The other week, I asked you all if you thought World of Warcraft was a game, based on this (admittedly very specific) definition of a game:

“A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” – Sulen and Zimmerman

My first instinct was to say yes, WoW is a game. Then I realized something. While WoW attempts to set you up, right from the start, in this artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome, you don’t have to do what they’re telling you to do.

When you start a character, you are placed in the starting zone and you are right next to a quest-giver. (Bear with me, I’ll be speaking primarily of the human starting zone.)

The developers (and common sense, really) expect you to interact with the quest-giver and complete the quest. Right off the bat, there’s the artificial conflict — you need to go kill wolves in Northshire, for example. As soon as you accept a quest, you are thrust into the artificial conflict. That initial human quest (as all others, I would imagine) immediately pits you against the environment and NPC mobs (wolves or what-have-you) in that environment.

Once you accept the quest, you have three options:

1) Complete the quest (quantifiable outcome — experience, quest rewards)
2) Drop the quest (quantifiable outcome — the lack of gaining experience, quest rewards)
3) Ignore the quest (quantifiable outcome — the lack of gaining experience, quest rewards)

All of that, however, hinges on actually picking up the quest.

If you don’t pick up the quest, there’s no immediate conflict. Nothing in the starting area will aggro on to you. You can essentially run around with impunity until you leave the Northshire gates and enter Elwynn Forest.

When you enter Elwynn Forest, you will encounter NPCs that are, for the first time, hostile to you and will attack you upon sight. This is a conflict and it’s defined by rules. The rules are simple: defend yourself with attacks until either you or the NPC dies or run away, knowing that the NPC is limited to a small area and will almost certainly not run away themselves. The quantifiable outcome is either victory (you lived and killed the NPC), defeat (you died because the NPC killed you), or a stalemate (you ran away and both of you lived).

My argument is that WoW itself is not a game. WoW does not inherently force you to engage in any of its sub-games, such as questing or exploring, PVPing or raiding, dungeoning or crafting, gathering or levelling.

Having said that, I believe that WoW is host to many, many games. Everything that can grant you experience, gold, achievements or feats of strength is a game. Anything that puts your character in danger of death is another game. Healing is a huge game with many sub-games, such as tank healing, raid healing, cooldown use, mana management, as well as the various encounter mechanics. (I’m not even going to touch on PVP healing!)

It might be splitting hairs to some, but I feel strongly that WoW is not a game on its own. It is a system that hosts a plethora of games. Most of those games, like healing, have sub-games within them.

However, I feel that WoW is more than just a system. It is definitely a system, but it also comprises all the social interaction that comes with an MMO. While there can be arguments made that “the social game” is a game, I think that the social part of things is less of a game, from the definition I gave, and more of a tool that can either help or hinder you in your game-related goals.

Following instructions in a raid setting will help your team defeat the encounter (assuming a competent raid leader) while not paying attention to instructions will likely end up killing you or others in your group. As such, the game of raiding within WoW relies heavily on communication and cooperation between raid members to emerge victorious after an encounter attempt. This is, of course, very different from the “socialness” of Trade Chat.

Is Trade Chat’s “socialness” a game? Again, I would argue not. It is merely a tool to help you to know who to avoid teaming up with, or that some people may be seeking others to help them with a dungeon or raid. Perhaps people playing the Auction House game (I do believe that’s a game) use Trade Chat to announce their auctions. Chat is a tool, not a game in and of itself. And chat belongs to the system that is WoW.

Essentially, while I do call World of Warcrat a game for simplicity’s sake, there are really just a multitude of games that WoW hosts and those are the games about which we are passionate.