The Warcraft Civilization
World of Warcraft is more than a game. There is no ultimate goal, no winning hand, no princess to be rescued. WoW contains more than 5,000 possible quests, games within the game, and encompasses hundreds of separate parallel realms (computer servers, each of which can handle 4,000 players simultaneously). WoW is an immersive virtual world in which characters must cope in a dangerous environment, assume identities, struggle to understand and communicate, learn to use technology, and compete for dwindling resources. Beyond the fantasy and science fiction details, as many have noted, it's not entirely unlike today's world. In The Warcraft Civilization, sociologist William Sims Bainbridge goes further, arguing that WoW can be seen not only as an allegory of today but also as a virtual prototype of tomorrow, of a real human future in which tribe-like groups will engage in combat over declining natural resources, build temporary alliances on the basis of mutual self-interest, and seek a set of values that transcend the need for war.
Bainbridge explored the complex Warcraft universe firsthand, spending more than 2,300 hours there, deploying twenty-two characters of all ten races, all ten classes, and numerous professions. Each chapter begins with one character's narrative, then goes on to explore a major social issue—such as religion, learning, cooperation, economy, or identity—through the lens of that character's experience.
What makes WoW an especially good place to look for insights about Western civilization, Bainbridge says, is that it bridges past and future. It is founded on Western cultural tradition, yet aimed toward the virtual worlds we could create in times to come.
About the Author
William Sims Bainbridge is a prolific and influential sociologist who has worked in both academia and government, currently as Director of the Human-Centered Computing program at the National Science Foundation. He has published three other books about gameworlds: Online Multiplayer Games, The Virtual Future: Science-Fiction Gameworlds, and eGods: Fantasy Versus Faith.
"World of Warcraft will eventually be recognized as a signature artistic, technological, and sociological achievement of our time. Bainbridge provides the best analysis to date of the way WoW and similar new media forms, with their millions and millions of users, are reshaping central aspects of our culture: groups, religion, economy, education, and more."
Edward Castronova, Professor of Telecommunications, Indiana University, author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games