A World of Warcraft.
Yes! I am a long way from home
Last night I sat in the pub talking to a friend of mine. Our words were uncontrollably but subtly slurred as the beers took their toll. We talked of our hopes for the future and reflected on the past day, of relationships and driving fears and our mundane lives. The pub itself was warm and comforting. I felt calm and happy. Those feelings were as honest and true as any in life. The pub doesn’t exist.
There are downsides to every job. Retail has its own peculiar rules that seem alien to anyone with a 9-5 Monday to Friday existence. The natural flow and rhythm of week and weekend is broken. I once lived for the weekend. Now I don’t know when that is. Some days I’m not sure that I live at all. Time off during the week isn’t the same. The novelty of a ‘stolen’ midweek day is gone. They become non-days. Lost rather than reclaimed. A day of household chores, of washing, tidying and supermarket shopping. A day for introspection and missing friends.
Going here better than playing with your friends? We don’t think so.
My diary reads like a litany of disappointments. Cancelled meetings and frustrated events. Life goes on very much without me. It can be another friend’s wedding missed, or the opportunity to shake Billy Mitchell’s hand passed. I see the pictures afterwards, recognise a friendly rival player amongst the winners at CGE UK and think “I should have been there”. Worse is knowing that player is thinking the same thing, wondering where I was to put up some healthy competition that day. All my friends seem so very far away.
The non-existent pub is in a fictional city, in a fictional continent, in a fictional world. I have friends there, and I can see them most days. Right now that’s all I ask from a videogame, to fill that social gap. Online gaming has been a trial by combative petulant brats for me so far. The alpha male willy-waving of deathmatch doesn’t do it for me. I don’t have to kill my peers to feel good about myself. I want conversation and cooperation – the things you enjoy in real life. The things I miss in real life.
Let’s all come together, right now.
I bought World of Warcraft on a whim. I was fed up and the screenshots looked pretty. Fantasy, as a genre, doesn’t really do it for me. I don’t read the books or see the films, and I certainly don’t ‘role play’, whatever that means. I let it sit on my desk for a week before installing it. I haven’t wanted to play anything else since. Sat in that virtual pub, ale in hand, it struck me that it may be the greatest and grandest videogame achievement yet. Nothing has come close to that sense of place and scale. Nothing has touched that spirit of community, of a world living all around you before.
San Andreas feels like the Truman Show now, a ghost town of bit-part actors and hollow props. The world exists only for you. All across the city are out-of-work characters waiting for your arrival and nothing else. It doesn’t live, doesn’t breathe. It sleeps when you sleep, is only there when you wake. It’s a sandbox for an only child.
The original fantasy playground.
By comparison World of Warcraft’s Azeroth feels more like Westworld (or more accurately Medievalworld). It is a holiday, an escape, for when circumstances tie us down to home and work. It’s also the closest I can come to being with friends at the moment. I don’t feel so far away now, I don’t feel so lost and I’m not so scared of that ogre that looks a lot like Yul Brynner now either.