Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Sometimes a Zeppelin is Just a Zeppelin

From time to time you will see the question popping up of whether video games can be considered art or not. I won’t really get into that topic, but one thing that comes with art is interpretation. It seems to be a very common pastime of intellectuals to interpret works of art (be they literature, performance, or video) in an attempt to identify the intentions of the artist and find hidden meanings. If you are like me you’ll have experienced situations in which you simply enjoyed a book or a movie while others would keep going on about what message was hidden inside.

[This post was written in advance because I am on holiday. Please excuse the lack of actuality, I won’t be able to respond to current events that happen while I’m away.]

I’m currently working my way slowly through “Digital Culture, Play, And Identity – A World of Warcraft Reader”, a book full of articles about World of Warcraft. One particular article caught my eye, “War and Histories in World of Warcraft” by Esther MacCallum-Steward. In her text, the author describes the setting of the War between the Alliance and the Horde as well as the individual factions’ peculiarities and draws parallels to the real world. The existence of rudimentary flight systems (gnomish biplanes, horde zeppelins) and the end of the idea of War being something glorious lead the author to the conclusion that the Horde/Alliance war was modeled on the First World War.

Lots of zeppelins over London in the Doctor Who episode "Rise of the Cybermen". This doesn't bode well...

MacCallum-Stewart also notes that zeppelins (which can commonly be found on Horde controlled territory) not only mark the beginning of technological warfare but are also commonly used in science-fiction as “a dystopian icon in visions of the future” and are in World of Warcraft to signify exactly that. Am I the only one that thinks that zeppelins could be in the game because a designer thought they were cool and steampunk-y?

I’m sure that real world history had some influence on the design of the background story of the Warcraft games and that the designers used historical events as inspirations for certain elements – but that doesn’t have to mean that they meant to convey anything. Personally I would assume that the goal was to build a (somewhat) believable world with a lot of conflict (good for gameplay!) in which neither faction can be clearly marked as evil. That’s why the humans have all those fascist undertones while parts of the horde go off collecting flowers in between battles.

All the “old” arts are already drowning in a sea of critics that have an unnatural need to interpret much more into a piece of art than the artist ever meant to convey. Do we really need that for computer games as well? When asking for computer games to be recognized as art, do we really want to get to the split between the “intellectuals” who interpret games and us plebeians who simply enjoy playing them?

Don’t get me wrong, MacCallum-Stewards article is a good and interesting read. I simply don’t buy that our friend Metzen had even remotely as much in mind when he penned the story.