World of Warcraft – I like it, even if I don’t feel special anymore

I’m playing World of Warcraft, a game twelve million people play, except for everyone I know who plays online multiplayer games.   The people I know have either never played World of Warcraft or they moved on to other games.  A few people came back for the new expansion, Cataclysm, but then they moved on too.

So, it’s me and twelve million people I don’t know.  I play on an established roleplay server, and all my characters are at a low level, so my world is not crowded.  I don’t run into a lot of people.  The people I come across are either doing their own thing or they are nice to me.  I may not feel special by playing such a popular game, but this is a good world.  I enjoy playing a game that’s beyond trendy, part of popular culture.  It’s refreshing.

I’m now playing classes (professions) that come with “pets”, but they aren’t really pets – they are magical animal companions.  My hunters get an animal that adventures with me.  My warlocks (a sort of magician) get a demon that helps me defeat my enemies.   If I ever decide to group with people I’m going to keep playing a priest, a healer, since they tend to be in demand for groups.  I do like being sociable, sometimes, in a game, but formal grouping is different – it’s structured, and there can be pressure.  I regard these games as a meditative experience, so grouping may not be for me.

Once you get the hang of it, WoW is designed to keep you playing.  There’s always just one more thing you want to do before you log off. I get my quests from the quest givers, wander around the world, deliver packages or secret letters, buy supplies for a party, and kill monsters, angry wildlife, or enemies.   I get rewards in terms of money, advancement in the game, and stuff.  There’s always a reason given for me doing the things the quest givers ask me to do.  Sometimes I’m interested, and sometimes I don’t care.  It’s enough that the quest gives me a reason to be out in the world.

It’s the world that’s compelling – worlds of winter, magical woods, medieval looking towns, crazy mad hatter towns, tropical islands — and I’ve only seen a little of the world!  I travel long distances by paying for a ride on a fantastic flying animal.  At higher levels in the game I’ll be able to get my own mount.

You can have up to ten characters on one server, which means you can try different races and classes (professions).  Each race starts out in a different area in the world, which gives you a reason to play different races.

World of Warcraft has two factions, the Horde and the Alliance, two loosely coupled groups of races that are fighting for domination in the world.   This affects the overall story, and it can affect you if you engage in player versus player combat, which I don’t do.  If you are playing an Alliance race, and you meet someone from one of the Horde races, you can’t text chat with them because you supposedly don’t understand their language.    I realize that this is the way the game world is set up, but I think it’s silly.   People from different groups come together all the time. Why should I have to see another group as my enemy?  I’m not a purist. If I am playing a character, and I’m given a quest to kill some NPC (non player characters) from the other faction (there’s always a reason) of course I do it, so I can keep going in the game.  But for my personal story, this whole war thing is ridiculous.  Why can’t there be peace.

I was playing Alliance characters exclusively.  Originally the Alliance was thought of as “good”, but it’s more complicated than that.  I play Alliance characters because they tend to be the more attractive characters – I have Night Elf, Human, Draenei (alien humanoid looking creatures, with hooves), and Dwarf.   But then I started playing two Horde characters, Goblin and Blood Elf.

Goblins are the nutty trade obsessed technologists in the game.   They are wacky characters.   The story of my goblin character is funny, clever and enjoyable.   I was all set to become a “trade princess” (who wouldn’t want to be that?) but things didn’t work out.  Somehow, after I was told to blow up a building for the insurance money, I ended up on an island with a bunch of other not too happy goblins.  No one is very happy, but we are making do.

I’m also playing a blood elf, because the world of the blood elf is simply beautiful.  I play a blood elf even though I look like elf Barbie with a dark side.  There’s something about the blood elves that remind me of Malificent in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty; there’s some menace with all that beauty. The Blood Elves got into trouble by focusing on dark magic, but I don’t care.  In their beautiful world – there are brooms that sweep all by themselves!  Along with all that beauty, who wouldn’t want a world where the inanimate objects did housework!

Another great thing about World of Warcraft – there is all kinds of stuff about the game.  There is something called The Armory, a “searchable database of information for World of Warcraft – taken straight from the real servers and presented in a user-friendly interface”, from wowarmory.org.    I can look up my characters in the Armory, outside of the game.  Even better, there is an Android application, Droid Armory, which accesses the World of Warcraft Armory database.  I can look up my characters on my Motorola Droid smartphone and view my characters in 3D.  I can save a picture of my characters from my phone.  The app and the pictures aren’t perfect, as you will see, but it’s still wonderful.  I can have my characters with me, wherever I go!

Pictures of my characters taken via the Droid Amory app on my Motorola Droid smartphone, using data in the World of Warcraft Armory.

World of Warcraft Night Elf Priest. March 2011

World of Warcraft Human Warlock. March 2011

World of Warcraft Dwarf Hunter. March 2011

World of Warcraft Blood Elf Hunter. Looks like elf Barbie with a touch of Malificent from Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I love this character. March 2011.

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My virtual life, getting back into online games, descriptions, explanations, opinions

My New Year’s resolutions, as posted on twitter, were as follows:

  • Get really good at a new job
  • Play more video games
  • Go swimming
  • Read more novels

People talk about online game addiction.  Sometimes I think – gee, do I wish!  Aside from going to parties in Second Life, less weird then you might think, I haven’t been doing any online gaming.

I’m not sure if I like online games.  What I like is being in a virtual world.  However, with nothing to do in a virtual world, no reason for being there, the world is very boring.  I know about this, having been in the world of Uru, on an off, since 2003.  There was precious little to do in Uru back in 2003.  Now, with no new content being released, there is nothing new to do, apart from socializing with fellow players.  Uru is boring.  So, you need something to do.

Most MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) have combat as the main thing you do. I have mixed feelings about combat.  I think the games have combat as their core gameplay because the combat mechanism is well worked out, people understand it, it gives your game focus, allows you to tell a story, and it can be exciting.  I’ll do combat if I’m fighting to defeat the evil in the world.  I prefer PvE, player versus environment play, where we don’t fight each other; we battle the evil in the world.  I don’t do PvP, player versus player combat.

I don’t play online games set in a virtual world for the challenge, or to be the best, though people have been playing competitive games for as long as there have been people.  Everyone, including me, is competitive about something.  I’m just not competitive about games.  I play to relax and to be in a beautiful online world.  I don’t want to turn my online world into a competition or another job.  I like my gameplay as easy as possible.  This is not something you can generally say on game forums; many people are very serious about these games, and very competitive.

Playing with other people isn’t as easy as you would think.  When I first started playing MMORPGs, I thought – “great, I’ll make some friends and we’ll play together”.  For most games, this is not the way it works.  In order to do something “together” you have to be at the same level of expertise in the game, and you have to have a balanced party, a mix of people in the right roles, for example, a healer, a hunter, a warrior.   Your play time is structured by the group event, the quest, the instance.  Once you start your group thing, you can’t leave without disrupting your party.  This is way too much structure for me, though I might do it occasionally, with a small group.  I like being with people in an online world, but I’d rather do things in the game by myself, seeing players as I wander through the world, occasionally talking to them.

Fortunately most MMOs today have a fair amount of solo play.  You do your game things yourself (fight some monsters, find things), periodically running into other people.  In some games such as World of Warcraft, it’s easier to level (make progress) if you solo.

Another thing I didn’t know, when I first started, is that MMORPGs had end game content.  I thought you just kept playing, enjoying your world, and periodically the developers would release new stuff.  Wrong!  Many games have end game content.  Often this consists of raids, lengthy difficult structured gameplay with twenty-five to a hundred people.  You defeat a difficult enemy and see wondrous things.  I’m not joking, developers devote time and people to make the hard long things exciting and good looking, with colorful scenes and special effects and in game videos.  Another common feature of end game content is PvP (player versus player) battlegrounds.

I might play with a small group, but I never intend to do the structured play with larger groups, the ten or twenty-five or fifty person “raids”.  I just can’t do it.

Some games in the genre work a little differently.  In Guild Wars you can reach end game with a small number of people.  You can also do it yourself by having your party include characters played by the computer, using artificial intelligence.  I like that.

What am I playing now?

Rift – the beta

I participated in the beta test of an upcoming game, Rift.  This is an open beta, so we can talk about it.  Rift is beautiful game, but the intro levels are intensely combat focused, to the exclusion of everything else.  I realize the Rift world is at war, but I did not enjoy the battleground atmosphere, and the random crying and screaming of the NPCs (non player characters) did not add to my enjoyment.   The intro levels were also crowded, which made for a surreal experience.  You saw lots of people running around (no random strolling, exploring), playing solo, killing their particular set of monsters for their quests, their missions.  Since there were so many people, the monsters spawned (reappeared) at a quick rate, to give everyone enough to do.  Something about the structure struck me as more “game” than world.  I’ve read that that the higher levels have more of a beautiful real world feel, but I doubt if I’ll get there.  Rift is in beta, but I’m reasonably sure the game will be essentially the same game when it is released, this March.

Rift beta, Alliance side, just out of the starter area, January 2011

Rift beta, Guardian side, the starting building, January 2011

Guild Wars – taking a break

I’ve played Guild Wars for several years, very slowly.  I love the look of the world, the look of the player characters, and I like how the world is structured.  You see people in towns, but your adventures are always in your own copy of the world.  This is called instancing.  But, I’m taking a break from it, possibly because I’m at the point where it’s getting hard.  I’ll get back into it later.

World of Warcraft – just started

I’ve never played World of Warcraft (half an hour four years ago, doesn’t count!), but I decided to give it a try.  Online gamers who don’t play World of Warcraft criticize the game a lot – it’s too easy, other players are mean, everyone plays (not just “real” gamers!), players aren’t serious, all that.  There’s resentment that World of Warcraft is so popular, with its huge player base of around 12 million subscribers.  Apparently, popular is bad, which seems silly to me because games are part of popular culture!  Given the publicity about the new content released, Cataclysm, and the amount of criticism in the Rift forum, I decided to give it a try.  I’ve read that some World of Warcraft game servers have more mean people playing on them than nice people, though you can ignore people and they can’t hurt you.  Role playing servers, where you pretend to be your character, tend to have nicer people. I’m not a serious roleplayer, but I wanted to run into nice people, so I decided to give a roleplay server a try.

I’m playing a draenei, a peaceful race, which works well for me.  I’m a shaman, a healer.  World of Warcraft is stylized, but beautiful.  I like the look of the world, but I’ve never liked the look of the characters.  This character is ok, though she’s way too busty, a not uncommon feature of online multiplayer games.  The server I’m playing on is an established server, so I haven’t run across many people.  Most of them are probably at the higher level areas.  I ran into a couple of people, one waved.  It was nice.  I’m poking along, still at a very low level, level 3.  The music is evocative; this part of the world is eerie and lovely.  I like it.

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting area for the Draenel.  My character does have facial features, but the sun is on her face, washing it out.  January 2011

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting area for the Dreanel.  Beautiful area.  January 2011

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting area for the Draenel. My character does have facial features, but the sun is on her face, washing it out. January 2011

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting area for the Dreanel. Beautiful area. January 2011

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting are for the Dreanel. Those things that look like big pansies have legs and walk around. January 2011

Next time I’ll talk about Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and Lord of the Rings Online.