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DiscussionJun 1, 2018 8:00 am CT

Warcraft is nihilism incarnate, the Matrix made reality, and an impossible game to win

While WoW is at its between times in terms of content, that lull after the last major patch and the beginning of the next expansion’s festivities, I’ve been doing what I typically do: turn to other games and play through the massive collection I’ve acquired. In all of these games, I usually beat them.

Let’s take two examples: Mass Effect Andromeda, and Assassin’s Creed Origins. Two games that I’ve had fun with, and two that are relatively open world and RPG-based. Both have main stories that end. You finish the plots, kill the bad guys, and can more or less leave the game then. Sure, there’s side quests to do and arcane achievements to get, but it’s not like there’s another 60 hours of gameplay hidden in the system someplace.

Enter WoW. In a lot of ways Warcraft has become like these games; there’s a main plot line, a bunch of side quests you can do, but at some point (like now) you can stop playing and feel that you’ve finished the expansion. But is this really beating the game? Did you really win?

One thing that WoW does is make the concept of winning a moving target. This is something that I think many of us have always known, but only recently has it actually occurred to me how troublesome this actually is. In order for anyone to feel a sense of accomplishment, to complete a project — be it a work project, home project, or video game project (read: achievements), there has to be goal posts setup that you reach. Without reaching those you’re lacking a definitive ending; the definition of done never happens. For those that might be in tech, if this sounds very agile-y to you, you’re not off base.

WoW, through its very nature as a popular game with continual updates and improvements, doesn’t ever stop to congratulate you at winning the game. You don’t get the final gym badge, the last shot of the title screen, or save the princess from the dinosaur at the end of the level (sidenote: The 1990s Mario Brothers movie is in my top 10 movies, go watch it and enjoy). What you get is a return to the front of the instance, the battle still raging on, and a view of things you don’t have — gear, mounts, achievements, pets, etc… the list goes on.

Soon, whether you realize it or not, the goal posts have moved. The game, even though you just defeated the Lich King (or pick-a-boss), isn’t over. You need to do more. The definition of “you’re done” changes on a moment’s notice. There’s always something else.

So what does winning WoW actually look like?

Some might argue that winning is achieving whatever goals you set for yourself, and for those that can accomplish that I applaud them. I’ve tried that too, but I keep seeing new things I want and those achievements keep changing and growing.

Others might argue that this is a stupid esoteric argument that has really been answered by a bunch of epistemological debate for the past few hundred years in our quest to understand what knowing truth actually is; and therefore knowing what winning is becomes inherently as disconnected as knowing what our true being or self is. Nihilism is alive and well in WoW, and our characters and our virtual selves (who are but a shadow on the wall of our own constructed reality) are on a constant and meaningless quest towards an objective that is never obtainable and doesn’t really exist. The simulacra and the world of Warcraft and of the real win are an illusion perpetuated by a matrix of code and false narratives of choice; I don’t actually see the women in the red dress, just a bunch of ones and zeroes leading towards illusion of choice of ignoring her (or achievements) when the architect has really just coded everything you’re doing with extreme manipulation.

Take the red pill, Neo dear reader. For the blue pill will just lead you down the path the game designers want.

Actually screw it, spending time in WoW is better than the desert of the real anyways. Battle for Azeroth, here I come.

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