Without a doubt, there are many aspects of the MMORPG World of Warcraft that contribute to the game’s overall addictive gameplay, but almost none offer more fundamental and integral meanings of the game than does the aspect of traversal. With such an enormous and beautifully designed map at the fingertips of its players, it seems as if there are endless possibilities as to where the journey throughout the game may take a character, but that is only if you have the time (and caffeine) to do so. While eventually, a player may gain access to a mount to aid in their speed of traversing, the beginning of the game allows only for personal travel on foot. This mode of transportation—characterized as being very slow and tedious—may frustrate its players at first glance, but when thought of in a deeper sense, the dull act of running across WoW’s vast landscapes actually works to do more for the game and its players than most other mechanics of the MMORPG. The slow traversal of the map offers the players the chance to feel as if they are traveling across vast lands, causes more of a desire to progress and gain experience, instills a basic and obvious system of rank, and ultimately creates a learning process essential to the gameplay.
While the seemingly mind-numbing task of traversing through the ever expanding lands of WoW may, to an extent, turn the action of playing the game into something more like work, this aspect of the game allows for the very basics of the gameplay to be introduced and mastered. The most basic objective achieved through traversal is the illusion that the WoW world is larger than it truly is. While the landscapes do contain some artfully crafted aspects, with only so much to look at and not very many things to interact with in the environment besides the enemies, traversal soon becomes a task more than a pleasant act. Once the act of traversing becomes that type of dull task, the entire task seems as if it is taking up a large amount of time, ultimately causing the world to seem a great deal larger than it truly is. As Espen Aarseth points out in his essay “A Hollow World: World of Warcraft as Spatial Practice,” after calculating the size of the Eastern Kingdoms in WoW using mapwow.com, “…the whole continent of the Eastern Kingdoms is the size of a small island, and the average zone of the game is much smaller than an average airfield” (116). Aarseth highlights the fact that while the map of the game may seem enormous as it is being traversed, it is actually nowhere near as large as it should be in order to contain so many kingdoms. The traversal across this seemingly colossal map creates a feeling that the player is a part of something much larger than it truly is, while also allowing for a very “…functional and playable gameworld, built for ease of navigation” (Aarseth 118).
In my opinion, the most essential component of the game for which traversal allows is the inevitable education of the game and its mechanics. For example, while specifically running through a place such as Westfall to complete a quest, a player will encounter things such as boretusks, reapers, thugs, robbers, and many other foes which will need to be dealt with and killed in a timely fashion before the player is swarmed and killed himself. If that player had a mount, those enemies would not have the ability to catch up to that player and would not be able to inflict any harm, but since the player must to trudge through the map on foot, very slowly, the player is almost forced to learn how to participate in combat. This forced combat then may lead to another very important part of WoW’s gameplay: looting; which then may then lead to yet another key aspect of the game: upgrading of armor. All of these events coming as a direct result of the slow traversal by running, highlight just how imperative the action is to the basic education of WoW. Another aspect of the game which may be learned through traversal and the constant encounter with enemies that comes along with it, would be the act of dying. Before playing this game, I had no idea what would happen if I died, but sure enough, while running through Elwynn Forest to complete some very basic beginner quests, I was killed. Once dead, I was given the option of resurrecting at a slight cost, or finding my body without any consequence. Naturally I chose to find my body which involves even more traversing before finally being resurrected. Through these two examples alone, it is highlighted how essential traversing is to learning of the basic concepts and actions required to efficiently play the game. Though traversal may be slow and bland at times, it allows for many key concepts of the game to be learned and mastered.
Once the educational portion of the game is out of the way and the player has somewhat mastered the mechanics of the game, specifically how one traverses the map then adds another facet to the game: rank. While it is not explicitly stated that there exists a sort of social ranking system within the game, the mode of transportation that one takes throughout the map may be used as a good indication of ranking. For example, if a player is running great distances to get from place to place, that player is either a very low level (under 20, which doesn’t allow for a mount) or, as Jill Walker Rettberg stated she herself had done, they have “…not managed to squirrel away enough gold to purchase a mount…” (28). On the contrary, if a player is very swiftly riding (or flying) around on a mount such as a Thundering August Cloud Serpent (which costs 10000 gold and requires a riding skill of 300 or better according to the WoW Wiki), that player is very clearly a higher level character and has been extremely conscious and careful with his or her spending throughout the game. In this way, traversing allows for one to clearly identify those that are of higher and lower character levels, which may then be associated with their ranking within the game.
While it may be argued that several aspects of WoW’s gameplay offer forms of procedural rhetoric, the aspect of traversal seems to offer the most essential and fundamental meanings associated with the gameplay. The meanings offered through traversal—such as landscape or artistic appreciation, gameplay education, and social rank—resonate throughout the entire gameplay experience, from the moment you first create your character to the moment that you reach the top level and onward. For that reason, traversal is one of the most important and necessary mechanisms of the WoW world, offering more to the player than what initially meets the eye.