This month, I made the difficult choice of discontinuing my subscription for World of Warcraft (WoW).  Actually, in many ways, it was not so hard to do.

A treant from World of Warcraft

Image via Wikipedia

My initial reasons for playing the game had evaporated, and all the reasons for continuing the game  just left me feeling blah.  While I may eventually dip back into the world of Azeroth for research or educational purposes, I am not sure that even the new expansion, Mists of Pandaria, will tempt me for some time.

World of Warcraft had captured my interest years ago predominately because it gave my whole family something that we could do together and that would continue to challenge both adults and children for many hours of game play.  Unlike many board games, World of Warcraft allowed our little band to work together as a unit.  Different characters played different roles in exploration and combat, supporting one another as tanks, damage dealers, and healers.  We could also split up the different gathering and crafting duties, meeting one another’s needs for armor, weapons, food, potions, glyphs, etc.  We even created our own little guild and shared responsibility for running the guild and deciding what our game play objectives would be each weekend.  It was an ideal way to teach by example and experience key understandings such as sharing and collaboration, responsibility, and dealing with the occasional failure in a responsible manner.

I really enjoyed and emphasized in occasional talks the important opportunity to play a game with family members that fostered cooperation among members instead of the the usual family board game that emphasizes competition between family members.  It also allowed children to see parents model dealing with disappointments and setbacks (as often happens the first time you go up against one of the really hard “boss” monsters) as well as how we learn and problem-solve in order to improve performance the next time we try to defeat a particular beastie.

The game is also remarkably rich in experiences that can provide the foundation for informal as well as formal learning.  The deep backstory of the game entices many teens to read novels about the “history” of Azeroth and is being used as a basis for English language arts lessons by some innovative middle schools in their WoW in the schools program.  Since many actions in the game also rely heavily on basic mathematics and probability, it can also be used to reach disengaged students and provide context for understanding math concepts and developing skills in computation, modeling, and problem-solving.  As a potential platform for education, it remains an inviting forum for research and education.

Unfortunately, many of the problems its critics have pointed out are wearing on me and are tipping the scales in favor of some other games.

WoW is incredibly repetitive.   “Grinding” (performing the same simple task over and over in order to get resources) has always been annoying, but as I have less free time, spending the few hours I can allot to gaming each week on these tasks is not worth it.  For a while, it was interesting to see if the drop rates (the probability of getting a particular item) were accurate over hundreds of repetitions, but this has lost its charm, particularly as the server I’m on has matured and prices have dropped.  Many young people seem more tolerant of this practice than adults, but I have also known teens to sit at their computer and hit the same set of buttons repeatedly while they are engaging in other tasks, such as reading.  Somehow, this mechanic needs to be adjusted, which should also help Blizzard solve the problem of the gold farmers.

Most of the end game content is equally repetitive.  The raids and instances, which are challenging group combat events, offer nothing new after a few attempts.  Working with a group to succeed in them is a useful lesson in group cooperation and preparation, but after a few runs they are either boring or extremely frustrating (you can fail after hours of work just because someone’s computer connection lagged at the wrong time).  This is likely to be true of any game in the genre, however.

WoW’s portrayal of gender differences really is quite annoying.  I generally was able to ignore this until I started playing the new Star Wars MMOG and was given the opportunity to customize body types.  Combined with clothing in Star Wars that is not clingy and revealing (Jedi Knights can wear loose robes), the ability to lessen the stereotypical portrayal of females as wasp-waisted, big-breasted Barbie doll clones was highly refreshing and enticing.  While I have had many good conversations about the the need for critical reflection of racial and gender stereotypes in the media in response to the portrayal of women in WoW, I welcome the opportunity to vote with my money and pick a game that offers some alternatives.  Of course, I remain interested in how WoW designers plan to draw female pandas in the game …

WoW’s allusions to different ethnic or racial groups really is hard to accept let alone defend.  Portraying the Native Americans of the plains as bipedal cattle still has me shaking my head after all these years.  While this does start a good conversation about racial stereotypes in the media, it is really difficult to sell the good points of multiplayer online games for teaching and learning when, unfortunately, most people only know about this one game and judge the rest in light of it.

Finally, for reasons that have nothing to do with World of Warcraft, many long-time player friends are moving on, including my family.  Kids have grown up and moved on to other things, and my dear ol’ hubby has decided that he’s lost too many hours to online gaming.  While a few friends (such as the Terror Nova guild) are still rocking and rolling on the new newest expansion, I’ve become interested in a host of other games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Skyrim, and Minecraft.  I’m particularly looking for games that offer something different but still rich and engaging.  Minecraft, for instance, is growing at a pace to challenge WoW – which is amazing for a game that does not rely upon combat as its sole game mechanic.