The following is an entry in "Growth of a Gamer," a series of articles exploring the profound ways that video games can touch people's lives. For more information and more great content, you can check out the series' hub page! Until then, please enjoy "World of Woecraft."
"I_eat_suckas_for_breakfast" was supposed to be the name of the first character I ever witnessed in the World of Warcraft. I remember that afternoon in fourth grade clearly. My friend Max had tried to give that name to a Night Elf Druid, only to discover that underscores were not valid name characters… so we had to settle for "Ieatsuckas."
It was the spring of 2007, and the first World of Warcraft expansion was just released: Burning Crusade. Until that afternoon, the extent of my experience with video games came from a good old GameCube, which had somehow managed to survive four years of being played for several hours a week. Now, here I was in Max’s apartment, watching him as he showed me basic combat on his Night Elf character. I watched, doe eyed, as Ieatsuckas went from zone to zone in this virtual world. There were three whole continents here: Eastern Kingdoms, Kalimdor, and Outland, each with dozens of zones to explore and endless nooks and crannies. As Max retold the events of the first three Warcraft games, my imagination ran wild. For days afterward, I would watch playthroughs and read fan theories all centered around the Warcraft universe.
That weekend, I was convinced that I wanted to play, so my father and I walked to GameStop and purchased both World of Warcraft and Burning Crusade, with a pair of old fashioned game guides to both parts. From that moment forwards, when my parents weren’t bugging me about work or reading, I was playing World of Warcraft. Sometimes they did win the battle of wills, and so I chose to read the World of Warcraft game guides. After being informed that that, in fact, didn’t cut it for them, I would pick out another book, and then nestle the game manuals inside and read about the lore of different fantasy races, like Sin'dorei or Draenei, instead.
I was so into exploring the world of Azeroth that I ventured into a level twenty zone with my first character, a level 4 rogue. While it was exciting seeing a new zone, having enemies chase you everywhere was getting tiresome. I was promptly killed and never played that character again. But that didn’t stop me. I could not stop myself from creating new characters—for about a month, I made dozens of them. Orcs, Tauren, Dwarves, Gnomes...there were so many different races to choose from and so many new stories to unearth that I couldn’t decide on focusing on one character. My first hunter, Aamaa; my first character I hit max level with, Caaliaan; my first Horde max level, Varnilsk…
I had integrated myself with a virtual world of heroism, exploration, excitement, and kickass cinematics. But as I was discovering these in the worlds of Azeroth and the Outlands, I believed that the greatness of the real world was being shaken apart.
Around a year after that fateful day with Max, my family was thrown into financial chaos, my parents’ marriage was at an end, and I learned things about my father and mother that shook my view of them. It felt like those that had taught me what it means to be a good person had done everything in their power to not live by those same beliefs. Through all of this, the virtual world was a beacon of happiness. I learned to escape, rather than confront. It was like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.
Over time, social interaction became much harder for me. I was timid, and I was living in a paradigm of fear. My mother blamed Warcraft for my newfound shyness and tried to get me to stop playing video games altogether, so I lived my Orcish life in the shadows. I removed the shortcut for Warcraft from my desktop and toolbar, instead going into program files every time to start the game. I played at night while my parents were yelling at each other or whenever I was the only person in the house. To this day, I am terrified of playing video games in front of my mother, even though I am an 18 year old game design major. This war of deception provided equal parts comedy and excitement that was sorely needed during this rough patch. I found it a little humorous that I was being exposed to all of this crazy crap during my parents’ divorce, but in their minds, even three hours of video games a week literally constituted not having a life.
I never really recovered the uninhibited social spirit that I used to have, partly because I retreated to games at any sign of stress or anxiety. I worried over talking to people, so instead I would play World of Warcraft. The feeling of security Azeroth offered me ended up creating a vicious cycle. It caused me to miss social events and made it more difficult to talk to people. And despite a robust guild scene for Warcraft players to interact with each other, I never really got engaged with it. Guilds are a collection of players who play together who have similar goals and interests. I did know people in my guild, and I did talk with them, but only when we were raiding. There was a stiff, professional tone to all of our conversations—probably because we were only interested in occasionally raiding together.
For a brief moment in time in high school, however, my guild master, named Kyle, was the same age as I was and from the same state. We had begun conversing, and we shared interests in both robotics and football. It was quite surreal that after seven years in Warcraft, I created a friendship that I hoped to bring me out of the virtual and into the real world. We were both considering attending BlizzCon (the official convention of Blizzard, Warcraft’s creators) that year, and we wanted to meet up and go together. A day later, my boarding school banned all game servers from the school’s internet. For two months, Azeroth was gone.
This just was too little too late for me though, as my guild had a strict one rule: you get kicked out after one month of being offline. Just like that, I was no longer a part of the guild’s Ventrillo server and could not get in contact with anyone I knew. Just as I was finally creating a connection and sharing experiences with these people, they were ripped out of my life.
The social aspect is just one of the ways these two realities started to bleed into each other. Recently, I've noticed a trend in my gameplay that is seriously atypical for World of Warcraft players: I never continue playing as a character whose level I've maxed out. World of Warcraft is sold in different expansion packs, and every time an expansion comes out, the level maximum is raised. But I just couldn’t continue a max level character into the next expansion. For a long time, I just considered it part of my alternate-character-heavy playstyle, but now I believe it’s indicative of something else.
I first came to World of Warcraft for a fresh start and a new narrative to escape into, and after every expansion release I try to recreate that feeling. I have a new place to explore and a new character to delve into each time. For me, playing World of Warcraft is all about coming back to that feeling. It rubbed off on me as much more than entertainment. The way I survived adversity was shaped and permanently affected after this game came into my life. It was both a blessing and a curse, but as long as I can maintain that feeling of wonder and excitement, I’m definitely going to play. Perhaps in several years I’ll have more of my journey to expound on. But for now, I have to go and raid with my guild.
About the Growth of a Gamer Series
"Growth of a Gamer" is a series of articles exploring the profound way games and gaming can impact our lives, as told by students of the Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California. Each one tells a personal story of how a particular game or franchise molded us into the people we are today, and through our experiences we hope to shed light on the ways that these games have affected all of you as well. We invite you all to share your own stories in the comments below, or by writing your very own series entries through Gamnesia's Journals feature. We love coming together to share in the joys that make gaming so memorable for us all, and we hope that you'll join us!
You can find more information about these stories and their authors at the hub page for the Growth of a Gamer series, or find a particular game from the list below to jump right in!
- Pikmin, by Kevin Shi
- Portal, by Drew Perlman
- Mass Effect, by Justin Camden
- World of Warcraft, by James Collins
- Pokémon series, by Abhishek Biswas
- Pokémon Gold Version, by Colin McIsaac
- Spider-Man 2: The Game, by Cristian Guzman