Boss Fight Books: World of Warcraft (#12) – Daniel Lisi

4 out of 5

Being one of the Boss Fight Books entries I was especially not looking forward to, it’s satisfying – and renews my interest in continuing with the series – to have enjoyed Daniel Lisi’s ‘World of Warcraft’ so, so much. He addresses the new gamer / experienced gamer problem the lesser books have flubbed by stating his approach – you’re a new gamer – and staying consistent to that mindset, and also does what any good book should do by remaining focused: Lisi wants to talk about his experience with WoW, and does so, meanwhile seamlessly slipping in the history on the game, as well as some researched backing on the psychological concepts of addiction he ends up exploring. This is a trick of a good teacher, or writer – actually offering you a lot more content than the surface layer might suggest, and making that surface layer as shiny and accessible as possible. He also wholly owns up to what he speaks to here without judgment; that is, he did some baaaad things while playing WoW, but isn’t poo-pooing on players or the game itself. He’s not remaining detached from video games, and “looking back” with faux-adulthood – this is, again, his experience, and it informed who he is now, and he’s sharing that.

Lisi takes us on a short but thorough and immersive ride through his exposure to the game as a teen, and how it became a massively time-consuming obsession for him for a while, stepping through pieces of similar horror stories you likely heard or read during the game’s heyday. But it’s not a strict confessional: Daniel takes detours to consider why the game had such an effect, which then bridges in to the effects games can have in general – positive and negative – and the reward cycle WoW encouraged and monetized.

This last bit is essentially what made me hate the game at the time: it turned a franchise I quite loved, Warcraft, into something that didn’t make “sense” to my preference for linear beginnings and endings and single player games. Along with (in my mind) the Sims and Grand Theft Auto III, it shifted the gaming landscape into open world micro-transactions. Would this have occurred anyway? For sure, but these are the games that were at a peak when these changes were occurring, and so they became inextricably tied to those changes for me. As such, and given Boss Fights’ uneven quality, I was expecting book #12 to be a flippant, ‘this is why I love(d) Warcraft when I was a kid’-style book, and instead, it’s an incredibly well-written and presented study of how and why the game was so massive, colored by the author’s very real experiences with it.

The only thing it’s really lacking – hence the imperfect rating – is a sense of closure. Lisi became a game designer; there’s a happy ending, but the book pretty much jumps from him leaving his online guild to those bright and sunny days, and while I do sort of get that – things directly relevant to Warcraft, and thus the book, stop happening once he stopped playing the game – it robs the narrative of some type of denouncement, or perhaps a slightly deeper concluding statement on what we’ve just read may “mean.” However, at about 100 pages, the book is a perfect length to not be knocked much by this. There’s plenty of ‘meaning’ throughout, for sure, and maybe I was just enjoying Lisi’s writerly voice so much – and there’s some irony here, about being so invested in a book about a game that damned some to over-investment – that I was bummed when it was over.