When playing Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft there are many game mechanics that can be looked toward as having formal meaning. Of these many mechanics, the one that intrigues me the most are the menus in the game. At their core, menus are used for nothing more than displaying information or presenting choices for actions. I believe however that there is greater meaning to be found in the menus and the things they present to the game’s operator.
In Galloway’s Gamic Action, Four Moments, we see video games broken down using a diagram he describes as the four moments of video games. Using the diagram presented as Figure 1, in World of Warcraft these menus function in both diegetic and nondiegetic ways. Galloway characterizes these menu actions as nondiegetic operator acts. He defines these actions as “always executed by the operator and received by the machine” (pp. 12 Galloway). I would also argue that menus function as a diegetic machine act. By accessing a menu the operator effectively pauses their gameplay sending it into a relative state of suspension. This is similar to an ambience act that Galloway uses to characterize diegetic machine acts. The intriguing difference for me is that the act of opening a menu in World of Warcraft would not be characterized by Galloway as a machine act. I would argue that because the menus are rather large, encompassing much of the screen, they force the operator to stop any activity and execute their intended purpose on the menu before returning to playing the game.
As Ian Bogost says in his collection of essays How to do Things with Video Games “The content and context of a text is not as inessential as McLuhan would have it. The medium is the message, but the message is the message, too” (pp 5 Bogost). This is especially true when it comes to the meaning that menus produce in a MMORPG. To explain this meaning I will use two of the most important menus in Warcraft, the character menu and the guild menu. The character menu is a very interactive one in Warcraft. This menu allows the operator to view their characters and make adjustments to their gear, weapons, and armor. It also allows you to view your reputation with different groups and view the amount of currencies you have. This menu, unlike the guild menu, is pretty vital to the gameplay in World of Warcraft. I believe that this menu adds less meaning to the game than the does the guild menu, but that there is meaning to be found in the character makeup and the reputation gauges. These gauges show the characters standing in the regions, guild, and race. This is a great way of showing the operators ranking in different factions of the game. This adds meaning to the endless quests, dungeons, and other experiences of the game.
In terms of the guild menu, meaning is found in the things that it allows you to do. On the surface this menu is seen as just a means of displaying information about the guild the player is in. This includes the guild’s perks, news and events, roster, rewards, and other info. This menu does more than just display this information to the player. This allows for a sense of ranking and add meaning to your other actions in the game. From the menu, you can find out your other guild member’s relative location or invite them to a party. This menu shows meaning in many ways. First, it represents the player’s family in the game. This is a large source of meaning in the game. It is an entirely unessential part of the game, but allows for the operator to find meaning in their role in the otherwise large and solitary game. This is a way for novice players to get help early in their experience or more experienced player to mentor less experienced ones.