This isn’t the original article I was going to present today: that’s been consigned to my desktop folder entitled ‘Some good ideas but basically flawed.’ Instead I am reminded of a conversation that took place last week between myself and someone I respect a great deal, who actually challenged me to come up with a reason why I’m still playing this MMO. The question was not something I could instantly respond to, either. I know plenty of people who write about this game for a living who’ve not set foot in Azeroth for several months, after all. I can’t throw out the ‘well I have to do it so I can keep up to date with developments’ line either because I only need a web browser and the two major data mining sites to accomplish that. Why I am still in World of Warcraft isn’t just because I feel obliged, there is no longer a responsibility to a Guild to maintain as I gave up raiding and GM-ship some time ago. That left a rather uncomfortably-shaped hole for me to both understand and fill. Is it some kind of misguided responsibility to the virtual characters I created that keeps me tied to the title? Do I feel obliged because of all the money I’ve invested over the years? Why am I still in World of Warcraft when all the ‘sensible’ people I know pitched up and left long ago?
I have to look very deep into my emotions to pull out an answer. I’ve mentioned before how fundamental this game was when I was nursing after the birth of my youngest daughter, who ironically turns 11 this week. It gave me a place where I could actually be myself, away from all the terrors and issues I was dealing with in the Real World. Inside Azeroth it didn’t matter that I was unwell, or that I felt I had no real significance. The game allowed me a sense of responsibility and control I simply could not exert anywhere else in my mental state at that time. Crucially, with the help of other people I met, I began to build a sense of self-worth again. If I want a reason why I remain now, when my life is back in my hands? I think it is because I feel I owe it to the game itself. That may seem a difficult idea to grasp, so let me put some context on that statement. You see, the MMO isn’t just the pixels and the websites and the Guilds and the eSports. Behind all of this are people. Lots and lots of vastly different human beings with issues and fears of their own, and over the years, by writing about this game, I have been able to help people challenge their conceptions. I’m not right 100% of the time, nobody ever is, but even when I’m wrong in someone’s eyes there have been occasions where that disagreement has begun a thought process that has helped an individual redefine their outlook, mostly for the better. There are two endearing examples I’d like to share with you now, and they both demonstrate why I am still a part of this community.
Firstly, I remember the time a very good friend of mine lost his job. He’d spend weeks writing applications, sending them off, and traveling to interviews to be ultimately rejected. In the evenings, he’d log into the game and we’d talk about his frustrations, how he felt somehow less than whole because he couldn’t provide for his family. I’d try to keep him happy by doing things with him, but some nights I would cry at the keyboard because I was just unable to help. He worked so hard and so long to try and find a job that was something he could justify as being what he really wanted, and my pride when he was finally able to do so was immense. Then, quite suddenly, his father passed away and I found myself helping him through the grief. The game stopped being about achievements and progress then, it became a chat client (as is often the case for so many people) but without it and our shared love of the game, I would not have been able to help him then, and I know I did. I’m really pleased and happy I could, and despite the fact he now lives half a world away, the game keeps us together.
Then there is the story of an e-mail that I was sent from a woman who had found my personal website by accident and wanted to thank me for giving her solace in a very personal moment of her own. Her mother had fallen ill and she had been admitted to Hospital where it had become apparent she had cancer. Forced to wait overnight while she was treated, the woman had discovered my words and read… and read, and read. I’d given her a narrative that allowed her to connect with somebody in the depths of her trauma, and it had given her hope. We established a brief dialogue but this wasn’t about being friends, it was my life in Azeroth providing a lifeline she needed to be able to stay sane. I’d never really grasped until that point that actually? When you write stuff down on the internet, anybody in the world can in fact read it. That brought the point home in spades, and I realize now that I actually have a job to do here, away from the facts and figures and guides and ‘5 Things I Hate about Garrisons’ articles. Warcraft isn’t just about the game, and it never was. Azeroth is always about the people. Why I am still in World of Warcraft is everything to do with them and often nothing at all to do with pixels.
Sometimes I get very angry at those who don’t understand this. I find myself wanting to blame the detractors who don’t grasp just what depth and breadth this game inspires in those who are creative as a result of it. Except, in the end, the buck doesn’t finish with them. It stops with me. I am the one with the words, and as a result if I use them well, and with confidence, things can and do change. It is entirely possible to create feedback that not only alters the game’s direction, but changes how the developers think about their own ideas. All you need to do to accomplish this is hold a genuine belief in your feelings, and be able to translate that to a medium. It doesn’t even have to be written words. A Podcast will work just as well, or a YouTube video. What you need however, above everything else, is a passion that is not diminished by breaks in content or down-times between Expansions, and whenever I think I’m losing that spark? These are the stories I should come back to as a reminder. What you do in this MMO has consequences far beyond your toons and their achievements. You can achieve great things: as an artist, a writer, a songwriter, a craftsman. This game’s unique beat is heard by so many and in vastly differing ways. You just need to stop and listen, and that can be hard when all there seems to be around you is noise and anger.
Every so often, it helps to take a step back. Sometimes, the battle you want to win isn’t the right one to fight on any given day, and I’d like to think that Warcraft has taught me that sometimes, the set way to beat a boss isn’t necessarily the way that works best for you. There are still countless ways to play, and win, but sometimes it isn’t victory that matters, it is simply being a part of the whole. World of Warcraft’s enduring strength, even after eleven years, is that this is a playground that can offer you all manner of potential distraction, but that doesn’t really matter. In the end, it is the people around you that create the extra element of joy and togetherness that you’ll never, ever be able to roll out in a Patch, or package into an expansion. I wrote about this game’s unshakable backbone of players a while ago and it bears repeating, especially on days when you get angry and frustrated about how others just seem to spend their entire lives complaining about what they don’t have, without fully grasping the amazing things they own.
The next time you choose to decide that you know what’s wrong with this game? Think again. You may disagree with process, or argue that the Dev teams should be spending more time helping people play better, but in effect there is nothing wrong with Warcraft at all. Yes, all those people left after Warlords of Draenor launched, but maybe that’s more to do with how modern tastes have changed in recent years and less to do with what they were offered as diversion. That’s the thing in any argument, there’s often more than one side you need to grasp to understand the real truth behind people’s motivations. As for me? Why am I still in World of Warcraft? Because I love it. Please stop making me choose a favorite expansion, and please don’t tell me it’s broken, because it’s not, It’s just evolving and there is a huge difference between those two terms. I’m here because I need to remind you every week just how great this game can be, if you only just open your heart and dispense with your preconceptions.Related: Alpha, Beta, Blizzard Entertainment, Column, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday