The seventh expansion of World of Warcraft, Battle for Azeroth hit the metaphoric shelves last week. Uther Dean talks to some of the game’s most diehard Kiwi fans.
It seems odd that World of Warcraft is 14 years old. That number of years both seems like far too much and not nearly enough. It always seems to have only just happened as well as also always having been around. The genre-defining fantasy MMORPG, which has just released a new expansion called Battle for Azeroth, stands as such a goliath on the landscape of gaming that it is simultaneously unavoidable and totally invisible. It’s so present that it seems just another natural part of the landscape. Where did it come from? Oh, it’s always been there.
WoW’s omnipresence has boiled down its cultural footprint to types. If you play videogames with any kind of regularity (and probably even if you don’t), you’ve absorbed the basic lore and world into your very DNA. From Pandaren to Blood Elves, Death Knights to Demon Hunters, even if you don’t know their precise names, you will know the shapes and faces of the denizens of Azeroth.
Its success, the wide reach of its lore, even that WoW grew from a very popular game to become an entire ecosystem that the entire modern MMO industry seemingly exists to replicate… all combine to give WoW a mighty legacy that counts its all-time users in the hundreds of millions. But that mighty legacy of high numbers and cultural domination obscures what might be the most important thing about WoW: people play it. Those millions are actual people making a community. To them, it’s more than just a big game, it’s where they meet their friends, or where they do their job, or anything really. WoW isn’t just a big idea, it’s a big place. And people live there.
I wanted to meet those people. I wanted to chat to the players who’ve made their way through the game and chosen to make it a cornerstone of their lives. So I spoke to two Kiwi WoW diehards to see what life in Azeroth meant to them.
Logan Carter is 35, plays a Human Warrior and lives in Christchurch with his wife and kids. He’s been playing WoW since 2004, when the game was still in beta. He says he started because he was already deep into video games and was looking for a reason to stay home while his friends were out partying.
“It kept me in a nice warm environment at home through those teenage and partying years.” He made friends quickly, “I joined a really good community early on.”
But it was when he came back to the game after a six month break in 2008/9 and joined Distortion, New Zealand and the Pacific’s biggest WoW guild – he’s now the general manager – that things really kicked into high gear for him. And it hasn’t let up.
“When you’ve got people in the raiding scene relying on you to show up two or three nights a week it’s an incentive to keep playing, to socialise with these people and to have fun.” He still plays almost daily.
What started as a reason to spend less time socialising has become a large part of Carter’s social life – with the added bonus that he doesn’t even have to leave the house to catch up with his mates. “As you mature and get a family of your own, it’s actually quite nice to be at home, near the family, but still having a social life and an environment whereby you’ve got people who you chill out with every night.”
That he’s found an outlet that doesn’t take him far from his family (his daughter was, charmingly, audibly hanging out with him throughout our phone interview) is of real value to him. “It’s good to be at home with them, especially my wife. It keeps me at home. So, if it’s bedtime, and my son needs a book read, I can put down my computer, and read a book with him. I like that aspect.”
The community he found in WoW has now spilled out of his home into his working life too. He says he’s helped find more than one guild mate a job where he works. “At the end of the day, while it’s a game, you can help out people. If I trust them enough to spend x amount of hours with them in game, then I can trust them in real life too.”
He organises biannual meet ups where members of the guild can catch up with each other in real life. He compares it to an episode of Cheers or a rugby team kicking back at the pub after a game. “We sit round a table, swapping stories, catching up on everybody’s lives and introducing the new people to the regulars.”
It strikes me that there’s no more WoW a story than the fact that Carter got into the game to get away from people, but now he stays in it for the people both in and outside the game. When he tells me what the guild members discuss at their meet-ups he may as well be talking about his own journey with the game.
“In the beginning it was very much about the game, but as people became regulars, it’s family life and just shooting the wind.
“They’re not strangers, put it that way.”
Dylan Beck plays as a troll monk and is better known online as Rudeism; he’s a videogame streamer who lives in Dunedin. He says he was first attracted to WoW by its sheer scale.
“The idea of a high quality 3D world of that scale with tons of players to boot was too compelling. I still remember going to Ironforge for the first time and being blown away at the scale and detail of it all. And then getting a new PC because my old one couldn’t handle Ironforge.”
Beck keeps coming back to the game for the community but also for a somewhat more esoteric reason. He made his name on the streaming scene building custom controllers, starting with playing Rocket League with a Guitar Hero controller. His character, also called Rudeism, is the only one in all of WoW (to Beck’s knowledge) that’s been played from level 1 to 110 entirely using DDR pads.
“No hands have been used at any time during his gameplay – except to type a dance macro, but Blizzard said it wasn’t cheating to do that, so it doesn’t count.”
Beck says he remains dazzled and humbled by the popularity that his streaming has brought him. “My favourite part of streaming is chatting with my community. They’re always super positive, inclusive and welcoming every single time I stream. I’m unbelievably lucky to be a part of it all.”
Beck has performed with his controllers across the world. “It’s been an incredible feeling whenever I’ve planned a build for weeks or months and not only having the controller work smoothly, but seeing everyone enjoying themselves, whether they’re playing or watching.”
It’s funny for a game whose very name connotes conflict to have become home to so much pure human connection. Carter and Beck both entered the giant monolith that is WoW, a place that to the casual observer seems too vast to be anything other than impersonal, and found human connection both within the game and the community that surrounds it.
Maybe that’s the secret of WoW – one that the players know and the world can’t see: something that that looks so big, so far-away, really only brings you closer together.