Azeroth as Theatre: The history of digital games… as performance(s)?

10. Mai 2023
Abstract: The preservation and historiography of digital games confronts scholars, institutions, and hobbyists with numerous technical, legal, as well as cultural challenges demanding a variety of sources. Troubles begin with two basic issues: Accessibility and versioning. Games depending on server infrastructures are the most extreme form of this conundrum, as once they are gone, so is the game. Considering how contemporary games, even single player experiences, are distributed, patched and framed by online services, those researching gaming’s past will increasingly encounter digital games as changing entities and temporal events, warranting special approaches. Luckily, game studies already involves itself with a field tackling this very problem – performance studies.

Exposition

With videogames, there is a tension between the relative technological fixity of a finished game and the experiences enabled by the game, which change with every individual interaction. [...] Until traditional institutions create collection development models that include artifacts of participatory culture, the institutional representation of game collections runs the risk of being incomplete or even unreliable.1

It is the night of April 10th, 2016: Heroes of the Alliance and Horde gather in front of their cities of Ironforge and Orgrimmar. Anyone who played World of WarCraft (WoW)2 prior to the introduction of cross-realm play knows the importance of such spots for any server community: Travellers passing by, afk-ing, banter and most importantly, duels. However, these players are gathered for a different purpose: As their avatars “/cry”, they say their goodbyes to each other and express resentment towards the very developer of their game: Blizzard Entertainment.3 The Horde takes it a step further with one final march through the popular zone The Barrens to jump down the cliffs of Thunder Bluff.4 At 23:12:17 CET, the player base of the private server5 Nostalrius - on average counting 13,000 players simultaneously logged in - was thrown back to the login screen of WoW ‘Vanilla’6 for the last time – “Disconnected from Server”. An uncommon occurrence? Not at all: No online game, service, or server lasts forever,7 especially when operating illegally and while official servers are still running. Was it dramatic? Yes, but the emotional impact of online gaming, especially through virtual worlds, is well documented.8 Although Nostalrius only ran for about a year, many of these players have been hopping from private server to private server for years – creating their own community separate from what they call ‘retail WoW’. Was its shutdown justified? Blizzard was, of course, well within their rights to legally threaten the Nostalrius team due to misuse of their IP. However, the company’s simultaneous refusal to launch ‘legacy’ servers, unlike some of their competitors,9 shed a different light on this situation ­– especially since this stance was communicated rather poorly.10 Nostalrius on the other hand became the first private legacy server to garner somewhat positive attention due to its quality and ignited new discussions around preserving online games.11 Long story short: More media coverage and a fan petition brought to Mike Morhaime, then CEO of Blizzard, by WoW Vanilla team lead Mark Kern later,12 I find myself sitting in a hours-long queue to play World of WarCraft: Wrath of the Lich King ‘Classic’13

Our example above illustrates two main problems for those working to document and preserve digital games and their history: Accessibility and versioning.14 Games which are primarily played online, like WoW, pose the most extreme challenges to these endeavours due to their dependency on server infrastructures. If the game in question underwent several updates or servers ceased operating entirely, there is simply no way to go back to older versions or play the game in question at all Further complications due to “[…] obsolescence, business, design, advertising, marketing and journalistic practices that foreground innovation and upgrade while writing out compatibility with redundant, superseded platforms and software […]”,15 leaves nostalgic fans to fill the gaps themselves.16 For old online games and services, this is mostly done through emulation or reverse-engineering.17 However, scholarship and some institutions have been catching up the past two decades. When it comes to the former, we find the Preserving Virtual Worlds Project as one of the earliest investigations into the matter of online game preservation.18 Although some museums began to offer access to thesegames as well,19 such limited use can only tell us so much about the original play experience. Instead, game preservationists like Henry Lowood and Megan Winget make a strong argument for “contextual information”.20 We are confronted with a collective, everchanging and temporary experience long before a server shutdown is even considered, making online games a special case in discerning the object of research and our ability to play it. More importantly: Users not only to some degree transform ‘their’ game through various in-game actions,21 they also create various “artifacts of a participatory culture”22 as well as knowledge systems.23 Granted, much of the same can be said about offline games as well, and acknowledging players’ abilities to shift between roles of recipients to actors to even designers24 has become a staple within game studies. In other words:

Computerspiele bedingen einen performativen Mediengebrauch – denn sie müssen gespielt werden. Genauer: Computerspiele sind interaktive Medienprodukte [...]. [...] [N]eben dieser Interaktion im Spiel kann das Computerspiel selbst [...] zum Gegenstand eines performativen Gebrauchs werden [...]. Die innerbildliche Performativität wird ergänzt durch eine außerbildliche Performativität – und das Zusammenspiel beider bringt eine Gaming Culture hervor.25

Concepts from the realm of performance and theatre studies are no strangers to German as well as English-speaking thinkers within game studies and even game design theory. Essential ideas like (autopoietic) feedback loops are often directly or indirectly mentioned when describing the process of (digital) play.26 Their roots lie in cybernetics, whose early theories used computer-based games as theoretical examples.27 Moreover, its most productive phase during the 1950s and 60s coincides not only with the beginning of performance (studies) discourse28 and what we consider the first digital games which were programmed to demonstrate the performance of computer technologies.29 Since games “[e]cho”30 cybernetics on several levels, tackling them using tools and perspectives from fields influenced by the same ideas – such as performance studies – seems apt. Our neighbouring field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is in a similar position, mainly represented by the work of computer scientist and game designer Brenda Laurel, who, in declaring computers theatres in the early nineties,31 inspired some of the game studies works referenced here.32 Overall, this “[...] performative turn has facilitated an approximation and equalization of medial, technological and human performances”33 and continues to influence further research areas such as history.34

When it comes to online games specifically, I propose that performance studies as a helpful tool for tackling what is arguably one of the more challenging objects of research in historical game studies. Additionally, I want to put a spotlight on the relevant sources and how they complement each other when following this approach. Granted, as more fields became involved in the performance studies discourse, those taking a closer look ironically found its very own accessibility and versioning issues.35 However, they can be mitigated by concentrating on one specific perspective and theory. For example, Clara Fernández-Vara, Melanie Fritsch and Britta Neitzel have already demonstrated that performance approaches by theatre studies offer useful analytical tools for understanding digital play as performance(s).36 Following some of the same thinkers, mainly Laurel in combination with performance scholar Erika Fischer-Lichte, I will exemplify the usefulness of this approach to study play performance(s) of the past. World of WarCraft is a particularly pertinent example due to its longevity, thorough documentation and impact on gaming as well as popular culture. Finally, I will outline why this perspective might become even more important for future scholarship.

Rising player action

Open-source proponents, crackers, and anarchists alike rejoice as an alpha version of World of Warcraft has allegedly been secured and is now supposedly making its way around warez circles. This news comes from Skull’s Hack Site who says WarForge (infamous for their work in battle.net emulation for the War3 and TFT betas) is already working on server software for the WoW leak.37

Fig. 1: Fan developers testing the chat system of their server in 2005

Long before players could even hope to leave their mark on WoW via internal performativity, those with the right skillset already appropriated at least one version of the game as their ultimate object of participation38 Based on the game client alone, fan developers had to set up their own server and reverse-engineer its communication with the former. Popular projects such as Nostalrius were the result of more than a decade of testing different programming languages, the creation of tools to populate the game world among other functions, and lastly, spying on Blizzard’s own server communication using “packet sniffers”.39 Although C++ and C# seem to be preferred, the languages used to achieve this were incredibly diverse in the early years – ranging from Visual Basic and Python, to even Object Pascal/Delphi.40

Fig. 2: Fanmade spawning tool created in Java (circa 2005-2006) [left] and packet sniffer for WoW Vanilla used in 2006 [right]

While the private server scene started as a “[...] personal challenge for a very small part of the community, trying to express their skills by developing and re-engineering [...]”41 in a similar vein to the hackers and crackers of early computer history42, others were ready to financially profit off such work.43 Meanwhile, those who wanted to join these servers simply had to create an account on the private servers’ website, download the right client, and change the web address within the game file “realmlist.wtf” – the latter is now missing from modern versions of the game.44

Fig. 3: “Realmlist.wtf” used in a local private server test (presumably 2004). (Screenshot from GotWoW?: Historical Gallery)

In the meantime, retail WoW progressed up to game version 9.2.7 at the time of writing with another expansion pack on the horizon.45 In a less extreme manner than those appropriating the game even before its release in 2004, numerous fan creations from interface-modifications (so-called add-ons), to machinimas, to several databases account for various forms of external performativity.46 This needs to be clarified in relation to our previous quote by Benjamin Beil about the performativity of digital games:47 Through differentiating between internal performativity as the process of play itself and external performativity to describe the latter outside phenomena, we are able to take a large spectrum of player actions into account – intended or not. Performativity on the other hand, roughly speaking, serves as an umbrella term for symbolic actions generating or changing a reality or state by their very execution. According to Sibylle Krämer, performative actions vary from weak, to strong, to system-breaking or radical degrees according to different interpretations within performance studies.48 Beils differentiation is open to all of them: Ranging from pressing a key on the keyboard to cast a spell killing an enemy (internal) to, as described above, taking the game client itself to create your very own separate server reality (external).

However, changes to our game in question through patching practices common to online games allow developers to address said performativity by forcefully shifting the metagame, fixing what is deemed exploitative play or banning specific add-ons. Furthermore, content additions or radical changes like the infamous Cataclysm49 expansion50 leave players a new game reality altogether. In other words, several iterations of WoW became “[...] buried under the latest patches and expansions [...]”51 which is disappointing for players who want to go back to these older versions52 and challenging for scholars who try to study and preserve its history.

Fig. 4: The world map of the game currently in WoW: Classic pre-Cataclysm [left] and Retail WoW after six expansion packs

Aufführungen verfügen nicht über ein fixier- und tradierbares materielles Artefakt, sie sind flüchtig und transitorisch, sie erschöpfen sich in ihrer Gegenwärtigkeit, d. h. in ihrem dauernden Werden und Vergehen, in der Autopoiesis der Feedback-Schleife.53

Thinking about such circumstances as performance(s) can help us to structure them, especially for our problems related to versioning and potential consequences of our access to ‘the’ game (or lack thereof) in the present. Now following Fischer-Lichte to the origins of German theatre studies, which boil down to favouring the performance(s) of a play over its written text,54 we can adapt her approach to explain the situation at hand.

The game code or client can serve as our text, although the net code required for the server is of importance as well.55 Its interaction with players was imagined or planned by developers through game design, including testing, which parallels theatres mise-en-scène or enactment as preparation for a performance of a play.56 Developers often create and at least change their text/code simultaneously to said mise-en-scène/game design process – the alpha client above belongs to this step. Furthermore, those working on online games can do the same during the actual performance – even without a maintenance period57 – and any future updates may require a mise-en-scène/game design process as well. In short, there is a temporal difference at play in this comparison if we think in very strict terms, which is why Laurel prefers to match HCI to improvisational theatre specifically.58 Nevertheless, playwrights cannot perfectly anticipate random factors like audience reactions or small changes in an actor's behaviour.59 In the same vein, game design works with a similar limited “set of potential actions”60 since it cannot predict all player input and game output, which is why some favour the term “emergent” over “interactive” when describing digital play.61 Fischer-Lichte made a related observation when comparing mediated live performances to live performances as found in theatre.62 In this context we have to keep in mind that she considers the bodily presence and actions of everyone involved to be a prerequisite for performances,63 but similar arguments64 have been made when it comes to digital games as they and our understanding of them evolved. In fact, Laurel reminds us that “[t]he search for a definition of interactivity diverts our attention from the real issue: How can humans participate as agents in representational contexts?”65

We must understand a performance “[a]s a self-organizing system” which “[...] continually receives and integrates into that system newly emerging, unplanned and unpredictable elements from both sides of the loop.”66 When it comes to digital play, this integration can work in several ways and does not have to be perfect as long as the player or game keep at it. This autopoietic characteristic of performances allows for “transformative”67 potentials like our previous exploration of players shifting between consumers, actors, and makers or, following Beil,68 internal/external performativity. In turn, this means who, when, where and how someone is playing is as important as our access to ‘the’ game as an artefact and whatever developers had in mind.Granted, although this describes the process of play in the present well, it becomes rather problematic when tackling play of the past. However, Fischer-Lichte acknowledges the possibility for performances to leave some traces behind by accounting for the basics of historical source verification like the differentiation between intentional and accidental remains.69 This is where objects of participatory culture, knowledge systems and fan preservation come into play. Nevertheless, performances as an event can only be roughly translated into a different medium.70 This is the difference between watching someone play and playing the game yourself. It also indirectly refers to another basic idea of historiographical theory and how the term history’ is often inaccurately used in everyday life: What historians do is not recapturing the actual past but reconstructing a version of it which we call history based on available sources and their individual perspective from the present.71 History and performance studies are more related to each other than might seem apparent at first glance.

Besides theory, another urgent issue arises when thinking about how to begin writing historiography within these bounds and this specific object of research in more practical terms. First, we must consider which past performance(s) and participants (players and developers) involved with the game in question are vital for the research question we aim at. Can we use a few examples as an overview, or do we need to follow a specific group of people playing this game? Are multiple (fan-)developers and publishers involved, offering different mise-en-scènes or even rewrites of the text/code? We would have to distinguish between individual and collective performance(s) ranging from regions,72 servers, smaller groups of players (guilds, clans, teams etc.), and finally individual player journeys. Secondly, which states of the game are of interest and when do we narrow them down? For our goal of exercising this approach in general, we continue going the chronological route up until an obvious break in the development timeline and discuss it in collective terms first when isolating potential additional mise-en-scènes resulting in different (collective) performances. This simply means looking at the release and versioning history by the original developers, while ignoring regional differences such as separate release dates. In our case: starting with the earliest launch of servers in the US region back in 2004 and ending with the release of the first expansion pack The Burning Crusade73 two years later – which required users to manually expand their game client/text for the first time. This leaves us with twelve variants of WoW Vanilla.74 Since we already established one additional mise-en-scène of WoW Vanilla through the private server scene represented by Nostalrius, we will continue with the latest one made by Blizzard Entertainment themselves.

Classic Climax

Private servers already existed prior to Nostalrius’ release, but most of them provided paid services, and an average quality in terms of content and services which wasn’t always seen as professional. Nostalrius tried to break this situation as a non profit organization, and actually succeeded in some ways. [...] Most of the previously existing profit-based Vanilla servers disappeared [...]. Our servers’ shutdown left 220,000 players (monthly statistics) without a home, and created a huge demand for Vanilla WoW.75

The introductory server shutdown and fan protest eventually moved Blizzard to officially announce their own re-staging of WoW Vanilla deemed “Classic”, ironically communicated by the very same person shutting down fan requests many years ago.76 Events leading up to and accompanying a game performance are of importance as well and we will come back to them. For now, an overview of them leading to the Classic performance would look like this:

Fig. 5: The different ‘texts’ of WoW and the events leading to the creation of the emulation scene, which in turn lead to new mise-en-scènes as well as performances of WoW (Vanilla) until Classic was released

Since Blizzard Entertainment had better access to the original source code and documentation than their fan developer counterparts, the company opted for a different method of software preservation via migration.77 Instead of emulation, the Vanilla ‘text’ was adapted for the current WoW client, mainly by now former Classic engineer Omar Gonzalez.78 This allowed the game to be run within the current WoW server infrastructure,79 receive minor graphic updates and to be integrated into the modern Battle.net service network.80 A more important outcome was higher player numbers per server, but to the detriment of available game resources and server performance in large-scale open world PvP situations.81 Nostalrius worked with higher player counts than originally intended as well, but found different solutions than the official developer.82

After said announcement fans immediately discussed the potential mise-en-scène83 for Classic, with the most vocal wishing for “no changes”84 – to be as close as possible to the original. One result was the decision to release the old content patches in a similar progressive timeframe to the original, reworked as “phases”.85 However, there was one major difference to Nostalriusand Vanilla itself: Despite phasing the content like the original performance, any constitutive rules86 tied to these patches concerning class and item mechanics were to remain static according to the latest patch of 1.12.87 This meant that players engaged challenges like the first raid dungeon with generally more powerful numbers from several different sources. Nostalrius used the 1.12 patch88 or rather client as well, but decided to release content with its respective constitutive rules,89 making this method of preservation not just a simple technical re-enactment based on “[...] secondary sources to define the game experience” as emulation is usually described,90 but a historical one, with all the flaws and faults that may come with the older balance decisions. Needless to say, there are even more interesting divergences from the original in both contemporary approaches to Vanilla, which I will outline in the following.

Fig. 6: Comparison of Vanilla, Nostalrius and Classic with their respective approaches to the ‘text’ /mise-en-scènes/performance

Return to the player

[…] [T]he destiny of games is to become boring, not to be fun. Those of us who want games to be fun are fighting a losing battle against the human brain because fun is a process and routine is its destination. So players often intentionally suck the fun out of a game in hopes they can learn something new (in other words, find something fun) once they complete the task. They’ll do it because they perceive it (correctly) as the optimal strategy for getting ahead. They’ll do it because they see others doing it […].91

It is time for the next step: By comparing individual performances we can observe the outcome of handling the ‘text’ and, more importantly, mise-en-scènes in different ways. Since we are dealing with performances of the past, game recordings seem to be our best bet. However, they also lead us down one last theoretical rabbit hole that needs to be addressed. It begins with our usage of the performance term both in everyday life and scholarly discourse, which ranges from referring to aesthetic experiences to witnessing, or to specific actions and efforts taken to be evaluated.92 We find similar variety in meaning when it comes to performances of digital play, which we touched on by spotlighting the different roles players can take on via internal/external performativity. Showing off one's accomplishments or creating new aesthetic experiences through the game itself demand players to acquire and act out skills both inside and outside of the play process,93 also referred to as “game[s] literacy”.94 To achieve this, “[t]he player acts in a liminal space between viewer and spectator”95 in being the participating observer96 during their own play, or by watching someone else's. As players practised and witnessed their very own Schechnerian showing, doing and restored behaviour97 unfold, some document their performances as gameplay recordings which scholars in turn can use to improve their own game literacy concerning the object of research. For our purposes, we focus on those showcasing average in-game situations with the normal point of action as well as point of view98 of the game. We will now take a look at singular performances specifically from WoW Vanilla and Classic, as they represent both the oldest and latest iterations at hand. Both of our examples show the same place and activity, though they happened fifteen years apart: the last boss encounter of the third raid dungeon “Black Wing Lair”,99 a challenge that can be tackled by a group of forty players once per week and was first introduced in patch 1.6.100

Fig. 7: Players engaging the boss Nefarian in Vanilla (2005) [left] and Classic (2020) [right]

The first performance is a group successfully executing the fight in WoW Vanilla for the first time in about sixteen minutes.101 According to information in the video, this happened on a German server, presumably in September 2005 during game version 1.7,102 as some players are using items introduced in that patch. The same is true for our second performance in WoW Classic on an English-speaking server.103 Keep in mind that both groups had to prepare, practice and decide on a specific day as well as time to gather their forty players each week to tackle this challenge – making it somewhat of a performance within an overall performance. However, the results are very different: In the time the Vanilla group managed to down just this boss alone, the Classic group cleared half of the dungeon.

Granted, Blizzard Entertainment's decision to have users play with the latest constitutive rules is partly responsible for this discrepancy. More powerful numbers when it comes to player abilities and items made the game easier at this stage of content progression, so they looked for challenges elsewhere via forms of “superplay” as “[...] the performance or enactment of gamer-designed and imposed challenges”104 such as speedruns or hardcore rulesets.105 But even readers who barely played WoW can observe more striking differences by looking closely at the user interfaces and in consulting their own game literacy: for starters, the 2020 player is practically bursting with buffs to temporarily strengthen their character as seen in the upper right corner compared to their 2005 counterpart. On the other hand, in the bottom left corner we see the class compositions of both teams through the differently coloured avatar names.106 In 2020 we observe that half of the raid group consists of warriors (brown) and following the previously quoted learning process tied to play,107 we can presume that they deal the most damage and synergize with maximising buffs. Classic players knew this from the start, while their Vanilla predecessors had to discover this first. A next step would be finding out how players acquire these buffs as well as how widespread their usage was, if this behaviour was intended by the original developers, and how those responsible for the contemporary mise-en-scène dealt with it.108

But these are just two of many observations to be made. Improvements in, and more widespread use of, interface modifications,109 technology allowing for smoother gameplay in a 40 player setting online, refined methods for analysing the game’s combat log,110 improved third party voice communication and information sharing tools, streaming services and influencers – all these factors and more set the Classic performance very much apart from its Vanilla roots.

According to Laurel, this is not surprising as the boundaries between ‘playful’ and ‘serious’ activities are often blurred when it comes to HCI.111 In this sense, we can use the richness of the field of performance studies to our advantage and further refine our insights through additional approaches such as linguistics or gender studies.112 For example, the events we already explored leading up to the creation of WoW Classic could be further illuminated through Schechner’s modification of Turner's model of social drama113 to clarify a broader historical context, the ’when’ of the performance or how it was made possible in the first place. Such contexts are vital as “[u]nderstanding a game also means understanding its relationship, and the role it plays, within culture in general”.114 Apart from our previously discussed Nostalrius social drama we could also point to the release of Vanilla during the rise of Web 2.0 and its role as proto-social media for many players115 as well as the impact of the contemporary Covid-19 pandemic on (online) gaming.116 Lastly, the ongoing sexual harassment and work ethic lawsuits against Blizzard Entertainment and Activision Blizzard as a whole following Classic’s release also left their mark on the game.117

Still, we need to take into account the results of 15 years of WoW performances and the accompanying developments in game literacy. We are both dealing with a performance as an (aesthetic) event according to Fischer-Lichte as well as a performance of skill(s).118 Before Classic's servers even went online, players already influenced its mise-en-scène as much and possibly even more than the developers did due to prior results of external performativity and their personal knowledge.

The subsequent restoration of behaviours and adoption of new practices such as widespread use of world buffs or speedrunning are due to processes of self-optimization inherent to digital play.119 But, as explained by Koster, we can assume that this happenstance was exacerbated by Classic's status as a solved game: since players know what to expect, they go to further extremes and assume others to follow suit as any decade old optimization strategy is just a Google search away. Laurel explains these circumstances with the “flying wedge”120 model of plot progression in drama. A play starts with several possibilities which are refined into probabilities as it progresses, until there are only some necessities left for the story to end.121 In this sense, WoW Classic never had any possibilities to begin with and any probabilities left were quickly enforced as necessities by users acting as their own participant observers or audience to their fellow players. Community discussions regularly question such purely meritocratic attitudes as some players fall behind or lose interest,122 even broadening the scope to modern game design and gaming culture in general, proclaiming that “[w]e are turned into performance machines.”123 Ironically, ethnographic research on the Nostalrius community reports the same “[...] hyper-quantified, neoliberal way of approaching the game [...]”.124

By adapting concepts of the performance studies to game historiography, we managed to showcase several variants of the same game played across different points in time, which were developed or maintained by for- as well as non-profit entities and whose gameplay was performed by players in radically different ways. The key was separating the game as software (text) from the process of game design (mise-en-scène) in preparation for the actual play process (performance), much like (German) theatre studies have already done for their craft. We also found that a closer look at play performances may lead us to further research transcending individual games. Let us close with a potential big picture that these observations imply.

A catastrophe for future research?

During the night of April 15th, 2010, Microsoft ceased operating their Xbox Live 1.0 servers, which brought the end of online support for games such as Halo 2.125 However, fourteen players protested by staying in their matches as long as possible,126 even live streaming or reporting their status on the Bungie.net forums.127 Almost a month after the official shutdown, the last two players had to be forcefully booted from their games, or rather performances, with Microsoft commenting:

A small band of a committed few, engaged in a battle against insurmountable odds. It's not the Noble team from Halo: Reach, it's the final, passionate few who are still playing Halo 2. We wish them the best in their battle against time.128

It is indeed a battle against time, not only when it comes to data rot or platforms that we cannot repair ad infinitum. Apart from whole services such as Xbox Live or Steam drastically changing over time129 and eventually ceasing operation, we regularly read about developers and publishers cancelling online support functionalities, which now also affects single player games.130 Expecting companies to keep servers running indefinitely is unrealistic, and much of what has been explored can be said about digital play before it became perpetually online as well. However, we must recognize that due to our modern gaming experience being embedded in server infrastructures and enriched by additional forms of external performativity which we have not even begun to mention yet,131 digital play is increasingly temporary, prone to changes, and open to the public eye of the now networked masses. Not to mention, the different ways how to monetize digital play increased as well.132

This online status quo and our exercise of performance thinking on past digital play emphasised one specific type of source for those writing its history: game recordings. Of course, preservationists and players battling against time would prefer access to the game itself. But even in a perfect world in which old games such as WoW Vanilla could be recreated completely true to the ‘text’ as well as mise-en-scène levels, those participating in such a new performance are still not the original audience playing it in its historical context. They may need to rethink their own game literacy as part of an actual historical re-enactment, making the process rather artificial. However, this line of thinking is biased towards favouring classic notions on archival practice and a memory versus history binary, dismissing performances as acts that instantly disappear, not opportunities for something to “reappear”133.134 The digital age with its promise of democratized and “limitless access to information” seemingly allowing us to archive everything complicated this issue even further.135 Anyone looking for WoW Vanilla footage on YouTube, now buried under new WoW Classic videos or muted by content ID,136 will agree. Sadly, centralized community efforts such as Warcraftmovies.com are not dependable either.137 As a field about one specific kind of digital media, I believe (historical) game studies could make useful contributions to this still ongoing discussion within performance studies138 when it comes to preserving performances and legitimizing them as another approach to history in the digital age. In at least one way, I think they already have.139

Apart from highlighting performance footage as a useful source, we witnessed the nuances in handling the ‘text’ and mise-en-scène in different ways, as we looked through the lens of original development before the game was solved, a non-profit historical re-enactment by fans and finally, a for-profit revival by the official developers. Specifically on the individual performance level we saw the consequences of a player base with more game literacy, better technologies, as well as all information of the first performance at their very fingertips. Through this we demonstrated digital play both as a performance in the aesthetic sense, primarily outlined via Fischer-Lichte, but also a performance of skill(s). By using (almost) the identical game as an example, we have seen very obvious consequences of the solved game issue, which also hint towards developments in gaming culture overall, at least when it comes to self-optimization processes. This might be a natural outcome due to the cybernetic ideas found in performance and game studies as well as game design. Both require further research.

Our access to old games in the present should not be easily dismissed for another reason, apart from the fact that they deserve to be played if someone desires so. In fact, it can help us further understand the remains of past digital play, as long as we take the potential differences into account. For starters, what happens in our 480p recording of WoW Vanilla is still far more comprehensible if we have played one of the more contemporary performances ourselves, due to the same basic mechanics, in-game places and activities. Instead, I want to bring awareness to the fact that one outcome of the Preserving Virtual Worlds Project of archiving game performance footage140 is as important as our access to the games themselves, especially while we do not have satisfying solutions to the shutdown of online games, platforms and features even found in single player experiences. Such projects should take notes from similar endeavours for performance art.141

Finally, by thinking the past play of our example World of WarCraft as performance(s), we have seen that this approach helps us go into a deeper structure than a simple version history intended by developers. In fact, it questions how much influence they have in the first place as players act out their internal/external performativity with possibly large consequences. This is somewhat of a relief, as, despite their potential shortcomings for scholarship, player-made sources and preservation efforts are more available to us. In the same vein, another strength of the performance approach lies in acknowledging ‘unofficial’ performances, which may have broader implications than simply using someone else's IP as seen with Nostalrius. In combination with our assumptions concerning developments in gaming culture overall, both circumstances are reminiscent of what Zimmermann hinted at in his work on game literacy: how we establish and engage with systems such as games is a defining feature of the times we live in.142 I would like to add that the same is true for how we preserve them and write their history.

Medienverzeichnis

Spiele/Games

Blizzard Entertainment: World of WarCraft. (Microsoft Windows, macOS). USA: Vivendi Games 2004. <https://web.archive.org/web/20041123091437/http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/> [15.10.2022].

Blizzard Entertainment: World of WarCraft. The Burning Crusade. (Microsoft Windows, macOS). USA: Vivendi Games 2007. <https://worldofwarcraft.com/> [15.10.2022].

Blizzard Entertainment: World of WarCraft. Cataclysm. (Microsoft Windows, macOS). USA: Blizzard Entertainment 2010. <https://worldofwarcraft.com/> [15.10.2022].

Blizzard Entertainment: World of WarCraft. Classic. (Microsoft Windows, macOS). USA: Blizzard Entertainment 2019. <https://worldofwarcraft.com/> [15.10.2022].

Blizzard Entertainment: World of WarCraft. Shadowlands. (Microsoft Windows, macOS). USA: Blizzard Entertainment 2020. <https://worldofwarcraft.com/> [15.10.2022].

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Bilder/Images

Artikel/Article: Screenshot taken from Radeghost: Last minutes of Nostalrius. 10.04.2016. <https://youtu.be/nu-JMqNTn-M> [08.10.2022].

Fig.1: Screenshot from GotWoW?: Historical Gallery. <https://web.archive.org/web/20081017071650/http://www.gotwow.ic.cz/historical-gallery/> [12.10.2022].

Fig. 2: Screenshots from GotWoW?: Historical Gallery. <https://web.archive.org/web/20081017071650/http://www.gotwow.ic.cz/historical-gallery/> [13.10.2022].

Fig. 3: GotWoW?: Historical Gallery. <https://web.archive.org/web/20081017071650/http://www.gotwow.ic.cz/historical-gallery/> [13.10.2022].

Fig. 4: Screenshots taken by author in World of WarCraft: Wrath of the Lich King Classic (2022) & World of WarCraft: Shadowlands 10.0.0 (2020/2022).

Fig. 5: Image by author. Official WoW logos provided by Blizzard Entertainment. <https://blizzard.gamespress.com/world-of-warcraft> [08.10.2022].

Fig. 6: Image by author. Official WoW logos provided by Blizzard Entertainment. <https://blizzard.gamespress.com/world-of-warcraft>. Server Emulator logos: Trinitiy Core. <https://github.com/TrinityCore?language=python>, OpenWoW. <https://openwow.net/> & ManGOS. <https://github.com/mangoszero/server>. Private Server logos: Nostalrius. <https://en.nostalrius.org/>, Elysium Project. <https://forum.elysium-project.org/> & Lights Hope (via ownedcore.com) <https://www.ownedcore.com/forums/world-of-warcraft/world-of-warcraft-emulator-servers/wow-emu-general-releases/613280-elysium-core-1-12-repack-including-mmaps-optional-vendors.html> [08.10.2022].

Fig. 7: Screenshots taken from Kedi: Blackwing Lair - Nefarian by HuH & SG. 05.03.2016. <https://youtu.be/LZeN7QUmlvU> & Robin Sikking: PIGZ BWL Speedrun (28:55). 19.07.2020. <https://youtu.be/NTUCPGpaBso> [25.10.2022]. 

Videos

Radeghost: Last minutes of Nostalrius. 10.04.2016. <https://youtu.be/nu-JMqNTn-M>[08.10.2022]

Tausgi: Nostalrius shutdown by Blizzard | Final march of the horde. 07.04.2016. <https://youtu.be/K290nyHFt_o> [08.10.2022].

PC Gamer: The last moments of Asheron's Call. 01.02.2017. <https://youtu.be/o77BL-hCHxA> [10.10.2022].

Brett the Behemoth: "You think you do, but you don't" (Full Answer). 25.04.2016. <https://youtu.be/0Wrw3c2NjeE> [10.10.2022].

KareemNatic: Blizzard's Announcement On World of Warcraft Classic That Shocked The World (BlizzCon 2017). 04.11.2017. <https://youtu.be/dUSRkBwQdc8> [19.10.2022].

zande: Raidtime on Gehennas. 30.10.2019. <https://youtu.be/pP7Pys1lMgI> [19.10.2022].

MorgoGaming: [Nostalrius] Nightmare Dragons Release. 10.02.2016. <https://youtu.be/fYFD06UFscw> [19.10.2022].

Kedi: Blackwing Lair - Nefarian by HuH & SG. 05.03.2016. <https://youtu.be/LZeN7QUmlvU> [25.10.2022].

Robin Sikking: PIGZ BWL Speedrun (28:55). 19.07.2020. <https://youtu.be/NTUCPGpaBso> [25.10.2022].

WillE: World buffs and the Dispel Meta: Content or Griefing. 05.06.2020. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mflmj4KsmKA> [25.10.2022].

 

  1. Winget: Videogame Preservation and Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games: A Review of the Literature. 2011, p. 1880.[]
  2. Blizzard Entertainment: World of WarCraft. 2004.[]
  3. Radeghost: Last minutes of Nostalrius. 10.04.2016. <https://youtu.be/nu-JMqNTn-M>[08.10.2022][]
  4. Tausgi: Nostalrius shutdown by Blizzard | Final march of the horde. 07.04.2016. <https://youtu.be/K290nyHFt_o> [08.10.2022].[]
  5. “Once a private server is running, players can connect to the server and play the game it emulates for free. Many people actively play on private servers even though Blizzard forbids them in WoW’s Terms of Service. To circumvent copyright laws, most private servers are hosted from Europe where it is more difficult to punish violations of The United States’ laws. Private servers are generally created and administered by small, dedicated development teams that spend countless hours coding, scripting, and debugging their servers to ensure smooth play.”, Crenshaw/Nardi: Social Affordances in Online Games. 2016, p. 3788.[]
  6. In programming slang, the term ‘vanilla’ refers to original and unmodified software or hardware. WoW players use it when talking about their game as it was originally released up until the first expansion pack. Over the course of this paper, we will discuss two additional states of the game: ‘Classic’ refers to the re-release of the original WoW, while ‘retail’ marks the current state of the game with its latest expansion pack. See Webopedia: Vanilla <https://www.webopedia.com/definitions/vanilla/> & WoWWiki: Vanilla <https://wowwiki-archive.fandom.com/wiki/Vanilla/> [13.10.22].[]
  7. Sadly, we lack definitive statistics. However, Wikipedia and TV Tropes lists can give us some hints. See Wikipedia: Inactive massively multiplayer online games & Inactive online games. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Inactive_massively_multiplayer_online_games> & <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Inactive_online_games> [08.10.2022] as well as TV Tropes: Defunct Online Video Games. <https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DefunctOnlineVideoGames> [08.10.2022].[]
  8. For starters, The Daedalus Project by Nick Yee provides such findings as one of the earliest long running psychological studies specifically when it comes to MMORPG players. Additionally, we can witness this time and time again when older online games cease operation. For example, when PC Gamer documented the shutdown of Asheron's Call several years ago. See Nick Yee: The Daedalus Gateway. <http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/gateway_intro.html> & PC Gamer: The last moments of Asheron's Call. 01.02.2017. <https://youtu.be/o77BL-hCHxA> [10.10.2022].[]
  9. RunesCape and EverQuest launched legacy progression and classic servers in 2013 and 2015. See Everquest.com: EverQuest Progression Servers. 26.05.2021. <https://www.everquest.com/guides/eq-what-is-a-progression-server> & Runescape.com: OLD SCHOOL RUNESCAPE: POLL RESULTS IN. 01.03.2013. <https://secure.runescape.com/m=news/old-school-runescape-poll-results-in> [10.10.2022].[]
  10. Mainly by former production manager and CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, J. Allen Brack during a BlizzCon panel in 2013. See Brett the Behemoth: "You think you do, but you don't" (Full Answer). 25.04.2016. <https://youtu.be/0Wrw3c2NjeE> [10.10.2022].[]
  11. See Purchese: Watch the final moments of packed pirate World of Warcraft servers Nostalrius. 12.04.2016. <https://www.eurogamer.net/watch-the-final-moments-of-packed-pirate-world-of-warcraft-servers-nostalrius>, Orland: Blizzard shuts down popular fan-run “pirate” server for classic WoW. 07.04.2016. <https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2016/04/blizzard-shuts-down-popular-fan-run-pirate-server-for-classic-wow/> & Scimeca: Gamers rally as World of Warcraft fan server faces its imminent demise. 07.04.2016. <https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/world-of-warcraft-fan-project-faces-legal-action-from-blizzard-entertainment/> [10.10.2022].[]
  12. See Morrison: Nostalrius petition passes 200k signatures, Mark Kern to deliver it. 22.04.2016. <https://www.pcgamer.com/nostalrius-petition-passes-200k-signatures-mark-kern-to-deliver-it/> & Barrett: Mike Morhaime meets with controversial legacy WoW server representative Mark Kern. 17.08.2017. <https://www.pcgamesn.com/world-of-warcraft/mike-morhaime-meets-with-controversial-legacy-wow-server-representative-mark-kern> [10.10.2022].[]
  13. Blizzard Entertainment: World of WarCraft Classic: Wrath of the Lich King. 2022.[]
  14. Accessibility, as in everything that is needed to play the game, which includes a working server when it comes to online games. Software versioning on the other hand is a very broad topic and differently handled from developer to developer. Game preservationist McDonough includes not only different release versions, but also additions like expansion packs and (unofficial) modifications or patches. See McDonough: Packaging Videogames for Long-Term Preservation. Integrating FRBR and the OAIS Reference Model, p. 172.[]
  15. Newman: Best Before. 2012, chap. 1, loc. 341.[]
  16. Lange: Save Game. 2009, pp. 49-51.[]
  17. Some operate without scrutiny for decades as official servers and developer offices have been closed, as is the case with the Star Wars Galaxies Emulator (SWGEmu). Others work under the approval of current IP holders such as Project 1999 (EverQuest) and lastly, some even try to recreate old online services entirely such as Xbox Live 1.0. See Scimeca: The rise, fall, and return of Star Wars Galaxies. 20.12.2015. <https://web.archive.org/web/20160113172537/https://kernelmag.dailydot.com/issue-sections/headline-story/15335/star-wars-galaxies-swgemu-project/>, Everquest.com: An Update & Announcement from Project 1999. 29.04.2015. <https://www.everquest.com/news/project-1999-daybreak> & Modern Vintage Gamer: Insignia - the Original Xbox Live 1.0 replacement is AWESOME | MVG. 18.07.2022. <https://youtu.be/DmvDgNAvdWM> [10.10.2022].[]
  18. Stanford University: Preserving Virtual Worlds. 2007-2013. <https://library.stanford.edu/projects/preserving-virtual-worlds> [10.10.2022].[]
  19. See Nexon Computer Museum: The Kingdom of the Winds. <https://web.archive.org/web/20140805030532/http://www.nexoncomputermuseum.org/english/?mcode=0601> & Olivetti: The Video Game Museum offers a home to Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, and WildStar. 27.10.2018. <https://massivelyop.com/2018/10/27/the-video-game-museum-offers-a-home-to-star-wars-galaxies-city-of-heroes-and-wildstar/> [10.10.2022].[]
  20. Lowood: Perfect Capture. 2011, p. 119.[]
  21. A good example is how the now defunct MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies changed the grind to Jedihood based on the ‘brute force’ approach by players, ranging from adjusting parameters unbeknownst to players, to eventually changing the class and skill system of the game altogether. Thus, an unlockable class intended to be rare due to the specific era in Star Warsthe game was based on, Jedi became one of many selectable classes through character creation. See Koster: A Jedi Saga. 16.04.2015. <https://www.raphkoster.com/2015/04/16/a-jedi-saga/> [12.10.2022] and Denny: Star Wars Galaxies. Control and Resistance in Online Gaming, p. 75.[]
  22. Winget: Collecting the Artifacts of Participation. Videogame Players, Fanboys, and Individual Models of Collection. 2011, p. 34.[]
  23. See Nolden: Geschichte und Erinnerung in Computerspielen, pp. 5 & 515-517.[]
  24. See Fritsch: Performing Bytes, p. 75.[]
  25. “Computer games require a performative use of media – they must be played. To be more precise: Computer games are interactive media products [...]. [...] In addition to such interaction in-game, the game itself can be the subject of performative use. The internal performativity is supplemented by external performativity – and the interplay of both generates a gaming culture.” Beil: Die Sehnsucht nach dem Pixelklumpen. 2013, p. 320-321. Transl. AP.[]
  26. See Swink: Game Feel. 2009, p. 36, Schemer-Reinhardt: Steuerung als Analysegegenstand, p. 38-39 & Salen/Zimmermann: Rules of Play. 2004, pp. 20 & 212–230 and Nohr: Wiederaufsetzen nach dem Tod. 2014, p. 252-253.[]
  27. See Wiener: The Human Use of Human Beings. 1989, pp. 175-178.[]
  28. Leeker et. al.: Performativity, performance studies and digital cultures. 2017, pp. 24-27.[]
  29. Lowood: Thoughts on the computer game archive of the future. 2002, p. 3-4.[]
  30. Lukman: Kontrollmaschinen. 2022, p. 13.[]
  31. Laurel: Computers as Theatre. 2nd ed. 2014, p. xvii.[]
  32. See Fernández-Vara: A Framework to study Games as Performance. 2009, p. 5 & Neitzel: Videospiele(n) als Aufführung(en). 2018, pp. 182-183.[]
  33. Leeker et. al.: Performativity, performance studies and digital cultures, p. 25.[]
  34. See Postlewait/Canning: Representing the Past. 2010, p. 1 f., Jaeger: Performative Geschichtsschreibung, p. 37-38 & Martschukat/Patzold: Geschichtswissenschaft und “performative turn”. 2003, p. 3.[]
  35. Klaus W. Hempfer describes performance studies as a root network of core theories originating from multiple disciplines (linguistics, philosophy, ritual studies, theatre studies, gender studies etc.) which lead to different interpretations of the same ideas. Such poststructuralist discourse invokes disagreements and contradictions, making it difficult to streamline basic concepts like the definition of a performance itself. On the other hand, openness and diversity of thought might as well be a feature, not a bug: It encourages adaptation of ideas from different fields and their application onto new endeavors like the one at present. Hempfer: Performance, Performanz, Performativität. 2010, pp. 13, 26-27, 34, 38.[]
  36. See Fernández-Vara: A Framework to study Games as Performance, p. 4, Fritsch: Performing Bytes. 2018, p. 38 & Neitzel: Videospiele(n) als Aufführung(en). 2018, p. 182. []
  37. World of WarCraft Emulation History - GotWOW?: 01 Ancient History. 27.07.2008. <https://web.archive.org/web/20080921154246/http://www.gotwow.ic.cz/ancient-history/> [12.10.2022].[]
  38. Due to its dubious nature, the early history of the private server scene is difficult to uncover, as we are dealing with social media posts, pseudonyms and shady services profiting off someone else’s IP. Thus, the information from sources such as the one quoted above must be taken with a grain of salt. However, the following screenshots speak for themselves. Some accounts claim that Blizzard was hacked, however, former WoW level designer John Staats later confirmed that said Alpha version was simply leaked by a member of the QA team. Staats: The WoW Diary. 2018, p. 287.[]
  39. See Flor/Guillory: Internet Packet Sniffers. 2011, p. 77-78 & r/learnprogramming: How are private servers for games made (Like WoW or Runescape)? 04.08.2016. <https://www.reddit.com/r/learnprogramming/comments/4w4se4/how_are_private_servers_for_games_made_like_wow/> [13.10.2022]. []
  40. See World of WarCraft Emulation History - GotWOW?: 01 Ancient History - 03 Story of WOW(Ds). 27.07.2008. <https://web.archive.org/web/20080921154246/http://www.gotwow.ic.cz/ancient-history/> [13.10.2022]. []
  41. Nostalrius Team: Post Mortem, p. 12.[]
  42. Lowood: Gameplay as Public Performance and Cultural Artifact. 2006, p. 8.[]
  43. Stoneharry, volunteer developer for TrinityCore: “[…] People have worked on it as a hobby. Others have taken that and turned it into a business. This has always been the case and always will be.” See r/wowservers: Why are there so much bugs on private servers. 05.04.2014. <https://www.reddit.com/r/wowservers/comments/31k5yi/why_are_there_so_much_bugs_on_private_servers/> [13.10.22].[]
  44. Wowpedia: Realmlist.wtf. <https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Realmlist.wtf> [13.10.22].[]
  45. Wowpedia: Patch. <https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Patch> [13.10.22]. []
  46. See Lowood: Gameplay as Public Performance and Cultural Artifact, p. 22, McArthur et. al.: Modalities of Gameplay Expertise in World of Warcraft Addons. 2012, p. 103 & Thomas: From simple to complex in World of WarCraft. 2009, p. 37-42.[]
  47. See Beil: Die Sehnsucht nach dem Pixelklumpen, p. 320-321.[]
  48. See Fischer-Lichte: Performativität. 3rd ed. 2016, p. 44.[]
  49. Nolden: Geschichte und Erinnerung in Computerspielen, p. 2-4.[]
  50. Blizzard Entertainment: World of WarCraft: Cataclysm. 2010.[]
  51. Conaway: Server Worlds. 2021, p. 63.[]
  52. According to the private server community survey by Nostalrius, the first three iterations of WoW before the aforementioned expansion are by far the most popular in the scene. This is corroborated by Conaways interviews with both private server and retail players. See Nostalrius Team: Post Mortem, p. 75 & Conaway: Server Worlds, p. 72-73. []
  53. “Performances do not possess a fixed and passable material artefact, they are fleeting and transitory, they emerge through their immediacy, meaning in their continuous development and collapse, in the autopoiesis of the feedback loop.” Fischer-Lichte: Ästhetik des Performativen. 11th ed. 2019, p. 127. Transl. AP.[]
  54. Fischer-Lichte: Ästhetik des Performativen, p. 45, 55-56. []
  55. “MMO servers keep track of movement, targeting, and inventory. [...] This is compounded by the fact that players might be surrounded by hundreds of other characters. This can cripple network traffic because MMOs are open worlds where player congregation is unrestricted and unpredictable. No other games need to do this. Even the code for simple player positioning must be extremely efficient; otherwise, the server’s processors can’t handle the workload.” Staats: The WoW Diary, p. 21.[]
  56. See Fischer-Lichte: Ästhetik des Performativen, pp. 286, 323-325 and Fritsch: Performing Bytes, p. 35.[]
  57. WoWpedia: Hotfix. <https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Hotfix> [18.10.2022].[]
  58. See Laurel: Computers as Theatre, p. 86-87.[]
  59. Fischer-Lichte: Ästhetik des Performativen, p. 327.[]
  60. Laurel: Computers as Theatre, p. 70.[]
  61. See Fritsch: Performing Bytes, p. 84-86.[]
  62. Fischer-Lichte: Ästhetik des Performativen, pp. 117, 121.[]
  63. Ibid., p. 47.[]
  64. Fritsch: Performing Bytes, pp. 81-84.[]
  65. Laurel: Computers as Theatre, p. 30.[]
  66. Carlson: Performance A Critical Introduction. 2nd Ed. 1996, p. 8.[]
  67. Fischer-Lichte: Performativität, p. 68.[]
  68. Beil: Die Sehnsucht nach dem Pixelklumpen. 2013, p. 320-321.[]
  69. Fischer-Lichte: Ästhetik des Performativen, p. 127-128. []
  70. Ibid.[]
  71. Jordan: Theorien und Methoden der Geschichtswissenschaft. 3rd ed. 2015, p. 17.[]
  72. Regional differences have several consequences for the text, mise-en-scène as well as the performance. This is best seen in the way WoW is managed and played in China. The Chinese ‘text’ of WoW had to be censored for cultural reasons and its mise-en-scène is run with additional microtransactions. Likewise, on the performance level Chinese players are more used to distribute loot through the in-game currency. This practice was not as prevalent in other regions during the Vanilla performance but popularized itself in Classic. See Andres: WoW in China, an uncensored history. 17.01.2014. <https://www.engadget.com/2014-01-17-wow-archivist-wow-in-china-an-uncensored-history.html>, Wowhead: WoW Token Added to WoW Classic in China. 27.02.2022. <https://www.wowhead.com/classic/news/wow-token-added-to-wow-classic-in-china-311410> & Scholz: Warum haben chinesische Spieler so schnell so krasses Gear? 13.01.2021. <https://www.buffed.de/World-of-Warcraft-Spiel-42971/News/Classic-krasses-Gear-chinesische-Spieler-Gold-DKP-1364889> [19.10.2022].[]
  73. Blizzard Entertainment: World of WarCraft: The Burning Crusade. 2007.[]
  74. WoW-Wiki: Patches/1.x. <https://wowwiki-archive.fandom.com/wiki/Patches/1.x> [18.10.2022].[]
  75. Nostalrius Team: Post Mortem, p. 12-13.[]
  76. KareemNatic: Blizzard's Announcement On World of Warcraft Classic That Shocked The World (BlizzCon 2017). 04.11.2017. <https://youtu.be/dUSRkBwQdc8?t=130> [19.10.2022].[]
  77. McDonough et. al.: Preserving Virtual Worlds Final Report. 2010, p. 78. <https://library.stanford.edu/projects/preserving-virtual-worlds> [19.10.2022].[]
  78. Wowhead: Omar Gonzalez No Longer at Activision Blizzard. 03.04.2021. <https://www.wowhead.com/classic/news/omar-gonzalez-no-longer-at-activision-blizzard-joins-dreamhaven-321687> [19.10.2022].[]
  79. Today, the modern/retail version works via cloud computing in favour of dedicated server hardware per realm. This allowed for several cross-realm play features, connections between low population realms and the “sharding” of overcrowded zones. However, Conaway found drawbacks in a loss of server community/identity according to his interviewees. In Classic, each server is virtualized in a way to be self-contained like its Vanilla counterparts. See Wowpedia: Sharding (term). <https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Sharding_(term)> [19.10.2022] & Conaway: Server Worlds, p. 69-70. []
  80. See Wowhead: BlizzCon 2018 Restoring History. 03.11.2018. <https://www.wowhead.com/classic/news/blizzcon-2018-restoring-history-creating-wow-classic-panel-28840> [19.10.2022].[]
  81. Compare this situation in WoW Classic on one of the largest servers in the European region to another one with similar player numbers as well as open world boss encounter on Nostalrius: zande: Raidtime on Gehennas. 30.10.2019. <https://youtu.be/pP7Pys1lMgI?t=110> & MorgoGaming: [Nostalrius] Nightmare Dragons Release. 10.02.2016. <https://youtu.be/fYFD06UFscw?t=145> [19.10.2022].[]
  82. In WoW Classic overcrowdedness is mitigated by creating copies of the game world of a specific realm as ‘layers’, which is easy to do thanks to server clouds. Nostalrius on the other hand favoured dedicated server hardware with multi-threading to parallelize updates of the games’ maps combined with ‘instancing’ zones of the open world. Their borders were drawn in a way to be unnoticeable for players switching between them and a priority system was put in place to favour server performance for actual instanced activities such as dungeons, raids and PvP battlegrounds over open world activities. See Wowpedia: Layering. <https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Layering> [19.10.2022] & Nostalrius Team: Post Mortem, pp. 57-60.[]
  83. To re-iterate our previous theoretical discussion with the ideas of Erika Fischer-Lichte: the mise-en-scène (or ‘Inszenierung’ for German-speaking readers) is analogue to the game design process as both involve preparations, testing processes and notions of how the final performance should operate. In this case, even though the game is complete content-wise and already ran through a successful performance, there are still open design questions for the Classic developers to find answers to since technology, gaming culture and other factors have changed.[]
  84. WoW Classic developer Brian Birmingham: “We actually had [no changes] written on a whiteboard at work to kind of remind us of that mantra that the community is calling out for, but it’s funny because we’re taking the modern world of World of Warcraft and trying to take it back to the old state and we’re running that on our new technology stack. [...] So it is a lot of work and a lot of effort, but we are committed to getting that authentic feel.” See D'Orazio/Gindele: WoW Classic Developers. 23.08.2019. <https://www.invenglobal.com/articles/8930/wow-classic-developers-on-their-most-newbie-mistakes-nochanges-and-massive-server-population-were-going-to-be-prepared-this-time> [20.10.2022].[]
  85. Wowhead: WoW Classic Six Content Phases. 07.07.2020. <https://www.wowhead.com/guide/wow-classic-six-content-phases> [20.10.2022].[]
  86. Ibid.[]
  87. See Wowhead: WoW Classic Six Content Phases.[]
  88. WorldOfWarCraft.com: 1.12. Patch Notes. 26.09.-22.08.2006. <https://web.archive.org/web/20061110090227/http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/patchnotes/patch1p12.html> [20.10.2022].[]
  89. See Salen/Zimmermann: Rules of Play, p. 139.[]
  90. McDonough et. al.: Preserving Virtual Worlds Final Report, p. 85.[]
  91. Koster: A Theory of Fun. 2005, p. 118.[]
  92. See Pfeiffer: Performativität und Kulturelle Bildung. 2012. <https://www.kubi-online.de/artikel/performativitaet-kulturelle-bildung> [24.10.2022] & Carlson: Performance A Critical Introduction, pp. 3-6.[]
  93. Fritsch: Performing Bytes, p. 35.[]
  94. Zagal: Ludoliteracy. 2010, p. 22-24 & Zimmermann: Gaming Literacy. 2003, p. 30.[]
  95. Lowood: Gameplay as Public Performance and Cultural Artifact, p. 3[]
  96. Another idea that performance studies and game studies share with cybernetic thought. See Müller/Müller: Systeme beobachten. 2015, p. 553, Heylighen/Joslyn: Cybernetics and Second-Order Cybernetics. 3rd ed. 2002, p. 4, Carlson: Performance A Critical Introduction, p. 5 & Neitzel: Videospiele(n) als Aufführung(en), p. 193.[]
  97. Schechner represents the ritual theory branch of performance studies. His interpretation of performances is grounded in the simple fact that performing is “[...] pointing to, underlining, and displaying doing.” Furthermore, he reminds us that such behaviour is usually based on previous actions taken by others, but this should not be taken as a generalisation since each performance remains unique depending on who, when, where and how someone is acting them out. See Schechner: Performance Studies. 2002, pp. 28, 35-37. []
  98. Neitzel: Involvierungsstrategien des Computerspiels. 2012, p. 98.[]
  99. Wowpedia: Blackwing Lair. <https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Blackwing_Lair> [18.10.2022].[]
  100. WorldOfWarCraft.com: 1.6. Patch Notes. 02.08.-12.07.2005. <https://web.archive.org/web/20061115211816/http://www.worldofwarcraft.com:80/patchnotes/patch-05-08-02.html> [20.10.2022].[]
  101. Kedi: Blackwing Lair - Nefarian by HuH & SG. 05.03.2016. <https://youtu.be/LZeN7QUmlvU> [25.10.2022].[]
  102. WorldOfWarCraft.com: 1.7. Patch Notes. 22.09.2005. <https://web.archive.org/web/20070226122910/http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/patchnotes/patch1p7.html> [20.10.2022].[]
  103. Robin Sikking: PIGZ BWL Speedrun (28:55). 19.07.2020. <https://youtu.be/NTUCPGpaBso?t=1429> [25.10.2022].[]
  104. Newman: Playing with Videogames. 2008, p. 124.[]
  105. This means levelling a character and potentially tackling raid dungeons with them without dying once. The WoW Classic Hardcore community not only established a dedicated ruleset, but also an in-game add-on to support it. Blizzard partly addressed these ideas by incorporating a new mechanic on their Season of Mastery servers. See Classic Hardcore: Hardcore Rules. <https://classichc.net/rules/> & Wowhead: Classic Season of Mastery Soul of Iron Mechanics. 19.10.2021. <https://www.wowhead.com/classic/news/classic-season-of-mastery-soul-of-iron-mechanics-hardcore-support-324562> [25.10.2022].[]
  106. Wowwiki: Class Colors. <https://wowwiki-archive.fandom.com/wiki/Class_colors> [25.10.2022]. []
  107. Koster: A Theory of Fun, p. 118.[]
  108. The practice of gathering all possible (world) buffs was not common during Vanilla. It led to both positive as well as negative player interactions in Classic, including changes to the in-game economy. Just a few months before the release of the next Classic expansion pack, Blizzard intervened with a solution to allow players to continue with said practice, but without the griefing potential of enemy players “dispelling” buffs or being forced to log their characters off to not waste precious uptime. The later release of new 1.12 Classic servers with a different rule set (Season of Mastery) disabled world buffs to provide players a greater challenge. See: WillE: World buffs and the Dispel Meta: Content or Griefing. 05.06.2020. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mflmj4KsmKA>, Heath: What is the Chronoboon Displacer in WoW Classic. 02.05.2021. <https://dotesports.com/wow/news/what-is-the-chronoboon-displacer-wow-classic> & Wowhead: Season of Mastery Overview in WoW Classic. 05.02.2022. <https://www.wowhead.com/classic/guide/season-of-mastery-som-overview-wow-classic> [25.10.2022].[]
  109. Their impact on individual performances and group dynamics has been investigated since Vanilla. See Taylor: The Assemblage of Play. 2009, pp. 334-36 & Golub: Being in the World (of Warcraft). 2010, p. 28-30 or McArthur et. al.: Modalities of Gameplay Expertise in World of Warcraft Addons, pp. 104-108.[]
  110. Wowhead: How to Use Warcraft Logs. 10.10.2022. <https://www.wowhead.com/guide/how-to-use-warcraft-logs-6341> [25.10.2022].[]
  111. Laurel: Computers as Theatre, p. 34.[]
  112. Hempfer: Performance, Performanz, Performativität, pp. 14-18, 34-35.[]
  113. It essentially describes how “real world” events and techniques of social as well as political action influence performances and vice-versa. See Carlson: Performance A Critical Introduction, p. 17-18.[]
  114. Zagal: Ludoliteracy, p. 25.[]
  115. Li: Killing the Noob. 2011, p. 22.[]
  116. Barr et. al.: Playing Video Games During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Effects on Players’ Well-Being. 2022, p. 130.[]
  117. See Zwiezen: Everything That Has Happened Since The Activision Blizzard Lawsuit Was Filed. 26.12.2021. <https://kotaku.com/everything-that-has-happened-since-the-activision-blizz-1847401161> & Sarkar: World of Warcraft team pledges ‘immediate action’ in-game after Activision Blizzard discrimination lawsuit. 27.07.2021. <https://www.polygon.com/22596847/activision-blizzard-harassment-lawsuit-world-of-warcraft-changes-alex-afrasiabi> [26.10.2022].[]
  118. See Fritsch: Performing Bytes, p. 35, 60.[]
  119. Nohr: Wiederaufsetzen nach dem Tod, p. 252-253.[]
  120. Laurel: Computers as Theatre, p. 85.[]
  121. Ibid., p. 84-85.[]
  122. See Li: Killing the Noob, p. 5-7. []
  123. Comment by user Reddit-User Howrus, in: r/classicwow: Break some gear for all my sins. 26.05.2020. <https://www.reddit.com/r/classicwow/comments/gqyxuf/break_some_gear_for_all_my_sins/> [26.10.2022].[]
  124. Crenshaw et. al.: Community and Neoliberalism in World of WarCraft, p. 2043.[]
  125. Bungie: Halo 2. 2004.[]
  126. Good: Fourteen Halo 2 Fans Refuse to Let It Die. 27.04.2010. <https://kotaku.com/fourteen-halo-2-fans-refuse-to-let-it-die-453108386> [30.10.2022]. []
  127. r/gaming: The Noble 14, the last people to play Halo 2. 01.04.2015. <https://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/4cugjk/the_noble_14_the_last_people_to_play_halo_2/> [30.10.2022].[]
  128. Ibid.[]
  129. Sayer & Wilde: The 19-year evolution of Steam. 13.10.2022. <https://www.pcgamer.com/steam-versions/> [30.10.2022].[]
  130. See Bankhurst: Ubisoft to Shut Down Multiplayer and Online Services for 15 Games in September 2022. 04.07.2022. <https://www.ign.com/articles/ubisoft-to-shut-down-multiplayer-and-online-services-for-15-games-in-september-2022> [30.10.2022].[]
  131. Mainly eSports, live streaming and other forms of content creation. See Neitzel: Videospiele(n) als Aufführung(en), pp. 188-192.[]
  132. See Senior: EA boss boasts: "I have not greenlit one game to be developed as a singleplayer experience". 05.10.2012. <https://www.pcgamer.com/ea-boss-boasts-i-have-not-green-lit-one-game-to-be-developed-as-a-singleplayer-experience/> [30.10.2022].[]
  133. Schneider: Performance Remains. 2001, p. 103.[]
  134. See Taylor: Save As. 2010. <https://hemisphericinstitute.org/en/emisferica-91/9-1-essays/e91-essay-save-as.html> [30.10.2022].[]
  135. See Ibid.[]
  136. See YouTube Help: Remove claimed content from videos. <https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2902117?hl=en> [30.10.2022].[]
  137. r/wow: Do not, for any reason, purchase a premium account at WarcraftMovies.com. It is now a fraudulent website. 03.10.2016. <https://www.reddit.com/r/wow/comments/55mp5b/do_not_for_any_reason_purchase_a_premium_account/> [30.10.2022].[]
  138. See Hölling: Caring For Performance: Recent Debates. 2021. <https://journals.openedition.org/ceroart/8119> [30.10.2022].[]
  139. For example: Adam Chapman’s work on digital games as alternative ways of conveying historical information as virtual heritage sites, counterfactual simulations or “historical exploratory challenges” via ecological psychology. See Chapman: Digital Games as History. 2016, p. 192.[]
  140. See Stanford Humanities Lab: Archiving Virtual Worlds. <https://archive.org/details/virtual_worlds> [30.10.2022].[]
  141. For example: The video archive of the Hemispheric Institute. See Hemispheric Institute. HIDVL Overview. <https://hemisphericinstitute.org/en/hidvl.html> [30.10.2022].[]
  142. Zimmermann: Gaming Literacy, p. 26-27.[]

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Potthast, Ann-Kristin: "Azeroth as Theatre: The history of digital games… as performance(s)?". In: PAIDIA – Zeitschrift für Computerspielforschung. 10.05.2023, https://paidia.de/azeroth-as-theatre-the-history-of-digital-games-as-performances/. [21.07.2024 - 07:12]

Autor*innen:

Ann-Kristin Potthast

Ann-Kristin Potthast studies history and media culture analysis at the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf and works as a guide for exhibitions of the foundation House of History North Rhine-Westphalia. Interests in contemporary and public history aside, she has been passionate about digital games both old and new since an early age. She focuses on their history and preservation as well as developments in gaming culture. Email: ann-kristin.potthast@hhu.de // Twitter: @AKPotthast