The Most Miserable Place In The World (Of Warcraft)
On the Barrens, and how people never change.
Just like in real life, World of Warcraft is broken up into zones. They have fun names like Goldshire, Booty Bay and Dustwallow Marsh; and each has its own unique look and character. Goldshire, for example, is a friendly, green forest full of low-level enemies that aren’t really doing much other than causing minor problems that only you, low-level champion, can solve by of course killing everything because that’s why you’re playing the game after all.
The fact that each zone has a specified level range of quests to complete and enemies to kill, means that the game more-or-less has a set path it wants you to follow. It’s a clever bit of trickery that leads players to believe they’re exploring this massive world on their own while also ensuring that the World of Warcraft Experience is uniform across tens of millions of players.
On the one hand this is great, because seeing other people play the game alongside you really does make you feel like you’re a part of a larger World (of Warcraft). On the other hand, at times you’re expected to group up with others. And there is nothing worse than having forced interactions with multiple strangers in a video game.
This brings us to the worst zone in all of World of Warcraft: the Barrens.
When you start a new character in World of Warcraft, the game plops you into a pre-defined starting zone where you learn how to play the game. Quests take minutes to complete, it’s always clear where you’re supposed to head next and everything is pretty close to each other. By design, you spend the first 10 levels or so destroying enemies, breezing through quests and regularly receiving new pieces of gear. After that, the game spits you out into one of the game’s first full-sized zones where you’re expected to take what you’ve learned into the starting area and use it in a zone where the enemies are a little tougher, quests objectives are a little more opaque and things just take slightly more time to do. For most races in the game this transition is pretty smooth.
Unless, you decide to play as an Orc, Troll or Tauren. Where, after a pleasant first few hours, you’re dumped into the Barrens: a seemingly unending expanse of arid brown grasslands where nothing happens and everyone is stuck there for at least the next 25-30 hours of this goddamn video game.
You see, while most zones in WoW last no more than 6-8 levels of your journey to level 60 — just long enough for the novelty of doing the same things (killing enemies, completing quests) with new set dressing wears off — the Barrens forces Orc, Troll and Tauren players to trudge through its rust-brown nothingness for anywhere between 15-23 levels. For most players, that’s a solid week of playtime spent in a single area, and it sucks.
This seemingly unending amount of time you’re stuck in the Barrens is only exacerbated by the fact that you have to run everywhere. This isn’t so bad in the beginning. You arrive at the Crossroads, the Barrens’ largest settlement and major quest hub. Everything the folks of the Crossroads ask you to do is relatively close, but after the first hour or two, the next round of quests start to send you further, and further out into the Barrens, where you can spend something like a good 8-10 minutes just running to the place where you need to slay some pirates or collect some raptor horns. Eventually, you’re spending more time in the Barrens running around than literally anything else.
The game acknowledges this fact by giving you an autorun button. Have a long journey ahead of you? Just point your character in direction you need to go, hit the autorun button and now your fingers are free to do… anything but play the game.
This brings us to the truly worst part of the Barrens: the other players.
You see, each zone has their own dedicated chat channel. Ideally, players in each zone can use zone chat to group up for difficult quests or dungeons, alert each other to hostile players of the opposing faction or just provide general help with the game. Being that this is the internet, however, this rarely happens — and the place where this especially rarely happens is in the Barrens.
Remember that autorun button I mentioned earlier, and how it frees your fingers up to do anything other than playing the game? Well, as I am sure you can see where this is going, because the Barrens is both incredibly boring and you’re running everywhere, most players pass the time by just saying the dumbest, most hateful shit you can possibly imagine. To quest in the Barrens is to be stuck in a chatroom with hundreds of edgelords who are all having a competition of who can say racial slurs the loudest. And even though World of Warcraft communities are broken up into dozens of separate servers, this behavior was so universal that it got its own name: “Barrens Chat.” Because this was 2005, this in-joke amongst players was eventually turned into a t-shirt you could buy.
Looking back at Barrens Chat, you could easily chalk it up to early ‘00s internet edgelordism — where video games were largely dominated by straight white teenage boys who loved making Chuck Norris jokes, watching South Park and basing their entire culture on homophobia, racism and ableism.
Jumping into Classic in 2019, I assumed that Barrens Chat would stay in 2005 where it belonged. The edgelord teens in 2005 are now pushing 30. They now have families, jobs, and have uh, lived enough to know how dumb and wrong it is to spend your free time spewing bigoted nonsense to hundreds of strangers in a video game, right? Like, it’s one thing for a bunch of teenagers to make Barrens Chat what is was in 2005, but there’s no way a bunch of 30-somethings could cause Barrens Chat to happen again in 2019, right?
As it turns out, I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
(I’m going to give a few examples of what I saw in Barrens Chat below. So, CW: Transphobia, Misogyny, Racism.)
My very first evening in the Barrens was spent watching someone argue with a dozen people that a vagina tastes bad, actually. His reason? Because his own dick sinks, cunnilingus must also taste gross. This was closely followed by a “debate” over whether being transgender is a mental illness, and then targeted harassment of a player who had the courage to actually respond to these transphobes that, actually hey, it’s not. After that someone spewed a bunch of racist garbage towards some players who identified themselves as black in the chat. When people called this player out on their racist behavior, they then started shouting HAVE I OFFENDED YOU? ARE YOU TRIGGED? After about five minutes of people ignoring this player, they then started to use the n-word and bragged about how Blizzard wouldn’t ban them. All of this was interspersed with someone spamming a recruitment ad for their guild, urging people who were sick of “outrage culture” and “snowflakes” to join up. All of this, within the first two hours of arriving in the Barrens.
I feel very stupid for thinking that somehow after 15 years, video game culture miraculously rooted out all the bigotry. One only need look at the current alt-right, né Gamergate, to realize just how little things have changed in popular video game spaces. How very dumb and naive of me to think otherwise.
Those edgelord teens, who are now likely 30-something fascists, saw WoW Classic as a place to reassert themselves — to not only recreate how WoW played in 2005, but also to recreate the social spaces of the game in 2005. And what better place to do this — to show that everything is exactly as hateful as you remember it — than the Barrens?
At first, I tried to argue with these awful people — to show that in 2019 there at least would be people actually pushing back against this bullshit. But eventually I found myself spending more time shouting at bigots than I actually spent playing this dumb video game. So, I just started reporting the dipshits. Thinking that Barrens Chat couldn’t happen in 2019 was naive, but it’s probably more naive to think the game’s moderators would agree. At least now they’re muted.
The Barrens is the most miserable place in World of Warcraft because the internet is still the most miserable place. Some things never change.
Next week: What the hell do I even want to get out of this video game?