Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Landscapes of the Heart

I live in the beautiful mountains of New Mexico but the plains are a close ten mile drive away. Typically, spring is the driest part of the year but sometimes we get early monsoonal moisture and the rolling hills turn from blond to green and wildflowers jump up over night. During these times the landscape mimics the well-known Windows XP wallpaper Bliss. Walking undulating paths with daises and Indian paintbrush on either side my heart gives a joyous shout. “Bliss”, a faint voice whispers gently in my ear. “Bliss.” At such moments I realize I could be staring at the image of bliss on a computer screen, drifting away to some imaginary dream world. But I’m not, I’m actually living the metaphor.

A Beautiful World

One of the things that made me fall in love with WoW is its gorgeous scenery. Interestingly, the Night Elf starting area is one of the least visually attractive as far as I am concerned. If I had known better I would have played a Tuaren simply because of the scenery. The first time I saw the Barrens with all the yellows and reds my jaw dropped. I learned later that it was supposed to mimic the savannas of Africa but it could be the view from my window. Here I was, young Druid of Elune, sneaking my way from the shadows into the light. Excited with adventure, eagerly perusing the quest for water form. Oh Westfall, land of men, overrun by the evil Defias. Still now my heart does flip-flops thinking of your billowing cliffs, your waving fields of gain, your beaches stretching forever.

There are two things I never did before the age of 20. The first one was that I never read Lord of the Rings and the second was that I never saw the ocean. These are deeply connected. I never read LOTR because I had read something else by Tolkien as a tween and I didn’t like it; I was convinced Frodo and crew were nothing but over-hyped pap. To me, real fantasy meant Ursula Le Guin and Stephen Donaldson. The sea itself was 1500 miles in any direction. Books, yes I had seen pictures in books. But seen the sea, touched the sea, tasted the sea, lived the sea. No, I couldn’t imagine.

To this day I remember the shock. I think it was at that moment in time that I first accepted evolution as true. An aching and distant voice that I could never quite catch before rushed upon the ship of soul and crashed it in a massive tidal wave. “Home” it shrieked. Home HOme HOME. A wailing banshee tearing me apart, tossing up my losses, shredding the sails of my inhibitions. I sat down in the sand, burst into tears.

Legolas would have understood. Many years later when I finally read the entire series this was the part that resonated with me most. “If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore/Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more." No truer words were ever spoken. I can live in the forest but the ache for the sea is a distant restless thunder.

Evening server time has become a special time for me. I was swimming once around Ranazjar Isle mining Mithril ore and entirely by accident I popped up on the island as the sun was setting. Hypnotized, I stared as the sun set with the Naga swimming around in the sea. For the first time the world seemed real to me. Here was where I belonged, at the sea. Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for one of those Naga to come up and whack me, bringing me back to my senses. But a love affair was born. Even today I will come to Ranazjar Isle just to watch the sun set and the Naga swim. It’s my sea fix.

Imagination Vacation

I have come to think of the World of Warcraft as a imagination vacation. There I can let my dreams soar, absorb myself in a world of magic and mystery. In a way that’s hard to put into words I mix memory and fantasy to create a world that’s even more vivid than the pictures on the screen make it. The poet Richard Lovelace wrote more than 450 years ago:

Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage.

There is a sense in which Warcraft is a hermitage driving the imagination onward, inward. Brick upon brick creating buildings to populate the landscapes of the heart. I think it’s something Thomas a Kempis would have understood. There is what’s in the game design; there is what we bring to the game. Both are important. Both are necessary for balance.

This is why I enjoy role playing and even watching other people role play. It brings the game and the server alive in a way that a quest from an NPC can never do. It’s like discovering a pattern in the stars. And then realizing there are no patterns in the stars, just patterns our minds supply. Orion, the Drinking Gourd, the Seven Sisters only exist in the ephemerality of conventionality. Gazing up at the stars at night, we can connect the dots in whatever image we choose, whatever way that brings meaning to our game.

Mark Sanford

The press says that the current Governor of South Carolina has become an international embarrassment because of his globe trotting love affair. I doubt that’s true only because I know that people outside of America aren’t as fascinated with America as Americans think they are. And unlike the apparent majority of people here I don’t think he’s an embarrassment, at least not a total one. I don’t condone martial infidelity. But there’s something about falling in love that captures the imagination. It takes genuine courage to risk family, fame, fortune just to hear the tap tap tap of a lover’s heart. One has to be driven by some primary hunger to fly 4000 miles just to connect the dot. For there is nothing to love but the imagination; it exists nowhere else. If this Argentinean woman truly is his soul-mate that’s a discovery that should not be slighted by anyone. That indeed is a prize upon which to risk it all.

Poets say that love rules the world; psychologists say love is all in the mind. I think that both are true; that our minds create images of love, to love, for love in this material world in a vast and never ending game of connect the dots. It’s how we make sense of the senseless. To us the stars are pixels; to God every mind is a pixel. What draws these pixels together is love. Nothing but love.

So I sit here on the tor of Ethel Rethor and watch the sun dip into the sea. I think of the landscapes that I have seen: the frozen tundra of Borean, the vivid jungle of Stranglethorn Vale, the cool lake of Loch Modan. Staring at the monitor I think I can see each pixel; each pixel a beating heart. What connects it all together is love; a love whose product is light. It bathes my face.


Lantana said...

We must be on the same wavelength, Elnia. I was just posting on my blog (WowMusings) about the amazing visuals as well.

The way they evoke my memories of books, of landscapes I've seen (one *really* looks like Colorado in the winter....), of amazing, alien imaginings.... I sometimes do just have to stop and say.... wow.

Zupa said...

That was a beautiful post, thank you!

Klepsacovic said...

The nelf areas aren't pretty as much as dark and depressing. The belf areas are beautiful in the way of a fake model's photoshopped picture; so perfect it's almost ugly.

I doubt the governor is any more of an embarrassment than our former President Clinton or the Italian politian whose name I forget. Perhaps it's just the cycle of history, it wasn't so long ago that he called out Clinton for his infidelities and make a big deal of it.

You never really understand your enemy until you become him, then you wish you hadn't already shot him.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wish I had a more whizbang graphics card and monitor...

Still, I do get great pleasure out of the landscape, and the sea areas are some of my favorites...

I took a shot the other day surrounded by penguins, lighthouse in the background... perfect.

It's just a shame that 99% of my playtime occurs after the sun goes down...

Wish we had nocturnal mobs vs. daylight mobs... I know fish work this way around in WoW... then again, I would miss out on 50% of the action

Draxi said...

Thank you for that!

(BTW governor whatshisname is not really international, this side of the pond we have Sarkozy and Berlusconi we don't need more scandals thank you.)

Anonymous said...

Now Hellfire Peninsula is beautiful, possibly my favourite place in the entire game. Maybe because where I live I'm five minutes away from miles of grass.

Beautiful post though

tDv said...

very nice post.
i think that almost everyone of us has stopped to watch the scenary in wow. The artists made a great job also because it doesnt uses a lot of definition, but I think all vanilla areas have something special (I loved Mulgore, Barrens, Tanaris and Wintergrasp) something i couldnt feel with the expansions.

Anyway I'm just curious: have anyone ever felt the same feeling with another game? Stopped looking at the landscape?
I did several times but only with 1 game: Morrowind. I still think that this game have the more stunning landscapes of all games I've ever seen (and I started playing with a vic-20 a lot of years ago).

Anonymous said...

Oh my God, you quoted Richard Lovelace. You win at everything.

This is a beautiful post, by the way.

Imagination-vacation is a wonderful way of looking at WoW.

Carra said...

Never heard of that governor. As has been said, we have Berlusconi to give us some scandals. For me, politicians can do whatever the hell they like in their private time. And if the people don't like it they can just not vote on them. I don't get the over puritan stance of Americans. But I neither get how anyone can doubt evolution.

WoW is indeed incredibly beautiful. And it's not because they have more polygons or super technologies. The game is ancient by game terms but it still manages to look great. It's a very stylized world. Remarkable how beautful a world they can create while keeping the pc requirements to the rock bottom.

Zaph said...

I've read WoW blogs that are instructional, conversational, angry, happy, funny, and even inspirational. Never had I read a WoW post that I would call poetic. Until I read yours. Your words have the power to pull things from out of people, just as WoW does on some level.

Elnia said...

@zupa, draxi and others. I'm glad you liked it.

@Lantana, @Carra. I agree. It reminds me a little of Apple. Apple's products sell well not because they are the most powerful in technological terms but because they are the best designed in human terms.

SolidState said...

Very poetic post Elnia, well done :)

Firespirit said...

Wow Elnia!

The passion for which those words came from, is what I think that most non-WoW players don't understand.

Elnia: You are a gentleman (or gentlelady :) ) and a scholar, Well read, and supremely well spoken.

Jong said...


Fitz said...

To say that this post was "deep" would be an understatement. I don't know about proving evolution by any means (after all, it's comforting to think that everything's been designed with care like the world of Azeroth), but you's truly something special to see the ocean for the first time for people in the middle of America. I completely understand your sentiment, and obviously Tolkein did as well with the line from LOTR.

If you haven't been awestruck at some point with the beauty in Azeroth, then you just need to relax a bit and stop spending all your time in Dalaran and Ulduar/Naxx!

We Fly Spitfires said...

Whilst I wouldn't say WoW had stunning scenery (at least not in the original continents), it is very varied and flows quite naturally. I have to agree that stunning horizons are a wonderous thing to behold in MMORPGs as they really make you feel like you're existing in a virtual world.

One of the best games for it actually was Vanguard. The first time I saw Khal I was blown away.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you flying Spitfires.

Looking at flattened flowers apparantly bulldozed on the ground is not my idea of bliss. Anyone really interested in beautiful scenery should really give VG a try. Simply hire a flying mounbt and be taken away by the landscapes, the changing sky, the cloud formations etc in a zonefree world.

Elnia said...

Well guys, let me just say it's beautiful compared to the games I played before. Vanguard I have never played. I'll take your word for it.

I am pleased people enjoyed this post.

Ziboo said...

Well written wow!

Azeroth is beautifully done in so many zones and have screen shots to prove it - lol! Wow junkie that I am screen savers on two pcs - view of Loch Modan at night and Lorderon Lake at night - love the moon reflected water, etc.

As for the ocean - even growing up in CA (inland right now), something about the vastness and magnitude of it does grip you.

In all honesty though I think most MMO's have come a long way with the graphics - LoTRO, EQ2, AoC, WAR are all visually beautiful games too.

Great post - already sent it to friends!

Kevin W. Thornton said...

I've enjoyed the Inn for several months, and I had never realized you were in New Mexico as well. It sounds like you are north of me as I'm in Albuquerque.

I agree with you about the ocean and the views. I've lived all over the place, and I love New Mexico, but there is nothing like the view and the smell of the ocean.