As a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft takes place in what is accurately described as a massive universe. As a fan of the fantasy genre, I have always had a special interest in the origins of the worlds and characters built by the creators, whether in a novel, movie, or game. The origins of the WoW universe were of particular interest to me, even prior to the start of our critical playing of the game as a class, due to the character selection restrictions set in our class syllabus. The fact that it was required, or at least strongly recommended for new players, to create a human character was first off rather disappointing (who wants to be a boring human?) but more importantly drew my attention to the fact that there must have been certain procedural aspects of the game that are affected by race selection and hence the game’s narrative.
Upon the creation of my character my first order of business was to open the map to see why it was so strongly recommended to make a human character. After a zooming out on the map a few times the answer was pretty evident. Azeroth, the world in which players start, was huge. Ok, so now I understood that the world is pretty darn big and it would have been challenging (if even possible) for new players to try to navigate their characters to Stormwind city at level 1 because apparently some races start further away. Naturally, I became curious about where exactly the other races called their homes and whether it was just a different region or a different continent entirely. I consulted the WoW wiki to find, to my surprise, that the continents of Azeroth shared a similarity to the continents of our planet Earth in that they were originally together as one supercontinent. Kalimdor, analogous to Earth’s Pangaea, was a single landmass with a lake known the Well of Eternity at its center. The Well of Eternity was the source of the magic in the world but 10,000 years prior to the game’s setting the Well was misused and imploded, and event known as the Great Sundering. The sinkhole (in the center of the image below) that was left in place of the Well sucked in most of Kalimdor but some of the pieces of the supercontinent were scattered in the event and became the continents that can be seen in the game world of today.
Continents of Azeroth
The scattering of Kalimdor also meant the isolation of its inhabitants to separate continents across the globe. The Eastern Kingdoms are home to dwarves, gnomes, and humans while Kalimdor (also the name of one of the new smaller continents) is home to orcs, taruen, trolls, ogres, and so on. The separation of the playable races in the narrative gives the game and its players a variety of different procedural outcomes for the start of the game. In this way, the game developers use the narrative to create a space in which each race has its own origin, unique starting point, and therefore a different series of events that a player must follow as each different race to reach a common location.
The narrative of WoW, in its separation of the continents and races, makes up the essence of the game, which is exploration and travel. The schism between races and continents, along with initial means of travel (walking… everywhere), gives players the sense that traversing vast lands of Azeroth will be no small feat. The split of the continent requires seamless incorporation of game conventions such as transit by boat and air, further adding to the explorative nature of the game. It most definitely is crucial that these means of travel come together seamlessly. Bogost, in How to do Things With Video Games, writes that, “it’s 3-D games that make continuous transit a fundamental part of the experience of play” (48). The vast world built from the narrative serves as a perfect background for the incorporation of these different yet seamlessly interwoven methods of transit in the game that are fundamental to what gives the feel of the essence of an exploratory game.
The various homes of the races give players a sense of uniqueness each time they start the game with a character of a different race; an almost gimmicky way to give the procedural aspects that come with the start of a game a fresh and different feel. This narrative technique adds to the illusion that each player in the MMO is making a difference in the world of the game by hiding some of the common procedural aspects under the shroud of a new land. An understanding of these narrative aspects and the origins of the game world truly do expand on how even I, as a WoW player, perceive the Azeroth. Reading only a small portion of the narrative has awoken my curiosity but also given insight to how working with a the fantasy genre can give developers an endless pool of ways to incorporate desired procedural conventions into their games while using the narrative to justify it. The narrative has instilled me with a strange yearning to venture to all the continents just to see what I find and how I find myself getting there… a yearning that an exploratory game need instill in its players in order to be as successful as WoW has been.
Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2011. Print.
WoWWiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2015. <http://www.wowwiki.com>