As most of you probably know I’ve been an avid World of Warcraft player for some years now. I got a copy of WoW for Christmas in the winter of 2005. I was pretty excited about this, but had no idea what I was getting into. See, MMORPGs were a new frontier for me. I’d played the first two iterations of Warcraft, Orcs & Humans (1) and Tides of Darkness (2) back in 1994-5, during my college years. I pretty much completely missed WCIII. When it was released in 2002 I was in the midst of buying a house, getting married and all that good stuff that comes with it. So when WoW came out, in 2004, I heard about it but didn’t really have any interest. Why? Well, it has to do with a little game called Halo.
I was introduced to Halo CE by some coworkers. At the time, the company was riding the gravy train, we were up to our ears in billable work and we were the “cool guys” at the office. Multimedia got to have all the fun toys and we enjoyed it. Part of the fun was we were able to get a couple XBox’s and projectors procured for our editing suite and use them to blow off steam from time to time. One of the guys brought in a copy of Halo CE and I was immediately hooked. I had never been a fan of the first-person-shooter genre when it pertained to “realistic” combat, ie. killing humans in a graphic manner. But when it’s space aliens, robots and baddies? Oh, I was so in. We used to have marathon sessions, heated and serious. There was Ninjasaki, Sgt Fun, Rubbarubba, Nickynewnew, Tenderloynes and me, SLUGGYJUNX. We usually kept the same teams, and everyone accused everyone else of screen watching and cheating. Plenty of BS calls were made. The highlights of this game for me were the multiplayer nights we used to host on a monthly, sometimes bi-monthly basis. We used to get about 10-16 people together, set up 4 XBox’s, projectors, sound systems and point them toward 4 screens arranged in a “cube” in the center of the main conference room at work. We would hit Chipotle, bring it back to the kitchen, chow down, and then settle in for a long night of Team Slayer, Trenchfoot, Snipers or King of the Hill. The games were epic and everyone had a blast. Times were good. And they were only getting better.
November 9, 2004. Halo2 is released. Us at the office took a day off. At the office. To play Halo2. At the office. It was epic. We were totally blown away. The second was better than the first. More action, more detail, more maps, some legacy content which tickled our fancy. The gameplay was better too. Master Chief had a whole new set of tricks up his sleeve. More weapons, more elaborate techniques. And, to top it off, we were introduced to XBox LIVE. This was sort of my first introduction to an MMO, even though it’s technically not an MMO since it was more of a glorified LAN party. With LIVE we could login at any time, queue up and play a ranked round of combat in Halo2. Matches could be blowouts when you played against premade groups who would trounce you. Or they could be all glory as we make amazing plays and win the game. You could get a good map or a crummy one. Or the legendary network latency issues could crop up and make the game unplayable and frustrating. This was in the heady days of cheaters using the Reset buttons on their routers to win. It was wild west and we were loving it.
So WCIII pretty much got glossed over by Halo. I was so into Halo no other games could really influence me. As a newlywed with a house I had plenty of projects at home to keep me occupied, but I also had some free time. Halo was perfect because I could login, play a few games, logout. No big time commitment, lots of fun and got to play with my friends from home. Our multiplayer game nights slowed down quite a bit at this point. People were getting married, having kids, moving or otherwise busy. It was OK though, we all still played on XBox LIVE from time to time. But I was vulnerable. In June 2004 Kyle was born. My time available to play video games went down the tubes as we spent our days (and nights) tending baby. I did find I would have time to game at odd hours but I was so tired I really didn’t get into it like I used to. Halo was waning and I was in the mood for something new.
Wandering at Home
I walked by the intern’s office and saw he was logged into WoW. I immediately snuck in and commented on the game, telling him that I had a subscription and had just started playing. “What? You play too? Awesome! Oh, dude, you gotta roll on my server. I’m in a huge guild, we totally rock. We’re raiding Black Wing Lair right now, it’s pretty awesome. Dude, I’ll totally hook you up. Roll a toon on Gurubashi and you’ll be set, dude!”
Dude. This was the Summer of 2006. My daughter had just been born and I was back in the throes of baby madness. Having a second child was a lot harder for me than just having one. Some people will tell you it’s easy having the second one since you already have one and you know what to expect. Those people are crazy. Don’t listen to them. Anyway, I was looking for a fun distraction. My Halo friends had gone the way of the winter Goose and migrated elsewhere. I had got World of Warcraft for Christmas the previous year. I installed it and played a little bit here and there, but I didn’t really get into it since I was still playing Halo. I did, however, have a subscription to WoW, incubating in my subconscious.
The early weeks and months of playing WoW were like any new hobby. Full of mistakes, learning experiences and fun. The halcyon days of WoW for me were really wonderful. I was in a guild full of great players, most of which were helpful and friendly. I was a complete n00b and they helped me along, and to understand the game. I played alone most of the time though, just getting used to the game, and Kristin would sit behind me and help me do quests and explore the world. This was my favorite thing. I remember telling my friends about how in WoW you could walk and go anywhere you wanted. Some people had horses even. And everyone you saw was another real person playing the game. And there were hundreds, thousands of them, everywhere. I played a Warrior, a class which I only rolled because I figured it would be the simplest. Shield, sword, armor, slash-slash-kill-kill, profit. (Little did I know that the Warrior is one of the most complex, robust classes in the game) Kris cheered me on, as the levels ticked by. Around the time my character was in the low 20s she decided to login and roll her own character. A mage named Amarilyn. She too enjoyed the exploration and the game mechanics. It was just a ton of fun for the both of us.
Pretty soon having one account just didn’t cut the mustard. Problem was we only had one computer at the time. On a trip to Atlantic City with a friend, I won a poker tournament and made enough scratch to buy a new PC. This was perfect. Kris got her own account, re-rolled Amarilyn and we were off. We played a lot together. It was a great way to relax after a day of kid stuffs. A great distraction. The game was fun, challenging, beautiful and enjoyable. We were hooked.
We leveled, quested, fought, explored. All that good stuff. The game had its first expansion in January 2007. We largely missed the excitement since we weren’t even level 60 yet. (you had to be 60 to venture into the new worlds) One day at church, I started talking to a new friend there who, as it turned out, was also a WoW player. But not on the server I played on. He and his father and brother played together and were also involved in a good guild. We talked and talked and after a couple weeks Kristin & I decided to transfer our main characters over to this new server so we could play with our friends who we saw all the time. We did, and at the same time got to start exploring the new worlds opened up with the expansion. It was Spring 2007 and by now we had the hang of the game. The new zones were huge and impressive. The game sucked us more and more in. Now we had a regular group of the five of us to play together with. Every Monday night we’d group up and run through dungeons and do group quests, help each other out. The game went to a whole new level. And just about that time too, we all joined the same guild. A very large, social guild, full of activity and fun, good people. We continued playing every Monday night as a team, and playing with our guild mates. The game was now a real serious hobby for us. Most of my other hobbies and free time interests were waning as I devoted more and more time to the game.
See, WoW is one of those games, like many, that you get what you put into it. You can play the game super casually; maybe only a few hours a week. Or you can play for a few hours a day, maybe more. Read strategies, tips, blogs, and formula online. Theorycrafting your character’s gear, abilities, professions and talent points to make them the best they can be. Online resources were exploding at this time, and the game was really opening up. I started to really see the path that the game designers laid out for players. A casual player can just play every now and then, play a few dungeons here and there and have a blast. But a serious player can do all that and then more. So much more. There were heroic dungeons, epic crafting patterns and raids. Raids. The guild I was in previously was a big raiding guild. Since I was so low level (and a complete n00b) I never participated. I would enjoy their guild chat and oogle the items they’d link when they killed a big boss, but it was all very “high-end” to me. I never thought I’d get a taste of that.
I started to make a lot of friends in the new guild, and we were really having fun. The turning point came one day when a large contingent of people who were in charge of raids in the guild decided to leave to attempt raiding with another group. I guess they weren’t that successful here so they decided to up and leave. I was disheartened because I figured that now our chances as a guild weren’t so good and I was nearly ready to start raiding. In a flash, it hit me. That I should step up and help to lead the group. Sure, I had no experience in raiding, but from the looks of it neither did most of the guild. No one had stepped up so the opportunity was there and I did have my second hand experience from being in the previous guild, which at least gave me a healthy respect for a well-run raid group. So I did, I wrote up a note to the guild master and sent it to him. Shortly I was appointed as the main raid leader and the challenge began.
Building the team didn’t take long. There were enough interested people right out the bat. We formed up and hit the raid and suddenly the game opened up into a whole new arena. Raiding isn’t like anything else in the game. It is where the most difficult monsters are, the most challenging and complex fights, elaborate dungeons and the absolute best gear and treasure is in the game. In order to win, the group has to work together as a team. There are strategies, positioning, timing and techniques which all must be observed in order for it to be a successful run. People generally need to know what they’re doing. We all learned fast, we grew fast. The guild enjoyed it. Some days it was frustrating as hell to build a team and run a raid. Some days it went smoothly. Overall we had a blast and the game just got better and better.
Unfortunately, the guild did not progress very well. It was about a year and we were stuck farming the same dungeons for the most part over and over. A few of the group (including me) got tired of it and decided to move on and form our own guild and focus more on what it was that we wanted to do and forming a group the way we wanted to. The new guild was fresh, exciting and fun. We started small, and grew and grew. We allied with other groups, ran bigger dungeons, got better loot and had more fun. It was great. The game just kept chugging and chugging along, ups and downs, right along.
You Might Say I’m Crazy
One might say that at this point I was addicted. It depends on what your definition of the word is, and I may or may not agree with you, but I certainly was obsessed. I spent all my free time playing and studying the game. Striving to be the best I could. We ran every dungeon, heroic, raid we could. Some days it felt like work, most days it didn’t. I was totally into the game. All of my other hobbies, interests, some friends, had fallen by the wayside of the game. My model railroad which was under construction was frozen in time. Even occasional work days with my train club didn’t help and eventually was dismantled to make way for storage. My workshop was a mess, piles of boxes and junk littered the room with no real “work space” to be found. I would occasionally venture in there on rainy days to survey the land or to find something I needed or lost, or maybe to clean up a bit, but would eventually wander back to the computer room to get back online and play WoW.
In November 2008 the game experienced another expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. This was a biggie. I spent the night before at the GameStop in Rockville waiting for the midnight release. I even took a day off work to play it. The new content was huge. The guild was on fire. Everyone was playing, it was exciting. Now the level cap was 80. There were new zones to explore, new dungeons, new story lines and new foes. The guild stepped up and everyone was on board. We were having a blast and heading towards making good progression as a guild in raids and dungeons. We recruited some new people, and made headway into raids. We learned it all as we went along. The monster grew in power and force as we got more and more involved. I was now so into the game that I nearly spent all my free time playing the game rather than doing anything else. I was totally hooked.
Now, mind you, don’t get the wrong idea. I wasn’t a complete hermit, ignoring my family, friends and loved ones altogether. I still got out and spent time with friends, still spent time with the family and saw people regularly. But the problem here was that I spent nearly all of my free time playing the game. Nearly. This meant that most of the wholesome things that would help me to bond with my children, grow my marriage, keep my home in good repair, keep me intellectually stimulated, challenged, and on top of things in life, were all falling by the wayside. It’s not that I completely lost interest in them, I just enjoyed playing WoW too much. I was having too much fun, if you will.
All Good Things
“Quitting” the game never really dawned on me. I had seen WoW friends come and go. Some go and then come back. Most onlookers would always lament the loss and say something like, “oh, they’ll be back. I know it.” I always laughed this off, and usually it was true. Most folks who left the game came back after time. Some because of a work related issue. Or financial or life-changing, like a child or baby. Some quit for other personal reasons. Most found their way back at least in some way or another. Playing WoW in late 2009/2010 was like work for me. I was the guild master of our now large guild, and we were making amazing progress. Our “a-team” group of raiders was charging through the new content we just got; the final battle of the expansion against the biggest baddest villain in the game, Arthas. On a few days after the patch was released, our raid team cleared three of the four new bosses! The only reason we didn’t get the fourth was we ran out of time. We went back in the next week and got him on the second or third try. We were elated. The game was challenging, the raid groups were in tune and everyone was having fun. Including me. Big fun.
I got a call from Jason on a Saturday afternoon. Saturday was raid night. Jason had just moved from Richmond up to Columbia, which is about 30 minutes from me. He was a good old friend who was one of my roommates my Junior year in college. Jason was one of those geeky engineer types who always had some fun project or idea up his sleeve. He is always on the move, looking to have fun doing something cool, whether it’s cross country skiing, R/C cars or kite-boarding, there’s always fun to be had. He said he was going to be in the area to do some Valentine’s day shopping and wanted to get dinner & coffee with me later that night, if I wasn’t busy. I had a raid, but a trip out with an old friend was far more valuable. Little did I know it would be life changing as well.
Jason & I met up and decided to take his Audi S4 (it’s a lot more fun than my Jetta) to a nearby BBQ joint. We sat and talked, reconnected really, and shared stories. He told me all about his growing collection of R/C cars he has that he uses with his kids. He told me about the trips they were taking, about the plans they had. He talked about his car and what he did to it, how much work he’s done to it. I used to be into R/C cars. Big time. I used to be into traveling. I used to be into cars. I realized at that moment that not only did I not like where I was and who I’d become, but that I had to change. And fast. It hit me that all these things he does are things that are beneficial to not only his peace of mind, but to his family, friends and lifestyle. WoW provided me with incredible enjoyment, challenge and companionship. I made some amazing friends in the game that I know I will be friends with for the rest of my life, but it doesn’t do much to help my relationship with my children, with my wife or with my other hobbies which I can touch and feel and do. I lost sight of all those creative things that drove me, all the neat little things I liked to do and had done since I was a little boy. Stuff my dad did with me that I will treasure forever, making models, chasing trains, flying rubber band powered airplanes, collecting, visiting museums and historic sites, driving long distances, camping, swimming… the list goes on and on. In a flash I saw my time with my kids flying by with me sitting in front of a computer instead of leading them and encouraging them. It had to change.
It only took a day or two. Maybe hours. I forgot. I sent some emails back and forth with the other officers in my guild and told them I would be leaving. I arranged for another wonderful friend to take the reigns and be the GM. I said my goodbyes, transferred all my gold and stuff to the guild bank and logged off. I canceled my account. Walked away. Remorse? Withdrawal? No. Not so far. It’s been a month and a half and so far the worst I feel is an occasional twinge when I am bored. I miss the really great people. Our guild was made up of some of the nicest and most fun folks I’ll ever meet. People weren’t rude, crude or demeaning. We all had a good time and kept up a decent level of respect. That, I miss. But what I don’t miss is all the time I didn’t spend doing my other hobbies and interests, most importantly my family. The last few weeks have been a coming-out-of-my-shell experience for me. No, nothing terribly exciting or earth-shattering happened. No soaring song montages with me riding my bike through sun-splotched forests, diving into deep sea lagoons and running with the bulls. My head is clearer. I’m doing and finding things that I had put aside, planning more, sleeping more, enjoying more. I am communicating more with my family, doing more fun stuff, and loving more. The crazy thing is that I’m right in the midst of selling and buying a house, so all my fun hobby stuff is packed up and stored at my folks’ house. I can’t even get into it! The good news is that the new house has a workshop room all ripe for the setting-up. There’s even a garage where I can tinker. I have a new outlook. What’s old is new again. I look around at everything that is now new and tell myself “welcome back”. It’s good to be back.