The Winner Takes it All, or Collecting Things in MMO’s

A lot of social media space this week on my feed has been taken up by a Moose. This Warcraft Mount was going to be purchasable at some point before Legion. Instead the designers have decided that actually, this is too good an opportunity to pass up. So, as of Patch 6.2.3 that launched this week? You can only get one by defeating the End Boss of the Expansion on the two hardest Instance difficulties, Heroic and Mythic. The playerbase’s reaction to this has been nothing short of revelatory: groups of people offering to help the less geared and qualified with runs under the Twitter hashtag of #FriendshipMoose. Players who hadn’t even played organised content weeks ago are now touting Heroic Achievements and a new found sense of belonging. However, for some of us, this whole sequence of events is nothing new. There’s been Meta Achievements in game since Wrath of the Lich King whose rewards you can still gain. Blizzard now take the mounts away from Instances at the start of each new Expansion to maintain the ‘unique’ nature of the achievement. However, what people don’t realise is that it isn’t the pixels they collect to begin with. The ‘reward’ isn’t what you gain from defeating Archimonde, it’s what you find within yourselves that matters more. You’re not passing over money for a plush or a badge, this is simply a virtual nod to the time you took to go to Hellfire Citadel and make an effort.

So, why does anyone bother collecting anything virtual to begin with? If you have no real proof of your efforts, if there’s nothing to sell in X years or to leave to your grand-kids… really, what’s the point? A lot of this is tribal, of course, that for a new generation of players it’s just the same as sticking a band poster on a wall or sewing patches onto your jacket. Wanting to belong is a vital part of human behaviour, as is being able to use what you collect as a means of showing your worth. Every Moose that appears in my timeline (and trust me, there are many) is a sign that players have ‘completed’ one of the most poorly-received Expansions in Warcraft’s history. This is undoubtedly a good thing for a company who lost 40% of their sub base in 12 months over their inability to make compelling content. Suddenly, everyone’s in the one bit of the whole package nobody really had any complaints about: raiding. Maybe more of these people will raid come Legion: that has to be Blizzard’s hope as a result of the exercise.

More importantly, the Moose has now become a status symbol. This has always been the way, right back to the days when people would stick the most hard to find or difficult to farm mounts on mailboxes. NPC’s are still camped in this way, to make other people’s lives difficult whilst showing perceived superiority. The Internet remains a playground, when all is said and done. Having your Moose and showing it to others is a clear and obvious symbol to other players that you completed the hardest portion of Group Content. Now, this is where the black and white becomes very grey, because there is no real way in which to tell whether that person gained that kill by working themselves, or if they were carried… or indeed if they paid for the privilege to begin with. For many players, of course, it doesn’t matter, they just want the Moose. Frankly, as the last time I looked there was no right way to play Warcraft, and so that means what people do with their time and money is entirely up to them.

Here’s where I get a bit sad, because I’ve always wanted a Moose. Oddly, I wouldn’t have had any issue with buying one but I do have an objection to getting anybody else to help me do this. I’ve spent a while trying to work out why this is, and I think now can provide a suitable explanation. It’s the same reason why, when Blizzard sent me a 10th Anniversary Statue last year I ended up giving it away on my Blog to somebody who actually wanted it more. This person appreciated what it was to them in a manner that was far more significant than my outlook: I didn’t need it as thank you. I thought I wanted a Moose, like I’ve decided over the years a lot of things mattered when they didn’t. When I take a step back, this remain only pixels. What matters more is the people who were there when I used those pixels for the first time.

To obtain my horns, I would literally have to rely on virtual strangers to make the journey. I know already how much people will do for others: I see their generosity and thoughtfulness every day. I don’t need a mount in a computer game to remind me of this: my appreciation now comes in other ways. The people on Twitter who check I’m okay when I’m down. My friends who read my fiction before I stick it on my Website. The people who will defend my right to often be controversial about Blizzard when it is warranted. Once upon a time the memories I made in game would be cemented with the places I visited. They would be defined by the Bosses that died and the Adventures I undertook.

Now, I get those pleasures from writing about the game more than I do playing it. And here’s where my general MMO point can be made: anything in a game can become a catalyst for a collection of good memories. It’s like those days in my early 20’s playing Sim City all night, then going into work having slept for two hours on the sofa. I don’t remember the details, only the experience, and in the end that’s what the Moose will end up being for so many. It isn’t about being good, it’s simply about being there. For so many people in the modern world, the fact you took part in something matters far more than anything else. For those who want the Moose? It brings an end to a troubled chapter in Warcraft’s history they will remember for the Community reaction and not the content.

That’s a sentiment I have no trouble applauding, and so I do.

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