Life After WoW
I’ve never really been a big PC gamer.
Some of you may recall a video I made some time ago that could use some serious editing in the beginning and a complete re-voicing with better sound quality. More importantly, though, it was entirely about the days of console gaming with the SNES and Genesis. Part of the reason I talked about those games so much was because they were all games I owned as a youngin’.
They were also games that came out when the internet was still in its fledgling stages. The first version of the internet I ever had access to was America Online 1.0, and we didn’t do much more than IM, e-mail, and occasionally roleplay in the chat rooms (because I’m just that nerdy).
Most of my gaming was done either by myself or with one other person. Even as I got older, “A lot of people” was playing a system that had 4-player capability. Replay value for a game just meant it had great multiplayer so that you could bring it out whenever there was a party or you just wanted to invite a few friends over for an all-nighter of GoldenEye.
WoW is thus a very unique anomaly in my life. It was unlike the games I played before it, and it completely changed the way I play games. It was a very large part of a very long portion of my life, and now that I’m done, I feel like taking a look back at what it was as a way of perhaps putting it to final rest.
When I was in high school, I had a grand total of one friend who played World of Warcraft. I’d known about MMOs from another friend who happened to play Asheron’s Call, and I’d occasionally heard the word Everquest, but from what I’d seen, it didn’t really appeal to me as a game. I couldn’t tell you why, because that was 7 years ago. I’d very much enjoyed the RTS Warcrafts, but an MMO? Not really my thing.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I started to pick it up. In the Summer vacations of high school, I’d spent a lot of time playing my old video games, to the point that by the time I got to college, I’d done so many playthroughs of every game I had, I had to move onto something else. But keeping up with console gaming was expensive, and it wasn’t a hobby I could support with tuition and books. Of the 8 other guys I lived with, 3 played WoW, and they were on it pretty much whenever they had free time.
I’d watch my roommate play his troll priest, on a quest in some foresty area killing ogres (I would later know it as the Gordunni Ogre quests in Feralas) while riding around on a raptor, and it seemed mildly entertaining, but a lot of standing around and waiting and kind of repetitive tasks. It just seemed like he was killing the same creature over and over, and I didn’t really see the appeal. But whatever it was, it must’ve been good, because I couldn’t get them to do anything else. I’d suggest going out for some pizza, or down to the school’s gym, or maybe out to the arcade downtown, but they just wanted to play WoW.
The rest of my roommates ended up joining frat houses, and long story short, I ended up going to a few of the parties and being incredibly disappointed with the crowd and how boring they were. I was expecting Animal House and instead saw Jersey Shore (or maybe Real World would be more appropriate to the time).
So I found myself in my dorm, classwork done, with absolutely nothing to do. I needed a way to pass the time.
So one of my dormmates said I could use his account to play WoW – “Try it out, it’s a lot of fun.” I didn’t really have much else to do, so why the hell not. I’d always been a big fan of zombies and demons and such, so I rolled up an undead. I also always gravitate towards the thief or rogue classes in any RPG game as I like the stealth aspect, so I rolled a rogue.
I don’t honestly remember the actual gameplay being especially fun, but the quests went so quick that it was really entertaining just moving from one thing to another. The progression moved at a smooth pace and discovering new abilities to play around with was quite entertaining. Trying to figure out the best use of building combo points and using finishing moves was interesting, too.
It wasn’t long before my dormmate told me I needed to get my own account and stop using his for the amount of time I was playing, which seemed fair enough. So I hopped a bus up to Best Buy, who told me they didn’t have any copies, whereupon I subsequently walked across the street to Electronics Boutique and grabbed one from them. And so it began.
Fast-forward 6 years and I haven’t played at all since finally getting that damn doll. I’ve quit the game for months at a time before, but it would usually only take one or two people telling me they were playing again to get me back into it. Now, though, any time people bring it up, it’s just “that thing I used to play.”
As I look back at the various aspects of the game, I find that I have a few fond memories of time spent playing, but that a large portion of it just feels unimportant or even frustrating. I enjoyed battlegrounds before cross-realm battlegroups were ever created twice – once on a 40-something resto druid during pre-BC and once playing my 60 warlock right before BC was launched with a guild I’d enjoyed PvPing with. Other than that, however, battlegrounds largely felt like an exercise in frustration over how little people work together.
Raids… I don’t know. I don’t think I ever really enjoyed them. Some of the bosses were a lot of fun to play against, but as a whole, raiding was just an experience that never sat that well with me. I didn’t like the scheduling, the waiting, the scramble to replace a single person who couldn’t make it that night for whatever reason, the annoyance of having to deal with PuGs on a boss that wasn’t forgiving of any mistakes, the hours it would take to clear through trash.
I hated arenas from the moment they were announced, and even after giving them a try on several separate occasions for the sake of getting gear, I honestly feel arenas may be the worst thing added to WoW. There is at least one developer who agrees that the biggest mistake for WoW was adding arenas. I actually think WoW may have been a much better game through its history if arenas had never been added. Who knows, maybe I’d still be playing.
Questing often felt monotonous, and the only thing that kept me going was that little purple bar at the bottom of the screen showing my progress until I could take a break, only to start it all over again. Actually, I think that describes a great deal of the game – I didn’t enjoy it, but that little progress bar telling me I’d be finished one day kept me going. Until Cataclysm came out, at least – the new questing system that Cataclysm developed made questing a total blast. I had so much fun playing either by myself or just grabbing one friend and clearing through a whole zone, discovering all the story of each it and marveling at all the cutscenes.
I think a lot of the dungeons were fun, though. Grabbing 4 friends and going through 5-mans and heroics was always a blast for me. It did eventually become a grind for raid gear with WotLK, but even then, I honestly really enjoyed dungeons when it was with friends or guildmates. PuGs, not so much, but… Oh, well.
It always came down to the people, though. I thought I would find more to enjoy from the actual gameplay, but as I’m writing this and thinking about what it was that kept me playing, it was just that every now and then, I would find a core group of maybe 5 people or so that I just really enjoyed playing with. Even within guilds, it was usually a very small group that I would end up chatting with on Vent late at night while running laps around Orgrimmar or Dalaran, or who I’d regularly go out and quest with and run dungeons with.
Hell, one of the most fun raiding guilds I was ever a part of was also a guild that made the slowest progression of any guild I’d ever been a part of. But no one really cared about getting bosses down nearly as much as they did about just getting together every week to play and goof around. Vent chatter during raids was usually just a lot of bullshit, but it was really entertaining because it was so much less about the game and more about just hanging out with everyone.
And I think ultimately, that’s why I quit playing WoW. It’s not that it had terrible gameplay, or that it was poorly designed, or that I’d necessarily played it for too long (although that last one was likely a big factor – 5-6 years is a long time to play one game). It’s that there was almost no community left, no matter where I went or who I joined.
I started getting really fed up with the negativity and trolling that was so prevalent through the game. I thought it was soul-crushing that a new player almost couldn’t trust anyone who answered their questions, or that people felt too nervous to ask for help because it was more likely they would get made fun of. I hated that everyone was so impatient that even a single wipe would cause a group to fall apart. I hated that playing together was only incidental, like it was an accident on the way to getting more gear and more items and more things. It wasn’t about playing with other people, it was about making your character have better numbers than everyone else. Downing a boss wasn’t a fun accomplishment with friends, it was one more chance for loot.
Even when I moved to another game, Global Agenda, that was the ultimate failing. I think the game is amazingly designed and a real blast to play with friends, but the other players tend to ruin it with their trolling and their insults and their total lack of sportsmanlike conduct. It’s like when I interact with “the internet,” I just can’t believe there are people out there who behave the way so many do. I know they don’t behave that way in real life, and I know why they don’t, but it’s just so astonishing that a game which is designed around being social brings out the most antisocial behaviors in the large population. Or at least in the vocal part of it.
And on the horizon, the next big MMO seems to be Star Wars: The Old Republic. And when I watch gameplay videos and listen to the developers talk about the design process and imagine how amazing it is that there’s not a single line of dialogue that isn’t voice-recorded, I think, “This could be a really fun game.”
And then I see how much hinges on interacting with others. The conversation wheel being decided upon by other party members. The party-building and dungeon crawling that relies on having other people to play with.
And I just find myself thinking, “Not again.” I don’t have it in me to put up with people again, as it were.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just being too pessimistic. I really want to see the good in people, and when it comes to actual practice, I’d like to think I’m pretty outgoing, even online. I try to approach every social situation with the mindset of, “I like you until you give me reason to think otherwise.” I really want to play these games that encourage working together, because I’ve been a part of the fun that comes from accomplishing a team goal.
And yet, I just find myself so repulsed by the idea of MMOs now. “I just want to play with my friends. Can I not have to deal with all those other trolls?”
So now I’m back to playing my single-player games. I bring up my emulator and play Tetris. I do a couple more playthroughs of Mass Effect 1 and 2. I play Audiosurf now and then. You know what I’m most looking forward to in terms of gaming? Finding my copies of Timesplitters: Future Perfect and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 and sitting down with my friends to do a 2-player run through the campaign missions. To get back to just hanging out on the couch with a buddy and trying to work through a game together without competing over who’s going to get the highest score or worrying about someone running in, unplugging my controller, pouring soda all over the console, and then laughing at me and calling me a n00b before dashing out without me having a chance to say or do anything to stop him.
I find myself becoming less and less of a gamer as time goes on, but it’s really not for the reason I thought it would be. I used to love meeting other people who identified as “gamers.” Now I’m trying to distance myself from the crowd. And I just keep wondering, “Should I feel bad about that?”