I didn’t really take notice World of Warcraft until my friends started disappearing.One by one they seemed to drop silently from my social circle, among whose survivors their departure was reported with the solemn warrant of a war film.
“What happened to Eric?”
“He didn’t make it…”
Where once with friends I shared a lively early-20s nightlife, one replete with drinks and movies and early-morning hours spent in smoky diners, stinking of a post-Bacchanalian haze, I grew to find instead a phone unburdened of voicemail, and weekends grown spare and quiet.In a matter of mere months, my pack had thinned considerably – its members evilly culled by the enticements of a night spent staring into a computer screen, navigating a cheerful sprite from one fantasy dungeon to another.
Being no stranger to the occasional weekend lost to an engrossing video game (for who doesn’t love shooting someone in the face and not getting arrested for it), I had certainly heard of World of Warcraft: a familiar intellectual property (to those in the dweeby gamer know), broadcast via the internet into a persistent virtual universe.The World of Warcraft is a place wherein one assumes the avatar of some fantasy race – your standard lineup of elves and dwarves and boring old humans, peppered occasionally with something fresh, like a cowman (which, I bewilderingly admit, I cannot help but love) – and tromps about the cyber-world stabbing pixilated bad guys and casting colorfully destructive spells.One chooses a class or profession – a beefy, iron-clad warrior, for instance, or a shadowy rogue, or a moody, necromancing warlock – and proceeds to spend their time unearthing the secret talents of this class, becoming as a result a beefier, iron-claddier warrior, a shadowyer rogue, etcetera.
In truth, I could understand the appeal of this.I’ve always had the desire to explore a new world – the less realistic the better.In my own travels to other countries, no matter how great my delight, I’ve always been left feeling somewhat underwhelmed.Reality, no matter how alien or exotic, is still just reality.In my post-college trip to Italy I discovered that, despite the lush almost agonizing beauty of that place, Italians ultimately go about their day just as Americans do – only on scooters, and with more time designated for drinks and sex.
WoW promised me verdant, sultry jungles of long-eared, elven pinup girls, and dusty steppes through which ethereal, cow-person shaman would sweep and graze, raising their hooves high and lowing ancient runic incantations to the firmament. In WoW, people ride giant tigers into battle for glory and honor. In my world, the real world, I drive a car to a convenience store to buy diet coke.The very thought of something different caused my inner poindexter to jump and shout with specky glee.But upon discovering that one would actually have to pay a monthly fee to play, my frugality overtook my desire for mock-adventure, and I decided that WoW would be one world I’d avoid exploring.
Over the weeks and months that passed, my friends descended even further into their new, better world.When I did see or speak to them, our conversations would often turn to the grand places they’d left behind, or the quest they’d been forced to postpone.They grew wan and stringy in appearance, looking more and more like the addicts they were becoming.And like addicts, they continued to proselytize, desperate to share their experience with whomever they could find – even going so far as to offer me a free hit.
“Oh dude, comeon, you’ve got to try it.It’s like the greatest thing ever.You can sign up for a trial account.Ten free days!I can invite you into my guild, and we can hang out!”
Over time, like the friend of an addict, despite the glaring evidence to the contrary, their zeal began to erode my stuffy, sober refusal. My late-night internet wanderings – which before would lead me to Wikipedia entries on abstruse philosophical concepts I couldn’t possibly understand, or Youtube streams of videos of people singing to their dogs – began to lead me nearer their world.
I’d read game reviews – multiple times – and debate the finer points of each critique with no one at all.
I’d sift through gameplay shots, and wonder the name of each and every monster and beastie that glowered in frame.
I even started to read the WoW message boards.
This, of course, is the hardest thing to admit.
I began to experience a yearning I hadn’t felt since childhood, one that always came when walking through a shopping mall or a toy store with my parents.There, tantalizingly nestled in some glass case, would rest some thing – a toy or game or bauble I’d want more than anything.Why, I wouldn’t know.I’d only know that I wanted it, and that by the decree of a stern, older voice, I wasn’t allowed to have it.Which, of course, made it all the more necessary to acquire.
My inner-Dad, that mature voice that tells me to go to bed at a reasonable hour, or to not have that second bowl of ice cream, lectured endlessly within my skull.You’re in grad school, Andrew.You don’t need something else to keep you from your work.Save your money.Read a book.Go outside and play – it’s nice out there.And yet the rest of me – the all-but-whole of me – pressed its face upon the pane, hungry and aching with desire.
With each night that passed, I became more and more an observer of WoW, but refrained from ever being a participant.Rather, like a cyber-anthropologist (an e-nthropologist?), I merely sifted through the behavior and data and developed theories.
I went on like this for a month or so.And then one night, with the arbitrary abruptness that colors all of life’s bad decisions, I signed up for a free trial.
I downloaded the game onto my computer on a Friday night, my weekends barren and free anyway, and after a protracted installation, and amid the blooming fanfare of trumpets and drums, the game flared to life on my computer screen.
And with that, I took my first awkward steps into what would be a yearlong obsession with the World of Warcraft.
To Be Continued in Part II:The Earth Was Without Form…