When I started playing World of Warcraft around four years ago, I would never have imagined that a video game could dominate my life. I thought I was just sitting down to play a game, but I was wrong. Very wrong.
World of Warcraft, for those who don’t know, is a video game. It’s set in a vast, virtual fantasy world where the goodly Alliance is battling the insidious Horde. Where mighty dragons lurk in dungeons, waiting to be challened by brave adventurers. You begin by choosing between the two sides, picking a race, sex and class, and are dumped into the middle of a starting area.
As you stumble into the light, the first thing you see is a chap with a giant yellow exclamation point above his head – a questgiver. He charges you with the important task of killing boars, or something like that, and you’re off on your merry way. You’ll slaughter the boars, pick through their corpses for anything good to sell, then turn in the quest item for a nice little reward. Doing this gains you experience, and very soon a swirl of yellow light engulfs your body as you become stronger and smarter – you’ve reached level two.
So it goes. You’ll slaughter thousands of creatures, both beast and humanoid. You’ll be sent on quests where you have to find something and bring it back to the questgiver, presumably because he’s either too lazy to do it himself, or his feet are glued to the ground so he can ask the next poor sap to go and do the same thing. Sadist. You’ll be asked to escort someone out of a hostile area, generally a painful experience because even though you probably have a mount and are capable of moving at twice normal speed, the escortee will refuse to move at any speed above ‘dawdle.’
Finally you reach level eighty, and you’re finished. You’ve won the game. Right?
Wrong. The game has just begun. Now instead of experience, you need to acquire something else. Honour. Reputation. Gold. Epic armour and weapons. Novelty pets to show off to your friends. And every single one of these things requires hours of time to achieve.
Now I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy my time playing World of Warcraft. Not by a long shot. In fact, I had a fantastic time. The people I met and the experiences I had while projected into this virtual world were, for the most part, an absolute blast. At the end, I was the leader of one of the most respected end-game raiding guilds on the server.
But yesterday evening, my girlfriend and I decided that it was time for us to hang up our digital hats and move on to the next challenge. Essentially the reason for this is that we reliased that we weren’t the masters of the game any more – it was now the master of us. Everything else in our lives had taken a back seat, and things like walking the dogs had to wait because we were busy doing something on World of Warcraft. Shelves full of books gathered dust, gardens overgrew, friends started wondering if we’d left the country or something.
After making the decision, we jumped online. After the login screen, a list of your characters greets you. Their armour glistening as they await your commands. But instead of pressing “Enter World,” we clicked on the other button on the screen – Delete. Watching as each of the characters you have spent days building disappears into digital oblivion is both terrifying and incredibly satisfying. After all, my main character has almost two thousand hours of my life poured into him. That’s thirteen hundred films. Fifty-four hundred television episodes. Two hundred novels. A three-year university course.
That was the scary one for me. A friend who is doing an Information Technology degree currently does two eight hour days per week, as well as a couple of two hour lectures. Over the course of a three year degree, that would total up to about eighteen hundred hours. I could have done that and had two hundred odd hours left over to read some books and see a couple of films.
So here I am. Facing the world anew with an extra fourty-odd hours per week. Whatever will I do with my time? Stay tuned and find out.