It’s the time of the year traditionally that people don’t care about anything. Everything interesting has happened, and there hasn’t been long enough for people to get their act together and stop going to the gym.
My Christmas tree would still be up if it wasn’t for my wife tearing into it with a terrifying primal savagery. People say ‘is it still alright to say happy new year?’ because social conventions are a minefield and it would be awful to get it wrong and end up blown to bits in a shower of Caring Too Much.
No one cares, but remember when we did care? Remember when the world was fresh and exciting? Remember when you didn’t know what the crit soft cap was? Remember when LFM, PST and WTS were all gibberish flotsam floating in Chuck Norris joke sea?
I don’t, so I went back to where it all began, my World of Warcraft account.
I was fashionably late to the MMO party as the early part of the 21st century was my peak ‘drinking too much and making poor life choices’ phase, and like all late adopters since the beginning of time I have stumbled around embarrassed by my ignorance ever since. So nothing changed, really.
Stumbling around is what I most remember from those early days, always just a little off balance, apologising my way through the landscape.
I had seen a picture of a troll on an advert for the 5 day trial, and I thought it looked cool. I made a hunter because the character select said they were good for soloing, and I thought I could get some practice in so as not to embarrass myself if I ever was to play with others (spoiler: it didn’t work). I don’t remember what his name was, and I really wish I did.
Back then trolls started in The Valley of Trials. It felt difficult in a way that’s hard to express, no one action required much effort but I didn’t have the first clue about what I was doing.
Clicking abilities, A and D to turn, I even read the quest text. To be fair, you really had to read some of them to find out where to even go. Even when you had read them, ‘North’ was less than helpful. To this day I’ll tell anyone within shouting distance that I spent what felt like an hour lost in the Valley of Trails, a small area with no discernable maze-like qualities.
EverQuest players laugh in my face when I tell them this, and they are right to. When I finally entered Norrath on a whim, my sense of direction was so bad I spent just as long lost in Qeynos with a solid 7 years of MMOing behind me.
I tell the story of my first encounter with another player as often as I can, the feeling of being unsure if it even was another player, wondering how I would tell. An orc, killing some mob or other, saw me standing sheepishly nearby. In a move that has proven to be mightily uncommon they ran over to me to say hello, if you can believe it. After this greeting they demanded I give them all my money, and then ran off laughing. I don’t remember if I even knew if they could mug me like this, but I remember the feeling of shock, so I probably did.
Still skittishly navigating Durotar, it’s safe to say by this point I was hooked. In later years my favourite expression for new players would become ‘Bambis’, despite being somewhat condescending I feel it really captures how I must have looked from the outside.
It took me forever to work out how to tame a pet, I don’t think I learnt about talent trees during my trial period and it took me an amount of time only measurable in embarrassment to discover the auction house.
I say discover, it was discovered on my behalf by another new player on a trial who I had been chatting to. I recall so little of it but it was really special, it’s funny how you forget the names we spend so long fretting over in character creation.
I’ve skipped ahead, as my trip through Durotar was fairly uneventful. At least I don’t remember much of it. Struggling to find my way in and out of various canyons was a theme, getting help and advice from many kind souls along the way is what sticks with you.
And Orgrimmar, my fair lady, the red jewel squatted on the horizon like a burning mirage. In my 20 something years I had never realised anything could be so beautiful. Whatever MMO I play or work on, no matter how much I use ‘WoW’ as shorthand for crimes it isn’t responsible for, Lok’tar Ogar is seared into my heart. (For my Alliance friends, I’m sorry you had to settle for second place.)
It’s easy for MMO veterans to look down on WoW, as it’s always the biggest target that takes the brunt of the hits when people want to sneer at anything popular culture has to offer. I see the problems, I know they are there, but I can love it anyway because I’m a grown-up.
I probably won’t play WoW much ever again, we’ve grown apart, but it gave me a feeling that I haven’t shaken off in the best part of a decade. I quit smoking, gave up drinking, got married, changed careers, moved cities and done more growing up than I thought I had room left for when they slapped my honours degree in my hand and kicked me out into the real world.
I’ve seen births and deaths and had my fair share of life piled on me, and looking back downloading that free trial has also shaped my life in so many ways. Not one of us will wish we spent more time raiding as the light fades in our twilight years, but for better or worse there was a moment when it became part of me.
I have forgotten all of this too often when thinking of MMOs in the past, and recently I’ve forced myself to keep it in the front of my mind when I do.
I was going to make my usual style of glib point about new players being more precious than ever, but I don’t know if that’s what we need to focus on any more.
I think I want to see more of myself in how I approach these games, and less of how the games train us to be. I want to see the other nameplates around me as real people.
We all get that blushing blob of nostalgia when we think of the early days, but I think it’s a mistake to look for that same feeling. Just as in our day to day lives outside of our virtual worlds, I am glad I’m a different person now. I’m proud of how I’ve changed and grown and I certainly don’t resent the meaty world for giving me the opportunity to do so.
If there is a point buried at the bottom of this, it’s that no matter how great it was, I don’t wish that I could go back.