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Thursday, April 05, 2007

World of Warcraft*

Out on the road today, I saw a Warcraft marquee on the sidewalk
A little voice inside my head said,
"Don't look back. You can never look back."

I thought I knew what fun was
What did I know?
Those days are gone forever
I should just let 'em go but -

I can log in
My undead level 60 rogue
I got that flash new mount and
A high ranking, baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the World of Warcraft has gone

A Geek Boy's Angst

One dark victory about my move here to New Zealand has been the (forced) cure of my addiction to MMORPGs. Specifically, I haven’t logged into the World of Warcraft (hereinafter shortened to 'WoW') in almost a full year, something that would have at one point astounded me.

Let me explain.

No, there is too much - let me sum up.

MMORPG is an acronym for Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game and I’ve been hopelessly addicted to these things since the mid-90's. Until 2005, I was addicted to a text-only RPG called Ancient Anguish. I’ve always had a predilection for the text games, because I’ve always felt that your own imagination is far superior to any graphics and sound that can be created by some vitamin-deficient codehead who's squirreled away in a cube somewhere.

Don’t get me wrong – the online RPGs of today have excellent graphics and playability, and my nigh-fanatical devotion to WoW is evidence of just how much of a time-suck they can be. But it took me a very long time to abandon the text format for graphics. In a clumsy metaphor, I equate the superiority of text-based games over graphics-based ones to how the book is always better than the movie, and for the same reason: nothing beats a good imagination. Words conjure up images and experiences in your head that are intensely personal, giving you a sense of ownership over the story. The words are burned into your consciousness, almost becoming a genuine memory themselves. So to then try and put the text into three dimensions will by definition almost certainly result in a flawed product, when held against the boundless limits of your own creativity.

But I’m getting off-topic here, and probably on purpose. You see, it’s rather distressing for me to know that today, on this very day, on a shelf not one hundred yards from where I sit, is the huge, long-awaited expansion for the WoW game. It’s called the Burning Crusade, and it could not be more aptly named. (Think ‘burning desire’ to buy it and play it. Yeah, I'm so clever. Shaddap.)

WoW combines thousands (perhaps millions by now) of players from all over the world onto one of dozens (hundreds?) of servers, and together you explore this humongous fantasy world - sometimes together, but often against each other. It’s notoriously addictive. Blizzard, the company that designed and created WoW, has a lovely tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about everything, yet it’s all couched in an artfully designed game that shows true respect to the fantasy genre.

Evil geniuses have set up the game so you want to keep coming back for more, but surprisingly a large part of its appeal (to me, at least) is the social aspect of it. Sure, I love computer games as much as the next geek, especially RPGs. But what really keeps you hooked up to this particular RPG is the social interface.

For example, a critical ingredient of being able to successfully explore and defeat the biggest and best areas of the game is teamwork. Sometimes this breeds some edgy personalities and quick tempers, but it really is quite satisfying to conquer some insanely difficult boss with 20 or 40 of your best mates on there. And then you just want to do it over again tomorrow night, so you can have another crack at getting that piece of epic gear.

Starting to see what I mean? No? Well good on ya then, for you shall never know the gut-twisting anguish that I now feel.

You see, I have moved all the way across the planet to live in arguably the most physically stunning piece of global real estate there is: New Zealand. I have yet to embark upon any of the eight Great Walks here, let alone explore most of the parks around my immediate living space. So how can I justify spending hundreds of hours of my free time playing a computer game?

That's easy: I can’t. And won’t.

Until they invent the 48-hour Earth day and until we humans learn to get by on two hours of sleep within that 48-hour day, I’m afraid I’ll just have to continue to make the harrowing choice I’ve now made. I'll gladly suffer the 'slings and arrows', the pangs I get whenever I come across a Warcraft banner or reference. I've even met a Kiwi who plays the game more than I ever did, but still I resist the temptation!

But I do miss my many friends there, like Hayz and Wakunan and Akaioushi, to name but a few (these are their character names, by the way). Several other players I knew were from Australia and Canada, as they weren't all Americans. I will probably eventually buy the expansion and get back on the game, but only to keep in touch with these friends. I can never get back into the serious pursuit of faux accomplishment that a game like this provides. As much fun as I had playing it, in the end it only nurtured an addiction to a game that ultimately rewards you with nothing but the lack of a real social life.

And what a waste of a journey that would be – to move to New Zealand, only to get lost in the world of Warcraft once again. Those days are gone forever, indeed!


*sung to the tune of "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley. It's one of my most favourite songs of all time. Sorry bout this, Don!


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