When I was in college, I was introduced to this game called “WoW” by a couple of my best friends. They gave me a little sheet of paper which gave me free access to the game and told me to download the game and play with them. I initially resisted because I was a college kid and had a ton of work to do (double majoring in Chemistry and Biology is not easy). As the year continued, my buddies kept talking about the game and I finally broke down and downloaded the client on the first laptop that I owned, a Toshiba Satellite. That was in the fall of 2004 (my sophomore year at Colorado College) and I have been playing “WoW” consistently since then.
WoW has been pervasive in my digital life. I installed the client on my Toshiba in 2004, but when I upgraded my computers, WoW always came with me. Throughout the last ten years, I have played WoW on a Mac, a Toughbook, an iPad, and various desktops. I have played with Students, fellow Teachers, real-world friends, and have made a large number of electronic friends.
On top of seeing me through a number of computers, WoW has constantly been there through thick and thin (unemployment, job searching, dating, engagement, and now even marriage and a career). My virtual characters are as much a part of my persona as coding or web-design. Just recently, I looked at how much time I have spent in the game – on my main character, not any of my alternates (also known as toons or alts if you play the game) on just one of 12 characters, I have spent almost 93 days playing the game. In the grand scheme (and assuming that WoW is similar to poker from this source) I can safely say that I am an expert in the World of Warcraft, but I am far from anyone in the game.
What is WoW?
World of Warcraft is an immersive MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) by Blizzard Entertainment. It was created when I was in college and continues to be one of the most well played games on the internet. When I started playing the game, they had only just started with the official launch in 2004. Since then, the game has seen a number of expansions, expansions that also marked turning points in my life: Burning Crusade (2007 – College Graduation), Wrath of the Lich King (2008 – Graduate School in Utah which was miserable), Cataclysm (2010 – when I was working in my first real Education job after my Masters in a bad district), and Mists of Pandaria (2012 – as I entered my second year as a Technology Director). Blizzard just announced the latest expansion “Warlords of Draenor” will release on December 20th, 2014 (18 months into my contract at KiS).
At its heart, WoW is a game where you create a character and you go on quests. Each step of the process is designed to give you concrete skill increases to ensure that every action you take in the game has a direct improvement to your character. That is it. Millions of people have played for billions of hours with the simple goal of improving their virtual character, and I am one of them. As you start the game, you simply quest and complete a very linear progression – killing creatures that threaten the kingdom, finding resources, and getting better gear to increase your game stats. After a couple hours (now, back in 2004-2005 it was days), you finally hit level 20 and can start interacting directly with other players. Instances, or commonly called dungeons, are unlocked for all characters at level 20 and they allow teams of 5 to enter a specific area to complete goals like eliminating the shaman who is cursing the cave. These areas give tremendous amounts of experience for your character and better loot, or items for your character to wear.
Each level you progress unlocks more instances and allows the character to explore higher-level areas without the fear of death. Users continue to gain experience and explore new areas until around level 60. At that point, a second cooperative feature is unlocked called raids. A raid is anywhere from 10-40 person teams all trying to defeat a set of monsters who seem impossible with a single character. These raids can take more than an hour to organize and up to 8 hours to complete. Since they are so much more difficult, they give the best rewards and definitely the highest in-game props from the gaming community.
That is WoW in a nutshell. There are hundreds of other mechanics that keep the game interesting as you try to get the millions of experience needed to progress from level 80 to level 90.
So why do I play?
WoW has become a digital support and comfort blanket for me. No matter what happens in my life, I can always return to a linear system and constantly improve my character. Lets look at the time stamps on some of these expansions to give you some more context.
In 2004, I was a Sophomore in college. I left for the first semester to spend some time working in Antarctica. It was stressful. When I returned in February, I joined my friends who were getting into a bunch of mischief in the college scene and playing WoW to decompress from 8 hours a day of Organic Chemistry. Playing with friends during the semester, we created connections in the game. As we moved on to the summer, we kept up with one another by playing the game and chatting as we quested and completed instances in the digital world.
In my Junior and Senior year I waned from playing the game as I was working hard to complete my degree and spending an insane amount of time in the Lab. Three days after graduation I moved to Salt Lake City to pursue my PhD in Organic Chemistry. It was miserable. I found myself in a state of depression and one of my comforts was playing Burning Crusade (and Elder Scrolls: Morrowind on my Xbox). They really kept me sane as I worked with a handful of pretentious lab mates to try and prove that reactions would work – even though they had no meaning to the greater chemistry community. In 2008, I was unemployed having left the PhD program, and I was back in Colorado trying to find my way through a Masters of Arts in Teaching Degree. WoW again kept me sane as I tried to balance education and teaching.
I loved Wrath of the Lich King. I hit level 70 on my character the day that Lich was released and it was the first time that I could go directly into an expansion at the level cap. The Nordic feel of the expansion, flying mounts, and the complexity of the instances kept me entranced for hours at a time. In early 2009, I was routinely raiding and taking on the largest raids in the north. During this time, I was in a high-powered guild of top level players and had the maximum gear available in the game. I had hit my gaming peak, and to be honest, I was a bit bored.
After I maxed out, I turned toward learning the game lore and developing my depth in the Achievement system. I worked hard to complete my Explorer, Questing, and Instance achievements before the World of Warcraft was torn apart by the Cataclysm. The 2008 expansion tore the world apart – literally, as volcanic eruptions and a mythical (and terrifying) dragon destroyed all of our familiar worlds. Entire sections of the map were revamped and destroyed. Several were even entirely submerged. Cataclysm let me focus on re-exploring the areas of the world that I had been spending years getting to know. Only after finding all of the changes, did I jump back into the end game content and start exploring the new undersea worlds and caves. I was teaching at the time, and had issues engaging with the district I was in. A friend was fired because of his sexual orientation, and I retreated into the World of Warcraft to help cope and give me something that I could fix.
I left the district and was unemployed for a year while I tried to find a job. I was also having personal problems as my relationship was going through a rocky patch. As a sub, I often had days where I would be at home with nothing to do. On top of raiding, I focused on becoming a competent coder and web developer.
Then life got better! I started a new job with my technical skills, moved out of my house and got some fantastic roommates, my relationship improved, and I played the game less. When Mists was released, I started playing the game at school with a couple of my students. We would play at lunch and learn about economics and science while exploring the virtual world. Mists never engaged me the way that the previous expansions had. Even now, I have not completed all of the content that Mists has to offer (with my level 87 Shaman – with level 90 being the current cap).
I play WoW because I have always played WoW. The game, and my characters in it have always been there to help me through the good times and the bad. I am not the only one who shares this affinity for WoW. If you want to give it a try, and join me in my quest, I am Terukasa an Orc Shaman on the Zul’Jin Server. Happy gaming!