Collaboration over Narrative in WoW

World of Warcraft is a game with two conflicting areas of play. One aspect of the game places a heavy emphasis on the vastness of the landscape. The world in which it takes place is massive; far too large to be fully explored by one person. Many of the game’s mechanics play into this picture, by encouraging you to walk far distances to a quest, and forcing you to wait for a boat to arrive instead of instantly traveling to your next location. On the contrary, Warcraft also has mechanics that allow you to surpass the limitations imposed by such a large world. These include methods of chat that can be used over any distance, and the use of the dungeon finder to instantly join with others in a battle. What I find most interesting is the balance, or imbalance, between these two ways to play. World of Warcraft sends a message that the social aspects of the game, like dungeons, are more important than the narrative itself. If you work together with other players, you will be rewarded.

During the early levels of the game, Warcraft directed me from quest to quest. I explored a large area on foot, unable to use other means of travel like mounts. I went through the world on my own mission, not needing help from other players. After unlocking dungeons at level 15, I rose to level 20 faster than any previous levels. In addition to the levels, dungeons offer great item rewards. After a few rounds I had weapons far superior to the ones I was able to earn through quests and local shops. Warcraft seems to be presenting two ways to play the game, but one clearly dominates. Any player that cares about increasing their level is encouraged to do group events like dungeons, as they give greater rewards.

The dungeon mechanic of World of Warcraft sends the message that collaborating with other people is the most important aspect of this game. The game could have been made in a way that equally rewards individual questing and group dungeon events, but it doesn’t. You have the option to explore the world, and follow the narrative of the game through quests, but you will have to play longer to earn the same rewards as those doing dungeons. The dungeon finder works very deliberately in a way that encourages players to come together as easily as possible. You can join with a party, or all random people by using the queue. You are teleported to the dungeon, and returned back to where you were afterwards. The dungeons do have a backstory, but they are rarely read in the rush to complete the mission, and can be repeated as many times as you want. The game even rewards you for joining a random dungeon, with no need to know the story behind what you will be doing. All of this sharply contrasts the emphasis on travel and narrative in the game. The dungeon mechanic in Warcraft is almost purely social.

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The procedural rhetoric of World of Warcraft, shown through its dungeon mechanic, is that working together with others is the most important and rewarding activity you can do. The narrative of the game comes second to the ability of players to get together and work towards a common goal. It does not matter why you are fighting creatures in a dungeon, or how they got there. What matters is how efficiently you can join a group of people, and successfully work together to kill the enemies presented. This is the aspect of Warcraft that is most greatly rewarded, not the play of an individual.

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4 Responses to Collaboration over Narrative in WoW

  1. epiratequeen says:

    Interesting commentary! I’ve definitely noticed the same things. I’ve done dungeons and also quite a few quests with other players, and those go faster when there’s a group doing them together.

    I’ve been dissatisfied with the intrigue of the narrative as well, especially at the level we’re playing at. I’ve heard that the game “opens up” at level 90 and I’ve also been told that this is the worst version of Warcraft to play in terms of plot. I agree that from what I’ve seen, the collaborative aspect is definitely more rewarding and interesting than the story behind the game.

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  2. thawardasa says:

    I think it’s really interesting how much things change once dungeons are unlocked. Honestly, I hated playing the game due to the amount of busy work and long travel distances WoW entailed between levels 10 and 15, but once dungeons were available, the game finally became addictive. The game is clearly set up this way, to build on for users who are serious about playing the game, making the game clearly not ideal for casual players. The social aspects of the game only continue to be enhanced as more levels are reached, even further proving that you need to be invested in this game to enjoy it to its fullest potential.

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  3. exelsisxax says:

    I also think it’s worth mentioning that Dungeons are like nuggets of methamphetamine scattered throughout the binge-like experience of grinding for xp, materials, and loot. They break up the experience into smaller, more digestible chunks, constantly force your attention to come back fully onto the game, and make sure that you keep coming back for those sweet, sweet blue drops. I think I accidentally just wrote a review for breaking bad and a metaphor about its viewership all in one go.

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  4. rwl14 says:

    I would agree with your assessment completely, except that the two systems aren’t as conflicting as you might suggest. Rather I’d say they try to present the best of both worlds. WoW is a social game played online with others, so making it easier to contact and run dungeons with others is key. At the same time, WoW is a huge place, and having long distances helps to establish where your character stands individually. It helps to reinforce players to work together. It also makes running dungeons a more interesting experience, given that the alternative is to go questing.

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