After finishing uni in 2005, before I embarked on a ‘proper’ career, I spent two years working for not very much money in a shop in my hometown. We opened at 9.30am, closed at 5.30pm and beyond that, there’s nothing very interesting to say about it. I’d be home by 6pm, grab something to eat and then head upstairs to my ‘other’ job – the one I actually preferred. Every night – and all day, when I wasn’t at the shop – I would log in to Azeroth and, along with the other members of my guild, battle to bring down the many and varied bosses of World of Warcraft. It's been almost five years since I played, and looking back my time playing Warcraft feels as real as anything else. For the hours I was in-game I was my character.
But I didn't start out as an addict, merely a casual player working from level 1 to level 60, having fun with my friends. Once I reached the top level though, I had to make a choice about the type of player I wanted to be. I could return to the beginning and play a new character from the start, or go on to new challenges and work with other players to bring down bigger and badder bosses. Since I've written this blog, it may be no surprise to learn that I chose the latter, and my journey from humble beginnings, through to leading a guild, and the inevitable fallout is the tale I have to tell for you today...
(As with any game, WoW has its own vocabulary. I've linked out to helpful definitions throughout but apologies for anything missed!)
Beginnings: leveling and the dangers of in-game politics
I leveled my first character, a human paladin, alongside two of my colleagues from work, who played a priest and a mage respectively. As a trio we worked well: I was the tank, wearing mail (and later plate) armour which let me take far more damage than the cloth-wearing priest and mage, who were able to heal and deal damage without worrying about getting hit (too much). We joined a couple of casual, levelling guilds – WarCraft Chaos and Lords of Absit Invidia (there’s an interesting study to be made of the language of WoW guild names, if it’s not already been done) – and so were able to find bigger groups when needed but weren't expected to play a certain amount of time and were free to come and go as we chose. When not striving to wipe-out the populations of kobolds (“You no take candle!”) and murlocs (“RwlRwlRwlRwl!”), we would hang out with each other in-game, dancing on fountains and chatting about nothing in particular.
At level 60 we reached end-game and started raiding, working in groups of either 20 or 40 to bring down world bosses. My first raid did not go well. I had moved to a raiding guild – Harvesters of Light (aka HoL) – but then was invited to Zul’Gurub (ZG) with another guild, Relentless Chaos (RC). In my innocence, I saw no harm in going along since I wasn’t locked into the HoL raid yet. Relentless Chaos had been started by the brother of my priest friend and both my levelling companions were members so it was a known quantity, and I didn’t expect it to be a problem. Little did I know!
Guild politics run rife through WoW. When the Guild Leader of Harvesters of Light saw that I was in a non-guild ZG run, I got a few angry whispers and then was promptly kicked out of HoL. This was no bad thing since I almost immediately got an invite to join RC where I would go on to firstly become the Paladin class-leader and then eventually co-guild leader but it was a harsh and early lesson about how seriously WoW was taken by those working to conquer the highest levels of the game. Break the rules or betray your guild, and you’re out.
End-game: raiding and the frustration of loot that just won’t drop!
At my peak, and in addition to my full-time day job, I was playing a minimum of five hours of Warcraft every night, often more, not to mention spending my days off work levelling alts and farming for materials to make money in-game via the Auction House. I specialised as a Holy Paladin, working with the other healers (priests and druids) to keep our dps and tanks on their feet during fights, removing curses, resurrecting the dead and providing essential buffs for each fight. Before the first expansion pack was released and the level cap raised to 70 as a guild we had cleared Zul’Gurub, got to the end boss of the Molten Core, and had Onyxia on farm (these names will be meaningless if you don’t know WoW, but all these raids, and others, can be read about here).
We weren’t the best guild on the server, either in terms of achievement or progress, but we had fun. On one occasion we spent an evening throwing snowballs at each other on the Deeprun Tram that runs between the cities of Stormwind and Ironforge; on another we tricked one of our friends into accepting a summons that ended with him falling off a cliff (maybe you had to be there, but it was hilarious at the time…). We had a tight-knit group, and since seven or eight of us all lived in the same city, we even had a couple of meet-ups to go bowling and hang-out in the Real World.
After the release of The Burning Crusade in January 2007, the new challenge was Karazhan. In their infinite wisdom, the makers of WoW had decided that raids would now be reduced to a maximum of 25 players (Karazhan itself was only 10-man). This was great in theory but caused headaches in reality. Guilds that had been built around running 40-man raids suddenly found themselves with either fifteen extra players or ten too few. We initially opted to slim down our ranks and just run a single group of 25, which allowed us to do two full 10-man runs, and attempt the bigger instances as well. This was when I stepped up and started leading raids and helping to run the guild.
In addition to healing duties during a run, I decided which players got to go (and dealt with the anger of those that missed out), who took on particular roles during fights, awarded raid points for attendance and boss kills, allocated the loot that dropped, issued instructions over Ventrillo before, during and after fights to make sure everyone knew what they were doing and generally kept people in line. At times it felt like a second full-time job (there was an awful lot of admin). To save me time explaining things as class-leader, I wrote a 3,000 word essay on how to heal Karazhan as a Paladin which was posted in our guild forum (let me know if you’d like to read it, it’s… fascinating).
The one thorn in my side was the Maiden of Virtue, one of the optional bosses who had the most fantastic healing mace available as a Paladin drop but who simply refused to give up the goods. I must have done that fight more than 50 times – even joining raids I wasn’t on specifically for that one boss, with someone else giving up their place so I could have another chance at the drop. Eventually, on nearly our last run, my patience paid off and Shard of the Virtuous was mine. I stopped playing this character soon after, and she’s still equipped in her Karazhan gear on the log-in screen, Shard of the Virtuous gripped in her right hand.
Decline and Fall?
For various reasons, Relentless Chaos was coming to an end as a guild. Our ranks had swelled and the admin of members – and simply keeping the peace – was taking out a lot of the fun from the game for those of us in charge. We had a lot of good players, but were also carrying a lot of dead weight and having to deal with a lot of 'drama'. In an attempt to simply enjoy playing the game rather than dealing with the guild, our guild leader had taken to hiding away on a character only a few of us knew about in order to get away from being pestered all the time. A core group of us made the decision to leave and form a new guild called Hubris, before eventually changing servers entirely, switching over to the Horde from Alliance, and reforming Relentless Chaos with new characters levelled from scratch.
Although I did reach end-game again with my new character (including clearing Naxxramas, another big raid) the end of my time as a Warcraft addict was nigh. I moved back to university to do an MA and to my horror found that my internet connection there refused to let me play for more than ten minutes at a time. There’s nothing like cold turkey to break you of a bad habit! Other than a brief return to duties during my first few months in London, I’ve never really been back as a player. I still buy each expansion pack as it comes out and every few months am sent emails with tempting special offers, but until this past month, my account has remained inactive.
As research for writing this, I felt I should at least revisit Azeroth and see how things were. I’m now the proud parent of two new level characters – a Pandaren Monk and a Dwarf Paladin. It seems not much has changed in WoW: although much of the scenery is new, the game mechanics are essentially the same and it would be incredibly easy to pick up where I left off. But I don’t think I’m in any danger.
For me the addictive part of WoW was the friends I made, working as a team to defeat the end-game, mucking about with our characters when we had nothing better to do, and it’s something I prefer to look back on with fondness rather than try to recreate. I couldn’t do now what I did then, devoting myself to running a guild and committing five hours every night to being online and I doubt I’ll stick around beyond the month’s play I’ve paid for. It was a great experience – and, I’m the first to admit, it taught me a lot – but for me it’s something best left to the past, I’ve got books to publish!