It’s been about a year since I logged out of Azeroth for the last time, and the buddies I’d started playing with four years back had done the same. We had a lot of fun, but hit a virtual wall and decided to call it quits.
I guess this piece is a missive to those considering jumping off the MMORPG train, but fear console or action or whatever-it-may-be-gaming beyond Blizzard’s paywall might just suck.
I’m here to tell you, it’s all good out there.
But first …
The reasons people quit World of Warcraft are well-documented by the quitters, and roundly-ridiculed by the non-quitters, so there is no real need to hash that all out again (as this is really about what happens beyond Azeroth).
Ok, Ok, I’ll just sum it up real quick like: Opiate-grade time-sink taking away from family/friends, found myself running around Dalaran in perpetual circles for no reason like a crazy person, weak raiding guild (partly my fault) with an overbearing leader, trade channel chat that was undoubtedly making me more stupider and disintegrating any last shreds of hope I’d had for the human race, and finally realizing I’d spent nearly a year of those four logged onto WOW and thinking about what else I could have done or become in that time. I thought about the screenplay I could have written, the relationships I could have strengthened, and figured I probably would have invented something truly awesome. Like a robotic turtle that excretes flames from its ass, for example.
Before logging off and explaining to Blizzard why I was done as I axed the subscription (it felt like I was explaining why I quit the baseball team to a jerk father), I private messaged the few friends I’d made, beyond those I knew in the flesh, and wished them the best. I thought about giving my cache of gold and supplies to some random noob, but stopped short and just figured I was putting him or her on a path I wasn’t so sure I wanted a fellow human to take. I feel good about providing a homeless person with a few bucks for food or beer, or whatever might make their day better, but in-game charity just felt synthetic.
So, what now?
There I was, no longer a white shaman from Idaho (just a white guy from Idaho now), free to play any game I damn well pleased. I had a PS3 and an aging PC.
At first, I’ll admit, it was a bit shaky. I started reading up on all the great console games that had come out and logged back into Steam to check the PC scene. It had been so long since I’d blasted my way through an FPS or fumbled my way through a FIFA match, and it all seemed kind of … simple.
After years of theorycrafting WOW builds, boss tactics and auction house schemes, I was afraid nothing could quite hold my attention like Blizzard’s narcotic.
Much like a heroin addict looking to kick the habit (in jest, of course), I started out with methadone: an action RPG. I picked up a copy of Dragon Age II for the console and just tore through it. I leveled up with minimal thought, picked talents that sounded neat, made easy money and killed things surrounded by significantly better graphics than I’d seen ages.
I beat the game.
That bears repeating: I beat the game. After so many years of perpetual-world nonsense with no ending, ever, it felt great to put a big ol’ bow on it after about 10 hours of gameplay and call myself champion.
Realizing Dragon Age II was considered a pretty bad game by the gaming community-at-large was an even better revelation. I had just had an absolute blast playing a mediocre title … and I knew there was a lot of good stuff out there.
I felt much like a robotic turtle shooting flames out of its ass.
This is between you and me, because I really do want to see studios make money and keep making us games, but I picked up a Gamefly account for a little while and went big, pounding critically-acclaimed console titles worth playing in the last several years and purchasing all the classics I’d missed on PC.
I was in a gaming frenzy, but realized I still had time for everything, and everyone else in my life. I could put it a couple of hours, here and there, and make significant progress. I still put in 5-hour marathons, but it was happening a couple times a month instead of several times a week.
My ex-WOW crew and I started talking about politics, our world and the Occupy Wall Street movement instead of getting locked into rehashing what went wrong against Boss X or how the shards were selling on the AH.
For those considering leaving their repetitive dungeon runs and holiday achievement head-against-wall banging, you can get a lot of game for your money once you flee WOW. Old games are cheap, and I took advantage with all I had missed.
I found some really good stories (The Witcher, Mass Effect), ridiculously-good humor and perfectly-tuned puzzles (Portal 1 and 2), expansive RPG worlds with an actual ending (Oblivion), rediscovered the classics (Half-Life, Deus Ex, Psychonauts), went neck deep into the indie scene (Braid, Machinarium, Bastion), played out a series of action flicks (Uncharted), went on kill crazy rampages in a bunny suit (Saint’s Row: The Third), and discovered a platformer that, in my opinion, bests the classics (Rayman Origins).
The list goes on, but the point is simply this: The variety of gaming choices today is astounding. The inspiration, fun and sheer enjoyment to be had far outstrips logging onto my WOW account and leveling an alt, killing the same wolves, picking the same herbs, doing the same thing over again with a slightly different interface, since it isn’t raid night.
One thing WOW did give me, and I thank it as a gamer for life, is a love for the RPG.
Pre-Blizzard, I’d played and loved titles in nearly every genre, going all the way back to Atari days (Congo Bongo folks, epic), but I’d never taken the leap into RPGs. I borrowed a few from friends, played for an hour or so, but my confidence would wane as things got more complex and I would convince myself I was taking my character down a horrible path with an equally dysfunctional build. Then I’d hit eject and go back to Metal Gear.
So here I sit, salivating at all the potentially great games coming out in 2012 and scheming on what to play next, and all I can say is, “Thanks WOW. You made gaming fun again. Sorry you don’t get my $15 a month anymore, but I’m pretty sure you’ll manage.”
Or, I might just pick up Diablo III and become a Blizzard minion once again.