Companions are little pets that players can buy in World of Warcraft. These companions do not serve any purpose to the diagesis of the game, except for the fact that they accompany the player wherever he/she goes. Blizzard released an expansion in the Mists of Pandaria that introduced the Pet Battle System as an extension to the utility of companions. Now, players can buy, sell, trade, and battle companions with other players’ companions, NPC pet tamers, and wild critters in a nondiagetic battle system. The goal is to capture critters in the wild or obtain them through quests or bartering, level them up to gain power through experience, and then use them to battle other users. Basically, the Pet Battle System is an exact representation of the Pokémon battle system that was released in 1995. In order to demonstrate their similarity (copy), I include their basic premises below.
In Pokémon, the player travels to various locations on the map in order to catch Pokémon found only in those locations. The player must battle the wild Pokémon and deplete their health in order to catch them. Once their health is low enough, the player throws a Pokéball at the wild Pokémon in order to permanently keep them. Once caught, they are inserted into the Pokédex, which includes all of their information. Each Pokémon has their own special abilities, and they are all part of a certain type (electric, ghost, water, flying, etc.). The player then levels-up their Pokémon to make them stronger by battling other NPC’s Pokémon or wild Pokémon. Once the player’s Pokémon reach an adequate level, they can battle the gym leader who resides at a specific location on the map. The goal is to defeat all of the leaders, acquire all of the Pokémon, and/or level-up all of the Pokémon to the highest possible level.
In WoW, the player travels to various locations on the map in order to catch critters found only in those locations. The player must battle the wild critters and deplete their health in order to catch them. Once their health is low enough, the player throws a crate that the wild critters in order to permanently keep them. Once caught, they are inserted into the Pet Journal, which includes all of their information. Each companion has their own special abilities, and they are all part of a certain type (magic, undead, aquatic, flying, etc.). The player then levels-up their companions to make them stronger by battling other NPC’s companions or wild critters. Once the player’s companions reach an adequate level, they can battle the Master Pet Tamer who resides at a specific location on the map. The goal is to defeat all of the leaders, acquire all of the critters, and/or level-up all of the companions to the highest possible level.
What’s the point of making an allusion of a Pokémon-like system to the actual Nintendo game? To answer that, one must understand why Pokémon was so successful. In Games Without Play, David Golumbia argues that virtual games like WoW are addictive because of the “fanaticism of the lust for power”. He writes, “they (video games) enact the accrual of more and more power to a central, perceiving subject, with the rest of the world reduced to objects to be killed or consumed.”(189) Capturing indigenous animals and forcing them to fight to the death is a fitting representation of reducing objects to be killed or consumed. In order to become more powerful, the player must work at capturing and leveling up pets. Players derive pleasure from these activities because it involves the manipulation of capital, the manipulation of people as capital, and the “sheer exercise of power as a kind of aggressive pleasure in itself.”(193) All of this leads to the eventual mastery over the world. In short, players train their Pokémon, or their companions, to empower themselves. Players that are defeated in a Pet Battle are understood as lesser than oneself, so the player with the ultimate killing power ascends the top of the social hierarchy. This system is an analogy to the real world, where corporate sharks manipulate people and capital to become the top boss. Thus, Pokémon and the Pet Battle System “simulate our own relation to capital and to the people who must be exploited and used up for capital to do its work.”(194)
The manipulation of capital, whether it’s Pokémon or companions, provides a sense of empowerment to the player. The lust for power necessitates work in the form of leveling-up and accumulation of powerful companions. On the WoW forum of “PvP pet battles and what’s the point?”, user Sinnara writes,
It seems that the people complaining just want everything to be easy. They want to be able to get pets to lvl 25 instantly. They want their achievements all in a span of an hour. They want to win every pet battle. In my experience if you want to be able to have fun and experience all there is to pet battles you have to work at it. You have to put in the time and effort. Just like you would have to work for all your epic gear, honor, rep etc. Once I had 100 pets at level 25 things got soooo much easier for me. Now I have over 200 and nothing can stop me lol. I also have leveled over 200 pet’s for my husband. Seriously, having a large variety makes things so much better. There’s people on here with 3 pets at level 25 complaining because they are not getting everything they want.
Sinnara demonstrates the work required to become successful in the Pet Battle System. This work mirrors the dedication and time spent to become proficient in other specialties and professions in WoW such as mining, jewelcrafting, engineering, etc. Because of this, games like WoW and Pokémon are not games defined by preconceptions of the world; rather, Golumbia writes, “They are like work not merely in their persistent representation of what we know to be physical world employment: they are also definitely like our own capitalist system of work and worker exploitation.”(194). Essentially, these “games” train players to become part of the capitalist structures of domination.
Here is the theme song for Pokémon, which reinforces the work required to progress in the game. The first two verses are as follows:
I wanna be the very best,
Like no one ever was.
To catch them is my real test,
To train them is my cause.
I will travel across the land,
Searching far and wide.
Each Pokemon to understand
The power that’s inside.
The nondiagetic battle system screen, which is very similar to that of Pokémon.
Golumbia, David. “Games Without Play.” New Literary History 40 (2009): 179-204. Print.
Sinnara. “PvP pet battles and what’s the point?” PvP pet battles and what’s the point? N.p., 3 Aug. 2013. Web. 6 Apr. 2015. <http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/9573548332>.