Warcraft is probably one of the few publicized games in which there have been reports of players selling their updated virtual characters and items for real cash. Yes, that's in dollars, not Gold. In addition, there have been incidents of death related to the Warcraft series. In South Korea in 2005, a man visited an internet cafe for a marathon gaming session with World of Warcraft and Starcraft. He didn't sleep or eat for at least 50 hours and he died of fatigue and exhaustion. Last year, in a similar incident, Chinese authorities reported a 26-year-old teacher collapsed and died after spending 15 days mostly playing online games. Although the authorities did not specify what games had bewitched the teacher before his death. Satirical media outlets such as Onion News and Southpark have humorously criticized the addiction that has become too synonymous with the online game.

Aside from the near extreme cases with Warcraft addiction, obsession with Warcraft has been responsible for the disruption of people's families, jobs, social and even physical health. Even though Warcraft provides a temporary social outlet for human interaction, gamers' heavy dependence on the MMORPG displaces them from the reality of our world, not Azeroth. With the release of The Wrath of the Lich King, we can only foresee the ongoing damage Warcraft will continue to impose on its growing number of subscribers.

(Screenshot from the World of Warcraft by srp6685 via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see a trailer for The Wrath of the Lich King expansion pack for World of Warcraft, please check below.)

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe in a reader

No comments: