World of Warcraft Wisdom: Virtual Reality vs. Reality

By | 5 years ago 

In our sixth installment of our weekly World of Warcraft Wisdom feature I discuss reality.

We have all had those nights playing where we are in some sort of quest, instance, or raid and we fail or wipe. When this happens, we get up an try it again. I have written about my first foray into heroic Deadmines. This was not the first time that a group of players had to learn how to do something in order to move on. In Azeroth, though, failure does not hinder growth, it only spurs a player on to improve and master, it gives a sense of optimism that we can improve. Where does this happen in reality? Why, in reality, are we so afraid to fail? So much, that we fear taking risks?

What many critics of gaming, and World of Warcraft in particular, don’t realize is the role gaming can and should play in shaping today’s world and reality. Currently, I am reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. In the book, she argues that gaming presents the solutions to so many of the world’s problems. Further, she says that one of the primary reasons we game is to find and have what we cannot in reality. Among those reasons are the ideas of social groups, cooperative engagements to solve an issue, hard work with immediate feed back, and the ability to change the world for the better.

McGonigal argues that what reality lacks that games don’t is that sense of purpose in what we do in the game and its impact on the world. With each quest we are told why it is important and that we will be rewarded for it. Again, she and I ask, where is this in reality? I remember doing quests that were so much fun and epic in scale, that every toon I leveled, I made sure to get those quests. In Wrath of the Lich King, I couldn’t wait to see the Angrathar the Wrathgate video after completing the quest.

World of Warcraft: Angrathar the Wrathgate

I teach high school English and have thought often and hard about the principles of gaming that could help my students. Let’s face it, getting an A on a test does not carry the same impact as an epic win, as there is not that sense of immediacy that exists when completing a quest in the game.  Sure, my students spend a certain amount of time working, writing, studying, but for what? Where is the sense of accomplishment, that sense of “epicness”  that we find in Azeroth? Graduating high school does not carry that sense of tremendousness that defeating Blackwing does. I contend that it is because we view graduation as a personal endeavor, not a communal or world-wide impacting one, the impact of graduation extends no further than the individual. Or so we believe in our world.

When we approach a problem in the game, it is set up in such a manner that the quest given is at or just above our ability, McGonigal notes. Regardless, we make an attempt at completing it. When we fail, we learn, and try again. With each failure, we are pushed to try again, because we know that in the end, there is that item we want and the increased power we seek. McGonigal calls this ability to keep trying after each failure a “sense of urgent optimism.” In reality, failure often has the opposite effect: we don’t want to try again and we lose any sense of optimism for success. The game does not do this, failure often encourages us to try harder. I have noticed, the more involved with the lore a player is, the more willing he or she is to struggle to complete the quest, as he or she wants to fulfill the story for the betterment of Azeroth. Where is the lore in reality? Why do we fear failure so much when it can and should be used as an impetus for growth?

I can easily spend a few hours running dungeons, all in search of the elusive one-handed weapon with the right balance of Intellect and Spirit to increase my healing spells. When the weapon doesn’t drop, I try for different item in a different instance. For so many in reality, when we attempt something for betterment of ourselves and others, if we fail in that attempt or it does not result in immediate success, we often don’t try it again. We don’t have that push in reality to keep trying, as failure or not getting the expected results in reality is seen as a weakness, not a reason to push on.

While we do work in teams in reality, it lacks the cooperative aspect that games offer. When we raid or run dungeons, the end result is that it was completed as a group. We are grouped and work according to our skill and specializations. There is little room for ego in Azeroth (nor in reality), as the world (you determine of which I speak) is constantly on the verge of destruction. Yes, there are arrogant players who think that they are the only ones who know what is what. However, when push comes to shove, we get what needs to be done in a group and make Azeroth a better place. Reality does not offer such circumstances. Face it, there are so many issues wrong with reality that it takes teams to accomplish them, however, we allow petty grievances to get in the way. Unlike a raid and other games, teams have a difficult time in reality working together without someone getting in the way.

World of Warcraft Cataclysm load screen

McGonigal argues that what makes it so easy for us to spend so much time gaming is that we see and realize the results of an accomplishment. In reality, we are told it will all be worth it when we retire. And therein lies the problem: our actions don’t pay off for so long, and they tend to be self-serving. We are biologically wired as social creatures, yet our culture and way of life splits us apart and does not emphasize being a part of something. When we work together in the game, it is so easy to rally to make the “world” a better place; yet in reality, we focus on the bitter divisions that exist between us and them. With the idea of immediate feedback and the notion that what we do in the game has that impact on the world, we can easily do what needs doing.

I contend that we are wired, too, for immediate gratification, and the problems we want to solve, the A’s my students want to get only come through hard work, but in small steps. Arthas, Blackwing, and others will not be defeated so easily, we must work our way to them. In the game, it is easy and fun to do this. Just as much fun as improving our world is, but only when we see the impact of our actions, feel the immediacy of that feedback, and realize just how epic it is to write a beautiful sentence.

Regardless, reality is ours to make as self-determined human beings. Blizzard leaves quite a bit for us to determine characters to our own liking. We get to do this and that with them and choose to go here or there. Otherwise, there is very little room in Azeroth for self-determination.

In reality, though, we are free to choose who we are and what we are. Reality confines us, sure, but in very minute ways. If we want our real lives to have that same sense of epicness, it is simple: just see the little challenges we face in reality in the same manner as in the game. See a failure in reality as we do in the game, an opportunity for growth. See that in reality, there is much more to offer an individual (character) than in the game. It really is simple, happiness is an epic feeling and can more easily be found in reality than in virtual reality.

So, I guess in the end, the question must arrive: how can we best shape reality to give us that same excitement we feel in the game?

For more World of Warcraft Wisdom, check out past articles – HERE.