World of Warcraft is the massively multiplayer online role-playing game developed and published by video game studio Activision-Blizzard, with a focus on social play and conquering challenges as a part of a group. Oddly enough, the stereotype exists of World of Warcraft (WoW) players that they are antisocial introverts who would sooner spend hours in a virtual world as opposed to taking a step outside into real-life. And yet, WoW by it’s definition as massively multiplayer is a game with it’s fair share of social interaction, indeed many players would consider it necessary to group with others to gain a proper experience of the game, such a thing would not be any introverts idea of fun. Could it be that WoW is providing something of a social revolution for it’s core of introverted players? Providing some manner of system or a set of tools whereby they are able to be more confident and outgoing?
Many would argue that this would be the guild system, a system whereby players are able to form a permeant group of players who then engage in many of the games more difficult aspects such as end-game raiding (entering an area where creatures are significantly more powerful and require greater communication and coordination to best) or player versus player content (players engage in protracted battles across virtual warfronts against other players in the goal of winning the battle for their team, these likewise require much communication and coordination to succeed). Though could it possibly be that WoW is not simply offering anything new but it is rather the sum of all it’s parts that makes it such a good social lubricant for even the most awkward of players? It could be argued that while the guild system and random grouping has it’s advantages for the social introverted amongst the game’s population it is the actual game and the knowledge of the game that makes it easy to communicate. Many WoW players are a dedicated bunch and by nature the game requires much research to gain an adequate foothold on how to go about things such as raiding and player versus player. Could it be that the reason that normally introverted people seem to act much more confidently in-game is because they are simply more knowledgeable about how the world of Azeroth works? Afterall, a video game has clearly defined rules hard coded into it that the real world simply does not have on such a broad scale. WoW is far more predictable, in other words.
Although just because WoW as a game is predictable does not mean that it’s players necessarily are (Ross & Collister, 2014) as with anything that seeks to better understand humans it must be acknowledged that not all humans are the same cookie-cutter person and are instead varied and different, this remains the case with people that play WoW. Not all of them are the shy and socially awkward individuals that we expect when looking at them via the lens of popular culture and media. For example, Robin Williams the Julliard graduate and world-renowned actor Robin Williams was known to have enjoyed playing WoW. Mr. Williams serves to illustrate the point that not all players of WoW fall within the same bubble of introvert, though much discussion in the following will focus on them as they do seem to make up a significant amount. And even this seeming majority seems to be deviant from the normal definition of introvert. Whereas a pure introvert would be unlikely to spend their leisure time engaging in social situations that could be considered very stressful it seems that those who partake in WoW do just that and it cannot be understated just how complex some of these raid encounters truly are. At the higher difficulties there is so much to keep a track of that you cannot reasonably complete the encounter without an in-depth knowledge of your exact role right down to the damage numbers that you should be producing.
Perhaps one of the more important inclusions into the World of Warcraft is that the content exists on a difficulty scale, starting at the easiest and evolving to the more difficult and extreme. This content scaling serves more than one purpose the main ne being that by having content that scales it makes the game more accessible to the more casual player, the type who only logs on every so often to escape to the game world. Content such as questing and levelling up of your character would be the lowest on the totem pole of content in WoW because it is simply the easiest and most casual thing you could do, there are no complex mechanics to learn only a relatively enjoyable story to experience and a small introduction to your character’s skills. (Thomas, 2009) Though if the player wishes they may move on to more challenging tasks though there is no real punishment for staying at the lower levels of the content totem pole. The second and perhaps more interesting, at least psychologically, reason for having scaling content is that it gives players a clear path of progression, a structure to work in and manage their time in the game world. Most things in WoW can be quantified by either experience points, item rewards or character statistic increases so it makes sense that something a little more ethereal like a feeling of character progression would also be quantified on the slider of playable content. This is perhaps the reason many introverts are somewhat more comfortable being social in the World of Warcraft, it’s clearly defined system of progression almost makes for a social caste system where the players who have progressed to the upper levels of the game have more social capital than others. These are perhaps the guild leaders, or the raid leaders. Though it could be argued that one does not necessarily need to be an accomplished player of the game to run a successful guild as anyone can purchase a charter and have a few friends sign it to get their concept up and running. Though there is no guarantee that it would necessarily become a successful guild, as these often require much work to build and maintain.
The fact of the matter is that often time guilds within WoW often become something of a fulltime job (Odrowska & Massar, 2014) for the officer core and leadership. With so many things to learn and implement as well as general run of the mill scheduling it is not surprising that there is so very much work that goes into running a guild that is able to tackle the endgame content of WoW. This is what many consider to be the main social backbone of the World of Warcraft, the guild system of organization. Many of WoW’s more introverted players are happier to partake in social interaction in a smaller context of people they know as it allows them to play for longer periods of time in more relative comfort without burning out, as introverts are like to do in situations where they are forced to socially interact with many different and unfamiliar people. (Noecker, Ryan & Juola, 2013) In turn, the guild leaders and officers who find themselves falling more on the introverted scale are given more confidence to deal with new and unfamiliar people through their indepth knowledge of the game world and it’s mechanics, thus making it far easier for them to interact as they are doing so from a place of knowledge and teaching. This is the social revolution that WoW has brought about by combining a system of tightknit social circles, scaling content and social castes Blizzard Entertainment has, perhaps knowingly or perhaps not, created the exact context for an introvert to not only enjoy copious social activity but to thrive amongst it.
World of Warcraft is a difficult beast to grasp due to the nature of being an online multiplayer game that is ever changing. It is, by its own admission, defined by it’s players and through these players we can learn more about the many systems at play. Systems such as content scaling that allows players to have a linear sense of progression both social and mechanically within the game world. Systems like guilds and raid groups that allow the most knowledgeable to shine through and rise to the position of leadership that will see them climb to the next highest social rung. WoW is not a world where introverts and extroverts start with any noticeable advantage or disadvantage. The online world of Azeroth works as more of a meritocracy in the way that those who know more will eventually be placed above those who do not. WoW provides an environment where introverts are able to experiment with social situations in a safe and rewarding manner, perhaps they will start a guild, perhaps they will lead a raid group to victory over a challenging boss-monster, perhaps they will simply be happy to engage in the content provided with a close group of friends or ‘guildies’ of which they trust and enjoy spending time with. This is the beauty of a game that cannot be played to it’s full extent as an entirely single player experience, to succeed in WoW you need to interact and be social with others or else you are simply unable to complete the most sought after and rewarding content that is available.
Guild systems such as the one in WoW allow players to have some agency over the game world and how they and others interact with the content that is provided to them by the game developers. For many introverts the experience of managing others is not an experience they would be comfortable doing in the offline world but when it comes to World of Warcraft, their knowledge of the game and progression on the social ladder of scaling content allows them to have a sort of in-built social capital that makes allows them to make choices more effectively and confidently within the game world. It even makes them desirable to others as effective and knowledgeable leaders often are. Perhaps it could be argued that in time these guild and raid team leaders can transfer their skills from the game world and over to the one the rest of us live in. Certainly, there are transferable skills there that can be quite marketable.
This is just the beginning of the social revolution that World of Warcraft is bringing about, for a game that was launched in 2004 it shows no signs of slowing even fourteen years from it’s original release. Content is continuing to be produced and conquered and the game chugs ever onward with no real conclusion in sight, just as the players of WoW would surely hope. It will be interesting to see what features Activision-Blizzard injects into their game world in the future and how these features will interact with, either positively or negatively, the systems such as guilds and scaling content. One can only sit back and enjoy the ride as the World of Warcraft, alongside it’s players, remains ever unpredictable.
Ross, T., & Collister, L. (2014). A social scientific framework for social systems in online video games: Building a better looking for raid loot system in World of Warcraft. Computers In Human Behavior, 36, 1-12. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.03.023
Thomas, D. (2009). Scalable learning: from simple to complex in World of Warcraft. On The Horizon, 17(1), 35-46. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/10748120910936135
Odrowska, A., & Massar, K. (2014). Predicting guild commitment in World of Warcraft with the investment model of commitment. Computers In Human Behavior, 34, 235-240. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.02.005
Noecker, J., Ryan, M., & Juola, P. (2013). Psychological profiling through textual analysis. Literary And Linguistic Computing, 28(3), 382-387. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqs070