Kreck’s Klosing Down Sale, or Why Games Aren’t So Fun Any More
There’s something reassuringly mediocre about my favourite exploits in World Of Warcraft. I played the game for hundreds of hours, but never became any good at it – I never really understood crafting, never did a raid, never killed a dragon on a big hill (which is the end, right? Just joking – I know it never ends).
My favourite three things about World Of Warcraft are: my Orc shaman Kreck, the time Kreck spent pretending to be a highwayman in the bushes of Duskwood, and his obsessive, inconsequential mastery of the gorilla skin and rough stone markets at the auction houses of Azeroth.
Kreck was a shaman of necessity. Despite pouring days of my life in World Of Warcraft at no point did I want to admit to myself that I was, you know, into it. So I only played with real-life friends – or, to be more accurate, friend. As there were just two of us, we designed characters on the basis that we’d need to function as a pair. Being a shaman meant that Kreck was able to heal a little, and take a decent battering before falling onto his sad-eyed, white-bearded face.
He couldn’t heal as well as a dedicated healer, or soak up hits like a warrior – but that was his lot in life, the journeyman adventurer, the sighing, trying, nearly-guy of non-legend. He was partnered with a Troll rogue called Kanhoji – the sneaky specialist counterpoint to Kreck’s blunt utilitarianism, the disappearing whirl of knives and death that would (hopefully) offset Kreck’s mild usefulness.
And it kinda worked. Kreck’s limited bursts of unspectacular first aid and ability to die quite slowly while being lumped in the face helped Kanhoji to survive while they adventured through the Barrens. And after they worked their way through the game’s baby missions and took their first steps into the contested areas – where enemy human players stood in wait – things started to get interesting.
Around this point Kreck discovered that one thing he could do was turn into a wolf. This was particularly useful to Kreck as a means of running away, as it came during a stage in the game where most enemy players hadn’t yet come into possession of a mount. Also around this time Kreck and Kanhoji’s journey took them to the shadows of Duskwood, a low-level Alliance town linked to a nearby cemetery by a long, narrow road through the woods.
They became highwayman by accident. But it very soon became the thing I liked best about the game. Kanhoji would slip invisibly onto the road and stun the strongest enemy while Kreck charged his most powerful lightning bolt (*damp fizzle*). If it went wrong Hoji would disappear in a puff of smoke, while Kreck would turn into a wolf and sprint for the hills.
We stayed there for ages. It was far more fun than any of the quests the game would have us do. Kreck took to shouting “Stand and deliver!” as he leapt surprisingly but never quite imperiously onto the road, despite the fact it would be rendered unintelligible to the people we were attacking through the game’s language system. We began to buy kit to help us get better at this entirely pointless, unsanctioned robbery – weapons, health potions, rogue dust. And we were sad when we eventually levelled up to the point that killing the humans and dwarves in our cosy murder forest become too easy to be any fun.
Kreck and Kanhoji moved on, though they never really reconnected with the missions and story thread of the game itself. Motivated by highwayman greed, I had by this point worked out how to make a decent low-level profit from Kreck’s workmanlike trades: skinning and mining. In keeping with his unsubtle role in combat (unflinching damage sponge, blunt offensive instrument) Kreck was a orcish hump of primary industry – an unsophisticated tool of digging and tearing.
I knew I could never get rich this way – not proper, craft-a-magical-jockstrap-for-1000G rich. But with big-browed determination, Kreck went further in the hitting-and-gathering business than I ever expected.
It began in Stranglethorn Vale, the jungly forest and cove of beaches you reach if you turn left off the Duskwood road, instead of right to the cemetery. Here Kreck mined deposits of ore – copper and tin, mostly, which he would refine and sell in stacks on the auction house to other players. In the meantime he was also skinning wolves and gorillas, and selling the skins in stacks.
They made small money, these stacks. One or two gold a piece. But then Kreck realised he could sell the coarse and rough stones that were the by-product of his mining, too. At this point he had no idea why – that they were used by the kind of adventurers he’d never be to sharpen weapons during dungeon sieges, and master craftsmen as the simplest ingredients in their fine works. He just saw the numbers and played along.
The thing I liked best about this stretch of the game was developing a larger than life salesman personality for Kreck, which he’d assume as he entered big towns and cities. “Kreck’s Krazy Prices are back!” he’d announce on the city-wide chat channel. “Gorilla skins torn from the wildest beasts in the darkest depths of Strangelthorn Vale by my own hands! Gold ripped from the earth on the fiery plains of the Badlands!” It’s probably important to note that we weren’t playing on a role-playing server, so the response was usually “STFU, Krack” or a barely intelligible coded list of other players’ wares (“58+DPS underpants craft now yr mats need 3+gold eyes +buff 4ice 10fire!”). But Kreck didn’t care. He had a business to run.
Although eventually greed got the better of him. Kreck knew he didn’t have the skills to become truly wealthy. But he began to get tired of the competition on the auction house from other skinners and miners. One day, when a rival skinner undercut his pelt sale by just ten copper, Kreck snapped. He bought his rival’s entire stock of pelts, and relisted them at a higher price than his original sale. And a terrible thing happened – it worked.
Soon Kreck was spending huge amounts of money trying to maintain a tragic monopoly on the least desirable, least profitable markets of Azeroth. He’d buy up huge stacks of stone and ore and place them in his bank vaults until the demand slowed and he had room to list them for auction. And all the while he was still digging and hunting for himself – Kreck was a worker, and it never occured to him that he could have just as easily have tried to manipulate the markets without his own supply of raw material. He was just reaching – overreaching – for a little success.
But supply in the markets of Azeroth is determined by the activity of players. Supply is limited only by player activity – supply was endless. By the time Kreck realised this he’d paid a small orcish fortune to expand his bank vaults to make room for piles and piles of almost worthless stones. It was the perfect financial allegory for Kreck’s rough-hewn life of compromise and unrewarded effort – unblinkingly trading hard-earned gold for a huge collection of meaningless rock.
It’s been years since I played World Of Warcraft. What I miss about it isn’t the grand complex scheme of items and skills and missions, but the room made in the world this kind of non-game gaming. I loved being a highwayman, though it’s word I bet doesn’t turn up in any WoW manual or guide book. I loved trying and failing to be a rough stone magnate, and above all I loved the way these things made me feel about Kreck – the dogged unsung no-mark who once stopped his friend from dying, for a little while.
If there’s a point to all this it’s that I’m currently experiencing some kind of pre-next gen wobble. Constrictions on my time mean I tend play tightly designed single-player games almost exclusively. I thought that fictional VP of Everything Kevin Butler’s comment on Trophies at E3 in 2010 was probably PlayStation 3’s high watermark (“Gaming is staying up until 3 AM to earn a trophy that isn’t real… but is”) but I increasingly find that trophies and achievements leave off-track explorations feeling illegitimate somehow. It’s not that I’m a keen collector, and I see the value in guiding and rewarding players, but they work against the kind of externally meaningless joy to be had from collecting a room full of ears in Fallout 3, or saving up to buy a house without using any magic in Skyrim.
I’ll leave you with this thought. If there was a trophy for each quest completed in World Of Warcraft, I’m not sure Kreck would ever have leapt through the hedges of Duskwood screaming an Adam Ant song that nobody could understand while preparing to be beaten senseless to allow Hoji to cudgel everyone in the back of the head. And that would’ve been sad.