15 Minutes of Fame: Japanese players build their own community in World of Warcraft

What does World of Warcraft sound like from an entirely different cultural perspective? Jump to about 8:30 in the above video and listen to the last moments of this heroic boss kill -- the point at which terse expletives usually bristle from from even the most disciplined, well-oiled raiders, the whole thing followed by a deafening avalanche of shouts and cheers when the boss finally falls. Contrast those expectations with the understated pleasure here of CAVAG, a guild of Japanese players on Proudmoore (US-Horde), and you'll gain a sense of just one of the more outward cultural differences between this group and the typical American raiding guild.

Welcome to the world of #wowjp, a network of Japanese WoW players who've learned English primarily through playing the game. You can find localized versions of World of Warcraft in Korea, mainland China and Taiwan, but Japanese players are left to their own devices -- no dedicated servers, no language localization. To solve those challenges, Japanese players have banded together to create their own Japanese game guides, share addons and tips for typing in Japanese within the game, and form a network of Japanese-language guilds across several North American realms.

Bringing us this interview with two Japanese WoW players is the Sha of Happiness, herself a native Japanese speaker and a member of the #wowjp community. But before we begin, a simple and heartfelt message from the Japanese players:

The wowjp community wished to tell the readers/Blizzard: "Thank you for providing the Hippogryph Hatchling for the tsunami relief efforts. Thank you for all of your donations."

Main character Hifa, night elf marksman/survival hunter
Guild Harapeko Soul
Realm Proudmoore (US-Alliance)

Main character Tripofhama, undead fury warrior
Realm Proudmoore (US-Horde)

WoW Insider: Tell us a little bit about your guilds. When was the guild created? About how many active members belong? What sort of content do you focus on?

Hifa: Harapeko Soul was created eight years ago. I think we are one of the oldest Japanese guild in our realm. We had 31 [or] 32 online members last night. I've never counted how many active members we have, but I guess 35 [to] 40 members are active at this moment. We mainly do raid for normal difficulity. Arenas and rated BGs are also our favorite.

Tripofhama: The guild was born some time in July of 2009. We are a 10m PvE Japanese guild. Currently active members are around 18 people, and in the active raiding tier for the guild, we have 14.

How long have you yourself been playing WoW? Have you played (or do you play) other MMOs as well?

Hifa: Since fall 2008, then I retired. I came back and I've gotten hooked on this game three years ago. I've played Ultima Online for over 13 years until then.

Tripofhama: I started Warcraft during Hallows Eve of 2011. I joined CAVAG April 2014. WoW is my only MMORPG, but I like to play Hearthstone as well.

Do Japanese WoW players typically play on North American servers? Do you know of other realms or server groups where Japanese players congregate?

Hifa: Yes. As you know there's Korean and Taiwanese realms that are official Blizzard ones there, however, most Japanese players don't understand languages used in there. It may sound strange to you, but we understand and are used to English. Many of us are playing in Proudmoore and Blackrock, and we've spread to Ner'zhul, Maiev, and Tichondrius.

Tripofhama: As far as I know, Japanese players only play on US realms. Blackrock and Proudmoore have the highest concentration, but Ner'zhul and Maiev both have JP guilds.

How much do you interact with players outside your guild?

Hifa: Why not! We queue dungeon finder and raid finder, BGs to play with random players. We join flex or normal raid LFMing in general chat. Do 2s or 3s for cap with random players. Sometimes Japanese guilds run flex raid with other Japanese guilds or players.

Tripofhama: I'm not sure of the other realm's statistics, but PM/Horde has three guilds that regularly interact with each other.

Do you welcome non-Japanese members into your guild?

Hifa: We have some non-Japanese guildies as well and welcome them, as long as they want to communicate with us who use Japanese language. Some of us understand both Japanese and English and help to talk with who doesn't understand Japanese. I encourage non-Japanese language users to not hesitate to use English to communicate, since all of us understand or try to understand what you say, and some will help you.

Tripofhama: At this moment, there are none. Even if people inquire, they get intimidated by the language barrier and usually give up.

Does your guild or members do any roleplaying?

Hifa: Some does. Not really mean roleplaying as night elves or dwarves, but they roleplay as they wish, like a Samurai. He roleplays even in voice chat!

Tripofhama: I do not, however -- I love warriors so if they're available to play, that's what I am drawn to.

Most American players are well aware how incredibly popular WoW is in Korea, but what about in Japan? Many Americans may not realize how different things are between that country and yours ― the differences in popularity of WoW and StarCraft in each, the differences between the languages, the availability of fan sites and resources, and so on. Can you describe and help put those differences in context?

Hifa: WoW is a choice from tremendously amount of MMO that are developed in Japan. Many Japanese doesn't pick the world's greatest MMO only because it's English. There are constant people loves foreign TV and PC games, and they keep eyes on Bliz games expansion comes up. I don't know how things go in Korea much, but I know they are lucky since they play on their language.

Tripofhama: The general formula for MMOs in Japan that I see is free to play, pay to win, and Korean made. It's truly a horrible way to go about it, as there is no support like how Blizzard has, it's basically made to sell via the in game shop, and the games usually have a bad reputation. If you compare Warcraft to it, Warcraft is much more mature, and there's a lot of support. After I picked up WoW, I don't like anything else because it's dull in comparison.

However, the language barrier is thick, and there are plenty of people who aren't proficient in English so they don't attempt WoW. There has been addons created to specifically target those kind of people, and I wish they'd give WoW a chance.

I understand you had to create a guide to help non-English-speaking players learn how to begin playing WoW. Are there no Japanese-language resources for WoW already? What sort of information did you find you needed to develop? Is that information available strictly for your guild members, or is it posted publicly on the internet?

Hifa: Some Japanese players are keep trying to tell them how wonderful WoW is. describes how to start and how fun to play this every time a new expansion is published. Player blogs and videos are great sources for how to play the game.

I don't develop or create any useful guide for Japaneses, but I only write blogs how I played recently. Sometimes I write about seasonal events I did, or intermission events before expansion I enjoyed. I tweet when I know any restarts or scheduled maintenance to share, convert PST official info to JST. Every information I write from my own experience. Here's my blog and Twitter.

Tripofhama: There's a website called WoW Guild Power that volunteers created that focuses on #wowjp guilds, population, weekly raid progression, PvP, etc. that you can check out with a glance. It's also utilized in guild recruitment.

What resources exist for a Japanese player who's new to speaking English to help them understand details such as spell information and quest text?

Hifa: For skills and abilities, repetitive use and comprehension, then read tooltips after that. Ask other Japanese players how it works. For quests, "watch" the quest log and pick the word they know, and deduce. We can complete quests, just track objectives.

There's quite helpful addon to show tooltips or quests in Japanese, called Wowjapanizer. I contributed some tooltip translations for it.

Tripofhama: I'm speaking for myself, but in the beginning I depended on the Japanese addon. This addon allows you to look at the text in English and Japanese simultaneously, and you gradually learn the key words, then you can start deciphering things to learn English. It's delightful to play something that you like and to learn simultaneously, LOL.

How do you typically communicate in game? Is it possible to type in Japanese in game? Is voice communication (like Ventrilo) necessary? Do guild members typically converse in game in Japanese, English, or both, and does that vary from text chat to voice chat?

Hifa: Basically, we communicate in English in game with non-Japanese people. We chat in Japanese language with guildies on guild chat and guild runs. You can see our words with certain-named Japanese TTF files in FONTS folder under WoW installed folder. We don't use Japanese fonts in general chat or /say or pugs, as it shows as a string of "?" and may confuse them.

When guild raid we explain strategies and how to do both Japanese and English, for our Japanese and non-Japanese members. We use Mumble for VC, mainly spoken in Japanese.

Some non-Japanese members listen to us. They also use Skype with translator member. We really appreciate for their effort.

Tripofhama: There's a way to change the font in game so that you can type in Unicode and have Japanese appear. As a general courtesy, we limit Japanese to guild/party chat, and anything else (/2, /s) is done in English. When we're just hanging out in Mumble for our guild, we speak in Japanese. Voice chat differs by guild -- Skype, Vent, TeamSpeak, etc.

Besides the obvious challenges posed by the language and time zone barriers, are there other differences that make it difficult for a Japanese player to integrate smoothly with American players on an American realm?

Hifa: Sometimes we face different of cultures between ours and foreign players. We sense the atmosphere and don't say everything, they state clearly what they think. It baffled us, but we talk, understand each other.

Tripofhama: Japanese people tend to play together, so the time difference isn't much of an issue. There are some that excel in English, so that isn't a problem too, although I have an issue on occasion. When our raid ended, I got an invite from a foreigner to do arenas, but I panicked because I didn't know how to respond. I didn't know how to decline politely ... so I want to learn more English, LOL.

Thanks again to the Sha of Happiness for her translations for this interview. Find more from Hifa and Hama on Twitter.

Interested in trying out a little Japanese in game? Consult our Guide to Essential WoW Terminology in Other Languages, including Japanese for WoW players.

"I never thought of playing

WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) or a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to