Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ups and Downs: 2-1/2 Years of WoW

I’m a little late to this particular party thrown by Blog Azeroth – the ‘shared topic’ for November 2, which was relationships in WoW. I thought I’d throw a slightly different spin on things, and talk about my own relationship with WoW. Like a relationship with real people, the WoW relationship has changed in the 2-1/2 years that I’ve been playing.

First, a quick bit of background. Prior to WoW my computer gaming experience was mostly with ‘puzzle’ types of games and adventure games – the Monkey Island series, Tex Murphy, Myst, a couple of the Indiana Jones titles, and Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas (the GTA series is an extremely guilty pleasure – I loved them, but almost hate myself for that). WoW first broke onto my radar screen when someone posted the infamous Leeroy Jenkins video on a board-gaming site I frequent. I knew nothing about the game, but I know comedy when I see it, and that was gold.

My daughter brought WoW into the house. My wife and I grudgingly agreed to a trial account so that my daughter could play with a friend, whose entire family played. My daughter, cagey for a 12 year old, got my wife to try it out. We soon went from a trial account to a permanent account.

I kept my distance. However, over the period of about a month or so, repeated exposure to the game started changing my indifference to curiosity. Instead of shaking my head and walking out of the room, I’d ask my wife or daughter a question about what was going on and why. World of Warcraft had begun to work its way into my head the way a commercial jingle does. I guess it was inevitable that I’d end up trying it out. One Saturday morning I sat down at the computer and said ‘What the hell?’ I was now a player.

In the first few days or weeks of playing, the game was a (mostly) pleasant diversion, a nice way to escape from reality for a short time. I enjoyed the simple act of playing, with no goals whatsoever save to complete whatever task I was assigned by Marshall McBride or the other fine people I met in Elwynn Forest. Kill some wolves? No problem. Scout out the mines for kobolds? I'm on it. Lay a beatdown on some Defias Thugs? With pleasure. Even when it came down to finding the missing guards and killing murlocs near Eastvale logging camp ('Hey! That murloc drank a healing potion! Not fair!'), the game was still light fare for an evening or early weekend morning before everyone else got up.

The increasing complexity of the game is what drew me into what I think of as the Seeker phase of my relationship with WoW. This occurred when I realized I needed more information about the game than the in-game tutorials or the official web site could provide. Blizzard's site gives some nice overviews of the talent system, professions, etc., but not enough. Furthermore, the quests become a bit more involved as you progress (or maybe the quest text becomes more obtuse) and there are times when it's just not clear where you need to go to proceed. I quickly made a mess out of my talent tree and needed more help. I started seeking help from outside of Blizzard.

I think my wife found Thottbot first. It soon became a handy reference for me as I looked at the lengthy Verigan’s Fist quest chain. I tried not to abuse it (i.e., ‘hmm, I just accepted this quest, where do I go? Thottbot!’) as I much preferred to explore and discover on my own, but there were definitely times where quest text was so obscure, or defeating a mob or group seemed to have some trick that just eluded me, that it was necessary to consult other sources.

The Seeker Phase lasted a long time – in fact, in many ways I’m still in it as a raiding level 80. What is interesting is how this facet of the WoW relationship changed over time. Initially, I hit the Seeker Phase initially to understand the talent trees, but most of my Seeking thereafter was to help with quests. As I moved along in the game, however, I started seeking more out of a desire to better understand my class, and learn how to play it better. Perhaps not surprisingly it also developed as I became a more social player. I had joined a guild and started running a bit more in groups (for quite some time I avoided most of the social aspects of the game – largely due to self-confidence or lack thereof) and found that there was much more to know than how to navigate the elite Ogres in the Ruins of Alterac (back when they were almost ALL elite). At this point I started seeking advice on things that would make me a better player within groups, even though I was still ‘only’ in the 40-50 range.

The nice thing about this time in my relationship with WoW is that I was really living in the moment. I wasn’t looking ahead to ‘end game’ and raiding – in fact, it was something I had never even thought about. I also wasn’t rushing through to try to get to level 70 as fast as possible. I would occasionally push hard to get to a certain level if I knew something very cool was coming up – plate and a warhorse at level 40; class quest at 50; Charger questline at 60 – but I pretty much followed the quest givers and went happily on my way. I think I did push extra hard the final two levels to 70; happily, when I did hit 70 there was no ‘Now what?’ moment. For the time, my relationship with the game had not changed -- I was able to continue finishing up quests and exploring new areas, not realizing that I was about to change my relationship to the game again.

I soon had people asking if I wanted to heal Kara – some were people I knew, some were random strangers. It almost felt as if I had a Holy Paladin tracking device installed on me. I was definitely hesitant to get involved in the raiding scene -- my confidence was still shaky from a completely disastrous Hellfire Ramparts run (I was level 63, it was awful -- so bad that I don't think I healed another instance until I was 70!). However, quests were running out, and I began wondering what I would do now. I spent a lot of time ‘Seeking’ to see what I needed to do to raid. Once I did, my relationship with the game changed once more, and I quickly became a Raider. Aside from the month or so after Wrath hit where I had to level up to 80, I’ve been a Raider ever since.

This current relationship still involves a lot of seeking. However, it's much more 'serious' in most ways than my earlier days. Raiding has proven to be a different kind of fun, but one that I still enjoy. There are other changes as well: I’m not on my main quite as much as I used to be. Most of the time I spend on my main is spent either in raids or preparing for raids (thankfully, this doesn’t seem to take up quite as much time as it used to), which will include a few dailies to keep up the gold supplies. While I try to be helpful to guildies, I find that I have less patience for ‘can someone run me through ’ requests than maybe I used to; I’m definitely a bit more selfish with my time than I’d care to admit. On the flip side, I've also tried to help by advising other guildmembers both in-game and on our forums, and I've become much more involved with the greater WoW community as a whole. Interestingly I’ve also found that, while I liked leveling and loved most of the quest lines in Wrath, I definitely hustled much harder to get through 70-80 than I ever did anywhere else along the way. I think this is part of why I feel less of a connection to Northrend (even though I spend almost all of my time here) than to some of the older zones like Duskwood and the Plaguelands – my earlier self viewed these zones as important destinations, while my newer self sees these zones as places to travel through.

I sometimes look back at my earlier selves and my earier relationship with WoW with a bit of wistfulness -- the wide-eyed innocent stumbling into Mor'Ladim; the slightly more grizzled (but equally foolish) level 60 that poked his head into Stratholme for a quick peak -- and then discovered the gate was locked behind him; the guy that kept using Turn Undead in Shadowfang Keep -- and wondered where all those ghosts were coming from. It was a different time in my relationship with WoW, and a lot of fun. I find that I can't quite get back to that same relationship, even with alts (I'm always stuck now at the Seeker mode at the very least). On the overall however, I'm quite happy with where I'm at in the game, and look forward to seeing how my relationship will change moving forward.

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