World of Warcraft: Is It a Game?

Steven Levy, author of the fabulous book Hackers, writes this excellent column about WoW.
World of Warcraft: Is It a Game? – Newsweek Technology –

What distinguishes Warcraft from previous blockbuster games is its immersive nature and compelling social dynamics. It’s a rich, persistent alternative world, a medieval Matrix with lush graphics and even a seductive soundtrack (Blizzard has two full-time in-house composers). Blizzard improved on previous MMOs like Sony’s Everquest by cleverly crafting its game so that newbies could build up characters at their own pace, shielded from predators who would casually “gank” them—while experienced players continually face more and more daunting challenges. The company mantra, says lead designer Rob Pardo, is “easy to learn, difficult to master.” After months of play, when you reach the ultimate level (60), you join with other players for intricately planned raids on dungeons, or engage in massive rumbles against other guilds.

“Ninety percent of what I do is never finished—parenting, teaching, doing the laundry,” says Elizabeth Lawley (Level 60, Troll Priest), a Rochester, N.Y., college professor. “In WOW, I can cross things off a list—I’ve finished a quest, I’ve reached a new level.”

For the record, I tried WoW and just didn’t find it to my liking. The ‘grind’ to level up was to much work for me and not enough entertainment payoff — that and the lack of creative leeway. But I do see the appeal … if I had a group of friends to play with on a regular basis, and maybe a little more patience, I would probably be donig it every night. Possibly it’s a good thing it didn’t work out 😉

Still, I think Levy’s column does a great job of exploring the deeper social issues that make something like WoW work for upwards of over 6 million people all over the (real) world.

Anyway, the column ends with this: “Yes, it’s just a game,” says Joi Ito. “The way that the real world is a game.”

I don’t have the presence of mind to go into my issues with this statement at the moment, but I’ll just say that I do think there are things about games that, especially with the increasing digitization of all human experience, are making the physical world more and more gamelike. But I don’t think that’s what Ito means. Or maybe it is?

Author: Andrew Hinton

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