Are we like Christopher Columbus?

World of Warcraft makes players feel like Christopher Columbus after his trek across the Atlantic. We are explorers. We start the game at the human start point, Northshire, which becomes our hub. From there we may venture out radially in all directions. But why should we explore? Why can’t players stay in one area? Well, World of Warcraft encourages exploration through almost every aspect of the game. Questing primarily, along with search for new and improved items, and new, unique areas, all force a new player to venture into the abyss that is the rest of the Warcraft map. It is for this reason that I consider exploration a pivotal, formal, and procedural aspect to World of Warcraft.

From the start, Warcraft attempts to familiarize the new player with their surroundings. This is mainly done via quests of a minimum difficulty. While the player learns the controls and their own innate abilities, they begin to explore the land in and around Northshire thanks to the direction of quests. Drawing from Alexander Galloway in “Gamic Action, Four Moments,” quests are an example of both the diegetic machine and diegetic operator acts. In these acts, the main interactions are diegetic or part of the gameplay. The diegetic operator is play controlled by the player. This comprises of the player clicking and moving the character based on a set of rules. The diegetic machine is also found during questing as it can be thought of as the process of the game. Non-player characters (NPCs) are an essential part of the diegetic machine act because they are controlled by the computer and contribute significantly to the gameplay by directing players through the map. Similarly, the terrain and landscape are also part of the diegetic machine act.

Another way in which Warcraft encourages exploration is through creation of player curiosity coupled with boredom of their current surroundings. Let me explain. Once a player reaches about level five in Northshire, there isn’t much to do. The quests have been completed, the NPCs are weak and the items to be found are worthless. At this point, either the player quits out of boredom, or their curiosity gets the best of them and they start venturing farther down the paths. Normally venturing into an unknown area is quite a risk because of the fear of getting lost. Cleverly, World of Warcraft’s developers devised a hearthstone that, no matter where the player find himself on the map, takes him back to a home base. Essentially, the fear of getting lost is eradicated. Relating this back to Galloway’s “Gamic Action, Four Moments,” a player’s action of moving across the map is once again part of the diegetic operator act. The new map features that appear are the diegetic machine act. Additionally, I stumbled across an example of the non-diegetic machine act during my own exploration. Somehow, I ended up on the edge of the map and fell down a cliff and ended up in a deep cavern. I took this computer response to my movement as non-diegetic because I reached the end of the code. The code was rejecting my further movement. Luckily, I had my hearthstone, which freed me from my unfortunate situation.

While exploration may not seem to be a formal aspect of the game with set mechanics like battle systems or PvP, it certainly is. Quests, which are mechanically set up, are the primary assistance given to the player in their exploration throughout the land of Azeroth. A player may explore on his or her own accord beyond the scope of their current quest, but they may not simply stay put in one area for good. The game procedurally pushes players to explore. The procedure is just slightly more hidden than that of the auction house.

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5 Responses to Are we like Christopher Columbus?

  1. tspace22 says:

    I’d also like to add that given the huge nature of the world, the Hearthstone mechanism is vital to the introduction of new players within the world of Azeroth. When I first logged into the game, I immediately opened the map, only to be immediately overwhelmed. What Warcraft does so skillfully is that it allows the players to slowly explore the world and complete the quests in a given area before moving on. For example, a quest that has its origin in Stormwind will not have its conclusion on another continent, at least in this early portion of the game.


  2. bagelbite13 says:

    Yes I agree. The developers were very smart to keep areas, that new players frequent, simple. Warcraft wants to retain players and therefore a gradual increase in difficulty is paramour to the game’s success. I was overwhelmed by the map at first as well, but that feeling quickly dissipated. Kudos to them.


  3. riderphilze says:

    The animator Egoraptor has talked about games that teach you how to play without giving you a bunch of prompts and tutorials, like MegaMan X. In WoW, we see something of an integration of tutorial through the initial questline, and as you said, when that’s finished, you’re about level 5, and all that’s left is to go ranging for new areas.
    Question: does the Columbus metaphor extend to exploiting the natural resources of the new lands you “discover” and dying without ever learning where you actually went?


  4. bagelbite13 says:

    I certainly think it can. The Europeans did not see Native Americans as equals or even people. They exploited them for their resources. That is very similar to the way in which we, as players, treat the NPCs.


  5. ideasbylocke says:

    I find your comparison to Columbus a bit abstract, however fitting. Although Columbus went westward in search of the indies, where he would find gold, pearls, spices, etc, it could be said that within the game we do the same. Although we may not be searching for only gold, experience motivates us as well. Often I find myself searching for more difficult quests in order to level up faster, so that I may be more relevant when playing in our group. I also tend to seek out a certain location (like Columbus did the Indies) but find many other locations along the way (mini Americas so to speak).


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