The Politics of WoW

| Wednesday, May 13, 2009
To set the stage, let's start with this: it's not just a game. It's entertainment for millions, for some a hobby, even a culture. To call it just a game is a terrible understatement.

There are somewhere around 11 million accounts or subscribers or something of that sort. An unfortunate effect of different billing methods and multi-boxing is that true population measures are impossible. Let's just go with 9 million, it's probably low, but close enough. Greece has around 11 million people. Consider that for a moment. WoW is country-sized. It is a convenient coincidence that the country I picked for population size also happens to have possibly the most important cultural and scientific history in the world. Greece changed the world. It gave us many scientific advances, logic and reason, and even an absolutely horrible form of democracy which inspired the systems we have today.

Is this the destiny of WoW? Eh. I have no doubt that WoW will be important culturally, but it's hardly going to be the next Greece. My initial thought was to call America the next Greece, but I suppose we're more the Rome to England being Greece. Who stole my point?

I propose that the developers are the politicians of WoW. Or an oligarchy, an unelected oligarchy, though not entirely immune to the influence of virtual pitchforks and rioting. They control how the world works. Their actions change the economy and how we play, virtually live (yes that was left ambiguous on purpose).

Apathy confuses me. Why would anyone ignore the political process? It shapes our nations and worlds, influences our lives in ways that we cannot always imagine. Should WoW be any different? To refuse to read patch notes is as terrible as ignoring the latest law to be passed. It's your world, know what's going on!

I am struck by a disturbing thought though: it is very likely that a higher percentage of players read patch notes than read the laws which are passed. Why? Obviously time is a factor: patch notes, even for a huge patch, are hardly comparable to the hundreds of pages in some packages of laws. Convenience as well: what else are you going to do while the patch is downloading? You can only pass so much time poking around your security settings trying to figure out if turning off your firewall actually removes the error message about being behind a firewall. Btw, I found no speed increase by turning it off, though I did get incredibly paranoid. The string of triggers on my anti-virus a few days later did not help.

Where was I? Oh yes, so politics and our worlds. How does real life compare to WoW in terms of the process to design it? Call me crazy, but I feel as if I may have some tiny little influence on the game design. In contrast, I don't feel the same influence in real life. This leads me to two questions.

First is the question: Why not? I think it's about communication and dilution. For WoW there are pretty obvious channels for yelling about stuff we don't like: official forums, official email, and of course moronic youtube comments on PvP videos. And these blag things. we even know that the devs sometimes read the forums and respond. Well, more than they used to. There's been some change and it makes me hopeful. Does that make Ghostcrwaler Obama?

Second: Are we going to change this? I believe that games can shape our perceptions. When you play and see the devs working on balance and aggressively improving the game, regardless of whatever terrible vision they had four years ago, that might have an influence on your expectations. Hey, if the leaders of a population the size of Greece can change their minds to improve the 'world', why can't leaders of real nations do the same?

I see so many ways this could turn out. An individualistic drive could be created, a self-motivated population which has not batted an eye at the prospect of wiping for months (hello, Razorgore, would you like to devour my guild this month?), might they say "Screw you economic downturn, I'm going to go get stuff done?" I don't know quite how this would work out, since real life doesn't exactly support farming by flying in circles or mass murder. Another possibility is players going "hey, my character has never starved to death, in fact he's never really had to worry about the basic necessities of life being missing."

I've recently been doing some research on Fox News for a class and noticed three things: they aren't good with games, they don't like socialism, and they love being able to create the impression of disaster on the horizon. I can see it now...

"This video game has been spreading a socialist message to millions, influencing adults and kids alike. It has global reach and the company producing it has revenues in the billions. These players are together living in this collective fantasy land in which they are taught that socialism works, that individuals don't need to work, they just survive no matter what they do. Here's the really chilling part: there is a war going on for the very survival of humanity and it is portrayed as completely optional."

[edit] I'm afraid when I wrote this originally I was far too tired to get my point across. The core ideas were that devs are like politicians, relating not reading patch notes or forums with political apathy, and how WoW might influence perceptions of real life. That last one is probably the weakest since it's really just the positive side of "VIDEO GAMES MAKE CHILDREN MURDER PUPPPIES! More at 10."


WTFspaghetti said...

Interesting post. When I read the title I thought it was going to a blah post about politics.

I only clicked the link because I like the majority of your articles...

I am glad I did. I love the analogy that WoW is a country. A big country at that....kinda wild.

Stabs said...

Reuters: 300 Forsaken were today arrested following a clash with armed games developers outside Blizzard's studios. The demonstrators were bearing Right to Draw Breath placards and other corpsist slogans.

Meanwhile a counter-demonstration was organised by Pinkbobs Fluffikins of the Popular Gnomish Front. When interviewed as to why her organisation opposed dead rights she said "they smell".

A nearby corpse was exhumed and interviewed. It declined to comment.

Klepsacovic said...

@thedoctor: I'm glad you liked it. I wasn't sure how it was turning out since I was a bit sleep deprived.

@Stabs: Though I am pretty sure that was made up, it bore a disturbing similarity to today's news.

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