A farewell to Azeroth

Back when I was more involved in World of Warcraft I would occasionally give in to a certain degree of self-loathing, and visit their community forums. I’m just going to make an unqualified statement here, which in general is a bad and lazy thing to do, but I’m confident in the sturdiness of this limb I’m marching out on here: The worst thing about every massively multiplayer game is the community.

There is something even worse than this however, and let me now explain how this works - how something can be worse than the worst thing. Simple! What I’m referring to are people who are leaving or have left the game. They’re no longer a part of the game, so my reference now makes perfect sense, and isn’t just a horrid abuse of language.

There was and is a horrible habit of people to quit the game and want to tell people about it. Fond farewells these are not. They have zero investment in the game now, zero interest in the community. Typically their only goal now is to lash out at the people in and around the game. Perhaps they’re trying to quell their own dissatisfaction with themselves for having spent a fair amount of money on their subscription, even if they were indeed enjoying the game at the time. What they desperately need to explain now is why anybody still enjoying the game is wrong.

This is my post telling everyone I’m quitting World of Warcraft.

Again.

I’ll start at the beginning, why not? I wasn’t paying much attention to WoW leading up to its release. MMOs in general were not something I was interested in, almost entirely because of the monthly subscription fee. I remember expressing some disappointment that I was probably never going to play Star Wars Galaxies due to this. This ended up being true, though I believe now that my disappointment was misplaced. There were two things that turned me around on this. The first is a perfectly rational reason. The second is not.

Some time close to WoW’s late 2004 release, Guild Wars held a beta event. While technically GW is not an MMORPG, mechanically the game plays a lot like one, and this was my first exposure to the style. Turned out I liked it a lot. Running around in a somewhat open world hitting things had its appeal, and this was perhaps also the first time I’d experienced a sympathetic online gaming experience. That is to say, I was not constantly punished for not having the sort of fine motor skills and reflexes required in games like QWTF or CounterStrike. It was a space where I could play cooperatively or by myself, and just have a lot of fun doing so.

Guild Wars got me interested in the genre, but it was a ridiculous little detail that led to me heading way too far out of my way to pick up a copy of WoW a week after release. At some point I discovered players could send mail between each other. I can’t clearly explain what it is I like about these little features in games, but I dig them. Loved it in Tribes 2 as well, setting up a clan and sending out messages from the built-in browser and messenger. And now in addition to running around punching orcs, I could send messages to players within the game. I was sold.

My first day in game, I rolled a Night Elf Warrior named Mortigi, on the Gilneas-US realm. Warrior because I liked to hit things. Night Elf because they were tall. Gilneas because that’s where it told me to go. I’d played a Warrior/Monk in Guild Wars, and later concluded that I’d have been better off rolling a Paladin, but that’s where I was. I got in a few good hours and got my character to about level 8 before discovering that hey, Tuesday nights are maintenance nights you Australian fool.

The first few weeks/months were indeed quite a mess, though every major outage I can remember was compensated with free game time. It was frustrating when the game was unavailable, and perhaps more so when several hours of play were erased by a server rollback. However when the game was up, it was incredibly fun.

That first run I made it to about 51, it was February 2005, and I was running through the barren sands of Tanaris when my Gmail notification bubble popped up. Why I remember that particular moment is a story for another time (perhaps 5 minutes after the heat death of the universe) but it marked a period of losing interest in the game. This would happen often, I’d get into the game, play heavily for some time, and then lose interest. Sometimes it was for good reason, such as when in late February 2005 I was starting a new course at Uni, but just as often it was because I was just burnt out on the game.

It’s odd now to look back at my time in the game and think about how little of it was spent with any real understanding of what on Earth I was doing. I’ll try to recall now my major characters:

  • Night Elf Warrior
  • Human Warrior
  • Dwarf Hunter
  • Orc Hunter
  • Blood Elf Paladin
  • Blood Elf Death Knight

Towards the end there were a few more characters as I tried to fill out my roster. Nearly all the characters I’d stuck with were consolidated on the one realm and faction (Saurfang-US, Horde). I’d race-change, faction-change, realm-change. It wasn’t until I played the Dwarf Hunter that I really started to pay some attention to how to actually play the game though. I’d soloed my way through everything, very rarely even getting into dungeon groups. None of my local friends played the game, and only a few of my online friends gave it a go, with even fewer sticking with it. (A hello here to Jason and Erica from Canada, to Mycah from SLC, and to Frankie and Gareth from the UK whom I believe I spoke to for the first time in WoW)

It wasn’t until the second expansion and the introduction of Death Knights that I found a class I genuinely enjoyed. It was at this point that I discovered that while I’d had fun with the game before then, I hadn’t really liked playing any of the characters. Even the Hunter I had achieved some success with was loaded up with shot rotation macros that took me away from the more boring aspects of playing the class. Sure I knew a few more things about the game such as trap chaining and later the incredibly fun use of the Gorilladin, but that was really it. Once I got my hands on a Death Knight, I actually started enjoying hitting the buttons as well.

The second expansion was when I finally got into some raiding as well, something that would not have happened had Blizzard not introduced 10-player raids. People raged against it, but I loved it. There wasn’t an overwhelming cacophony of voices in the group, and the intimacy suited me well. I found myself in a decent guild. Not the greatest progression-wise, but filled with people who didn’t drive me nuts with casually racist, sexist, immature banter whenever I logged in. An island in a shitstorm. It’s ridiculous now to think of the hours we put in playing Icecrown Citadel, but when the game is fun and I’m surrounded by people I get along with, what else would I rather be doing?

Seriously, if I can spend drink breaks piping Stephen Fry’s reading of Harry Potter down the voice chat line and people get a kick out of it, I think I’m in a pretty good place.

To make a brief and mildly unpleasant story even briefer, this didn’t last. The new expansion came along, we raced to be ready for the new raid content, quickly hit a wall and the guild started to crumble. Despite my still thinking the people left in the guild were fine, I found myself very disinterested in loading up the game.

It was an odd situation to find myself in. The game was as fun as it had ever been. There were two new races I was eager to try out, classes had been refreshed and I was enjoying trying out classes I’d never considered before like Druids and Shaman. Leveling heirlooms and the dungeon finder tool made progressing while being an unsociable git easier than ever. I should have been enjoying myself, but I was not. I happily let work take over most of my time, and soon enough in about March 2011 my subscription lapsed.

Fast forward to November 2011, I’m attempting to participate in NaNoWriMo, and desperately looking for ways to procrastinate. I figure $15 is too much to throw away on an attempt at fun, and I buy another month in WoW. Surely it’s been enough time away. By now I know that the people I’d left behind in the guild had moved to a different realm. It was an expensive and unlikely possibility for me to follow them.

I logged in and went about setting up my interface addons again. Then I set up my glyph-selling character, Gringott. The scourge of the Saurfang-US Horde glyph market. I still had a ton of unsold glyphs that I’d stockpiled before my break, so I put them back up. Then I jumped onto my Death Knight. Said hi to one of my old guildmates, who had just recently re-upped as well. There was a new quest zone available, so I took a look at it.

If I sound at all dispassionate here, it’s because I’m kind of boring myself. The game hadn’t changed, which wasn’t a terrible thing. It was still fun. Running around casting Howling Blast on jerks and generally slicing them up to feed my character’s crippling addiction to death and suffering was as fun as that kind of thing always is. I just didn’t feel like doing it with all these people around. I had zero investment in the community. I was there, but I wasn’t really a part of the game anymore.

Blizzard had announced their next expansion, Mists of Pandaria. The game was finally getting Pandaren, with a new class of martial arts masters, the Monks. There was even to be a Pokemon-style minigame. For all the predictable ire from people, this honestly sounded great to me. I’d love to play that, and for a while I considered taking Blizzard up on their annual pass offer. As fun and appealing as that all sounds though, I don’t think this disillusionment with the community is going to go away between now and then.

It’s tiring logging in to the game and seeing the constant racist, sexist, everything-under-the-sun-ist nonsense going back and forth in the global chat channels. There’s a point at which what people say stops being ironic, stops being sarcastic, and starts being simply the hate speech it looks like. I can ignore them, either personally or technically, but at some point it gets to me that this is a massively multiplayer game, and these people are a core feature of that. They’re part of what I’m paying for, part of the experience, and I can’t stand even the thought of them. It’s hopeless to even begin to imagine that the developers could do something about this without crippling the positive social features of the game, so it becomes a situation where the best solution is simply to leave and find something else to do.

So that’s where I am now. This is my fond farewell to the World of Warcraft. Not a permanent one, I’m sure. No doubt the kung-fu Pandas will pull me back in for a few months at some point. But never again am I going to spend three hours a night, three nights a week, chatting and screwing around and generally enjoying myself with a bunch of people I never encounter outside the game. Genuinely giving a crap about some of the most ridiculously cliched characters and plots in the history of mass entertainment. Laughing at the inept attempts at insults by the unsocialised. Actually enjoying multiplayer gaming for once.

It’s disappointing that it’s over but I figured that while some of the positive memories are still somewhat fresh in my mind I should take the chance to recall them. And since I’m preparing to have my heart broken all over again, perhaps it will help to lend me a little perspective the next time my chat window fills up with unimaginable anonymous dreck.