Let me start this post with an admission. I’ve strayed. Look, it’s not that I don’t find WoW sexy anymore or think that it’s gotten too old or anything. WoW’s the same vibrant, sexy game that I have and will always cherish deep in my heart, it’s true. But still, lately I’ve found myself in the arms of a different game, one that could satisfy needs that WoW simply never could. Yes, lately my boots have been under the bed of Elder Scrolls IV.
I don’t know how it happened! There I was in Best Buy, minding my own business in the video game section as I’m want to do when I go to the ol’ double B, when our eyes just locked. I couldn’t resist her in that cute little game of the year box, with the original game and both expansions included for only twenty bucks. We tried to play it coy, but before I even knew what was happening, her cellophane was strewn across my floor and, well, let’s just say that I’ve had quite a few late nights lately, if you know what I mean.
However, during my infidelity there was one stark contrast between the games that made me begin to wonder. You see, super nerds such as myself have usually grown up with their noses deep into the fantasy genre, drinking deeply from the font of the likes of J.R.R. Tolkein, R.A. Salvatore and Robert Jordan. The thing about writers of this magnitude, however, is that they often write what is commonly considered “high fantasy.”
For those of you not familiar with high fantasy, the best example is Lord of the Rings and the whole Middle-Earth mythos that Tolkien built from scratch. High fantasy builds on itself, creating lore heavy backgrounds and trying it’s best to not just give you a view of an alternate world, but to submerse you in a wholly fantastic realm. There’s nothing there other than human beings to remind you of the real world, because fantasy is supposed to be separate from reality.
Now anyone who’s played Elder Scrolls IV knows that this is the type of world you find yourself in when playing that game. I was thrown into a completely new world, made to explore and find out the rich background and side stories of this digital reality. It felt like what a fantasy realm should feel like with unbelievable mysteries and intrepid adventuring left and right, allowing me to become Frellen, the Dark Elf Spellsword who closed the Gates of Oblivion and saved Cyrodiil from certain destruction. Yeah, it was pretty awesome.
But then I come back to WoW. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m saying that WoW is the equivalent of a dirty redneck in overalls shaking hands with the president or anything like that. WoW does have it’s own rich lore and is constantly compounding it through quests and side material for the game. However, when compared to other games or fantasy stories, you find something lacking in WoW’s make up. It doesn’t feel the same. It’s just not high fantasy.
For one, there’s a lot of real world references, somewhat breaking the fourth wall. Though fun and often chuckle-worthy, these sort of things do serve to highlight that this is a game world, an unreality. Real life intrudes upon the setting you’ve placed yourself in and reminds you that it is only a game, just a fantasy, something not real. Though reminders of real life are important for an MMO, by admitting your falsehood through references such as that, you break the fantasy and take something away from the experience.
Then there’s the cartoonish appearance of the characters and world in general. With large, over exaggerated, almost caricature like architecture, you occasionally feel as though you may have accidently wandered onto a Saturday morning cartoon. And though it’s not like the characters bear any sort of resemblance to Mickey Mouse or anything, they definitely do not look real. Even the humans have what I consider a slight, almost anime-ish sort of quality about them. This only serves to further separate you from the fantasy of WoW, making you feel less connected with the world of Azeroth than you could.
Some might argue that these are part of WoW’s appeal to the masses at large and I one hundred percent agree to that. Real world references and subtle reminders that this is just a game and not meant to be looked at seriously as most high fantasy works are does add likability to the game. 11.5 million people can’t be all wrong, after all. But WoW also loses something off the other end, a feeling of submersion and true fantasy that a lot of us nerds, obviously WoW’s base, yearn for at times. I don’t believe that the game is losing subscribers by the boatload because of this, but I wander at times whether or not WoW could benefit from a little more fantasy at times.
Either way, though I may spend a few weeks in throes of nerdy passion with this other game, I know that it truly doesn’t mean anything at all. WoW is still the one for me, the one I’ll always come home to. Eventually, my Elder Scrolls disk will sit on my CD spindle with Neverwinter Nights, Dawn of War II and all the other games that I have had fleeting trysts with. In the end, there’s only WoW, patient and understanding of my trifling ways.