Getting to know a community in a short space of time can be a bit of a fool’s errand. Now apply that to World of Warcraft with its long list of servers, too many guilds to name, and far too many groups to count. The breadth and depth of socialisation that goes on is staggering; what I think of as ‘community’ is every players interaction with others. So in writing about the social side of a game like WoW, how do you sum it up? How could one guy speak for all the millions of others? In discussing communities the phrase “your experiences may vary” is very true. So all I can do is share my stories with you and if you can relate, great and if not, that’s great too, all our experiences are equally valid.
Last time I had spent some time using the dungeon tool to get into random groups. This was not really much of a social feature as few people in WoW do dungeons to have fun with friends, almost everyone uses the tool to gear up on their path to level cap. This time around, I’ve avoided playing the game as it was intended- I haven’t done any dungeons, quests, crafting or levelling of any kind. I’ve been standing around, goofing off and chatting. In short, I’ve become a resident of Goldshire.
For those who have never spent any time in Azeroth, Goldshire is the social hub for the Alliance. It’s a small village outside the human capital, Stormwind - the go-to place for rp, hanging out, and also the inevitable *ahem* ‘cyber-relations’. If there’s a busier social hub in any other game, I haven’t seen it. Although I’m not stating that such a place doesn’t exist at all so please don’t flame me.
I rolled a character on the Defias Brotherhood server, the busiest rp-pvp realm, and logged in to take a look around. I had planned to do my socialising at the weekend, that being the busiest time. However, I managed to get a bit of rp going at 3.30 on Friday morning – don’t ask me why I wasn’t asleep like any sane person, I don’t have a real answer. On the night in question, I had returned to Goldshire to hand in a quest and encountered a player shooing a large bird from the roof of the inn. Thinking there was no time like the present to get started, I said hi and asked what was going on. I was a little concerned. I imagined that anyone role-playing at that time of night was going to be stripping off and talking dirty at the drop of a hat. What ensued was a conversation regarding that character’s flight from Northshire, the human starting zone, and about her plans to seek refuge in Stormwind the following day. We agreed that flying there on a griffon was the best way to take in the city for the first time, we then chatted on in-character for another 20 minutes or so.
This was the first time I had done any rp, and it was pretty lightweight from what I understand. I felt a bit daft but I felt good at the same time.
After that I didn’t see much activity on the role-playing side of things and the guild I had joined was pretty quiet too. I decided to take matters in my own hands and headed to Stormwind to ask in general chat about whether Goldshire was still the rp capital. I got a lot of responses, almost all of which were polite and helpful. One person did inform me that I was wasting my time asking about rp. He didn’t reply when I told him I had received many replies to my question. The general consensus, though, was that rp was dead on this server. I used to have my main character on that server and I remembered it being very active a couple of years ago. It seemed a shame that things had taken a turn for the worse. But I was pleased that so many people had answered my question without pointing me in the direction of the forum or using the word noob. One person did tell me about some guilds that were taking steps to revive rp, and their first event was on Monday night. What great timing I have!
On Monday night I had not long logged in when a player ran in to Goldshire to get help as bandits on the road were attacking passers-by. A heroic character offered assistance and I followed behind to watch the whole thing unfold. The bandits ended up backing down, but the scene went on for a bit after that and what was going on became a bit difficult to follow as a couple of people seemed to be engaged in unrelated conversations. This came to an end for me when one player shouted the word ‘c**tlips’. Not impressed, I logged out.
I thought maybe a change of server was in order.
I headed on over to Argent Dawn, the pve role-playing server with the highest population. I rolled up another human and headed straight for Goldshire once again. Nothing prepared me for what I found there. Approaching the inn, I saw a couple of players moving about which I took to be a good sign. Inside the inn was absolute chaos; avatars everywhere in all manner of outfits. Mostly female avatars in revealing clothes it has to be said. In all my years of playing, WoW I’ve never seen so many people all in one place – a place not dedicated to quests or levelling or auctions that is. I was amazed. I was also a little downhearted by what I read in chat: ‘immature’ pretty much sums it up, ‘offensive’ is another word. I’m no prude, not by a long shot. But there are things I would never shout out in a chat channel, nor will I mention them here. If you want an idea then think of something your girlfriend or wife would slap you for saying in public, now think of something worse because you’re not even close.
Over a couple of days I checked in to see what was going on in Goldshire and every time there was always a line of characters in the inn. It was pretty weird, almost like a Roman slave auction. I asked one player what this was all about. She didn’t know. I asked a couple more who were also lined up and they couldn’t tell me (or wouldn’t tell me). Why were all these people lining up without a reason? Is it like when people see a queue and just have to join? I finally got the answer from another player who told me that they line up in order to meet people for erp. Being naive, I asked what erp was. Turns out it’s a bit of the old cyber hanky panky. At that moment I got an emote from a player checking me out. I made my excuses and logged out.
I know there will be defenders of WoW who play with a great group of people, and possibly meet up in real life and that’s great. I’ve made some great friends in Azeroth too; so much so that when a friend of mine told me he wanted to try out mmos, I steered him in WoW’s direction. However if I was a new player who had heard so much about Blizzard’s much touted millions of subscribers and wanted to see what all the fuss was about, I wouldn’t be impressed by players screaming about their genitals and indecent acts.
I’m torn about WoW these days. This game was one of my great mmo loves. I still enjoy dipping in a couple of times per week, mostly for quests and the odd dungeon. I have so many great memories of the community from when I was a more hardcore player. Two people from the first guild I ran came to visit me on my wedding day all the way from Norway and the Netherlands. I don’t want to believe that the player base has become worse since then.
So what’s the conclusion? I guess there really isn’t one to be drawn. And for an opinionated guy like me, that’s difficult to admit. Do I believe that WoW is now populated by jerks and horny adolescents? No, I still think that there are great people there just like in any game as any time I’ve asked a question in the chat channels I’ve had very positive and helpful responses. However, it could be that WoW is a victim of its own success. Once an online population reaches a critical mass it seems to attract a certain low-life element. Maybe these people are only the highly visible face of the game and the vast majority of the normal people are happily playing with friends and forging great experiences and memories.
I imagine they are also giving Goldshire a very wide berth.