Press C for A Better You

The action bar at the bottom of the screen is the gamer’s best friend. It makes spells and attacks accessible with the press of a button. While the gamer is mid-battle and deeply focused on the task at hand, he may lose sight of the function of this action bar. It gives the gamer seamless control over his capabilities. Being able to manipulate his spells in various ways gives them a feeling of power that they cannot find in the real world. This is why so many become entranced by this game. Reality is unpredictable and so little of what happens in our lives is decided by us. However, in World of Warcraft the possibility to affect our surroundings and improve our character’s abilities is right at our fingertips.

As a gamer invests more and more time into WoW and his character, he starts to identify with his selected character. Projecting himself onto his character is a way to escape the cruel injustices in the real world. Hard work is never guaranteed to be rewarded in a capitalist economy. However, in WoW the more a gamer continues to grind, completing mundane quests one after another, he begins to see its effects. He begins to level up and unlock more powerful spells. It is through the action bar that he is able to achieve all this. The quick transition from pressing the numbered key into executing the action that number correlates with helps the gamer dive into this world. It feels almost as if he himself is casting the fireballs. This direct action offers a sense of purpose in a way that uncontrollable reality cannot. When you help slay the boss in a dungeon or kill an enemy with a spell and proceed to level up, there is visual proof of your contributions to both society and your self-improvement.

Another part of the action bar that provides the gamer with an idealistic escape from reality is the character sheet. It is here that the gamer can equip his character with upgraded armor and weapons. Once again, the gamer is rewarded for his actions in a way that real life just cannot. We work out to get stronger and we get jobs so we can afford things. Much like the game, it is a consistent grind to improve. Except, there are many things in reality that can hinder our abilities to do these things. In WoW there is only progression towards achievement, no random penalties that life throws at you. When the gamer pulls up his character sheet, it again only takes a few clicks and drags to become stronger or faster. It is full control of a character’s body, one that biology will never allow in reality.

With all these easily accessible ways to improve your character, it’s hard not to make them idealized versions of yourself. The amount of control the game gives you is addicting. The ability to summon fire with a single press of a button is power none of us have in the real world. In the game you grind constantly to improve and die frequently, but are always rewarded, usually with more spells at your fingertips. Characters become stronger and faster without having to go to the gym 7 days a week. And it is us who are executing all these changes. In this world we have the power to better ourselves. This is why Rettberg argues that WoW is an idealized version of capitalist society. We grind and are fairly rewarded for it with more power. It is not an accurate depiction of a real capitalist society, but is why some would prefer to stay in this fantasy world.

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One Response to Press C for A Better You

  1. I’m wondering which you think is a more captivating element of the game: power or control. Initially you said that the reason people become so engrossed is because they feel powerful executing spells, but I think you’re getting at this larger idea that the action bar is so valuable because it allows for more control, which is indispensable during gameplay.

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