In World of Warcraft most of the gameplay hours come from Player vs. Environment (PvE) or Player vs. Player content. Since vanilla WoW, PvE content has been where most of the narrative takes place, be it from quests, scenarios, dungeons, or raids. For me, the most fun and interesting aspect of PvE are instances, the dungeons and raids. The traditional progression through PvE content at maximum level has been from quests to dungeons/heroic dungeons to raids/heroic raids. In Scott Rettberg’s essay “Corporate Ideology and World of Warcraft,” he connects gameplay and progression in WoW with work and progression through a corporate career. Blizzard has designed a game which requires almost as much work as a real job, the game mechanics encourage players to spend many hours both in and out of game working to improve their character. World of Warcraft creates a safe environment in which players practice success(and failure).
Once a character reaches max level in World of Warcraft, the player can further improve his/her character through PvE content. Typically a character will reach this point with mostly green or blue items. The skill ceiling in the game is relatively low, and what is most needed to improve one’s character is better weapons and armor(gear). Often the first ways to get adequate gear for dungeons was through reputation rewards, which often required tedious repetitive work like daily quests, or killing a particular type of enemy repeatedly. Players then have to repeatedly do dungeons and then heroic dungeons until they have a high enough item level to do the most basic raid. All this grinding is like the work one has to do to get a degree, a certificate, or a promotion. The player’s item level, and list of past achievements becomes their resume which they need in order to apply for a serious raiding guild. Vanilla WoW raids were 40 man affairs which required strong leadership, adequate individual skill, and trust in your guild members’ ability.
When raiding in World of Warcraft, players will inevitably encounter failure and disappointment. Boss fights are often unforgiving of mistakes, a single player’s mistake can end up killing all 10 or 25 raid members. The loot system depends on a random number generator to determine which items drop, which can result in a player not getting the items they need even after many attempts. Additionally the loot system used in raids is usually “Loot Master”, where the loot master determines who gets each item, this system can easily be exploited by “loot ninjas” who will hoard all the loot to themselves even when they tell group members to /roll for loot. Despite the fact that the loot system could be fixed with just a few lines of code, Blizzard seems to intentionally leaves systems open for trolls and ninjas to exploit. Instances in the game become a (sort of) safe environment to experience failure and disappointment. I know that I have certainly had my fair share of disappointment playing WoW, I’ve spent entire summer nights attempting to down a single boss, I’ve had raid leaders take items for themselves even though I rolled highest, and I’ve even had guilds refuse to accept me despite having a glowing recommendation from a high ranking member of said guild(guilds can be very cliquey). In spite of my disappointment and frustration, I put more effort into the game and eventually became well known on my server as an exceptional dpser and got invited to weekly pick up groups that could clear raids that most guilds struggled to complete. If the World of Warcraft is to truly be a “World” then there must be the potential for failure just like the real world. Failure only makes success feel that much more profound.