It's slightly worrying to realise that you need the escape of a virtual world to “really get into something”. This was a conversation I had recently with a friend, as I bemoaned that in the midst of transitioning from university, moving house, getting a job, and, y'know, becoming a grown up, that I just didn't have a place for me and my elf ears to call home.
And sadly I don't. I have nowhere to hang up my metaphorical cloak, rest my scabbard by the fire, and settle in for a good prolonged session of butt cramp and over indulged snacks. I do things like go outside now, exercise, and meet actual, physical people: it's weird.
It seems as though my spare time only has relevance if there is an experience bar, an inventory slot, and hotbar abilities thrown into the mix. Walking from A to B on the actual Earth will garner specific rewards: you might get that long-wished for bar of chocolate, or even a nice bit of cake, but there's no internal chat tab that illuminates with attractive purple text to tell you "QUEST COMPLETED, HERE IS 200EXP".
There is no such thing as experience in real life, or at least in the sense of bubbles and dings. And it's a worry of mine. I can level up a warrior quickly, and succinctly, but if I try doing the same in a gym by pounding on a treadmill and before long I'm crying defeat within 10 minutes; my brow sweaty; my legs worn; and my stomach slightly jiggling from the foreign activity.
And don't even get me started on culling wildlife and expecting reward and kudos for their return to a vendor. I learnt that lesson the hard way, and it's why I'm no longer allowed to enter the local mall.
No, my life seems vaguely empty without an MMORPG to fill the gaps between social engagements and essay deadlines. I feel like a man without purpose, presumably because my bedroom looks like the type of place you might deem a "command centre" with many pieces of equipment and evil looking accessories littered around to make playing World of Warcraft that little bit less taxing.
But this is a problem I have been struggling with for a number of years now. I might have a brief flirtation, or a week long fling with an MMORPG, but once the honeymoon first month of subscription has ended, I find myself looking forlornly at the exit, quickly thumbing into the "REASONS FOR CANCELLING ACCOUNT" entry the words "it's not you, it's me".
And on I go, flipping from one new adventure to the next, never looking back. I'm the man with no name, briefly popping up in TERA before finding my way to Guild Wars 2: the only way you would ever know that I existed are a few satisfied farmers with one last bandit to think about, and one more wolf hide to put on the pile.
I wasn't always like this, I used to commit. I had years of blissful online marriage with EverQuest. We went everywhere together, reached level caps, raided dungeons, and even conquered the Planes of Fear.
The same can be said of Dark Age of Camelot, and even further to World of Warcraft. I found enough to settle down with these games, ready to call them home for a lengthy amount of time: but the wild always comes calling again.
So now I inhabit a nether region between games. Never committing to anything and torturing only myself and my Ethernet cable. Free to Play subscription models have made it worse. Now I don't even need to put cash down to see all of the gory details, now I can come and go as I please, a voyeur into a world of duels and WTSells.
But the worst of it all is the desire to still find that "one" MMORPG I can really commit to once again. While I haven't subscribed to anything solidly for more than a year, I'm still as obsessed as ever. Openly pining for a new digital home. Bemoaning my luck that I came of age when Ultima Online was reaching its twilight.
I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel like this. Taking a quick look around this very website illuminates a community of ex-players and nostalgic dreamers. Most posts refer to "glory days" of this, and the "heyday" of that. I'm sure that as I write somebody is opening a topic about Star Wars Galaxies - wishing to say the unsaid, attempted by thousands before.
I believe that is one of the inherent truths of MMORPGS: at any point in time, somebody is waxing lyrical about just how good Star Wars Galaxies actually was, and just how wrong “$EO” got it.
But I digress, it seems odd that this is one of the few genres where players are suffering some form of post-adventure trauma. There is a section of players kicking their feet on message boards, decrying how they miss Anarchy Online, but can't go back because the "magic" has gone.
Do we have this same phenomena with FPS titles? Is somebody currently weeping inside because "darn it, Gears of War 1 was what it was all about". I somehow doubt it. I don't think anybody is hugging their PlayStation 1 and whispering "one day they'll do another Syphon Filter. One day".
It is all a bit strange, and reminds me of addiction. Am I addicted to MMORPGs? Do I compulsively seek out an experience that I can never capture again? Am I literally chasing the dragon? But not the opiate one, an actual dragon that's probably called Zilgawax. It lives in High Keep and is a level 80 elite.
So to wrap this up, do you feel like me? Do you pine for an MMORPG experience you just can't put your finger on? Are you a nomad, lingering in a netherrealm between games, never committing to any? As ever, let me know in the comment box below, and together we can heal. Or at least dampen each other's shoulders with salty tears.
Read more Touchy Subjects: