I am a chronic altoholic. I have 9 characters at level 80 and a 10th who is very close, and still I’m starting a new character to play and level. The age of the game, the 5th anniversary, and a lot of the discussions about Cataclysm and what players and designers are thinking and seeing sparked an interesting thought for me: Wonder!
If you think back about when you first started playing the game, can you identify a moment where you just sat back and had a “Whoa” moment? Maybe you were leaving the Northshire Abbey for the first time and walked through the gate, stepped into Elwynn Forest and just said, “Wow! This game is so big, so lush, so full of life!”
I remember the first time I had the feeling, but being familiar with MMOs of significant scale previously, the part that blew me out of the water was my very first Gryphon ride. I was beta testing and much of the game was still pretty quiet. I remember Theramore was closed off as it was still being built and while a lot of the world was there, a lot of it was empty or turned off for the time. My little level 14 Hunter was free to move about more so than she may have been otherwise, so I decided I really wanted to get a sense of the scale of the game world.
When I left Teldrassil I had been experiencing a very specific part of the game. The World Tree was rich and massive, and it really had an epic feel to it, even Auberdine and the surrounding forest on the Dark Shore felt similar (though grander still in scale). When I took the boat to Menethil, I remember thinking, “Ok, standard MMO fair. I get on the transport, there’s a load screen, then I’m in another area. But then I hopped on a Gryphon-powered flight point. The next 5 minutes I spent in awe. I was flying over a world. Landscapes, mountain ranges, swamps, and snow covered hills, and volcanic plains. I was stunned by the idea that I was riding a gryphon through the real game world. Sure I was a passive traveler, but as I flew over I saw the actual creatures of the world coming to life and moving about below me.
I was frantically snapping screenshots and all I could think was, “Wow, just wow! This game is huge and I’ve never had this feeling before like I’m *really* in the world!” I was sold at that point that Blizzard had done something terribly right.
Wonder is a very important concept. Any game can give you toys, trinkets. They can give you distractions and flashy moves that make you feel powerful. They can present you with a hundred nondescript aggressors that you can blow up with your fireball. That can be fun, but only for a time. There are some key aspects to make a game like this draw you in, to feel like it is something you want to come back to, not just play with and discard.
Wonder is one of those elements. Being able to feel like a small part of a big world lets you feel like there is more out there. Feeling like the world you are plugging into was built with love and attention, made to look and feel like a world. Warcraft has its own unique cartoonish style, and WoW was built to emulate that, to inflate it to life size so you could go from tiny pieces on your RTS board to walking around interacting with the characters that populated the story. But even through the cartoonish proportions, the world has realism, it has dimension. You walk through the forest and you see animals, squirrels scampering about, farmsteads and bandits, and towns full of people.
We all come to these games from different places. Some chronic gamers like myself (and many more jaded) come to the game seeing it like the Matrix. They don’t see a world, they see game elements, raw code. They don’t stop to appreciate the texture of the tree bark, but rather they just want to play with their new toy, they want to go see how rewarding it feels to blow up deer with their fireball. Some players, however, come to the game out of curiosity. They may not normally be much of a gamer, but their friend, child, or co-worker plays and suggests they try it out. When these people come into the game world, sooner or later there is a “Whoa” moment. That moment that just makes you feel like this is something special.
What does that mean for us? If you’re reading this I will generally assume you play the game, and have played enough so that you are engaged in the meta community to *discuss* the game we play. At the same time I am going to assume that the shine is off the apple. It is not a new toy. Many of us have walked the far reaches and seen many of the corners of the world. For us, I imagine, there is nothing so exciting that we feel in awe, there is only things to do in places we’ve been. That is until we have an expansion, and suddenly new things to be wow’ed by.
Take this for consideration the next time you log into the game: what have you stopped appreciating for the fact that you’ve seen it? What no longer gives you a sense of wonder because you’ve simply stopped looking? When was the last time you enjoyed the act of flying across the expansive and richly textured landscapes of Northrend, rather than grumbling about how long it takes you to get somewhere?
Where is there still room for wonder in your game? Perhaps if we can find that, we can all find reason to remember why WoW became so special to us in the first place.