I make a joke on the accompanying podcast that I wanted to start this whole shindig off with “Hi, I'm Brian. I have a problem.” It was in the planning stages of that sentence, which itself begets a whole slew of adolescent memories, that I realized it wasn't that kind of problem.
It used to be, years ago, when I first discovered the awful mistress that is the MMORPG (for those not familiar with that acronym, I would first have to question how you found your way here, and second, it stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game). My first hit was NCSoft's City of Heroes, and it started more as a joke for a friend then anything else.
Being fans of super heroes in general, I bought it as a birthday gift. Another in my long line of “I bet I can get you to play whatever I want” gifts (the first of which was Yu-gi-oh: The Duelists of the Roses), this was less the funny-haha-joke and more the I-am-going-to-get-you-started-on-this-and-you-are-never-going-to-stop variety. I know, it sounds like an absolute knee-slapper... and trust me it was, especially given the payoff was years later, when still subscribing, he was regaling me with how the game was shutting down around him.
Naturally, being one of several gamers in that group, I too had my turn creating a hero, and taking him out into the brand new world that was Paragon City. It was eye opening. Here was a place that was just like all the single player games I had known and loved up to that point, only with an actual population. It was a place that would let me share experiences, and that was appealing, but there was a deeper idea, lying just below the surface. It was persistence. It was a world that didn't just exist when I turned on my game console. It was a world of possibilities, of adventures and stories of the endless variety. It was a world in which, if I wasn't present, I could miss something.
To explain the salience of that point, let me first draw your attention to my sleeping habits. For years growing up, we had a static bed time, which I am sure, as a kid, everyone had at one point or another (and frankly, if you didn't, you should have and I hate your parents!). Mine was 9pm. With getting up for school between 6-7am, it was a solid 8-9 hours of sleep. On the weekends, when everyone else would sleep in, I would be up, between 6-7am like clockwork, and the moment I was up, I was awake, if for no other reason then I could be missing something.
I would normally spend the extra time awake before the rest of my house playing video games, but they weren't the purpose for waking. I was awake because it was essential that I experience what needed to be experienced, and I couldn't do that if I was asleep. Yes, it's weird. No, there is no other way for me to explain a driving need to be involved, even if the only thing I was involved with were my own thoughts, a video game, and a quiet house.
Now, take that need to be awake, to experience, to be a part of, and place it in a world that could be accessed through the medium of games, a medium I was 20 years in love with by that time, and you can begin to see the seeds for trouble. To make matters worse, at that point, I didn't have a computer capable of running anything, so I would have to find reasons to go over to the homes of a few friends that did play, and find ways to disappear on to their computers while my girlfriend, now wife, hung out with whoever's computer I had taken over.
I would find ways to get off of work early to go play, I would be angry when I couldn't, and angrier still when confronted about the fact that it made me angry. Who the fuck were you to be questioning how I spent my time? Just let me do my thing, and it'll be better, but standing in my way, asking me questions, making assumptions. That's stupid, silly, and a waste of time that could be better put to use playing.
It was during this worrying time period, that I got introduced to World of Warcraft. A thing of beauty, it was all the things I loved about City, only laced with pluses like crafting, an enormous world, and the ability to stand still without having your hands on your hips. The person who introduced me to it, also needed a place to stay. He was a cool dude, steadily employed as I had gotten him a job at my place of business, and had a computer that played WoW. Thankfully, my wife approved, and just like that, I had successfully moved my dealer into the house.
Over the next four years, many things would change. The dealer moved out, I lost my job (to be fair, this had nothing to do with gaming and everything to do with a national business headed to bankruptcy), and found another one. I met new friends, discovered raiding, and missed the beginning of this console generation. Over that time though, there were two things that were always present, my wife, and my game. I can assure, based on more then one conversation/mini-fight, there were times when one of those thought I appreciated the other more. She was wrong, and I still know that with every fiber of my being, but I certainly understand how she could have thought that.
And then one day, after coming back from a long weekend visiting our parents, I found myself racing home because I had to be online to raid, racing because I was going to be late. Something clicked, and what had once provided me with so much pleasure, became a job, a chore. It became anathema. I made a post that night, minutes before raiding was set to start, that said I was taking a leave of absence, that I had things that had come up that I couldn't ignore anymore. I felt bad, shirking what had absolutely become a responsibility, but I couldn't even see the icon on my desktop without feeling sick. I had hit my limit.
I've been back a few times, a month here and a month there, but it's never become the kind of draw that it was before. I think that's why I've decided to do this little experiment. This represents a hard look at a genre that brought me both joy and heartache. I'd compare it to staring the devil in the face, laughing, and walking away, but I don't think anyone who plans on doing that fully intends on studying that face, and reporting back just what the hell that bastard looks like.
The plan so far is to report back once a month, letting you, the readers, know what I've played and why I played, whether I found it an experience worth repeating, or a one time excursion into a land I don't plan on returning to. Accompanying, and probably popping up more often, is a podcast focusing on MMOs, and the news surrounding them. While the writing will probably be more serious, possibly, maybe, the podcast is an absolute hoot, and features a close friend and one of the people I met during those 4+ years I spent in WoW.
I don't know what the future is going to hold, but I do know that I am actually excited with what's going on. In addiction meetings, falling of the wagon is a bad thing. I am sure they would consider jumping off to be even worse, a choice to go back into the fray. But this isn't about them, it's about me. And I've already left.
*Writer's note: The last picture is Jared, my podcast co-host's Panda Shammy
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!