For the last nine months, I considered myself a non-gamer. Not a reformed gamer, mind you, but someone who just hasn’t had the time to dedicate to playing games or keeping up with the industry. I had been adapting to the life of a new parent; I had been forever transformed. The days and nights were busy, and weekends were usually spent with family or trying to turn our house right side up. Everyone tells you that things will never be the same, and as an expectant parent you just kind of shake it off as if it’s no big deal. It will be different. You’ll manage your time better. Life doesn’t have to change that much, does it? But it does.
Rob, a very good friend and fellow gamer, became a father last year a few months before me. At one of our baby get-togethers a couple of months ago, we started talking about games. He asked me if I missed gaming. The immediate answer, much to my own disbelief for practically spending the better part of my life playing them, was “no”. And at the time it was true, to some degree. Like old college buddies reminiscing about the good old days, we recalled past LAN parties and how it was impossible to imagine staying up past 10 p.m. given our new roles. Then we started talking about the greatest time sink of all: World of Warcraft.
When I quit Blizzard’s infectious World of Warcraft last year, it was with the full intention of never playing it again. It required a lot of effort to keep up with friends that were playing, or stay involved with guild events to retain membership. Not to mention the time investment required. While playing solo could be fun, World of Warcraft was primarily a social experience. As long as you’re able to maintain your rate of advancement with your in-game companions.
When you look back at the time spent with a game as time-intensive as World of Warcraft, it always seems better than it actually was, as if to justify the dedication required. The tedious level grinds and aimless hunting for quest objectives are obfuscated by exciting new areas ripe for exploration or quests completed with a pick-up group that just seemed to mesh at the right time. Forgotten are the frustrating sessions spent playing catch-up to the friends who had been questing the previous week gaining levels while you were doing something else.
“What if we started playing again?” Rob asked innocently. “We’re both in the same situation, wouldn’t it be easy to coordinate our schedules?”
I fought off my initial reaction, the one that you’re supposed to give when you’ve got a seven month old that requires constant attention, and barely any time in the evenings to relax for a couple of hours. I had the feeling this wouldn’t work, but the idea was intriguing. I hadn’t played a game in eight months, so what better way to get back into it than playing something I already knew? As long as we stuck together and promised not to race ahead of each other, things would be fine. We could play at our own pace and enjoy the game for what it was: mindless entertainment. It was a sound plan and had to be put into action. We both decided to we would sign up that week.
After I re-activated my dormant account (which was a frighteningly easy process) and downloaded the gigabytes of patches that had been applied in the last year, I was ready to begin. I created a new character, made a couple of levels and decided to stop. A few days later Rob had still not signed up. Was he getting cold feet? I kept playing without him, justifying that I had to get used to my new Rogue, a class I had never played before. The next thing I knew, I was staring at a level 12 character from a few half-hour game sessions spread throughout the week. I had already broken the pact. This would make things difficult for gaining balanced experience in our meager party.
The first day we were able to get online and actually adventure together, we took on a Dwarven quarry that had been overrun by filthy Troggs. Naturally this involved a cave full of enemies that outnumbered us five to one. We had to deal with the level difference between our two characters and get used to the game’s pacing again. Rob was a Dwarven priest, so having healing readily available shouldn’t have been a problem. But he had never played a priest before.
Our lack of practice showed, and we died many times that night, running back and forth from the graveyard like a pair of restless spirits. After a four hour session and eyes that refused to stay open, we had come to a singular revelation: this was incredible. We weren’t worrying about optimizing our party or who got to keep the magic items that were found. We were mostly just trying not to get ourselves killed. We were having fun.
While I may dismiss MMORPGs as a pointless exercise in junk collecting (and a massive misappropriation of time), for a couple of wayward gamers looking to have a good time for a few hours each week it seems to fit the bill. World of Warcraft is a mindless distraction. Like television, except a lot more interactive. As trivial or ridiculous as the scenarios presented by quests may seem, they are still experiences that are shared. What’s the difference between hopping online with some friends to slay some undead and playing a game of poker until two in the morning? Probably just a sore finger (depending on who you play with, I guess).
We now play twice a week, after arranging designated days. We have made time for gaming, and strangely enough World of Warcraft demands only what we are able to devote in return. It helps that my friend Rob and I are roughly at the same place in our lives — not all gaming parents can be fortunate to have friends that know how to prioritize real life over a game. We just take it easy, enjoying the sights of Azeroth one quest at a time. And no soloing.
~~~This is my last regular video games article for The Cultural Gutter. I’ve enjoyed contributing here over the past year. I’d like to thank the readers who have sent me comments on what I’ve written, as well as editor Jim Munroe for the opportunity. My thoughts on gaming, when I find time to record them, will always be at Tales of a Scorched Earth.