I still remember the very first time I ran into a stranger that played WoW.
Cassie and I were in Barnes and Noble looking for a CD, and I just happened to be wearing a jacket with a World of Warcraft Druid bear paw pin on it.
Yes, I have been a proud Bear for many, many years. Shhh, I’m telling a story here. And yes, we were in a bookstore looking for a CD instead of buying on Amazon or doing digital downloads. Shh!
So Cassie and I are browsing the CD aisles when an attractive young lady comes over to us.
Out of nowhere she asks me, “Alliance or Horde?”
“For the Horde, scum! What server are you on?”
“Kael’thas, a PvE server.”
“Oh, you’re a carebear!”
“How oddly appropriate. Yes, I’m a carebear.”
“Oh, well I play a blank on blankety server, PvP for life, yadda…”
“Nice to meet you!”
It may not seem it, but this was a cheerful encounter. We both played WoW and that was the main thing. We were diametrically opposed in playstyle, but that didn’t matter in the rush of meeting a fellow WoWer.
I’ve been playing various computer games and role playing games all my life, and this was the first time someone approached me and opened a dialogue simply because I was wearing something displaying my current infatuation. Seeing I played WoW broke the ice for me.
Since then I’ve met any number of people in what we call the ‘real world’ that play World of Warcraft, and almost always it’s been an instant moment of “Sweet! A WoW player! What server are you on?” Whether it’s “My life for the Horde” or “Up the Alliance”, if you cut us, do we not lose HP?
It was the first time I could really pin down that I realized playing World of Warcraft was something beyond being just another gamer playing just another video game.
Just another gamer.
Labels are always sketchy, because to use a label you’re saying who someone is and all that they may think or do or be can be contained and adequately described in one word. The funny thing is how long the label lasted before gaming broke out into more accessible forms.
It turns out that everybody loves playing games, but not everybody likes all kinds of games. If you make games that appeal to different interests, you get more people playing. Huh, go figure.
World of Warcraft was a huge world full of different playstyles catering to many interests, it was easily accessible and it ran on all sorts of hardware. Easy to learn, a lifetime to master. You could play with your friends from all over the country, the ones you used to hang with locally before college and work scattered you to the four winds, or form a group with the members of your family on the three workstations in the basement.
You didn’t have to learn an esoteric new programming language to understand what was going on. The game was so new player friendly that you could play to level 60 without knowing you could train new skills, or learn professions, or that your hunters pet could learn new skills if you went to a pet trainer or tamed new pets with the more advanced skills out in the wild.
You could just log in and play.
In hindsight, it’s not surprising that people would try it and like it that never thought of themselves as a ‘gamer’, and likely still don’t.
I bet there are still people out there who have been playing WoW for years, but if you ask them if they’re a gamer, they’d say no. You hear gamer, and you think of the stereotypes. And no, you’re not living in moms basement or talking leetspeak or camping noobs, you don’t play Counterstrike, and you are a mature adult with kids. Just because you like to cast heals with your dwarven pigtails spinning has nothing to do with it. Gamer? Oh, noooooo.
It didn’t take long for World of Warcraft to go mainstream.
I remember clearly how we as players would boast of the ever-increasing numbers of WoW subscribers, then compare our numbers to the lists of country population density.
“There are 8 million WoW subscribers worldwide. Azeroth has a larger population than Switzerland, Hong Kong, Libya, Denmark, Norway or Ireland!”
Yes, yes we did talk about that, didn’t we? We felt like part of something so big, such a huge community united in our love of WoW, that is it any wonder we revered Thrall? After all, he ruled over 4 million people, and he started his life as a slave. Isn’t that something to admire?
Where I’m going with this is to wonder if those halcyon days of being one big community are long gone, or at least on the decline.
We just had a marvelous BlizzCon, a celebration of all things Blizzard. Along with taking part of the big Blizzard get together, a big part is traveling to meet friends you know from WoW, friends from your guild, friends you met through WoW Facebook pages or came to know through blogs or forums or WoW related Twitter. That would seem to indicate that yes we ARE still one big awesome community.
The game hasn’t really changed. The number of different playstyles haven’t changed, and the way the game can attract widely diverse groups of people hasn’t changed.
What I think has changed is that being part of the “WoW Community” isn’t enough to smooth all the rough edges between our different interests, playstyles or attitudes.
I’ll give you the most recent example I can of what I’m talking about.
During the recent BlizzCon, there was a moment where a video was played showing an old interview with Corpsegrinder.
I’m not even going to talk about the situation itself, there have been plenty of blog posts and forum threads written about it, if you haven’t heard the details you can certainly find them easily enough. Grimmtooth had a really great writeup on the whole thing and his take on it, you should check it out if you haven’t yet.
My point here is, Corpsegrinder, whether you like it or not, is part of the WoW Community.
But do you consider him to be a part of YOUR WoW Community?
He is a part of the community of people that play WoW. He loves the game, at least he did at the time the interview was made, he was excited and passionate about playing WoW.
Is he part of who you think of when you think of the WoW Community? Is he one of the people you like to think of as your peers?
You don’t get to decide he just isn’t part of the community. He’s not alone, look at your average trade chat, old style Barrens chat, hardcore PvP enthusiasts, even the very simple, cut and dried, “Horde or Alliance?”
The game appeals to many diverse interests. Lots of different people play WoW. I’ve seen a lot of outrage at the interview being shown at BlizzCon without previous attention being given as to the attitudes portrayed by Corpsegrinder, and whether they would offend anyone in “the Community”.
What I haven’t seen is any acknowledgement that a large part of the actual WoW Community, at one time or another, probably would have seen the video interview and said “Hell yeah!”
Let’s be honest. I’ve seen trade chat. You’ve seen trade chat. While there are certainly awesome, responsible mature people like Gnomeaggeddon or Cynwise in battlegrounds, can you really say you haven’t run into Corpsegrinders too? Enthusiastic as hell, but also profane and dropping offensive shit into their language like ‘homo’ and ‘retard’ and you name it.
We talk about the behavior of other players we meet in pugs as though there is one commonly understood standard of what is appropriate in teams or raids. When I see a thread like the one I linked to yesterday on MMO Champion about pulling for the tank, the thing that stands out to me is that, clearly there is a large segment of the enthusiastic WoW Community who have their own ideas on whether pulling for the tank is an asshat move.
And they are just as vocal in defending their point of view.
We have known a wonderful period of time where being part of the WoW Community was the most important part. The stuff like PvE or PvP, Alliance or Horde, raider or quester or explorer or collector or achievement hunter, those things were fine detail. Conversation points. Feeling each other out once the big stuff was clear.
I wonder, how many people standing there seeing that Corpsegrinder interview, coupled with the news that Mists of Pandaria was largely about reigniting the Alliance vs Horde competition and aggression, thought that what they were seeing was a Blizzard-approved WoW Community that they didn’t connect with anymore?
I know that when I think of the community, my feeling is of the people I know in my guild, through my blog, and on Twitter that I chat with. I don’t think of an 8 million person strong community, just the names I see and know and chat with personally. I think of people in trade chat as being… well, being the outsiders. The lonely and sad. The shouts of people desperate for attention, any attention at all. They certainly aren’t part of any community I’m in. Are they?
Still, there is that thought, small though it may still be, that causes me to wonder; are we really all a part of the WoW Community, or are we beyond that now? Are we in communities formed by our mutual interests, and while WoW is part of that, we talk to our friends who like the role play, or the pet hunting, or who have similar attitudes to ours, or who love the raiding progression.
If we meet strangers who turn out to be WoW players these days, does the fact that they play WoW break the ice and make you instant friends, or do you check for trollish behavior before revealing yourself?