The Eternal Allure of World of Warcraft

I quit playing World of Warcraft in 2014 after 6 years of playing, which was technically the third time I’d quit. Why is it that I always want to pick it up again?

This is part ramble and part love letter to one of the greatest games on Earth.

This isn’t an explanation of MMORPGs or World of Warcraft so I’ll breeze past that part. I also apologize that I lost most of my really old WoW images during a variety of unhappy hard drive accidents so instead there is a weird assortment of pictures for this post. I started playing WoW back in 2008, I did so on a free trial account to humor Andrew and I would have never thought I’d even care about the game ten days later, let alone ten years later – especially since it’s been a good four years since I quit the game.

In the BEFORE times…

WoW wasn’t my first MMO rodeo, it wasn’t even my first time playing a MMORPG. I’d dabbled in Ultima, EverQuest, Ragnarok Online, and even Maple Story. Hell, I had even played MUDs back in the dark days of AOL chatrooms where the top way to find a game was through links passed in private messages. Those experiences are how I knew to avoid WoW the second its name started to pass through the halls of our dorm. WoW burst on to the scene side by side with my freshmen year at college. I had enough trouble taking a full load of courses while holding down a part time job and an internship that I knew I couldn’t let myself get tempted by the newest online time sink. It didn’t help that I was dead broke and WoW was $15/month.

I’d even (dutifully) stopped playing MapleStory the day I got my second part time job because I realized how much time it ate up and how precious my time was. When I met Andrew and started up a relationship I was at a point where I couldn’t imagine finding 10 minutes of time to myself in a day let alone enough to enjoy the expensive world that was an MMO populated with millions of other people. Not to mention I had enough trouble with the real world population.

Things changed when I graduated in 2008 and I found myself in a unique position. Not only did I not have 20+ hours of classroom time and 15+ hours of homework but my internship ended and I was also about to have a major surgery where I would need to quit my job for 2 months while I healed. Suddenly my only obligations were looking for a future jobs and healing from surgery. Playing WoW seemed like a great way to fill up time, especially when I couldn’t leave the house and most of the people I knew from college had graduated and left or at least gone home for the summer.

The Hook

At first I didn’t really get WoW. It seemed like most of the other MMORPGs that I had played. A bit more shine and polish to it but as I ran around on an elf hunter (like I always do), shooting aimlessly at monsters and collecting the 11th million doodad for that guy over there, I couldn’t see what the big deal was about it.

Once I reached level 10 and acquired a pet, I sort of saw the appeal. My first pet was a striped grey tiger and it made me feel like I had some company on my journey. It was a proxy leveling buddy for me, a lonely sad person recovering from surgery. After that I was invited to the guild that Andrew was in so we could play together. Everyone else in the guild <Haven> was at level cap, a full 60 levels beyond me but seeing me lag behind made them want to help me instead of pity me. I was promptly taken to a dungeon and given my first taste of group activity.

I put on my headset, hopped in ventrilo, and for the first time was completely and totally in awe of the game. Our tank, a guy I’d met a few times at parties named Ting, completely and totally wrecked through the dungeon. Everyone else was basically pulling me along for their wild ride. There was yelling, cursing, not enough healing, a few deaths, and a pirate ship to top it all off.

I gained three levels in that one day and after logging off I immediately looked up the dungeon and read up on its lore. It was the first time I had thought about the game outside of the context of simply playing in a character shaped vehicle. This was basically the beginning of the end for me.

Lore, Story, and Character

The thing about WoW is that it’s got so much lore. Built on top of the Warcraft series the game came pre-loaded with a story that had been rolling for a decade. Blizzard are crafters of engaging and interesting characters and content and when you dig even an inch in to WoW you can see they spent plenty of energy, love, and effort filling World of Warcraft with that content.

While the main plot lines aren’t always the greatest and currently Blizzard is confused about its own way to make time travel happen, there’s are so many stellar characters and quests and storylines in WoW it’s almost impossible to start at any point. It would seriously need to be its own post.

Unlike many other MMOs, WoW’s dungeons all had stories and characters and build ups to them that took you through several lands, or built up over a series of levels and characters. Holidays in game related not just to possible re-world counter parts but also in-game motives, lore, and meaning. Even when you create a character you start in an area specific to their race, learns about what makes your character special before heading out in to the wide world. The experiences are often underscored with a touch of tongue in cheek and always with short, concise text so players don’t end up reading 10 pages of back story. Instead story is doled out in small crumbs, keeping you on the edge of the your seat and giving you a reason to go and collect berries and kill rats.

Over time Blizzard evolved the way they made and implemented quests as well. Sometimes leading to hilarious results. The lore is so vast that it spills out in to the world. There’s countless books, comics, and spin off material and while the quality of these varies my very favorite short story Unbroken is actually what caused me to roll a Shaman character. I literally read a short story and then created a new character because the short story convinced me that type of character was interesting. Which is pretty impressive.

The world is so rich and deep that the RP of MMORPG is actually a big part of many communities.

Herding Cats

Of course I’d be remiss to talk about WoW without mentioning in deep and thriving community of players. One of the amazing parts of WoW is that there are a lot of different activities that people can participate in and different ways of interacting with the game that are all kept to a fairly high standard compared to most games. Instead of a sole focus on making end game dungeons great, Blizzard focused on making every aspect of the game pretty well.

Having done end game raiding, leveling, player vs player content, arenas, and spent a fair amount of time solo adventuring (fishing and picking flowers). Blizzard has made each of these experiences enjoyable in their own way which is intensely commendable. The lore extends to inside the dungeons making older dungeons interesting and fun to raid but even if you’re not interested in the lore, there’s so many collectible items, pets, mounts, and easter eggs you could probably spend a lifetime trying to collect them all.

Blizzard also makes grouping together with the people you know as easy as possible of course but during the Wrath expansion they also made it so that grouping with strangers was just as easy. The type of match making that exists for people to get together and see content or be transported to a dungeon or raid together and experience it if they don’t have their own group was such a step forward that it changed how I related to the game. It opened a world of content to me that was previously inaccessible and allowed me to take the next step in transferring to my forever guild and become a proper raider.

The Friends We Made Along The Way

At the end of the day, you could argue that these things exist in some form or some extent in all MMOs these days. Many of them ripping off WoW, and sometimes WoW ripping off them. It could have been any game I suppose that sucked me in with its promises of the shiny loot treadmill and the ability to collect ugly gear only I could love. But for me, it was WoW. Moreover, it was my second guild and forever home in my heart <TheInfinitySadness>.

We started as people who raided ICC twice a week and escalated to friendship over the course of three or so years. These were people I spoke to nearly every day for years, people who were there to comfort me when things went wrong. People that I met in person. People I drank with in good times and bad times. People I sent birthday presents and holiday presents. Real, live people who spent time sharing a hobby with me.

While I may not be close to  most of them any more and maybe a lot of people will see our in-game time as “useless”, it was real and solid and a good part of my life. These people left lasting impressions on me just as any other person who I’ve known for years did.

I recognize that part of the reason I want to play WoW again is that I want to recapture not just the feeling I had playing, but those close friendships I had formed in the game. I don’t want to play WoW again explicitly, I want to travel back in time to our old guild where the best part of my day was coming home and hearing our guild leader laughing over voice chat as we all failed miserably at PVP together.

It might not be unique to World of Warcraft but for me they’re too deeply tied together to untangle and it means that WoW will always be a fond memory and have a pull over me that many other games that I sunk countless hours into don’t really have.

So this is my very belated love letter to WoW. I am so grateful for all the memories I made in and out of game with the people who spent their time with me. All I have left to say about World of Warcraft is the same thing I did when we left our guild behind those handful of years ago, no matter what I will have always loved you.

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