When I was about twelve years old, my middle school would host semi-regular LAN parties in the computer room. Kids would hang around the school for to play Warcraft II, facing off against each other in the virtual realm and fighting endless battles against kids across the entire social spectrum. A decade later, I took a course on virtual worlds at my university and attended mandatory game sessions in World of Warcraft in the department’s computer lounge. While it didn’t have the same degree of competition – we were there to learn the social structure of the environment, not level our characters – there was still a communal aspect to the playing that I came to look forward to.
Even in college, though, I wouldn’t have expected someone to come along and try and take Warcraft — especially in its most recent iteration as a Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game behemoth – into an event film, and yet, here we are, and it’s looking pretty good indeed.
After Moon and Source Code, most people have come to give Duncan Jones a large degree of credit as a filmmaker. People who wouldn’t normally be interested in a movie like this will see it anyways to support an artist they admire, and that’s great. But the trailer, while showing off the visuals, doesn’t do justice to the depth of the source material. If you’ve spent time in any virtual world – especially one as big as World of Warcraft – you know that there are countless stories and backstories and legends for writers to flesh out. People who think that video games make for bad narratives have never played a game like Skyrim, where you could be bogged down for days by just simply reading through all books on the shelves of people’s homes.
The best video games are world-building in the truest sense, and in that regard, Jones and his team had no shortage of material to work with. If the trailer makes the story look a little bit like Avatar — straight down to the quality of the computer-animated characters – then we’d probably do better to treat that as a creative decision, not as evidence that the industry is intellectually bankrupt.
It’s a little weird, though, to think of Warcraft as being removed from those same computer lab experiences. If Duncan Jones were to accurately recreate our experience with the franchise, he’d probably invite us over to his house, charge us a dollar-per-slice for pizza, and watch over our shoulder as we enjoyed his movie. It may not be cost-effective, but I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy it just as much.