Throughout most of my life, I’ve been an avid gamer but I’ve never been able to settle on just one game. The equivalent of a social butterfly, I generally throw myself in enthusiastically for a short while, play a game to death, then somewhat callously discard it never to return. There’s one major exception though-World of Warcraft.
While no longer quite as shiny and as impressive as it once was, it’s somehow always been there for me as I’ve developed as a person, and experienced various significant life events. Spanning over 10 years, it’s become a security blanket in game form.
While World of Warcraft didn’t launch fully in Europe until February 2005, I was a part of closed beta testing in late 2004 alongside my boyfriend of the time. Living 200 miles apart and only being able to see each other infrequently meant our time online gaming was particularly important. We could explore a new game world while catching up on what we’d been doing that day. He could regale me with stories from work, while I caught him up on how my University studies were progressing. We were both Night Elf Hunters, as we liked the idea of having pets, but typically we’d go our separate ways. He was keen to check out PvP while I liked exploring the surroundings and levelling up as quickly as possible.
We’d spend most of our evenings playing, feeling like we were still a significant part of each other’s free time, before logging off and phoning before we went to bed. If nothing else, it was saving us a fortune in phone bills.
As time progressed, we joined a guild. It was a fairly small social guild-one with like-minded people and more than a few couples.
The guild leaders lived in the UK too, so one Easter, we went to visit them for the weekend. I remember being confused by the couple, mostly because they both kept playing World of Warcraft when they could have been spending time with each other. It seemed to me that they weren’t actually any good at communicating with each other outside of the game, like it was something keeping them together-a far cry from how my boyfriend and I treated the game.
In our case, it was a catalyst for making our relationship stronger. We’d often end up talking about more serious things through the game than on the phone, right down to the time when we were both increasingly twitchy because I was ‘late’, despite having taken all the correct precautions. Phone calls were saved for lighter chats or simply hearing each other laugh or fall asleep.
Of course, when you’re a young student, love doesn’t always last forever. The warning signs were missed by me, but they were obvious. Out of nowhere, he started being too ‘busy’ to log on, too ‘busy’ to do more than text me goodnight instead of call, and too ‘busy’ for our regular weekends together.
In the end, World of Warcraft stuck around, while the boyfriend didn’t.
Not that I went straight back to the game. Much like returning to your old favorite restaurant, it felt wrong and painful to go back to Azeroth. It had lost its sparkle and worst of all, I had to detach myself from the guild we were both a part of. He wasn’t playing any more, having moved onto a more local girlfriend, but they all still knew about what had happened. I threw myself into my studies for a time and thought no more of it until time had healed things.
By that stage, I was a post graduate student in a new town filled with new opportunities. It was both exciting and scary all at once, which is how I ended up back with my old favorite.
One late evening, I didn’t feel like watching a movie or going out for drinks, so I signed up to World of Warcraft again. Things had changed for both me and it, and yet I fell straight back in love. It didn’t grab me like before, but any time I had a spare hour, I’d delve into it, still playing a Night Elf Hunter. A teensy bit older and wiser, and under a completely different name out of some paranoiac concern that I might run into an old guild mate-much like how you fear for running into an ex at a bar.
This time, it was a passing flirtation. If nothing else, post graduate studies require a lot of work, and there was no room in my life for an MMO addiction. For nearly a year, my account remained dormant-and then everything changed.
My father died suddenly in April 2008, and I was utterly lost. Only having recently returned home, it broke me. Having watched him die in a particularly unpleasant way caused me various psychological issues that took a long time to adjust to.
When the world made no sense, I went back to World of Warcraft. It was the equivalent of gorging on chocolate in a time of need.
Somehow, it never quite swallowed me whole, despite the many horror stories of depressed people losing themselves to games. Instead, it gave me sanctuary. It gave me somewhere things were safe and I was in control again. I stuck with a Night Elf Hunter again-feeling comfortable in knowing its ways better than I knew some of the places around my local area.
That sense of sanctuary has stuck with me ever since.
While there have been various time periods since 2008 where I’ve played it less so, I invariably go back to it when I need some warmth. This has been most prominent in the past two years. In that time, I’ve become a care-giver for my chronically ill mother. I’m older and stronger than I was, able to cope with so much more than I ever would have imagined possible back in 2004.
I have a strong support network of friends, a good job, and various hobbies, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need a sense of safety from time to time.
World of Warcraft is still a place where I can switch off and stop worrying about things. On a quiet weekend, I can dip into it for an hour or two, enjoying those familiar sights just like before. I’ve never been a significant part of a guild since the days of my boyfriend and I, nor do I have any interest in the end game side of things. As a simple Night Elf Hunter wandering the world though, I feel strangely comforted. I’ve diversified a little, occasionally dabbling in the Horde, or playing as a Pandarian Monk, but home is being a Night Elf Hunter.
A lot has happened in the time since that 20-year-old decided to pick a Hunter simply because she loved the idea of having a pet tiger. I can’t say how much longer I’ll play, or what will make me stop, but for now the game is still an anchor for me.