For this blog post I chose option 1 to consider Espen Aarseth’s A Hollow World: World of Warcraft as Spatial Practice. Aarseth looks to investigate the game world of Azeroth and its mechanical function for the World of Warcraft, as he identifies the lack of user-modifiable content as a characteristic rather unique to WoW as opposed to other MMOG’s. He approaches World of Warcraft through a combination of game ontology and critical aesthetics. Aarseth describes game ontology as being a discipline that seeks to identify general principles and formal models with which to describe games, and critical aesthetics to be the attempts to interpret the production of meaning of particular games. This distinction is important to consider, as many of the points he makes throughout the essay waver between general distinctions about all game worlds to specific observations about the game world of Azeroth.
The first claim Aarseth makes is one of game ontology, as he states not much has changed over the last thirty years in terms of game mechanics, gameplay and social aspects. Game mechanics in Warcraft such as communicating by text has been a staple in the genre for the last three decades, and similarly the act of many players joining together on a server sharing a common world. In this sense, not much has changed in MMOG’s. Even more recent MMO’s like RuneScape follow the same model, communicating by text and sharing common game world servers.
The next observation Aarseth makes was a compelling one. Playing through Warcraft the past few weeks I have complained numerous times about the lengthy travel distances, especially when forced to walk at all levels below 20. He claims however that the distances are surprisingly small between major locations and when in put in perspective with real world scaling, the massive map of Azeroth becomes tiny indeed. Aarseth postulates that the small distances are indicative of a functional and playable game world rather than just a creation of a fictional world. He notes that many games have opted for smaller map sizes such as Oblivion from the Elder Scrolls series, which has a smaller map than its predecessor, Morrowind and this trend remains throughout the series as Skyrim is even smaller that Oblivion! I still find myself disagreeing with Aarseth on this phenomenon of a smaller map being more functional and playable though, as this is not true for the Grand Theft Auto games. In fact, Grand Theft Auto V (the most recent GTA) has a larger map than the maps of Grand Theft Auto IV, GTA: San Andreas, and Red Dead Redemption combined
Grand Theft Auto 5 Map in comparison with GTA: San Andreas, even though both are supposed to depict the same area of San Andreas.
Yet Grand Theft Auto V is not lacking in the playability department, as it scored a 96 out of 100 by gamerankings.com. World of Warcraft, as Aarseth points out, scored a 92 out of 100 on gamerankings.com when he makes the claim that WoW is the better-liked game when compared to similar games such as Everquest 2 and Star Wars Galaxies, which score a 83 and 74, respectively. Using the same rating scale Aarseth refers to, Grand Theft Auto V scores higher than World of Warcraft despite not utilizing a smaller, more playable map.