In 2005, when I was in my final year at Humber and living in residence, I succumbed to the buzz surrounding World of Warcraft. For months I had been curious about it since I’m a veteran fan of the Warcraft real time strategy games and the idea of a fantasy world complete with its own geography, civilizations, and history compelled me. I had to play it.
I sunk the next three years of my life into that game. There were entire weekends when all I did was play WOW. Every night I played it. After coming home from work, taking a shower, and eating a three course dinner, I would sit down to devote myself to the regimented practise of daily gameplay.
It became a large part of my life in a short amount of time, and I daresay that had I not tempted fate by trying it I might have started my career as a writer much sooner. During the weekdays, I estimate that I spent at least three hours a day playing WOW, and on the weekends I might have played as much as 10 hours a day. It never occurred to me the kind of time I was wasting because the game was too much fun. It struck an addictive formula of action, role playing, and fantasy that hooked me and millions of other people young and old, male and female, rich and poor.
When I quit it was mostly because I was going back to school, but also because its charm had worn off on me. The magic had vanished after three long years of play. The first expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, was in full swing at that time but the game was different and the people I played with online were all strangers who I would never meet in real life. I left World of Warcraft, and at this point I had all but given up on writing having barely lifted a pen over the last year or more. Writing was just a faint afterimage in my memory. My journals lay in a box unused. I hadn’t even attempted to write a poem or short story in ages, it seemed.
I quit, but three years later came back. During the summer of 2011, under the stress of boredom and joblessness, I started playing again. I completely missed the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, and the third expansion, Cataclysm, had come out six months hence. Blizzard was offering a free one-month trail and I decided I may as well have a go at it since I was broke and needed something to fill my days. I thought I’d just be checking out the changes they made with the game and catch up with what I’d missed, but I ended up playing for another eight months instead, leveling up a whole new character to the endgame stage and getting another one most of the way there.
At first it was exciting discovering the skill changes and how they retooled the quest system. I was pleased with how much easier it was to level up, plus there was a new LFG tool which allowed you to do dungeons simply by entering a queue. It would match you with players from others realms and you could choose what dungeons to run, so there wasn’t any tiring search of spamming for group members in town. All you had to do was activate a search and sit back while the machine did the rest. Within minutes you could be at a dungeon in a full group. It even eliminated the need for traveling to the instance and meeting up, a process which almost always took a long time.
The LFG system made it easy. It made it so easy that it was possible to level up a character completely by doing dungeons and never leaving the main city if one wanted. Battlegrounds were done in this same fashion. What you then ended up with was a capital city so busy it was bursting at the seams, and a world with hardly anyone in it.
Leveling up my new mage in 2011 I hardly ever saw other players out in the world doing quests. I never made any friends on the road like I did back when I was playing before the expansions came out. It was even rarer that I saw any Alliance players out there too, so incidences of world PVP were almost nonexistent. In the high level zones which came with the new expansion it was different, but the whole way up through the old world and other two expansions were like walking through a ghost town. It was a desolate, lonesome, and hollow gaming experience.
So I quit again when I realized how the game just wasn’t the same anymore, and while many of the changes were in fact very good, overall it was better in classic WOW. The game lost its spirit and sense of community. The empty world made it impossible to meet new in-game friends and have those fun adventures that are the stuff of so many memories. I quit again and it was an easy decision.
The other day I decided to check up on WOW. I read some good reviews about the latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, so I wanted to see if things had changed. I didn’t bother installing a trial version and starting all over again, instead I did what all prudent writers do these days: I checked the internet.
Looking up server population stats I was shocked. Population balance is more out of whack than ever and it shows no signs of abating. Blizzard, as far as I can tell, has no plans to address this problem which gives me little hope that anything will ever be done. If you look at the server ratios you’ll see there a great many realms completely dominated by one faction. Some have a mark of 0 for one side of the ratio which shows no endgame activity by that faction. Imagine that—a realm with no enemy players on it whatsoever. That’s what I call a dead world.
And that’s what breaks it. World of Warcraft is an excellent game, otherwise. It fun, rewarding, and easy to play, but when the social and competitive aspects dry up and dwindle away you are left without much to inspire you to keep playing.
World of Warcraft was fun for a while. All my best memories are from that early time, when I was on Eldre’ Thalas as an undead mage, forming spontaneous parties out in EPL or Andorhal and doing a Scholomance run. Back when Molten Core was the big raid, and world pvp happened every day. It was a different world back then and that world will never return.
Warcraft may have met its downfall with me, but out of its ashes came something much more powerful and epic than a game could ever be. When I started writing again I viewed it as replacing my videogame addiction. I thought that if I could devote time everyday to playing a game, surely I can devote time to doing something productive and fruitful like writing. It was a life-changing paradigm shift, and since then I do try to spend some time everyday writing. It’s been working so far. A lot better than pulling weekend-long gaming marathons at least.