Losing Yourself in the Game: History in World of Warcraft.

I completed my History Major last semester, so I have a natural inclination towards stories behind stories. I enjoy looking back to see what causes perpetuated the effects we see today. Since I did this at a university, as a major, I figured that I would have no problem skimming back over the WoW Wiki and reading a few articles to get a basic understanding of the world’s history. Not so. What brought me to this exploration was the intro to the game, where the cut scene tells you that you are going to be fighting The Horde. It made it very clear that this was not a new fight, and you were going to be a small cog in a large machine that had been turning for a long time, but just how small and how long it had been turning did not hit me until I began to read up in the history of the world.

The creators of WoW have given the worlds a complicated and interwoven history. It is not something that can be summed up in a few pages. The Wiki pages run on and on, and at every junction there is the option to click deeper and more specifically into the smaller histories of races, wars, characters or battles. I wanted what I like to call a historical sketch, a brief overview of the world so I understood the origins and the causal patterns that my character entered into when I created him. Unfortunately, after reading and reading, I barely have the beginning of one. Blizzard has given the game an exhaustive history, with everything from personal accounts to a creation story. Every time you get to a place that where you think you’ve nailed it down, there is something behind it, something deeper that you need to read. I am sure there are people who have an exhaustive understanding of the game history, but I believe you would have to play through every version multiple times in order to come to it. Even with the help of the Wiki, I am still rather lost as to who and what I am fighting in the game.

I think that it is pretty clear that WoW has an exhaustive history to anyone who has played the game, but that begs the question of Why? Why build a world that the user cannot fully grasp within a few pages of text or one or two play-throughs. I can think of two reasons, although I am sure there are more. The first is that Blizzard wanted the game to feel like a world. Like a real world. Real words have histories that are not summed up in one page in Wikipedia. People occasionally ask me questions when they find out that I am a history major. Usually there are questions that on the surface sound like they should have a simple answer or answers. What were the causes of WWII? The answer usually runs like this, “well, WWI, but if you want to understand that you have to understand Imperialism, and if you want to understand Imperialism, you have to understand Feudalism, free markets, and the Enlightenment, and if you want to understand them…” The point is that real world history is never neatly wrapped up. There is no one answer to any given question. It is an examination of causes, but the causes are inexhaustible. It felt like I was reading actual history when I looked through the Wiki. It was just as broken, uncertain as to the connections and mind-numbingly big. I think that is the first reason. It mimics the real world, and allows the user to get lost in it.

This is the second reason I can think of. There is a lot of getting lost in WoW. Even with a map, with a sketch of the world, when you start moving around in the game, you will occasionally get lost. But it is when you get lost that you learn about the game the most. When I was a level 8 or 9, I took a Griffin to Ironforge by accident. I should have just turned around and flew back, but it was like a five-minute journey so I decided to make the most of it and go exploring. I found a bunch of stuff that blew my mind. Little gnomes with mechs and radioactive goo over a lake. It was weird, but being lost was kind of fun. It kept me wanting more, gave me a sense of the size of the world I was entering into. I think this is why the history is so convoluted. So when you start looking at it, the size of it makes you realize the insignificance of your character, and the freedom that that brings, much like real history.

This entry was posted in History, Narrative, Videogames, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Losing Yourself in the Game: History in World of Warcraft.

  1. First, I liked hearing from your perspective as a history major. It is really hard to grasp just how enormous the narrative is for the game but like you had mentioned I think it does tie in with a realistic narrative of our own world. Also, I also think that having so much content offers players to experience the game very different depending on what quests and stories they chose to pursue.


  2. Nice post. One of my other interests in WoW is that it is what I have called elsewhere a “megatext” for precisely the reasons you’ve outlined.


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