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State of the Union: Virginitum Ad Infinitum - World of Warcraft, the Top 10 Reasons People Play, and the Top Ten Reasons They Stop
by Greg Mengel

World of Warcraft astounds me. It’s a miracle. It’s a drug. It’s a life-wrecker. In the last five years, WoW has evolved from a simple but impressive MMO cocoon into the fire-breathing, Tokyo-wrecking Mothra that now enlists over twelve million faithful subscribers, from whom it reaps a harvest of over one hundred million dollars every month.

Put simply, this game is the Beatles on crack, with Jesus replacing Ringo as drummer. Everyone knows it’s big. With a third expansion, Cataclysm, set to be dropped like a capitalist hydrogen bomb smack-bang in the middle of the holiday season, the franchise is about to swell to even more epic proportions.

As a chronic Blizzardian and sometimes-denizen of Azeroth, I want to herald this momentous occasion by recollecting why, over the last half-decade, both myself and my brethren have systematically joined, left, rejoined, and releft, this game. Here are ten reasons why I did both.

The Top Ten Reasons People Play

10: Gnome Warriors

Imagine Bilbo Baggins [1], the hilt of an epic 300-pound weapon clenched between each of his fists, leaping heroically into the monster equivalent of a modern tank, and slaying it, then lighting up a cigarette and riding his helicopter into the sunset. Sans Marlboro, WoW makes this this image entirely possible.

There’s no feeling quite comparable to getting pwned by Polly Pocket.

9: Rideable Sea Turtles and the Walrus People

You can’t play as one, but the mere existence of these gargantuan Inuit seal-men - what with their carved tusks and their grizzled grandpa-ish mustachios - somehow gives me that same good old faith in humanity that I had when I believed in Santa Claus. All they want to do is fish, eat, craft elaborate fishing poles, and wax those turtles all day (in a fun - not a weird, sexually metaphorical - way).

8: Holidays and Shindigs

Parties, parties, parties... there are just so many parties. WoW holidays and achievements are stupid, colourful, and pointless; the way good holidays ought to be, free from real world Thanksgiving-Christmas-Easter-Hanukkah-Ramadan-Kwanzaa-Festivus stress and/or drama.

7: Nostalgia

Remember the good old days, when you were young and naïve, and Azeroth was a brave new world ripe for exploring? When you would excitedly lean to the edge of your seat just to kill a boar? When you bragged to friends about your level 89 cooking skill? Even the most cynical of WoW veterans know, and want to re-discover, that innocent special place.

6: That Nerdy Special Place

Fuck cool people. There, I said it. Them and their rap music. Who needs James Dean when you’ve got millions of equally nerdy gamers available to quest with at a moment’s notice? Not only will they run dungeons with you; they’ll also want to hear about the viking-mead-horn you got at the Renaissance fair, and have heated conversations on who would win a three-way battle between Moses, Captain Planet, and Jean-Luc Picard.

5: Story

Warcraft wouldn’t be half as popular as it is without its lore. Let’s be honest; even though some of its storylines are so cliché that you can taste the bastard smoothie of Lovecraft, Salvatore, Tolkien, Warhammer, and Indian mythology as it slides down your suspension of disbelief, you’re interested in what happens to Azeroth. What Warcraft lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in character development, to the point where I really want to see how Thrall, Mograine, Varian, Sylvanas, Garrosh, and the rest of the cast respond to Deathwing’s tour of destruction come the upcoming expansion.

In a way, it’s become a nerd soap opera: we’re guilty to admit it, but if we don’t find out whether Thrall and Jaina hook up, we’re just going to freak.

4: Real World Stagnation

In the outside world, I am a simple geologist... but in here, I am Falcorn, Defender of the Alliance. I have braved the Fargodeep Mine, and defeated the Blood Fish at Jarod's Landing...

For one reason or another, the real world seems less fun or exciting than we expected, so what do we do? Do we turn our lives around, train our bodies and minds until they are temples of perfection, then join an Indonesian pirate cartel and live out our fantasies in real time? Not a chance in hell. We’re smarter than that, and do it one better... we log on to a place where we can be as badass as the heroes we secretly see ourselves as, in a setting that still allows our fleshy husks to look like this. That’s freedom of choice, baby. Imagine that was said by Bruce Campbell.

This goes not just for World of Warcraft, but for pretty much every role playing game since Greg Gygax rolled a 20-sided die.

3: Friends

Yes, MMO nerds can have them. No, they don’t need to include David Schwimmer.

This happens every expansion: one real-world friend starts mentioning the possibility of getting back into WoW, the seed is planted in his or her comrades who have themselves been looking for a new game to play during a lull in real life (see #4), and a chain reaction is put in motion. Slowly but surely, dozens of amigos sign on, lured by discussions of exotic mounts and witty guild names. Blizzard makes it easy, giving players - I’m not kidding - a goddamned rocket ship for recruiting their loved ones. By the time the expansion releases, one WoW subscriber has recruited an armada of comrades with which to battle the evil hordes.

For a game founded on community, making and playing with friends is half the fun. The other half is engineering.

2: Money

World of Warcraft may be repetitive, but as far as games go it’s cheap and reliable. While other gamers empty their pockets month after month purchasing a veritable arsenal of new games, the frugal Warcraftian chooses instead to ration his spending, dolling out a smaller fee to play a challenging game that is constantly patched and updated.

Crazy as it may sound at first, shelling out $15 a month to play WoW is a thrifty option for the chronic gamer. And the worldwide economy right now? Well, it’s stressed. Now might be a good time to save whatever rupees you can.

1: Expansion Packs

Nothing says “come back to WoW, you big, sexy, dwarven hunter with your enormous ram drinking horn and your intoxicating ale-soaked beard” like new worlds to explore in an expansion pack. I’m no mathmetician, but according to my calculations (and they’re never wrong), each expansion has increased World of Warcraft’s subscription rate by one hundred trillion percent. And that’s not counting current subscribers.

What turns any MMO stale is endless repetition. Without the flavour that comes with new environments, evolving challenges, and fresh aesthetics, even World of Warcraft’s gargantuan fan base would wither. Expansion packs naturally offer an alternative to such lacklustre finales, combining all of the necessary ingredients listed above to create a concoction of subscription longevity that will keep the game exciting until time comes for the next fun injection.

So. With all these good reasons for people to join the legions of WoW, why does anybody leave for pastures that couldn’t possibly be greener? Sit on your square of rug, my little friend, and let Papa Bear read you a story about paradise lost.

The Top Ten Reasons That People Leave Azeroth Behind

10: Tauren on Kodos

Is that a door I’m heading into? Or a field? Or maybe the shell of a giant turtle?

You might as well travel while wearing a blindfold.

9: General Chat

Maybe I’m old and crotchety, but people are idiots. What was once the racist, homophobic/erotic, uninspired, shallow-stream-of-word-vomit consciousness of Barrens chat is now the racist, homophobic/erotic, uninspired, shallow-stream-of-word-vomit consciousness of the entire world (of Warcraft). This is the real enemy of WoW, more evil and dangerous than Arthas, Illidan, Deathwing, and Back to the Future’s Biff Tannen combined.

Try as you might (by, say, surrounding yourself with a guild of balanced, intelligent human beings, or even joining a roleplaying server), it will find you, wiggle its smacktardy into your consciousness, and leave you mad [2].

8: The Bed Sores

That and the muscle atrophy. Sometimes, it’s just time to go outside.

7: The Pain Caused by Natural Sunlight

Don’t worry, you can fix this. Use baby steps. First, stand near a window, letting the heat beat onto you through the glass. Don’t shy away. Next, gradually step outside. Find a spot without any trees or cloud cover, and bask in the Vitamin D. Pose for increased effect. Lower the SPF level of your sunscreen hour-by-hour, until you once again tan without hissing. Once this is done, continue speaking comfortably to women.

Either that, or you could just put a lamp next to the computer and raid Icecrown Citadel. Again.

6: Sexual Intercourse

If you don’t get off WoW and go outside, you won’t find a mate. If you don’t find a mate, you subtract one nerd from the future population. If you don’t add your nerdy genetic makeup to the gene pool, then the jocks win.

Imagine that for a minute: a world of pure, unadulterated jockiness. The quality of the television and video game industries would decline. Ocarinas would go unsold on eBay. We would never receive the hovercrafts which we’ve been promised.

It’s the grave and hallowed responsibility of every nerd to pass on our tradition and culture to the next generation by bravely facing the mainstream, finding that equally-nerdy special someone, and getting laid. Planting a seed equals life’s epic quest.

5: Smarmy, Pretty, Dainty Alliance

Goddammit, Carl, you’re tanking a seventy-storey fire-breathing nether dragon bent on eating the universe. I don’t care if your hair gets ruffled!

4: Sweaty, Meaty, Testosterone-Addicted Horde

Football? Football! FOOTBALL!!

3: Neverending Game Syndrome

In only 172 hours of grinding, the Egyptian cat people will fucking love me.

2: The WoW-sick

After playing for more than four hours at a time, gamers with even the best constitution scores may contract the dreaded WoW-sick. I’m not a doctor, but if I were I would safely say that this illness, morbius mundiprofessiobelli gravis, has the ability to ravage your positive chi, leaving you a douchebucket.

I’ve lost friends to the WoW-sick. For hours after playing they talked only of matters Warcraft - what their DPS was, how many Horde heads they'd mounted in the guild living room after a one-sided Battleground, and which synonyms of “badass” could be used to describe their armour. Now and then, this talk is fine. People shouldn’t be afraid to brag a little about their feats, or epic fun they’re having. That’s just amiable; it’s sharing. It’s when demons sneak into a gamer’s brain through his or her ear cavity and make them so addicted that they can’t mentally leave Azeroth that the WoW-sick becomes a serious issue.

This illness wouldn’t be so bad if Warcraft wasn’t a game that relies on hardcore addiction to maintain a flock of loyal subscribing sheep like you and me. A severely addicted player will spend months, even years, living with the WoW-sick from day-to-day, floating through social situations and life on Earth awkwardly as if stuck in a Descartian dream, all while looking forward to re-entering the digital world in which they truly feel at home.

There is only one way to cure a friend with the WoW-sick, and it is simple and effective: shoot them in the brain, right smack-dab in the middle of the forehead. Works every time. Unless I’m thinking of zombies. Maybe give them a diet of bread and tea, and encourage vomiting. Urinate on them? Bathe them in the blood of a cloven-hoofed animal while chanting to Kali-ma? I don’t remember.

1: Serious Business

Nothing - nothing in the entire universe of gaming - annoys me like WoW players who act like rock stars; rather, rock stars who are self-righteous, egocentric dicks. Somewhere along the line these people forgot that they were playing a game and adopted a policy of angry, competitive assholism that they spit at generally everyone they meet. They’ve had the WoW-sick so long that they’ve mutated, morphing from real people with compassion and feelings into villains from a John Hughes movie.

These gems of humanity are lurking in every raid, every dungeon group, every major city chat, just waiting to spew their frothing, needlessly belligerent word-vomit all over the first person who does something they don’t take a liking to. This guy is a perfect example. As is this guy. And these other gentlemen. Conversations like this one happen all the time when you play with self-proclaimed 'hardcore' Warcrafters.

All. The. Damned. Time.

In WoW - and, let's be honest, most time-intensive games - 'hardcore' seems to be a synonym for 'immature, short-fused mental patient'. It’s just not fun to play with, and should be avoided at all costs. More than any other reason on this list, these idiots tarnish the magic of WoW and inspire gamers like me to leave Azeroth for pastures greener and less douche-infested. Way to go, gents. Way to go.

See you all at the Cataclysm. You’ll recognize me easily - I’ll be the worgen hunter chasing Deathwing without pants. Rock, rock on.

[1] Yeah, halfling, I know.
[2] Insane, not angry. Maybe both.

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- Greg Mengel

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