Early 2005, I was a young 20 year old boy and closing out my sophomore year in college. At the time, I was huge into console gaming with the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance working all kinds of magic with the hardware, but I was not totally foreign to the concept of “online gaming.”
In high school, I became pretty proficient with SOCOM: US Navy Seals for a while and even had a few outings with online RPGs like Everquest Adventures and Final Fantasy XI. Phantasy Star Online on the GameCube was my absolute favorite by that point, but this new game that everyone was playing sounded like a marvel: World of Warcraft.
I wanted that open-world fantasy experience, and this was the best place to get it. The only problem was, I would need a PC.
By this point, the last time I seriously got into a PC game was the original Command and Conquer back in the early days of the classic franchise. To say that my computer was a little out of date would be an understatement. My laptop was running on fumes and my PC I think still had floppy drives. I was granted a new computer to run it on, a late Christmas present from Santa, and I was finally able to start my own Azeroth legend!
Well, not all went as smoothly as it could have from the start. My relationship with my friends at the time was mirrored within the game with the mistake of me choosing a Night Elf. My dormitory was located at the far north end of our campus, a full twenty-minute walk through the snow into the central campus where all of them resided, and likewise, my friends were all having fun together blasting through Ironforge and Stormwind while I was cast away on an isolated tree island. Stupid Night Elves…
From there, I had to teach myself how to progress through a Western RPG. I had a little experience at the genre before thanks to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but as a child of Final Fantasy, I did not get how to manage DPS or the purpose of buffs and status effects, which were generally treated as after-thoughts in the JRPG world.
I got myself proficient enough to understand how to roll with other newcomers. It was interesting to experience a new genre, learn about the world, interact with people. I was enjoying myself to an extent, but even then, playing with others felt like a single player experience.
Sadly, it never quite worked out to the point where I could party with people I knew in real life. My friends had branched into the Horde, back before having multiple characters became a “thing,” and we never quite were able to meet within the game like we were able to in real life. Get together, drink a few beers, watch some anime, good times! Hanging out together, a weekly affair. Hanging out in Azeroth, once in a blue moon.
I started to enjoy being away from Azeroth more.
By this time, my curiosity of a new genre turned into a bit of an tiring, endless grind I couldn’t walk away from. I was jumping through guilds, getting annoyed with infighting, questing with strangers who I would never meet again, and still treating this multiplayer game like a single player affair, imagining myself playing with bots rather than other human beings.
Guilds started to take off into a serious business by 2007, and the introduction of DKP further complicated what was once a fun little game.
The innocence of it all was dead, and World of Warcraft became more of a second job than a game. A job I didn’t really find myself enjoying. If there is one thing I learned, it’s that an online world is always more fun in the early days when people are finding things out its inner workings. Once all is discovered and it becomes a calculated affair, the mystery is gone and it will never come back.
Further annoyances started to pile up. The rinse and repeating of Instances started to get on my nerves, always questing but never truly accomplishing anything. Raiding with strangers, never finding a guild I truly enjoyed. It became kind of clear that I was expecting a little more from this game. Something like Final Fantasy. Something with a finishing point that would never come.
Luckily, I never got to sucked in too far after this new face of World of Warcraft set in. I finally realized I was playing a little too much when I was kicked out of the school basketball pep-band for missing too many practices. “Wow, this affected my real life? Well, time to quit!” The perpetual grind I was feeling made it easy to walk away, so no big loss there, just the fun of watching basketball and playing my saxophone with my band friends.
I won’t say I didn’t have fun with World of Warcraft because I did, but whenever I think about it, my memories only extend to the grind, the guild bickering, the long waltzes between towns, and the second job status it eventually required. People who often read my articles know I judge a games value by the impression it leaves on me and how long that impression lasts.
All of my favorite games are old because their impacts have had a lot of time to manifest, and they are also games I can’t wait to play again some day.
World of Warcraft is not something I plan on playing ever again, failing to meet that criteria. It was a passing instant in my life, one I can barely remember and yet still sunk more money into than any other game in my collection. As for lasting impressions, well, the best I can say was that it helped me realize how much better real interaction with humans is rather than through games.
At the same time I was playing this game, I was breaking out of the awkward, anti-social shell of my high school days. I made friends, learned how to drink, participated in school events, went to football games, joined clubs, came to Japan and study abroad, and each was infinitely more fun than raiding yet another Horde sanctuary.
I kind of regret sinking two years of my life into World of Warcraft. I think of all the other fun college events I might have missed, new friends I could have made, or even other games I might have preferred to play instead, and it makes me wonder “what if?”
Still, Blizzard’s world was pretty instrumental in teaching me the importance of balance between a social life and my private hobbies, and more specifically, how I should maybe keep them separate and never consider them one in the same. There is a certain liberation knowing I can walk away from Skyrim or Persona 4 without the fear of losing my turn for loot just because I missed a raid.
Why would I walk away from a game? Because I want to be social or because I’m not having fun anymore, both were my reasons for moving on from World of Warcraft.