Do I think World of Warcraft is a game?

The other week, I asked you all if you thought World of Warcraft was a game, based on this (admittedly very specific) definition of a game:

“A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” – Sulen and Zimmerman

My first instinct was to say yes, WoW is a game. Then I realized something. While WoW attempts to set you up, right from the start, in this artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome, you don’t have to do what they’re telling you to do.

When you start a character, you are placed in the starting zone and you are right next to a quest-giver. (Bear with me, I’ll be speaking primarily of the human starting zone.)

The developers (and common sense, really) expect you to interact with the quest-giver and complete the quest. Right off the bat, there’s the artificial conflict — you need to go kill wolves in Northshire, for example. As soon as you accept a quest, you are thrust into the artificial conflict. That initial human quest (as all others, I would imagine) immediately pits you against the environment and NPC mobs (wolves or what-have-you) in that environment.

Once you accept the quest, you have three options:

1) Complete the quest (quantifiable outcome — experience, quest rewards)
2) Drop the quest (quantifiable outcome — the lack of gaining experience, quest rewards)
3) Ignore the quest (quantifiable outcome — the lack of gaining experience, quest rewards)

All of that, however, hinges on actually picking up the quest.

If you don’t pick up the quest, there’s no immediate conflict. Nothing in the starting area will aggro on to you. You can essentially run around with impunity until you leave the Northshire gates and enter Elwynn Forest.

When you enter Elwynn Forest, you will encounter NPCs that are, for the first time, hostile to you and will attack you upon sight. This is a conflict and it’s defined by rules. The rules are simple: defend yourself with attacks until either you or the NPC dies or run away, knowing that the NPC is limited to a small area and will almost certainly not run away themselves. The quantifiable outcome is either victory (you lived and killed the NPC), defeat (you died because the NPC killed you), or a stalemate (you ran away and both of you lived).

My argument is that WoW itself is not a game. WoW does not inherently force you to engage in any of its sub-games, such as questing or exploring, PVPing or raiding, dungeoning or crafting, gathering or levelling.

Having said that, I believe that WoW is host to many, many games. Everything that can grant you experience, gold, achievements or feats of strength is a game. Anything that puts your character in danger of death is another game. Healing is a huge game with many sub-games, such as tank healing, raid healing, cooldown use, mana management, as well as the various encounter mechanics. (I’m not even going to touch on PVP healing!)

It might be splitting hairs to some, but I feel strongly that WoW is not a game on its own. It is a system that hosts a plethora of games. Most of those games, like healing, have sub-games within them.

However, I feel that WoW is more than just a system. It is definitely a system, but it also comprises all the social interaction that comes with an MMO. While there can be arguments made that “the social game” is a game, I think that the social part of things is less of a game, from the definition I gave, and more of a tool that can either help or hinder you in your game-related goals.

Following instructions in a raid setting will help your team defeat the encounter (assuming a competent raid leader) while not paying attention to instructions will likely end up killing you or others in your group. As such, the game of raiding within WoW relies heavily on communication and cooperation between raid members to emerge victorious after an encounter attempt. This is, of course, very different from the “socialness” of Trade Chat.

Is Trade Chat’s “socialness” a game? Again, I would argue not. It is merely a tool to help you to know who to avoid teaming up with, or that some people may be seeking others to help them with a dungeon or raid. Perhaps people playing the Auction House game (I do believe that’s a game) use Trade Chat to announce their auctions. Chat is a tool, not a game in and of itself. And chat belongs to the system that is WoW.

Essentially, while I do call World of Warcrat a game for simplicity’s sake, there are really just a multitude of games that WoW hosts and those are the games about which we are passionate.

6 comments

  1. Elladrion says:

    I’m really, really confused as to the whole point of this “is WoW a game” discussion and why it would matter. First, if it’s not a game then what is it? A simulation? Second and more important, what is the point of not calling it a game? What’s the end outcome if it isn’t a “game”? If it is indeed something else, I don’t feel it has changed my enjoyment of it at all or how I think or feel about the game. I’m all for intelligent discussion, but this whole thing strikes me as over-analyzing and intellectualizing something that doesn’t need it. Of all the things to discuss about WoW ( I’ve seen someinteresting masters papers on various social and buisness aspects of the “game”) whether it is a “game” or some other term that really has the same end meaning doesn’t strike me as worth discourse.

    I’m not trolling, I genuinely don’t see why this has any bearing on WoW and certainly not why it would occupy the blogosphere at all. It’s your blog and you are free to post whatever subject you find relevant, I just fail to see this subject as relevant to anything or what we will get out of discussing it, I feel like I’m missing something.

  2. Kurn says:

    Elladrion – As I mentioned in the first post asking my visitors and readers if they thought WoW was a game, I’m taking a class on video games this semester. The resulting “is WoW a game?” question and discussion stems from that.

    The “whole point” is merely to challenge what we think of as a “game” and the different levels of entertainment and teamwork that goes into World of Warcraft.

    If it’s not a game, I believe it’s a system. An environment that plays host to several games — the raiding game, the PVP game, the dungeon game, the questing game, the achievement game, the exploration game and others.

    Calling something a “game” automatically de-legitimizes it in our present-day, Western society. Unless it’s a sport, in which case there’s a lot more respect for it, likely due to the fact that not every excels at a sport and that it’s a physical activity.

    If you get a phone call from someone while raiding or PVPing in an RBG or rated arena, how acceptable is it to most of society for you to say “can’t talk, playing WoW”? My guess is not very.

    If, on the other hand, you get a phone call as you’re in the locker room lacing up your skates before taking part in a hockey game, it’s much more acceptable to say “can’t talk, about to hop on the ice”.

    If you don’t care to participate in a discussion about the nuances and subtleties about games, game systems and game environments, that’s fine. You’re under no obligation to do so. :)

  3. Rayze says:

    I do not understand the need to make WoW look like something different from a game, in order to make it look acceptable in our current society. I don’t hide the fact that I play WoW from my peers – those who are close to me actually understand that WoW for me is an enjoyable way to spend some of my spare time and respect the fact that I am passionate about it.

    However, you are right about WoW being more of a sandbox where players have the chance to play different games. I was chatting with a friend of mine who also plays WoW a few weeks ago; he was explaining how unlike me he doesn’t enjoy raiding because it feels repetitive to him, and how he enjoys the lore and questing. A friend of mine who doesn’t play WoW was also present and she was impressed at how WoW offers something for every kind of gamer.

    That is an achievement Blizzard should be definitely proud of, being able to make WoW appealing to many diverse players.

    Sorry if I went somehow off the tangent there . :-)

  4. Falrei says:

    In response to Kurn’s quote:
    “Calling something a “game” automatically de-legitimizes it in our present-day, Western society. Unless it’s a sport, in which case there’s a lot more respect for it, likely due to the fact that not every excels at a sport and that it’s a physical activity.

    If you get a phone call from someone while raiding or PVPing in an RBG or rated arena, how acceptable is it to most of society for you to say “can’t talk, playing WoW”? My guess is not very.

    If, on the other hand, you get a phone call as you’re in the locker room lacing up your skates before taking part in a hockey game, it’s much more acceptable to say “can’t talk, about to hop on the ice”.”
    ~~

    I suppose I’m not sure what that portion has to do with your original thesis, your conclusion of which I find no fault in. Accepting that WoW is more like the Olympics, where there are several different games/sports taking place under one roof, and then saying WoW ISN’T a game but everything you do within it IS a game doesn’t make WoW any more socially acceptable to people who don’t legitimize games as worthwhile pursuits.

    Call WoW what you will (game/system/purusit/activity), you can only legitimize it in one of two ways. 1.) You have to define WoW as something that already IS socially acceptable, ie. a sport, or 2.) You have to legitimize games so that they ARE socially acceptable.

  5. Serrath says:

    I agree with you. It started as a game but I believe the purpose has evolved and transcended what it means to be a game. I agree, WoW is a medium on which many games may be played.

    What’s interesting is if you look you can see many supporting examples of this from the players while discussing World of Warcraft. “I’m a raider,” “I play the auction house,” “I perform achievements,” “I collect pets,” etc. Now conversely, how often do you hear someone say the “blanket statement,” “I play WoW”?

  6. Derek says:

    With the same thinking then Grand Theft Auto and many other free roaming games that have become so popularized by the gaming community over the years are not video games at all.

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