Before I took my first virtual step into the World of Warcraft (WoW), I sheepishly stood behind my uncle’s computer chair as he summoned skeletons as a necromancer in the Everquest. The graphics and the genre were really unlike anything I had ever played before. I was entranced by the way that he would communicate with people who I couldn’t see as they coordinated to take down various creatures and bandits. I was blown away how his character would change in appearance and the abilities he possessed when I would go weeks without seeing him play. Perhaps this is just nostalgia goggles as a boy looking up to his gamer uncle, but I was hooked. I wanted to be part of the MMORPG (MMO) world.
While WoW wasn’t my first MMO, (you can hear my rant on the wonders of pre-CU Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) on the But Why Tho? Podcast’s first WoW episode) but it is the one that I return to again and again almost fifteen years later. When my uncle and his band of friends who let me tag along through our time in SWG decided to transition to WoW in 2005, I was thrilled. I played the Warcraft real time strategy games while I was too young to play Everquest with my uncle. So, knowing the universe, much as I did with Star Wars Galaxies, I was excited to enter the world I had only played from a top down perspective but loved through its engaging cinematics and deep lore.
I will fully admit that my time with SWG was filled with times where I was carried through encounters as a way to feel included with my uncle’s guild. However, WoW was different. I had my first PC and I didn’t have to wait for the opportunity to drive across town to my uncle’s to play on a spare laptop. I finally had the full autonomy to play and improve on the skills I learned in a galaxy far, far away. I played for hours on end taking my human warlock from the lush green of Elwynn Forest to being a part of a 40-man raid in the fiery depths of the Molten Core. The journey would continue into the shattered Outlands and the steps of the Ice Crown Citadel . Although my time with WoW has been sporadic with real life coming into play, those first three years were essential in my life outside of just gaming.
The early days of my WoW career were spent wondering aimlessly around Elwynn Forest trying to figure out what to do. Without the usual assistance of SWG guild-mates, I had nothing to tell me how to play the game outside of a gamer manual that I picked up at Wal-Mart. On the fly, I had to learn how to build my character efficiently to tackle elite mobs, how to make money to level my abilities, and which areas to go to next to continue my level progression.
This wasn’t without missteps along the way. Accidentally selling or destroying gear, falling to my death prompting long run backs, thinking Hogger was a friendly mob, among a plethora of other things, were all learning experiences. While I haven’t had to run back as a ghost in RL, it is not to much of a stretch for me to think that those mistakes in Azeroth informed me on how I lived my life. I began to keep collectibles that could be valuable in the future rather than selling them for a quick profit. As a first-generation college student, I had to navigate the natural progression of education through college largely on my own. I learned to determine which people in my life were genuine and which ones were Hoggers that I needed to avoid.
Once I hit level 60, I knew that I needed to find other people to play with. As a warlock, the mount quest was contingent on the warlock’s ability to a group together to compete tasks in a dungeon. Admittedly, as a middle school MMO player, the process of putting myself out there was much harder than I expected. However, once I found a guild were I felt comfortable, it was the best decision I could have made.
I was able to interact with people from around the world. Through player vs. player events, raiding, and monthly guild events, my guild mates truly began to become people that I saw as friends. When you wipe a countless amount of times on progression bosses for three years, kill the person who has been camping your guidie who is leveling an alt, and when learn about the real life situations that take guidlies away from the game, you become close. It is these interactions that make the bonds I have formed with people through the But Why Tho? A Geek Community network feel authentic even though I may never meet many of them in person.
Even though many of the people I used to play with in those early days no longer play WoW, I still find myself going back. The game has changed significantly over the years. Many of the changes have made it easier for someone like myself who doesn’t have the time to dedicate to the game as I did in the past. Raid Finder allows me to me to still enjoy the raids and lore without joining a progression guild. Easier questing reduces the need to find a group to do higher tier quests at the end of zones.
Dungeon groups are easier to form, so less time spent spamming trade chat. However, I would be lying if I didn’t miss the sense of community that came in with the first few expansions of WoW. I am hoping that WoW Classic returns many of these memories back to my life. Adulting will surely slow my progression to level 60 this go around, but I am optimistic that I can find the close knit community I once knew.
Even if I never step foot back in the World of Warcraft, I can look fondly at my time playing the game. WoW will be always more than a game to me. Even though SWG was my first official MMO, WoW was the place where I truly understood how important a video game can be in a person’s life. Azeroth is where I came into my own as a person. Outlands is where I became comfortable identifying myself as a gamer. Northrend is where I understood the importance of staying connected to people even after they have left the game. I am forever thankful for uncle letting me tag along in our WoW journey. I wouldn’t be the same without it.