I’m not a huge gamer. The most recent systems in our house are a Gamecube, which I’ve had for over 15 years — maybe 20, which is scary — and a PS2, which we just took from my in-laws’ house because my brother-in-law didn’t want it anymore.
However, there are a few games that I will always love to play. The main one, if you hadn’t guessed, is World of Warcraft, an MMORPG that first came out in 2004. I started playing in 2005, and I played off and on until about 2014.
Once again, the drums of Warcraft are beating in my heart, and I’m probably about to start playing again. There are a thousand reasons why I love this game, but the primary one is my love of exploring this world.
Seeing through the Character’s Eyes
Ferrone wasn’t the first character I created in WoW, but he was the character through which I really got to know this world. He’s a Night Elf Druid, currently level 100, which was the level cap when I last played.
He’s always been a favorite, and is one of the few characters I have dedicated more days of game-time than I’m willing to reveal here.
Back in those early days of WoW, there was very little in-game help to the unfamiliar player.
You had to find quests by actively searching for towns where quest-givers likely hung around. Then, you had to actually read the quest description to figure out what you had to do, why you were doing, and where you had to go. The little map icon in the upper right corner of the screen didn’t tell you where to go.
You had to follow the directions in the quest, typically in the form of follow the road north until you reach the river. The cave is on the north bank of the river just beyond the farm.
Sometimes, you had to pull out the full-screen map to figure out where you were going, discovering new features of the map along the way.
Exploring the various regions of the world in this way was one of my favorite parts of the game. I remember being level 38 or 39 and entering Feralas for the first time. This dark jungle region was for players in the low-40s range, but my druid was versatile, and I was a daring survivalist at heart. Still, coming into this territory for the first time, the lighting dimmed and the music turned ominous. It was intimidating and wondrous at once.
I didn’t know where I was going, but I wanted to see every corner of this place.
Diving into the World-Building
I did not know any of the lore of Warcraft before playing WoW, and I really only learned what was available directly in the game. (There are dozens of books, comics, and other publications in this universe.)
This here is my other favorite character, a Dwarf Paladin. Dwarves are by far the coolest race in WoW, and I will not be convinced otherwise. If Dwarves could be druids, you bet I would have 10 of them. Deius is level 87 or so, and he’s the next character I want to get to level cap.
One of my favorite habits in the game was visiting my home city. Ironforge, the home of the Dwarves, is an amazing city in the heart of a mountain, and I used it to escape from the harsh “outside” world and putter around in-game. I particularly enjoyed visiting the Library and reading from some of the various tomes of ancient Azeroth lore. The Dwarves are expert explorers and archaeologists, you see, and their library is filled with archaeological finds.
Let me repeat that for clarity.
I spent a not insignificant amount of time in a video game version of a library, reading books of lore set in that video game’s fictional world.
And people wonder why I love world-building so much???
The Likely Return
Over the years, WoW changed. In an effort to attract more casual players (of which I am definitely one), Blizzard Entertainment added quest markers to the little map, and arrows pointing the way, and linear questing that took the player directly from one place to the next without them really needing to think or care about where they were going.
I understand why they added these features. Even hardcore players complained that questing and leveling up took too long in the early days. But little changes like this chipped away at the things I truly loved about the game: the mystery and the sense of adventure.
My nostalgia for World of Warcraft stems mostly from these very non-gamer experiences. I don’t mean that Gamers don’t enjoy world-building and exploring and lore. I just mean that the gamer aspects of WoW — PvP, raids, tournaments — never appealed to me as much as the world itself.
Blizzard Entertainment just released WoW Classic, a set of servers designed to replicate the game-play style of the original game, before the features designed to make the game more accessible, and therefore, easier.
A bunch of my friends have all jumped back in after years of not playing, and think I will, too. I’m excited to play with them, especially those who I don’t actually see very often.
I don’t know if WoW Classic will be as adventurous and intimidating as I remember. I hope so. I want to feel that sense of wonder that few stories have delivered for me. It’s the same sense of wonder that I chase in my own writing. WoW is just one of the stories I keep coming back to.
Check out my previous posts on the creative and writing processes under the Creativity Sessions category.