Classic Conundrum

Introductory note on form: I used to use an indifferent “you” in generalised and unspecific statements. But after running into problems on several occassions of using it on Twitter, I decided to switch to an indifferent “one” instead which should be less prone to misapplication. I think that usage accentuates the divide between writer and reader but apparently these are the times we live in.

There are players who are enjoying the game right now. In leveling zones people organise themselves through nonverbal communications. They entertain themselves and each other jumping around, climbing onto buildings and trees, or taking a bath in Crystal Lake. They duel each other or try flying through the zone using a goblin glider. Players group up with other players who can’t read. Together they work on quests and it bears results! A remarkable number of them does not cross lines during these events, indicating any possible frustration exclusively through leaving the group. A few classes allow one to bring something to the table even if one doesn’t understand gearing. With the current difficulty of leveling zones one can at least heal or ressurrect the other players. Some are excited just seeing players of their own race cross the same place. And from now on that will apply to Present State and Classic servers. Some of you may frown upon seeing such behaviour but I’m enjoying that immensely. It may be the main reason I stay subbed for the game. That and that music and visuals are quite pleasing. It’s amazing to see people not give a shit about experience points or gear score.

I have to assume that there is a large silent majority of people happily pottering away on the Classic servers as well. And I suspect I can’t do anything to make the other people see the lie they’re living. Watching activity within my guild and on my server, it’s a lie that Classic and Retail were different communities. It’s also not difficult for like-minded people to be tolerant towards each other. Someone called the activist Classic community “elitist” regarding the way the LfG add-on was handled. Within that particular context I don’t agree but in general one could say that person had got a point. Often these people express desire to control their society. The kind of kindness prevalent in early day WoW that they’re talking about is a certain kind of kindness. They downplay acts of kindness on Retail. Often they demand admiration, not neccessarily of their own, but being able to admire others for the gear those people got. It’s still admiration of gear, and they’re unwilling to problematise that. Classic enthusiasts seem to be partcularly fond of the distinction between real gamers and casuals. They describe themselves as the passionate type of WoW players, while those who like something about modern day WoW are less passionate. They present themselves as more intelligent and creative while being unable to create their own entertainment on Retail. But that’s not their fault, they say, on Retail there’s just no way creative people could get entertained.

At the same time reliance on their intent to deliver as much of an authentic experience as possible can only go so far. I suspect that upon further investigation severe limitations to such a proclaimed authenticity would surface, challenging our understanding of “authenticity”. Classic may not be an authentic experience but it meets the players’ desires. That is a game not freed from some shackles of Capitalism, nor obedient to some true Capitalism, while Retail was submissive to some false form of Capitalism. Both products are just aiming at different drives for consumption, and the final goal is to get everyone playing Retail again. Because as much as Classic is “free” for the loyal Retail player, so is Retail for the returning Classic player.

The company are chipping away on artistic integrity every month and every time they introduce convenience after legitimising inconvenience through artistic freedom. There is a great deal of tension between their words and their actions, as there is with your usual corporation. While I take into consideration that many customers could be unaware of it, that tension still leaves its mark on the game. Under these circumstances the people who create artwork such as that of the Kul Tiran landscape are even more phenomenal.

We can’t separate the game from that. For one, in an MMO and other games with a social network the people are part of the product. If a person renews their subscription because they had fun playing with others, Blizzard made money from those other people. Second, these are some of the services we pay for when games becomes services. The company try to make more money by offering the game as a temporal or immaterial good (or both), which may even be justified by the ongoing costs an MMO creates. That’s the motivator they have, and it’s not particularly well-suited to finding non-monetary disadvantages to a change of system.

I happen to agree a lot with Bellular’s evaluation of Vanilla and not just on a surface level of misguided community-building. I don’t accept any superiority of Vanilla WoW at face-value. Vanilla WoW was more of a sandbox. Quests were less separated into story that mattered and story that did not. The monetisation of Retail WoW is problematic and admiring people for gear they got in raids is probably less of an evil than admiring the display of real world wealth.

But for the last few months I didn’t feel inclined to talk much about that. Because as soon as I start saying anything positive about Vanilla WoW, I become complicit in that sort of behaviour. I promote the product and their marketing choices affect me. That is how social media work. Yet you will find such utterances on my Twitter account for instance. It is difficult and it is a struggle even if you know it’s all going to land in some metric for success and that any mention is taken as proof that these tactics work in advertising. If they got you talking they *did* work on you, and they did indeed work on me.

Then there is the question of preservation which clearly isn’t front and centre to a company tasked with creating entertainment. If it was we probably wouldn’t have seen updated graphics (which I think are a smart move) and the company would’ve been much clearer on what to expect for Classic in the future. Nonetheless there are aspects those Classic servers do preserve or re-introduce

Now I have the opportunity to re-experience the opening of the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj. But how can I draw the line here? Personal benefit should not be the guideline, I can’t and I shouldn’t decide whom to exclude from this experience while I have the opportunity to experience it. It was fine to say “nobody should”, when it was out of reach for me. To say “I can not have this experience, if I want similar experiences to occur” is the more difficult decision. It’s easier to decline a meal on a full stomach.

During Gamergate people defended the use of private servers, which offered a game untainted by what they considered to be fake reviews from dishonest media. Mark Kern was and is a prominent advocate for both Gamergate and Vanilla servers, being one of the original developers of the game. The concept of SJWs as the enemy carried over from there to the Trump movement. The allegedly lying game journalists became the “dishonest media” who spurred “fake news”.

Starting in Summer 2015 and peaking in Decembre (of all months) I was caught in a heated debate on the German WoW forums. People who IMO were pretty clearly white supremacists and on occassion at that time rather well-known members of the forum community made connections between immigration and retail WoW. At that time discontent with Russian players, with whom we share battleground servers, were at an all-time peak. And they may be much whiter than a Surian but in our WoW forums they were as much the target of German rage as those refugees. I don’t feel well ascribing that to co-incidence in its entirety. The phrases “Lügenpresse” and “Gutmensch” were particularly revealing, with the latter being comparable to mentioning “sheeples”, describing well-intentioned people who’re oblivious to their state of being manipulated. There is a difference between saying, someone was a nice person, and saying: “Oh, she’s one of those NiceGuys again.” And that’s what the phrase is capitalising on. There’s also similarity to the term “Social Justice Warrior”, as calling one a warrior for justice should usually cause someone to feel awkwardly flattered.  I got called such, essentially, because I thought doings quests and investing time for virtual travel should get rewarded, and that maybe only 30 people had been needed for Ragnaros back in the day. People also took offence with my opinion that Mists of Pandaria rather resembled an Asia restaurant in the Western world than actual Asian cultures, and thus still was pretty much centred around Western players, and that farmer’s markets were a common thing in Western Middle Ages.

Little evidence does still exist thanks to the poor CM members who had to clean up the mess we made. I didn’t get banned from the forums, nor did I get a personal reprimand for my behaviour, although it wasn’t strictly within the ToS. However, other people did get banned and at least some of them beyond any doubt rightfully so.

That doesn’t mean everyone playing on Classic servers or everyone liking Vanilla WoW was a white supremacist. That should go without saying, since so far (that is: without playing it) I like Vanilla WoW and I don’t consider myself a Nazi. There are friends of mine who’re tempted to tap into Classic, and for my account that’s liking Vanilla WoW. I would be stupid to be friends with Nazis. They don’t mesh awfully well with my political views, and historically aren’t known to show much tolerance towards that.

But this is part of the picture, my picture of both Vanilla WoW and nostalgia. When I read that Blizzard were happy to meet strong demands for native-language servers in Europe, that backstory is what I thought of immediately. People demanding servers in their native tongue looks very similar to people all over the news who don’t want to be part of Europe, so much that you have to start asking what part of Europe they think was left to not be part of. Yet there is good reason in asking for use of one’s native language as had been debated famously in the Renaissance.

Conclusion

In this article I outlined and collected remarks, many of which seem to address hypocrisy among WoW-Classic- and Retail-related people.  I began with what I consider to be often overlooked pleasant and worthy experiences within the game as it is. Then I moved on to describe the behaviour of Classic players as I saw it unfold over the years, and I addressed the company’s complicated relationship with creativity. I highlighted an occurence that’s hopefully specific to German WoW players and the discomfort I feel with Activision-Blizzard’s handling of Classic WoW because of that.

Questioning the company is part of questioning our role in this. It might be the point at which we start questioning our own actions. Moved by these questions we might take action to build a stronger, fairer community, or prioritise investing in indie games, we might abandon gaming altogether (because there are other forms of education, art, and entertainment), or start an NGO dedicated to a more sustainable and beneficial form of gaming.

It’s not meant to be cohesive. The work to bring all these different thoughts and impressions together has yet to be done. Maybe that’s not important and what matters more is your comfort or discomfort in reading this text, or how it fits into larger considerations of the role of art or entertainment. Furthermore, this blog post can be seen as a starting point for a more unifying and at the same time more detailed discussion of the topics mentioned.

PS: This entry was in the works well before Blizzard developed issues with democracy. That outshines every one of those highlighted within the article. However, it doesn’t make the others go away.