The Ghost Towns of World of Warcraft

Illustration for article titled The Ghost Towns of emWorld of Warcraft/em

Digital cities can be abandoned and deserted, just like real-world ones—and World of Warcraft is a prime example of this phenomenon, thanks to its many expansions.

Writing for the AV Club, Samantha Nelson details the hustle and bustle of World of Warcraft--and the cities players have left behind, as they leveled up and more cities became available to them:

These are perfectly preserved digital spaces, so unlike Detroit, they show no physical symptoms of their abandonment. But they are spaces designed for hundreds where it's possible to wander the streets without seeing a single other player. Computer-controlled characters will still cheerily train you in a new skill or peruse your wares, but the cities still feel desolate.

I go anyway. The emptiness feels appropriate in a place like Silvermoon. I imagine that the haughty Blood Elves discourage the other races from coming to their home. On the rare occasions when another player can be seen wandering the city's streets, it's almost always another elf. Maybe they're drawn back by an appreciation for the space's beauty. Without other players to distract you by dancing naked or generally bustling around the screen, a visitor can admire details like self-sweeping brooms and golems on patrol. These are the sights that make the place beautiful and magical—and slightly ominous.


The entire thing is well-worth a read, especially if you're interested in a quick history lesson about how certain spaces in World of Warcraft are populated or deserted over time.

One of these abandoned spaces described is Shattrath—which you can see concept art of at the top of this post, or, if you're interested, there's also an in-game screenshot by effysrponwyrmrestaccord that can give you a taste of what this city looks like:

Illustration for article titled The Ghost Towns of emWorld of Warcraft/em

Eerie, considering that MMOs are supposed to have a ton of people in them. But also kind of beautiful, eh?

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This is how Final Fantasy 11 feels these days. Eerie is the perfect word to describe it. The community settles in whatever the latest city is around the newest content. This leaves the vast majority of the world, all the areas and cities, as desolate wastelands for the most part.

At the same time I get this weird feeling when I am in these areas. It's like a mix of "butterflies" and giddy-ness. This enormous game and this little corner of it where you're standing exists just for you in this moment, like when you'd build a fort under your bed or behind a couch against a wall, you feel safe and secure . Then you can be a bit more abstract about it and think of that physical/digital space on that server for that zone. As if the circuits themselves have collected dust and lie dormant, you navigate into the zone and it brings it back to life, a place on the server that has gone unappreciated for who knows how long. I often think about this when doing a weird buried task in the game or interacting with some NPC or monster that doesn't have any regular purpose except to exist. When was the last time I player interacted with this? Weeks? Months? Years? Though I suppose that it doesn't exactly work that way, and the data and locations are on the users computer and just the location coordinates are sent back and forth from the server. Makes this all sound less interesting.

In some ways I like the emptiness compared to having an area filled to the brim with people which can feel completely unrealistic depending on the zone, especially if people are jumping around like idiots everywhere.

I find it extremely sad to think that one day, something like FF11 which I have many fond memories of, will probably cease to exist and you'll never be able to even wander around that world again. I've often thought about this and felt the developer should make like at least an hour long video of just the camera panning around and moving through the various zones while playing the music. I feel this would in some way archive that world and allow former players to remember and act as a reference to people, maybe decades down the line, see what this game was about.