Why WoW?

August 21, 2009

Why do people continue to subscribe to World of Warcraft?  This is surely the question that defines the present chapter in human history.  I won’t bother to answer it, but I will go as far as to ponder a version of the question on a smaller scale; why do I continue to subscribe to World of Warcraft?

It’s not as if I can’t see the game’s faults. First and foremost, it is devoid of any kind of soul. I can’t recall a time when I’ve felt connected (in a positive way) to in-game events. My most memorable emotional experiences playing WoW have been of an odd sort of giddy rage (brought on by player versus player in battlegrounds), bottomless despair (a direct consequence of gather quests), disgust (again, gather quests, as well as mind-bogglingly poor quest design in general), and crippling mental lethargy. This final symptom invariably sets in an hour or two after questing begins; often sooner.

Why, only a few nights ago I found myself gathering bog lord tendrils from—yes you guessed right—bog lords. Let me tell you that although this may sound like an appealing prospect to the uninitiated, it rapidly descends into an apocalyptically brainless and time consuming struggle, now known to all who have survived it as the age of strife. It suffers from a common flaw of gather quests in WoW, namely a poor drop rate, which is another way of saying that you don’t get the shit you need. It came to the point, a full half an hour after beginning at least, that murmurs of discontent spread through the party, and we came close to abandoning the whole thing. Shortly thereafter fortune smiled on us, the drop rate ramped up, and the bog tendrils materialised.

Graham the boglord finally falls

Graham the boglord opens his arms wide in consolation

A friendly warning: the quest is ‘Natural Enemies’; if you’re unfortunate enough to venture into Zangarmarsh expecting a good time, and you pick this unrelenting son of a bitch up, abandon it immediately. Do not hesitate—there are plenty of other, customarily mediocre quests available.

And in my experience, mediocre really is as good as the quests, and by extension the gameplay, get in WoW.  Sure, there’s some entertaining and moderately engrossing content in the dungeons. Scholomance, which we attempted recently, is a good example of this. But it’s a rare occasion when I’m not simply going through the motions. Most of the time the quests require little more than rhythmic clicking. It’s robotic—something to do while I listen to some music and chill out.

And yet I still subscribe. I pay £8 a month for something to occupy the section of my brain left idle while I relax on Spotify. By all accounts, I should end this debacle. But I have an answer. I have an answer to the question. It’s quite a depressing answer, but here it is: I take some measure of satisfaction from having completed Natural Enemies. Farming bog lord tendrils was pure hell, but now it’s done, and I’m glad it’s done. I’ve got some XP—I leveled up shortly afterward in fact—and I can move on to pastures new. It’s exactly the kind of satisfaction one feels after concluding a section of a dissertation (not that I ever wrote a dissertation), or after a good spot of weeding.

In fact, weeding is perhaps the most apt analogy; everything I achieve in WoW is essentially meaningless.  I’m having as hard a time now at level 65 as I was at level 35.  There’s been no tangible shift in the gameplay.  The mobs get bigger and tougher, but so do I in tandem; as my powers and range of abilities increase, so does the damage dealing potential of my enemies.  I spend an hour yanking weeds of all shapes and sizes out of flowerbeds, but I know that the blighters will inevitably return.  I’m working against the grain in an eternal battle against the encroaching forces of nature.  A somewhat melodramatic description of a mundane gardening task, admittedly, but you get the point.  Though repetitive, ultimately futile and frankly dull, I just get something out of both these activities.  They fill a void in my spare time, and that void will always need filling.