On the Strange Isolation of Abandoned Cities—In World of Warcraft

Drawing heavily on comparisons to the booms and busts of American cities, a writer describes the perfectly-preserved, abandoned, virtual cities of the popular online game World of Warcraft.
May 1, 2014, 8am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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"America has seen plenty of cities rapidly grow and fade. From the boom towns of the Gold Rush to Detroit’s rise and fall alongside the country’s auto industry, the narrative is the same: People are drawn where they think they can make their fortune. When the money and jobs dry up, some stay out of attachment—they want to see their home rise again. And many have nowhere else to go. But on the large scale, populations move to wherever the next city of opportunity happens to be," writes Samantha Nelson.

The process of boom and bust has played out repeatedly in the "massively multiplayer online" game of World of Warcraft. Because of the game's now long history (first launched in 2004, the game has had a number of expansions and new cities added to its online universe), some of the cities created for the game have since been abandoned as the games many players have moved on to new locations to fill new needs and find new adventures.

Nelson, however, likes to visit she describes the experience of wondering the abandoned virtual places in the game as a parallel to experiences of feeling alone in a real city: "In WOW, the context is a quasi-urban one. Playing the game is like being in a city. The first people who moved to cities gave up the self-sufficiency of family farms for the advantages of an urban economy. Likewise, multiplayer games don’t expect you to do everything on your own. Players regularly call on each other for help with quests. They alert friends to the presence of rare monsters. They joke around in the chat. So when you’re alone in WOW, it feels like walking a city’s streets at night. It’s disorienting, isolating, and despite all logic, it can feel a bit unsafe. You’re truly on your own, with no one to give you backup if a fight turns sour."

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Published on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 in AV Club
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