Lest We Forget…
Last night I had a game-changing experience. By that, I mean both my ‘life’ ingame has changed & so has my whole perception of the game.
Some say that the game doesn’t actually start till endgame, but I now wonder whether the truth is actually the reverse. Perhaps instead, the ‘game’ ends at endgame & something much closer to real life begins. In our first steps in Azeroth we are introduced to the mechanics Blizzard has put in place for us, we learn the game’s concepts much the same as any other game. At this stage, the MMO part of the game is not fully apparent & it can easily be treated much the same as a single player RPG. Quests are received, mobs are slain, XP & loot earned. Progression is much the same as in most videogames, work unlocks further abilities, new locations & these incentives drive us to continue playing.
Eventually, we begin to follow the game’s promptings to engage with other players. We join forces for a short time to further ourselves within the game. Motives are still largely selfish for the most part, centered on elevating oneself toward the eventual goal of level cap. But as we engage with other players, elements of real life begin to seep in. We engage in conversation with these other players, we begin to recognise our common humanity. Both friendships & rivalries can form as our social instincts influence our experience. But still looms the drive toward level cap, an easily recognisable & fundamental goal. The game still allows for players to forgo social interaction if they so choose, as just as in reality, putting your trust in another can be risky.
But then comes endgame, where the social side of the game suddenly explodes outwards. Progression becomes impossible without the aid of other players. Our social instincts again come into play as we further our relationships with other players, remembering those who are helpful & friendly. Bonds that may have been born earlier strengthen, as new bonds are also formed. Networks of players grow, as people are introduced to each other through the game’s forcing of group content. These bonds then solidify, are made official & brought into another game concept, that of guilds. The lines between emergent social gameplay & the rigid game system of character improvement blur, as we begin to feel the impact of ourselves on the game world itself. We see that we rely on others, & they too on us. Questions of individual versus collective begin to spring up. We learn of the people behind the monitors, their lives are as real as ours. Friendships are as real ingame as they are outside. It is something altogether new & different, a virtual environment, constructed by skilled artisans crafting a mechanical sensation, yet populated by entirely real & human players.
Sometimes I believe we can be confused by this, & we may forget that the people we encounter have become emotionally involved in this experience. We can all too easily revert back to our earlier selfish thinking, we resent people we see as interfering with our view of ingame progress. I know I am guilty of this.
For the past few months, I have been a member of a guild called Utopia. It is with some irony that I reflect now on the appropriateness of that name. I joined after the collapse of an earlier guild & quickly became one of the ‘core’ group. We raided casually & progress was often slow & hard fought. But we enjoyed each others company & that was enough. Recently however, I began to see others in the game who have achieved ‘progress’ further than we could. I became jealous of these players, feeling that I could be there myself if our group could only improve it’s performance. I dwelt on the failures of players & became frustrated with some’s seeming inability to make an effort. I longed for the high DPS numbers, the top end loot & the prestige of high end raiding. This came to a head when I saw an opening for a hunter in one of the top raiding guilds on my server. I decided to seize the opportunity & applied for the spot. Later, I was notified that I had been accepted. I was overjoyed, finally now could I prove myself as a capable raider & earn what I deserved. I thought that I would remain close friends with my old guild & at the same time do the game content I longed for. Last night I decided to inform my guild leader of my leaving. I hoped that she would be able to be happy for me in what I saw as a great achievement & recognition of my skill. Sensing some possibility of hurt feelings I also decided to buy her one of the new Pet Store pets, to show my gratitude for the time spent together.
But I now see that I was blinded by my own ambition, I could not appreciate the care & love she had poured into the guild to make it what it was. My leaving was not simply a change of guild tag, it was an outright betrayal of all that she had worked for. I had become enraptured by the game & had forgotten the reality behind it. As I broke the news of my departure, I could hear her become quiet, then deathly silent. I hung in anticipation of her response, when I heard her sob. The silence then returned. Her response then came by pink text in the chat box.
‘Well go then’
I knew that something was wrong, that she had taken it far worse than I had thought. I pleaded back to her that it was an incredibly difficult decision, that I would not leave if it would cause a rift between us. But the damage had been done, the knife was in her back. Realising the gravity of my mistake I begged her to listen, that I would stay if my leaving was hurting her this much. In that moment I was dragged kicking & screaming back into the reality of the game. I was shaking now, sobbing myself as I typed desperately. The pink text itself was devastating, I longed to hear her voice, feeling strangely removed from the emotion of what was unfolding. Then I was /gkicked.
I felt sick to my stomach. Earlier that very same night we had been laughing together in a fun run of Ulduar, drinking & wiping, talking about our jobs & our lives, celebrating the wonderful people we had met in this guild. And now it was gone, in just a few minutes I had destroyed it all. And why? For some vain sense of glory & achievement? For ‘phat lootz’?
Now my experience is by no means universal, I know that it is entirely possible that I will feel the same sort of kinship in my new guild. But I feel that sometimes we need to be reminded of the impact we have on the lives of others, especially those we care about. Whether we know them only through voices on vent, in a game where we battle dragons & demons doesn’t matter, they are always people, & we should never EVER forget it.