In her essay “Quests in World of Warcraft: Deferral and Repetition,” Jill Walker Rettberg explores the purpose of quests in World of Warcraft and suggests that deferral and repetition are the two complementary rhetorical figures that characterize these quests and the game itself (168). In doing so, Rettberg also touches on whether content or the actual narrative is relevant in quests. Rettberg argues that for most players, the idea that quests are promises of more to come and deferrals of an end make them desirable, instead of the narrative they tell. Secondly, Rettberg claims that repetition in quests and the game itself encourages player effort. Both of these rhetorical figures, deferral and repetition, allow World of Warcraft to successfully accommodate many different types of players, including solo and group players, in the same system at the same time.
By showing the rewards a player will receive after completion of a quest at the start of the quest, quests function as a promise and deferral, rewarding patience. The game itself is thus an endless deferral of an end, creating “something that we can desire endlessly, have entirely, and never consume” This is opposite of a narrative, where we read to desire the end but after reaching it have nothing left (176). Rettberg brings up deferral to highlight the difference between video games and something like a narrative. This difference, the ability to never end but consistently create a desire for an end, helps explain the large success of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Instead of players completing quests because of the narrative of that specific quest, most players quest in order to access a new area, skill, or item. Quests function as a “means to an end,” although there is no ultimate ending (177).
Complementary to deferral, repetition encourages player effort when faced with a fixed set of options to choose from (180). A player can receive the same item as everyone else from a specific quest. Seeing a different player with a special item may encourage another player to complete that quest in order to receive the same item. Rettberg explains that the ritual quality of repetitions in quests prepare a player for their own accomplishments and encourage them. Rituals in real life, like weddings or funerals, of friends and families help prepare us for our own events. In game, Rettberg offers the Westfall quests as an example of this. After completing this chain, every player hears the leader of Westfall yell the quest completer’s name. A player hears this repeated many times, but this event is significant when the player completes it for himself and hears his name. This repetition encourages effort, and marks a rite of passage, showing history, experience, and status of other players.
Rettberg uses the Onyxia quest chain as a main example to support the idea that constant deferral and repetition in quests and Warcraft enable many different users to play at the same time without end. Killing Onyxia, a dragon, is a seen as a great accomplishment and rewarding. In order to even fight Onyxia, a player must first complete a long quest, which requires the player to be level 60 to complete it. Smaller quests in the chain are able to be started around level 40, so the player is exposed to Onyxia early on and continuously. The player also sees Onyxia’s lair, even though they cannot enter yet, acting as a deferral and promising more to come. This encourages player effort, and the quests function as a means to an end or rite of passage, instead of being significant for the narrative they tell. Similarly, Warcraft offers constant repetition, rites of passages, and deferrals of an end, allowing the game to be played without end.
After playing the game myself, I definitely agree that deferral and repetition largely characterize quests and World of Warcraft. At earlier levels, I completed as many quests as I could in order to gain experience and better items. For the most part, I paid no attention to the narrative of the quest at all, only the objective that I had to complete for the quest. I also chose certain quests simply based on if the item I would receive was better than the current one I was using. I was promised an item and more to come, which encouraged me to complete the quest. Just like Rettberg explains, I used quests for a means to an end; to gain as much experience to level up and constantly acquire better weapons and armor.
Aside from questing, other aspects of the game utilized deferral and repetition as well. After I hit level 15, I ran dungeons in order to level up and acquire better items. I knew that if I completed a dungeon, I would get at least a few items, and that these items would be better than what I was currently using. I even completed the same dungeons after seeing other players get an item that I wanted. I also trained my mining in order to acquire ores, make them into bars, and sell them for gold. Because of the desire to gain more gold, I repeatedly mined and bought ores and created bars to sell for a profit. Both of these other aspects of the game, like questing, functioned as means to an end, which is never ending.
As Rettberg argues and from what I have witnessed, deferral and repetition are two rhetorical figures that definitely succeed in allowing many different types of players to play World of Warcraft without end. Whether it be questing, mining, or running dungeons, the deferral of an end or promise of a reward and repetition motivate players to level up or try to acquire stronger items, allowing many hours to be spent playing a game with no end. These figures help Warcraft succeed, and may be applicable to real life as well. Something like a salary could be viewed as a deferral for a worker, providing an incentive to work and continue working. Some people may even work just to make money, as a means to an end. These concepts that Rettberg discusses not only have implications in World of Warcraft but potentially other applications in life as well.