Do You Want to Understand the future? World of Warcraft Holds the Answers

Players of World of Warcraft love to complain. There’s nothing new to that. Blizzard largely seems to ignore the players’ pleas, yells and moans, and yet recently one of the executives has decided to answer the community. In a response to a forum thread, assistant game director Ion Hazzikostas explained how World of Warcraft is actually working right now. His response tells us a lot about the inner works of a world of abundance – where everyone have their basic needs fulfilled.

 

Catering to Minorities

The first thing we need to understand, according to Hazzikostas, is that World of Warcraft is composed of many minority groups. As he says –

“A minority of players raid. A minority of players participate in PvP. A tiny minority touch Mythic raiding. A tiny minority of players do rated PvP. A minority of players have several max-level alts. A minority of players do pet battles, roleplay, list things for sale on the auction house, do Challenge Mode dungeons, and the list goes on.”

The result is that Blizzard – the omnipotent lord and god of World of Warcraft – is catering to minorities. In fact –

“…almost every facet of WoW is an activity that caters to a minority of the playerbase.”

This is what happens when you have a world of abundance. When people know that all of their basic needs will be taken care of, they feel free to do whatever they like. A minority will create art. A minority will sail boats. A minority will focus on re-engineering their bodies, roleplay or do robot battles.

And the government will need to cater to all of these minorities.

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World of Warcraft: a future of minorities. Credit: Polygon

The Self-Focused Minorities

Another point made by Hazzikostas is that the minorities are extremely self-focused. As he puts it –

“…due to the cooperative nature of the game, players tend to make connections with others who favor a similar playstyle. I’m generalizing a bit here, and there are certainly exceptions, but I’d guess that a typical Gladiator-level player probably doesn’t have a WoW social group that consists of people who mostly solo-level alts and explore the world. And most small friends-and-family guilds don’t spend a lot of time talking to competitive Mythic raiders. So when there’s a change, or a feature, that is aimed at a portion of the game that isn’t your personal playstyle, it’s easy and in fact natural to have the sense that “everyone” dislikes it.”

Hazzikostas is essentially talking about group polarization – a phenomenon that occurs in groups in which people agree with each other. Their views resonate between each other, and the group member become more polarized in their opinions. In a way, they become detached from the complex reality of each situation, and become unable to consider things from other points of view.

Group polarization is happening in the real world too, and it’s gaining speed. Ezra Klein recently wrote about political polarization and how it’s becoming an issue in the United States. People are becoming more polarized in their political views, and part of it has to do with the virtual world. In the past, you would’ve needed to interact with people from other factions everywhere you went. Today, Facebook automatically makes sure via its algorithms that most of your interactions are with the people who think the same as you do. As a result, people are essentially segregating themselves willingly into self-selecting groups, and their views become more polarized, so that each group finds it more difficult to agree with the other groups than ever before.

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World of Warcraft: a future of group and minority polarization

A Mirror for the Future

In those two aspects at least, World of Warcraft is a mirror of our future. As we reach a state of abundance in food and shelter, we will start identifying ourselves according to our hobbies and our interests. A world of abundance would therefore also be a world of minorities. And due to the virtual nature of much of that world, those minorities would find it more difficult to agree with each other than ever before.

It just might be the in the long-term, the only viable solution would be to essentially create a different world for every kind of minority. This proposition is, of course, impossible in the physical world where resources are limited by their nature. It can be achieved, though, in the interaction between the physical and the virtual worlds.

In the case of World of Warcraft, the virtual environment ensures that funds are essentially unlimited. Blizzard sets the challenges and the rewards, which are virtual in nature. Luckily for us, many aspects of our lives in the future are going to be virtual as well. As virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) become part of our lives, we will receive highly personalized and individualized information from physical reality. In many cases, the virtual layer of reality will allow us to transcend the physical bottom layer.

To understand that, consider that in twenty years at most, many of us are likely to walk around with augmented reality goggles over our eyes. These will provide an additional virtual layer over everything that we see. In that way, a signpost on the street can consist of just a white background and a QR code in the physical world. The AR goggles, however, will translate the QR code into a personal ad that will fit specifically for the individual using the goggles. Similarly, every house can be virtually transformed into a palace, by wearing an AR device. A palace, or a cave, or a torture dungeon, or a boat. To each minority – their own.

 

Conclusions

World of Warcraft is a virtual world, in which players enjoy a state of abundance. In a way, it serves as a social or political studies lab, and the insights we gain from it can be valuable. Those insights can help us better understand the future of a world of abundance, and of a world in which the virtual and the physical layers become intermixed. If you want to know what the future holds in store for us – you probably want to keep on watching how World of Warcraft evolves.

 

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The Future of Evil in the Mixed-Reality World

I was playing World of Warcraft – the famous Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) – last night, and became a member of a party of five players in order to complete a challenging dungeon. Normally, journeying together with four other people in a virtual world can be heaps of fun. The warriors hit monsters, the healers heal the warriors, and everybody is having fun together.

Well, not this time.

Halfway through the dungeon, one of the players began spouting some national slurs – “Russia rule you soon”, for one, and “Filthy Ukranian” among others. The response was pretty immediate – after a minute or two of shock, the offending player was kicked out of the party. We found another player in less than a minute and completed the dungeon at our leisure. The remarks, though, left an impression on me and made me think all through the evening about an interesting question: why don’t we see more breaches and break-ins from the physical world into the virtual one?

National slurring personally experiences in World of Warcaft
National slurring personally experiences in World of Warcaft

Virtual Worlds

Perhaps the term “virtual worlds” needs to be better defined. After all, Facebook too is a virtual world, and we see people bringing their problems and biases from the physical world into Facebook all the time. World of Warcraft, though, much like other MMORPGs, is a different virtual world. It’s a simulation, in fact, of a fantasy world filled with dragons, dungeons and real monsters who would like nothing more than to chew on your virtual bones.

This detachment from reality is probably the most important difference between MMORPGs and Facebook: on Facebook, you’re supposed to ‘play’ yourself and emphasize your views on the physical world. MMORPGs, however, are viewed more as vacation-time from reality. You go to MMORPGs to escape the conflicts of the physical world, not to accentuate them. This common understanding among players helps ensure that few incursions between the two worlds occur.

It is also my belief (and I don’t know any research to support it, since the field of MMORPGs has largely been ignore by political and social scientists) that MMORPGs bring into the equation something that we humans sorely lack in the modern ages: an evil enemy. Namely, I’m speaking of the computer that is controlling the world and the monsters in it. Those monsters will kill you if you don’t get strong enough. They are the ultimate evil – they can’t be reasoned with, and you can’t deliberate with them. It’s a kill or be killed environment, in which you have to become stronger constantly just to survive.

Compare this black and white environment to the one we experience in the physical world. In past times, tribal and national leaders tried to paint their enemies with a good vs. evil color palette. Namely: we’re the good guys, and they’re the bad guys. This kind of stereotyping doesn’t really work so well anymore, now that you can read everywhere about the woes and dilemmas of the other side, and realize that they’re humans just like you are. But realizing and accepting this fact requires conscious effort – it’s so much easier to hate, demonize and vilify the other side!

What wonder, then, that players are so happy leaving behind the grey national animosities of the physical world, and fight the good fight in the virtual worlds?

Meaning for the Future

These thoughts are pretty preliminary and shallow, and I post them here only because they are important for our future. In a decade or two from now we will enter a world in which the virtual and the physical aspects become mixed together constantly. As I wrote in an earlier post, wearable augmented reality devices are going to transform every street and every walking lane into a dungeon or a grassland field filled with monsters and treasure.

The virtual world is different from the physical one in many aspects, but one of the most important is that virtual wealth is infinite and priceless. One can find enormous treasures in the virtual world, beat his virtual computer-controlled opponents time after time, and in the future also enjoy virtual love (or at least sex) with virtual entities.

But what is the meaning of life in a virtual world? And since we’re about to experience a mixed-reality world soon, we must also consider: how do we keep on providing meaning and motivation to everyone in it?

It is possible that, based on the lessons of World and Warcraft and other MMORPGs, the programmers of the mixed-reality world will put an emphasis on the creation of true evil: of evil ghosts and dragons, and a perpetual fight for (virtual) survival against those. Maybe then, when we’re confronted by a greater enemy, we’ll be able to overlook our religious, national and racial biases and come together to fight the good fight in a game that will span nations and continents.

Does the future of mixed-reality holds dragons in store for us all, then? One can only hope.