WoW: The Journey as the Destination


September 19, 2012 by ald7th

Anna Dobben

Film 373 Allison

Article Report

September 19, 2012


The Journey Is the Destination


In the Eludamas, Vol 7, No. 1, Lasse Juel Larson writes of the reward system in World of Warcraft (WoW).  He postulates that a player’s constant hunt for epic objects is an endless circle of desire: after gaining one item, the game always updates, and the player is left desiring another object.  Larson describes this search through semiotics.  Epic objects’ meaning is negotiated and created through signs, which are constantly perpetuated and created in the game.  He focuses on two types of semiotics: functional signs of epic items “translates into game mechanical effects,” and the interpreted signs (17).  Interpreted signs are far more complex, for they can be determined in a myriad of reasons.  Gaining the next object in WoW could be motivated by personal desire.  It could be social signal though, such as showing the other players one’s prowess.

The search for new objects in WoW, while forgetting that the process will never stop, links to the différance philosophy of Jacques Derrida, and Sigmund Freud’s pleasure principle.  Larson writes, “The firstmeaning of différance has to do with delay…suspends or postpones fulfillment of desire or will….” (19).  The second meaning of différance creates a difference and produces distinctions.  The foundation lies on temporization and spatiality.  In Sigmund Freud’s pleasure principle, “the subject focus[es] on a desired point on the horizon, a place in the future…defers instant gratification to reach the desired point in the future” (20).  These theories combined sum up the reward system of WoW: even when gaining epic items–playing by the reward system–the rewards are declined.  There will always be another item to gain.  Finality will never occur.

World of Warcraft gives players an empty shell of a character.  A player chooses between the Alliance or the Horde, the race of the character, and the class.  Then, the players build the world around the character: by joining guilds, by communicating with other players, and, of course, by gaining objects.  In WoW, players fill the character’s lives with meaning and create narratives.  There is no chance of winning–there are too many paths and changes in the diegetic world.  Larsen’s article implicates this is a bad thing: there will never be an ending and players will be trapped constantly desiring another epic item.

Larsen claims that WoW makes “desire unfortunate…forever an emerging intentionality, a bridge between lack and closure” (21)  Is closure, an official ending impossible?  The short answer: yes.  Larsen cites Peter Brooks’ Reading for the Plot: “…the motor of narrative is desire, totalizing, building ever-larger units of meaning, the ultimate determinants of meaning lie at the end, and narrative desire is ultimately, inexorably, desire for the end” (Brooks 1992, p.51, Larsen 19).  But in WoW, the game will always change and a player will always want the next item to keep up with others.  However, by continuing this process the narrative is constantly in flux, constantly emerging.  The text is a diegetic aspect of the game–players engage with the text because the narrative is unavoidable.

World of Warcraft takes place in Azeroth.  This gamespace fits into the spatial, navigable, and actionable requirements of video game narrative.  Azeroth, and everything it encompasses, is part of the reason WoW is so popular.  Exploring a world and acting into that world are an essential part of the game.  The narrative in WoW is quest-oriented, and created by the player.  The cut scenes though, shape the narrative and provide the player with information.  Also, in a fantasy world, the sequences allow the creator’s voice to emerge.  The engagement with the narrative, though, is a player choice.  The player can choose how much of the screen they read, how much of the cut-scene they pay attention to. But the narrative is constantly relevant.  There are arrows leading to the next quest, there is always a map, and the very idea of choosing a character creates a narrative.

According to Larsen, the desire of following the narrative is “unfortunate” (21).  The idea of gaining epic items but then continuing to play WoW is a “disturbing dynamic in which objects of desire are inscribed in a constantly eroding value system” (22).  The lack of a specified end point upsets the author of this article.  But, why do we need endings?  Philosophically, WoW already describes certain aspects of life.   Like the players searching for epic items, we too fill our lives with meaning through materialism.  The social aspect of WoW–keeping up with the Joneses–is absolutely true in “real” life as well.  In WoW though, there is no ending.  There’s just more stuff.  But why does Larsen, or any player, feel the need for a cut and dry ending to a video game?  The entire concept of endings involves the sticky philosophical subject of trying to change your fate.  Because the game has become an aspect of life, a player wants their ending to be a good one.  There is a hope, that at the end of it all, the proper reward will be reaped.  Larsen’s critique of WoW brings up valid ideas about the impetus of desire, but he forgets the importance of narrative: the journey is the destination.


4 thoughts on “WoW: The Journey as the Destination

  1. sczaja200 says:

    Your discussion of endings in the last paragraph of your report is interesting. Perhaps WoW more accurately mirrors life than most games, because it has no set ending. A player in the game continuously seeks more and more, just as we do in real life. Like our virtual characters, we too have the ability to choose our adventures. There is no end foreseeable end in either realms; except if the game gets shut down or you get old and die. And just like how you can prematurely end your ingame experiences and delete your character in WoW, you can also choose to end your own life here.

    Is this the appeal of the game, or an explanation of its addictive properties… or both?

  2. eclare138 says:

    I think that the idea of player interaction being part of a narrative journey could also be explored, as the social aspect of the game is a huge draw and also what keeps people playing for long periods of time. People get these epic items so they can up be to snuff to raid with their friends, so it seems that the endgame and higher level item acquisition is centered around social interaction (as you can only ge the absolute highest gear by raiding with groups of people) And usually ending a social relationship is something negative in the real world, so woud people even want to “end” these online relationships?

    • sczaja200 says:

      People end social relationships all of the time in the real world, so I don’t see why it would be too difficult in the game (especially when you can just log off). Interests change, friends drift apart, communication ceases. Continuing my extended analogy with what you’re saying Clare, it’s interesting how people also try to acquire “epic” items in real life. People buy MacBooks, wear clothes, put on makeup, do their hair and act a certain way in order to facilitate social interactions with others. Some people deviate from the norm, but they’re playing the game in a different way than most individuals. It would be like the people who spend most of their time crafting ingame or exploring; these are still ways to play the game, but they’re not what a majority of players focus on.

  3. oliviavolarich says:

    The idea that there is no chance of winning in WoW seems a bit daunting as one steps into the world of Azeroth. That is such an important concept to me because it almost changes the game into a simulation or a reflection of a lifestyle. Though there are cut scenes, players are still trapped in the world of the narrative. So, do you agree with Larsen? Is that feeling of being completely immersed bad?
    Since there is no clear-cut ending, does that mean WoW is still a game? According to Jasper Juul’s “Classic Game Model” a game must have a variable outcome, meaning you can win the game. In WoW, there are negotiable consequences and player attachment, but as one moves from one quest to the next to the next, there is still no outcome insight. There is no final climax and goal to work towards. So the question remains: is WoW an actual game?

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