I probably shouldn't have bought a cheap copy of World of Warcraft when I was on vacation. It isn't like I needed a sleep deprivation aid, or had ever seriously considered trying the game. I was simply suckered by the cheap price on the endcap at Target. Oh woe! The day I bought the product that has taken over my life for the last two weeks.

So what is it, anyway? It's a "massively multiplayer online role-playing game" (or MMORPG for short; I like to imagine how that might be pronounced) with a fantasy theme that allows you to customize and play a character through many different quests and fights, increasing in experience and acquiring new skills and loot along the way. It's also an entirely online game -- you pay a monthly fee to play -- with over 5 million subscribers to interact with.

I started off mostly playing it like a solo game. My Tauren hunter, Cranius, got up to level 10 with only a couple of fleeting alliances to help him slay enemies. Then he was able to tame a pet -- hurrah! Here's what he looks like now, with the faithful Leona beside him.

Cranius Looking Heroic

In the last few days, though, I have been able to lure my friends Orson and Becky into trying the game (it comes with two 10-day trial codes in the package -- a pusher's dream!). Since they were just starting out, I created a new character to play with theirs: an Orc shaman named Grutch. She's already up to level 9, which is a bit surprising given how little time I've played her. I think it really helps to have some party members to join up with.

Of course, in the greater scheme of things, both of my characters are n00bs. The highest level you can attain in WoW is 70, and since the game has been out for a couple of years now, a lot of people have done it, some multiple times. I have found myself gaping at highly experienced characters in the game; some of them are really flashy looking, with crazy aura effects and/or minions following them around. A big part of the appeal of WoW is the lure of pretty new things to look at. Just yesterday, Grutch visited the orc capitol, Orgrimmar, for the first time, and just about every time I turned a corner I exclaimed at some cool new thing.

However, the game is not without its flaws. It's expensive ($15/month after the initial free month). It's sexist in the way it portrays female characters (though thankfully the sexism is cosmetic and doesn't affect actual gameplay). And it kills Korean babies.

However, I'm not stopping anytime soon.

Update 6/17/07: today's New York Times Magazine has a story about "gold farmers", people in China who work crazy hours for low pay just gathering loot to be resold (for real money) to other players. Though they mention that this is a longstanding practice going back to the earliest online games, the product they focus on is WoW.

In the same issue, there's a photo section comparing real people to the characters they play online. I think it's really interesting how many people look just like their real selves (how did Ailin Graef get the same dress on her real and virtual bodies?), because the stereotype is that everyone engages in wish-fulfillment online, making characters that look nothing like their pimpled, bespectacled loser owners.

tags: %l