Option 1: Criticism
I chose to read and analyze the essay, “A Hollow World: World of Warcraft as Spatial Practice” by Espen Aarseth, from Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A “World of Warcraft” Reader. Aarseth primarily focuses on how Azeroth and the world of World of Warcraft relates to other game worlds and other fictitious worlds, as well as the real world. When World of Warcraft (2004) is compared to the first-person 3D perspective of Everquest (1999) and Everquest 2 (2004), there are several similarities and differences between the two game worlds. Warcraft was released after both of these games and many other MMOGs so Blizzard Entertainment was able to learn from the failures and successes experienced by other games before their own release. Warcraft has rather flat, cartoonish artwork whereas Everquest 2 utilized photorealistic, high-resolution graphics. This affects the gameplay throughout the world significantly because the characters cannot move across the world as fluently or continuously as one can navigate the semi unified Azeroth. Instead, players are forced to navigate a labyrinth of connected game levels in Everquest 2.
Aarseth continues by comparing Azeroth to the fictional fantasy world of Middle-earth in Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. Middle-earth is an extremely expansive world where Minas Tirith, the human city, is 200 miles away from Sauron, the dark lord, and 450 miles away from Saruman, the powerful wizard. It is not a problem that Middle-earth is so big though because there can be gaps in the reading where the reader jumps to another scene and they do not have to read about the same character walking hundreds of miles. This is an advantage of fictitious worlds in books and movies.
Finally Aarseth relates Azeroth to the real world. This is most easily done by giving people a well-known point of reference that they can compare the size to. The Eastern Kingdom is about 8 miles long (as determined by mapwow.com) and takes 3-4 hours to traverse from one end to the other. This is comparable to the island of Manhattan, which is just shy of 8 miles long. This really surprised me at first because when playing the game, the world seems so much larger than Manhattan due to all of the differing regions and physical landscapes. This is what leads Aarseth to his final argument that Azeroth is most closely related to a theme park or zoo. Florida’s Disney World is fifty square miles, which makes it comparable to Azeroth not only in size, but also in purpose. As Aarseth states, “Both contain different thematic zones connected by paths, roads, and rail-based transportation, which cater to differing tastes, age groups, or levels.”
I agree with Aarseth’s argument in that Azeroth is most comparable to a theme park or zoo. While I have been playing World of Warcraft, I had not considered the game world very closely as I have only been focused on completing quests and leveling up quickly for class. However, after reading “A Hollow World: World of Warcraft as Spatial Practice”, I have actually had time to stop and think about the game world as a whole. In my experience, I have certainly not played a game with a world as large as Azeroth. However, it makes sense that there must be a happy medium between a playable, user-friendly world and a fictitious fantasy world like Middle-earth. There would be no way to traverse Middle-earth in a game because all of the game playtime would be spent traveling to the next town.
This has helped me realize that Azeroth is extremely similar to Disney World in several different ways. The first obvious similarity is the proximity of so many varying regions and themes within one place. In Disneyworld, one can easily travel from downtown Disney to Blizzard Beach Water Park to Animal Kingdom to the Magic Kingdom via the established paths throughout the park. Whereas in Warcraft, one can easily travel from Elwynn Forest to Westfall to Duskwood to the Redridge Mountains all by foot. Each of these areas is extremely different from one another with regards to climate, landscape, and the beings that you will encounter there but you are still able to get from one to another incredibly easily. These regions can be viewed in the maps below. A second similarity between Azeroth and Disney World is that there are only certain areas that a person can enter. In Disney World, there are rides that you must be a certain height in order to ride and if you are not that height, then you are unable to ride that ride. Additionally there are areas that can only be entered by employees and cannot be accessed by visitors. In Azeroth, you must reach a certain level before you can enter some areas otherwise you will be killed by more advanced enemies. In both cases the higher-level people are able to enter the lower level areas but they will not be as exciting or challenging to them. Finally, these different regions that are rated for different levels of experience are divided. At Disney World the regions are divided by fences and other obstacles and in Warcraft they are divided by mountain ranges and rivers that cannot be crossed.
Aarseth did a great analysis on the world of World of Warcraft. He made many valid points that reasoned why Azeroth is the way it is. Additionally, he used easy-to-understand comparisons that most people will recognize immediately such as Manhattan, Middle-earth, and Disney World. However, he primarily focuses on the Eastern Kingdom, which was good since I just started playing but I would had liked to see him touch on Kalimdor, Northrend, and Pandaria because these places are very mysterious to me.
Aarseth, Espen. “A Hollow World: World of Warcraft as Spatial Practice.” Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A “World of Warcraft” Reader. Ed. Hilde G. Corneliussen, Jill Walker Rettberg. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008. 111-122. Print.