Confession: I started playing World of Warcraft about three months ago. Despite my affinity for gadgets and tech, my unyielding devotion to superhero movies, and my knowledge of video editing and conversion processes, I didn’t do it because I’m a huge nerd. Ok, maybe a little because I’m a huge nerd. No, a friend invited me to play. A friend in real-life. Oh, and this friend is a girl. That’s right. A real, living breathing person, that I knew prior to this, and who is not secretly a 56-year-old fat man.
Really, the stage was perfectly set for me to believe that the stereotypes were untrue.
I’d heard the jokes before. I knew the stereotypes. You don’t play the game unless you’re the nerdiest of the nerd. A step above LARPers and furries. It sucks your life away. You’ll spend way too much time wasting your life. It’s pointless. It’s dumb. Blah blah blah. But you know what? I thought, why not? Why not give it a shot.
It’s been three months. I’ve leveled a character to 85, the current level cap for the uninitiated, and I’ve experienced most of what the game has to offer. And you know what?
This game deserves all the crap it’s gotten.
Now. This isn’t to say I never had any fun playing it. Or that I won’t play it again. Certainly that’s not the case. There were some fun parts. And I’ll probably play it again at some point. I mean, I don’t want all that work to go to waste.
And that’s why I’ve come to dislike this game on principle. It’s work. It’s a lot of work. It is an insane amount of work. Worse than that, though, the culture of the community is impenetrable.
When I first got started with this game, I was referred to a number of sites. wowwiki.com, wowhead.com, and later, askmrrobot.com. In the time that I have played this game, I have found that every single one of these, as well as a few others on occasion, have been absolutely indispensable. It is a testament to the great work done by those sites, but it speaks incredibly poorly of the game itself.
This game is complex. It is not a light game. It is not something you pick up to play in your spare time. It is an investment. It’s a lifestyle.
One of the first things you’ll notice early on in the game, is that when you get to a capital city, you’ll immediately enter a few IRC-style chat rooms, the main one being the Trade channel. Using the phrase “IRC-style” should already be a bad sign for user-friendliness, but let’s move past that. It’s instant messaging, you can get the hang of that, right? Well, here’s a sample of some of the things you might see in this trade chat:
“WTS valor bracers, 5k”
“LFM FL 10 man”
“[Enchanting] LFW bring mats”
“Mage 4.2k resil LF 2v2”
In the world of World of Warcraft, those are complete sentences. They express ideas, are understood, and conversations happen with them. I know! Hard to believe!
The first hurdle to getting into this game—and I certainly tried!—is simply being unable to communicate sometimes with people. Not because concepts are difficult to explain, mind you. This guy is looking for some more people to join his raid, one guy who does enchanting work is volunteering his services, and a particularly skilled mage wants to play a little two-on-two games with some other folk. These are easy concepts. But the language used is impossible to get through.
“But Eric, that’s a public chat. You can’t expect them to dumb it down just for you.”
True. It’s perfectly reasonable for a group of people I’m not interacting with to speak in their native tongue. That’s cool.
Which is why I was utterly flabbergasted when, during a dungeon, a stranger addressed me with the following, complete sentence:
I need to stress that, when this occurred, I had been playing the game for a solid two months. I was familiar with my character and new how to work it, but I had never before had someone say “table” to me and expect me to know what it meant. It turns out, he was asking me to cast a spell, called Ritual of Refreshment, that would create food the group could share, with various health and magic benefits. He wanted me to cast this spell so we could all have food. He did this by saying “table”.
I was called a noob for not immediately diving his meaning.
“Oh, but Eric. That’s just the terminology they use. You haven’t learned it yet! You can’t be mad because you don’t know how people do things!”
Actually, I can. Largely because the “way things are done” are entirely inconsistent. For my character, there’s a spell that can be cast that turns one enemy into an animal temporarily, so that you can deal with other enemies first. This is a tactic known as crowd control. During my time playing dungeons (which, by the way, is done by pairing you up with four random players from across the server), I have been asked to perform this action with the, again, complete sentences: “cc”, “poly”, “sheep” and, in some situations, the use of nothing more than a symbol placed above an enemy’s head. That symbol, by the way, is a crescent moon. Crescent moon means sheep in this game.
If the communication in the game, though, were the only frustrating aspect of it, I might be willing to concede that I simply need to give it time. Nevermind that it’s taken three months to even get to where I’m at now, and nevermind that I’ve spent less time playing through entire series of games than I have just researching this one. I’d be willing to accept it.
However, the culture of the game seems to be one of the least newb-friendly cultures of anything I’ve ever seen on the internet. And yes, I’m even including /b/, famed for inventing the word “newfag” to describe anyone who hasn’t been around for years.
Most of my interactions with veteran players, both within the game and without, came with a lot of pressure. “You need to reach level cap.” “You need to increase your item level.” “You need to raise your DPS.” “You need to read strategy guides so you can learn how to play your class.” The enjoyable parts of the game, like exploration, character customization, and learning all of your new capabilities, became watered down in an endless struggle of quests, and experience points, and item upgrades, and a general weary feeling that, no matter how much better I got at the game, I still wasn’t good enough to even be considered not a noob anymore.
Now, I understand not liking noobs. I’ve played games online before, and sometimes people who are new and don’t know what they’re doing are just frustrating. As an example, I’ve played games in TF2, where I’ve been on teams with five engineers who all build nothing but teleporters, with both the entrances and exits right next to each other, and serving no useful purpose. This is confusing to teammates, causes problems for legitimate engineers, and is generally annoying.
However, in World of Warcraft, it’s not so simple. When I reached level 80, I began the new content that came with the most recent expansion. As I tried to continue my questing alone, I discovered that the single-player, or solo-able, sections of the game seemed to be too difficult for me. I asked around as to what the problem I was facing might be, and I got a variety of answers. “Your gear is too low level.” “You need to try different quests.” “PVP moar” and the always-helpful “you suck”.
Ultimately, I tried to get in some player-versus-player games. Battlegrounds. A bunch of folks get lined up and spilled on to a battlefield where they fight each other. Your team may be anywhere from 10 to 25 people or more. During one of these games, during the pregame, in fact. I was told, by someone I had never met, didn’t know, and hadn’t talked to at all, that I should not be queuing if I’m “lvl 80 with pre-cata gear”.
Now. I can take this one of two ways. I can either take it as a helpful suggestion that I am out of my league (a fact I will discover soon when I am killed quickly during the battle), or, I can take it as a symptom of the larger problem I have with this game: virtually everyone doesn’t want to have anything to do with you until you’re an expert.
This is the problem I have with this game. It’s not that it’s complicated. It’s not even that it requires work! If that were the case, I would never have made it to level 85. It’s that no matter how much work is done, you’re still “just a n00b”. I have played for three months, done over 50 dungeons, gotten the top-tier gear in all but three of my slots, gone mining, bought gems, bought enchantments, made trades, grind rep, and God knows what else…and yet, even now, if I’m wandering in an area where some enemy players are, I will still suddenly find myself stuck, unable to move, as an invisible enemy slices me up eighteen ways from Sunday, then laughs at my corpse. And for those who have played this game, the most recent example of that wasn’t even from a rogue. It was from a druid. I suspect this is because I’ve spent a lot of my time on PVE gear, but I could survive that attack if I had PVP gear. Silly n00b.
I could go on. Really, I could. The game is so immersive (which is both a good and bad thing) that it requires a regular commitment. The game even rations out daily quests, weekly rewards, and weekly caps on how many of certain types of points you can get. It literally gives you a schedule for you to follow to keep you going, but also to hold you back.
However, at this point, I’m over it. My ultimate goal in this game, if I had one at all, was to finally get to a point where I could join a raid, which is a ten-or-more person level. Yet, after all this time, all this work, and all the continued embarrassment at still being not good enough, despite how much I’ve learned and practiced, I’ve run out of energy to care.
Oh, and I feel like it’s worth noting, all of this work comes after a recent patch which, I’m told, made things a lot easier for new people. What takes days now would’ve taken weeks last year, or so it’s been said.
If that’s true, thanks….but no thanks. If you need me, I’ll be playing Starcraft II, Portal 2, or Team Fortress 2.
….I promise they’re just all good games. I don’t have a thing for games with “2” in them.