Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Merely WoW

Every so often a common phrase or a concept enters my life and drives me batty. A few years ago “think out side the box” was a bugaboo for me. I detested that phrase and every time I heard it I wanted to punch someone in the face, and I am not a violent person. It was a phrase that covered up a distinct lack of thinking. I never was in a box thank you very much. But it was like an ill-chosen Christmas gift; a mantra regifted time and time again because in truth no one wants it but everyone is convinced someone else does.

Of all the trite phrases used in the World of Warcraft, the one that annoys me the most is the claim that “it’s just a game.” Every time some cries, or complains, or expresses any unhappiness at all about the game for any reason, someone inevitably hauls it out: “It’s just a game.” As if that explains everything. Sometimes it’s even hauled out to smack someone over the head with if they appear too enthusiastic about said game. It’s as if there is some subtle or unspoken rule that because something is a game, people can’t care, or be passionate, or spend a lot of time and energy on it. And if people do, whatever they have to say is wrong based upon that fact alone.


If you think about it it’s really quite bizarre. Here in America, many of our sports have become year-around pastimes. The coverage of professional sports such as the National Football league is covered in the type of minute detail 24/7/365 that Wow Insider or Wowhead could only fantasize about. I know people involved in fantasy baseball who schedule their family vacations at spring training locations so they can scope out the upcoming players for their company’s league draft in person. Some people spend significant portions of their entire lives involved in such games from the moment they enter little league as a five year old to the time leave senior softball at age 70. Yet never have I heard anyone ever criticize any of these people with the claim that baseball or football (American or European) is “just a game.”


As annoyed as I get at the people who use the phrase “it’s just a game” in an attempt to trivialize other people’s values, I get equally frustrated with the people who capitulate to it. It’s as if there is an unspoken guilt or embarrassment about doing something that others perceive as inconsequential. Who cares what they think. If some people think WoW is just a game, then they simply have no place in the conversation; we should not stand around while people demean us. No serious NFL or Euro Cup fan would allow their pastime to be dismissed so cavalierly. Why should we.


WoW is a game but it’s not just a game. It’s not just a game to Blizzard which is making a mint. It’s not just a game to hundreds of employees who are spending substantial portions of their careers designing, developing, implementing, and maintaining the game. And as the huge outcry over the Martin Fury debacle showed, it’s not just a game to millions of players; it serious business.


Sometimes I think that what the WoW community needs more than anything else is a group of cheerleaders. Some hot gals and guys on the sideline yelling “go team go!” Maybe that will make us feel better about ourselves. Maybe it will stop the angst. If you perceive the need to justify the time or energy or passion you spend on WoW to yourself or to your closest loved ones, fine. But you don’t need to justify it to anyone else. Because truthfully no one else cares. They are too busy checking the latest sports score, wondering who is cheating on who in the soap operas, and reading all about Madonna’s latest adoption.

27 comments:

Stepford Mom said...

I've learned a nifty response to that "just a game" thing.... "yes it is just a game, but some of us play to win."

Hatch said...

Thank you for putting this into words. "It's just a game" is an infuriating catch-all for anyone who wants you to give up on something.

Every time I hear "it's just a game," you know who it's from?

-The kid who just ninja'd a drop you'd been waiting for. He thinks you shouldn't care so much, though it matters enough to him to have ninja'd it...I thought it was just a game?

-Someone causing drama. I've had someone I thought was a close real friend stab me in the back completely, but because I knew him through a guild, he thought "well it's just a game" was a good rationalization. Right, I never made friends with my high school football teammates, either, you jackass.

-Basically any time I want something changed and someone else disagrees with me, rather than try to debate it, many will say "it's just a game" to try to shame me for caring about something.

So yeah, I am 100% behind you on this one Larisa. :)

Leah said...

"adds some coopers to a Jar. I like this new bartender you have, Larisa :)

Sprink said...

(general 'you' in usage here)

Sure, it's just a game. And your job is just a job. And you family is just your family. It all depends on where you put your priorities. If you feel the game is important to you, great! I'm geeked that there's something you can be passionate about! If you're not passionate about it, but about something else, that's great too!

Long story longer, if something's important enough to you to get you riled up about it, there's nothing wrong with that. And if anyone doesn't like it... they don't have to listen. Unless, of course, I can respond to their riling up about my passion for the game with the Virtues of Sephiroth for the 23,000th time. ^_^

Klepsacovic said...

"It's just a game" is the universal lame defense for people who worsen it for those around them.
Bad players? It's just a game.
Ninjas? It's just a game.
I wrote tangentially about this a few weeks back, but you said it much better. Still, I like my analogy of running into a basketball game, trash talking, and then stabbing the ball. It's just a game!

It's not just restricted to WoW. Growing up I was constantly frustrated at my parents for referring to my legos as toys. They're not toys! They're my creations, the expression of my imagination and a lot of time.

People have a terrible tendency to trivialize that which they do not understand.

Kel said...

Nice post! Thanks:)

I wonder why they say it's "just" a game. So what if it's a game? That just means it's something we do not because we have to but because we enjoy it. To me that's even the more reason to respect the time of others inside the game. It's in games that we get to distance ourselves from our worries at work etc, and to loose ourselves in something we really enjoy. Saying "just work" could be just as meaningful, if your only purpose there is to earn money so you can enjoy yourself elsewhere.

Kel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jederus said...

We just discussed the 'It's just a game' comment in our feature on greifing about a week ago. We agree with you, it's a BS response:

http://wowenomics.wordpress.com/2009/05/06/on-griefing/

Fitz said...

I like the new bartender too.

Another round of your finest, please!

Kromus said...

Its not just a game..for some people its a hobby- a lifestyle- a temple. A place to express things they cannot express in real-life due to everyday opression society faces us with- it still happens.

In black and white WoW is a "game", but like your post Fantastically pointed out, so is football, baseball, etc. Great, so 40 year old men screaming and fighting with 40 year old men is childish, i think it is.

But i would rather be socially and discussionly active then come out with retarded quotes such as "its just a game".

Azyu said...

Good post, agree 100%

Elnia said...

@Hatch and others. It's interesting that several people brought up the griefing angle because it honestly never occurred to me. I see very very little griefing on my RP server; I think I have seen people ninja loot twice in all my time in game.

@Klepsacovic. I like your analogy too.

@Kromus. I often think to myself, what part of "fantasy football" don't people get. Why is your fantasy game OK but mine not. It's just weird to me.

Belghast said...

Larisa.... we are the cheerleaders :) Gratz :P

Fish said...

Yeah, I agree with you completely about "outside the box". In my industry, things are either by the rules or not, and we generally avoid the grey area because not by the rules involves penalties.

The phrase "it's only a game" seems to preclude any advancement in any leisure endeavor. Why practice skating when I could do something else, it's only a game. Why practice guitar when it gets hard, its only a hobby. It seems to suggest that activities which don't relate to our livelyhood are lessened in importance.

Larísa said...

@Hatch and others who may not have noticed it: Larísa didn't write this post. My bartender Elnia did. And he is indeed a very good writer and I agree with what he writes. But he's the one to be credited, not me.

Bristal said...

"It's just a game" really only applies from outside the game. Your wife/mother/friend doesn't understand why you can't go out because you signed up for a raid. But, "it's just a game" they say. And that may or may not be valid. It's one of those things only you can decide if you're consistently valuing a game more than RL. But it certainly is no different than someone who prefers to stay in and watch movies/TV/Football or read a book they're hooked on.

But someone in-game justifying griefing or any other antisocial behavior by "get over it, it's just a game"? That's supremely hypocritical. Playing in that manner debases yourself and truly transcends the point of the game to compete and/or cooperate with other people in a virtual playing field in real time. It brings all the worst of RL into my fantasy game, and makes it much more than "just a game".

Cathy said...

Flog me now! Yes I am guilty as charged for using that phrase "its just a game". Even though I know its much more I have used that phrase I guess out of a bad habit.

We all know (those using the phrase and not) that it is so much more. It seems I use it when friends want to take a break from playing and are feeling a little guilty about leaving etc. I know its not a great way to put it. I should just say I'm here for ya whether you are in the game or not.

I commit now to never use the phrase again hehehe Thank you for the intervention:)

Shy said...

Yes, it is, it's just a game. Sometimes.

I have a number of things in my life that go before the game.

Family, boyfriend, friends, work, my cats..compared to these..it's just a game.

There are also things in my life that definitely go after wow, or sometimes that I can combine with wow.

If one of those things tries to tell me that it's 'just a game' I would probably bop them on the head.

I think all in all each of us has to find their own balance between 'it's just a game' and 'I live and breathe wow'.

And to react to Stepford Mom:
Is there any sense in doing anything in life with the intend to lose then? (Unless you're bribed maybe? but maybe then losing = winning?)

Carra said...

"It's just a game" is used to put things in the right context. So you wiped an entire evening and are frustrated. It's just a game. Your house didn't burn down, you didn't loose your job, your family didn't die. Compared to any of these, nothing serious happened.

That doesn't mean you can't care about it, just that well, it is just a game. I think the same about sports, if you loose: it's just a game. It only gets serious when it's your job to play football or baseball. Then it stops being a game as those things of real importance are on the line.

Eaten by a Grue said...

Hey guys, it's just a phrase. Don't get your panties in a bunch.

Elnia said...

@shy and @Carra. But that's just the point. Different people have different values; they see things in different contexts. The problem is that "it's just a game" is used to demean other's values. There is nothing wrong with ranking values or having a different perspective, but I think there is something wrong with trying to force your ranking or context onto other people.

When someone says "it's just a game to me", I'm cool. When someone says that it's just a game to me therefore it should be just a game to you, I'm not cool.

Birdfall said...

It's like when "no u" is used to end an argument. It's supposed to be an argument ender -- there's no real comeback besides frustration.

Hatch said...

Props to Elnia! Sorry I missed your byline. :)

Hatch said...

Carra also makes a good point that "it's just a game" is a useful phrase when you are angry about wiping in a raid or losing in a BG. No need to stomp or yell or lash out, even though it's OK to care about them. It's something good to remember from time to time (or, when I'm doing arenas, ALL THE TIME). :)

But I've also had some bad experiences where the phrase was used maliciously and disingenuously, and that colored my reading and made me assume that was what Elnia was talking about.

Shy said...

@Elnia I guess I expressed myself a bit awkwardly. Yes, I use the phrase for myself. Often to remind myself of what is important to me.

If someone else uses it to tell me that I should get over it...bad idea.

In the end, no matter what the words are, respect the people around you in what they like, and that will allow you to do the same, right? :)

Kestrel said...

Now THIS is why I hang my hat at the Pink Pigtail Inn...this kind of discourse and commentary. What a fantastic article, with some absolutely perfect analogies (to reach people on BOTH sides of "the pond"), and some of the most insightful commentary I've seen on a blog post in a long, long time.

Larisa, my compliments to the management: You've brought in a mighty fine barkeep, and you can bet I'll letting Elnia fill my glass often.

Bartender, a pint of your best, please!

Anonymous said...

But, It is just a game.
Though you may have been crying about the NFL and Football about that just being "Just a game as well" its real life as well, Though people may spend hours on world of warcraft and some people thinking its there way of life, being in front of a computer screen watching virtual characters all day, its nothing compared to real life sports and games being outside and staying fit and healthy.. So yes wow is just, and always will be "Just a game"