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Exploring Virtual Worlds (Lich King Chronicles II): A Howling Community


“This is so much beter than Halo 3,” observes one player in the Howling Fjord’s general chat. Though fresh off the boat from Menethil Harbor, I instantly feel way more oriented than somebody new to these parts should…not in an altogether good way, either. Even though World of Warcraft and Bungie’s meal ticket inhabit different platforms and genres, dude announces his conclusion like it’s science. I’d normally feel obliged to slip into my cynical fanboy suit and torture the poor sap with equivalent insanity, but I’m in a good mood. Besides, we’re both members of the Alliance! We must stand together against the Lich King and the always-nefarious Horde, right?! Well, that’s half-true…kind of.


Let’s rewind just a bit: With the release of WoW’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade, nearly everyone wanted to only complete quests, gain experience points, and generally enjoy the fruits of Blizzard’s labor without engaging in player vs. player combat, so the Horde and Alliance agreed to an unwritten truce: “We won’t bother you if you don’t bother us.” But some wiseacre slipped in one exception: “it’s okay to mess with the Dwarven priest who goes by the name ‘Dorben’” (my highest ranking character at the time). Maybe I’m being cynical, and maybe I kept getting ganked because my gear sucked and because I chose one of the weakest (in pvp) talent specs (discipline with some holy) possible, or maybe Horde players are just mean, whatever. The very notion of a truce made me laugh.

Northrend heralded a new, better chapter in my WoW life. I changed my identity to Coyotegrey, a powerful Draenei Shaman who typically emerged victorious from overwhelming odds in both PvP and PvE. At my side walked two well-equipped adventurers: a holy Paladin and a damage-oriented Rogue. If somebody called a truce, I wouldn’t even know. No soul would dare mess with us. Or so I thought.

My comeuppance arrived almost immediately. After just a few quests, an undead rogue obliterated my meager 10,000 hit points in just a few well-executed blows. I should’ve known better, a half-dead Shaman with no mana and with no group in sight is an easy target. Realistically, given the chance, I’d probably have done the same.


Accepting defeat, I clicked the on-screen prompt and teleported to the nearest graveyard as a ghost. After making the all-too familiar walk of shame back to my body, and subsequently resurrecting like nothing happened, my brother, the rogue in my group, told me he had already eliminated my murderer and we were going to stick around for a few minutes to kill him some more. We weren’t being immature, or “taking things too far.,” but simply teaching this truce-breaker a valuable lesson in newly-released-expansion manners. It felt good.

After our display of Alliance justice, further attacks by members of the Horde were minimal, and always fruitless. Together, the three of us couldn’t be stopped. Yet, with our greatest enemy gone, another source of irritation quickly emerged: other members of the Alliance.


It’s truly astonishing how the natural human susceptibility to greed is as apparent in virtual worlds as it is in the real one. In WoW, completing certain quests requires the retrieval of particular items or elimination of an enemy or group of enemies, but doing so becomes difficult when 30 other players with no sense or care for organization are simultaneously attempting the same thing. This tendency is probably most apparent in the act of mining, a pursuit that entails right-clicking on various mineral “nodes” scattered around the world. Since so many people were trying to level this popular profession, nodes were scarce in the Howling Fjord. Normally, the miners in my group would type /roll , generating a random number between one and one hundred to see who would “win” the opportunity to grab a spotted node, but we agreed among ourselves that whoever saw one first could take it, as other players didn’t care for our procedures. Still, being the first at a node didn’t guarantee exclusive mineral rights.


In Outland and Azeroth, simple etiquette said to leave another player to mine whatever minerals from a node. In Northrend, five or six players frequently compete for a single cobalt node, which only yields between two and four pieces of cobalt. Admittedly, this could be an American thing and might not occur on the European servers.

Many hours later, my group disbanded, and I remained alone in the Howling Fjord. Still feeling dissatisfied with my experience, I set out to further explore the continent.


First, I traveled to the western edge of the Fjord and took a lift down to the peaceful fishing village of Kalu’ak. There, I met the Tuskarr, a race of turtle-riding walrus-people who are WoW’s equivalent to the Eskimo, just as the Taurens are its surrogate Native Americans.


After picking up more quests (but not actually completing them), I proceeded towards the Grizzly Hills. While passing through, I noticed the lush pine forests next to the snow-covered mountains and rivers seemed almost too natural to be designer-architected. Even the music’s nuanced choral arrangements and melancholy fiddle interludes reflect the game’s emphasis on organic design.


At 5:00 AM, with very few people still playing, I continued to explore, ultimately arriving upon Dalaran, the mage city in the sky. Before heading to bed, I checked the price of the Traveler’s Tundra Mammoth. Early reports were correct, the mount costs a sobering 20,000 gold. With only 1,600, I felt poor. Feeling defeated by a deflated pocketbook while all too aware that Blizzard has probably already charmed another year’s worth of subscription fees out of me, I went to sleep.




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