But the choice went beyond a simple matter of what type of game you wanted to play. Each server had its own cast of characters, and as the years went by, these players turned into friends and foes alike. Servers weren't just about how you wanted to play; they were a collection of people you interacted with on a daily basis. Guilds were composed of people with the same ideas in mind, but those guilds weren't the be all and end- all of your interaction with people in the game. Every server had that one guy who was always cracking jokes in trade chat. Every server always had a ninja or two. And of course, there was always the guy who didn't seem to get what social interaction was all about.
These days, we have cross-realm grouping via Real ID, the Raid Finder for those who don't want to bother with joining a raid guild, and now we've got the up-and-coming feature that will allow us to group with players cross-realm for raiding old content as well as the new stuff. So the big question is this: Do servers even have a purpose anymore?
When you made that choice in vanilla and picked a server, you were essentially signing up to become a part of a community within the game. Battlegrounds didn't exist, and players couldn't talk to players on other servers. It was a completely isolated environment, one that was self-policing in a way -- if you acted in a manner that people didn't like, you'd soon find yourself on the blacklist of pretty much everyone on the server. Players who violated the simple tenet of Be Nice to Those Around You felt the sting of their decision in a profound and meaningful way. Nobody would group with you, nobody would quest with you, and your only choice was to re-roll on another server entirely.
When server transfers opened up, it opened the floodgates for these people. Suddenly the consequences for acting poorly weren't meaningful; instead of having to re-roll from level 1 and start over, they could simply pay the fee and take their main to somewhere where nobody would recognize their misdeeds. Eventually those misdeeds would catch up, however, causing them to have to relocate once again. There was still a social aspect to these servers at that point; players still had to group with each other to complete content, after all.
And then we had the introduction of the Dungeon Finder, and it dynamically changed how the game worked from a social perspective. Players w hogot a kick out of being rude in instances no longer had to worry about what the rest of the server thought, because they were grouping with people they would likely never see again. Blizzard addressed the problem of finding people to group with, but in doing so, it opened the floodgates for that server community to slowly dwindle and die.
World of Warcraft has a much different face now than it did in vanilla or even The Burning Crusade. Players no longer really talk to each other in game unless they happen to be in the same guild. It's rare that anyone looks for a group of people on their own server -- why should they bother, when the Dungeon Finder easily puts together a group for them? And there's no real reason to talk to anyone in a Dungeon Finder group; you're not likely to see them again, anyway.
With the Raid Finder, players no longer have to look for raid guilds to complete raid content. With the introduction of cross-realm raiding, they no longer have to even look for a server in order to raid content. What it boils down to is this: That choice that players had to make back in vanilla, the choice of what type of game they want to play, is no longer a relevant choice. If players roll on a PvP server, they only need worry about PvP while they are leveling. Once at max level, they can simply sit in their capital city and queue for whatever they'd like to do.
Those who want to raid no longer need to look at PvE servers and what types of raid guilds they offer. They can simply queue up for the Raid Finder and experience that raid content without having to be in a raiding guild. When cross-realm raiding opens up, they can even play around in real raids, rather than Raid Finder versions. Roleplaying seems to be the only reason to choose a server anymore, but roleplay is dwindling on many servers, likely because very few people on these servers go out of their way to actually talk to each other anymore.
But this isn't a question of social interactivity, I suppose. What it's a question of is whether or not the choice of server even makes a difference anymore. It seems as though the choice of server is slowly progressing from what type of game a player wants to play to how much lag they will experience while they are playing it. If this is the case, why even have the separation of U.S. and European servers anymore? Why not let anyone group together, regardless of location?
Part of me wonders all of this, and the other part looks back fondly on the days of vanilla, when joining a server meant that you were joining a small community of a few thousand people. It meant that you were signing up to interact with this community and make scores of friends -- and enemies -- along the way. Playing World of Warcraft meant that you were playing with other people, people who had lives, thoughts, ideas, and feelings that you should take into consideration while you were mucking around slaying internet dragons. It seems like those days are slowly sliding into oblivion, and I'm not sure how to feel about that.