EDT791: The Siren Song

Posted by Jeff Beeman on Wed, 04/16/2008 - 08:48

In the first meeting of EDT791 this semester, we were told that one of our assignments would be to play a game for at least fifty hours and write about it while we did so. In that moment, I heard a sweet, subconscious whisper, "... World... of... Warcraft." It was uttered in that same way I hear "...coffee," each morning, or "...popcorn," whenever I walk through the doors of a movie theater. I hadn't logged into WoW in nearly nine months, and it was pulling at me. Strongly. Within mere seconds, I was coating a dagger with poison, hiding myself in the shadows and preparing to dizzy a gibbering ghoul in the Western Plaguelands. I was hoisting my tiny gnome body aboard a gryphon, grasping its feathers tightly as I soared towards Wintersping. I was... hearing a strange voice. "For those of you who are gamers, it needs to be a game you've never played." I had nearly fallen off the wagon. The intervention had saved me.

Over the next few weeks, I tried to forget my moment of near-weakness. After giving Persona 3 a valiant effort, I moved on to Lost Odyssey. I busied myself with other distractions - playing Jeanne D'arc or Disgaea on my PSP whenever I needed a quick fix, or Titan Quest when I needed something more intense. Each experience was satisfying in its own right, and each helped block my ears to WoW's siren song. Yet, despite my best efforts, it kept making its way back to the forefront.

In our second meeting, a classmate announced that he had chosen WoW as his game for the course. He told us he hadn't played any sort of game for years, let alone an MMO. A few weeks in, he talked at length about his low-level, newbie journey through Azeroth and demoed the game for us on a projector. Revisiting the game through his virgin eyes brought a flood of nostalgia. I quickly became the annoying kid in class who talks more than the teacher.

"What professions did you choose?"
"The leper gnomes are to the west."
"Do you see those mechanical bird-looking things? I have one of those."

I can only guess that my lust for his experience was palpable. Realizing how foolish I must have been acting, I glanced over at our professor and saw that same hungry, longing look in her eyes. When our classmate was finished, she logged into her account without hesitation and showed us, with great pride, her level sixty-nine night elf druid.

I knew she had played WoW - she had mentioned it before in class - but in my mind, she had surely spent time in Azeroth as a means of researching and documenting the experience of learning in an MMO. But, she had suddenly transformed from an academic who certainly didn't appreciate the game for what it truly was to a fellow warrior in the war against the Burning Legion. We suddenly shared that bond of mutual experience I imagine formerly deployed soldiers feel. We had both witnessed the devastation of the plague that had overrun Lordaeron. We had both taken down the Scarlet Crusade. We could surely talk at length about the anarchy of Stranglethorn Vale or Gadgetzan.

Talking about WoW during class wasn't the only thing calling me back - pleading with me to rejoin Alliance ranks. Gabe and Tycho at Penny Arcade had been, for several months, writing what can only be described as literary prose about their reignited love for the game. The son of the owners of the Gold Bar, where I spend the majority of my mornings becoming caffeine-infused while I work, was gushing about his first run in Karazhan and his new-found love for working the economy through auction house. Cory "Demiurge" Banks on Gamers With Jobs reminded me why the hand of WoW irreplaceably scratches a social itch, and the GWJ guild on the Blackhand server was ready and waiting to accept me with open arms. Unable to fight it any longer, I gave in. Within a few days, I had re-subscribed, paid the fee to for a character transfer to join the ranks of the GWJ Alliance, and was sneaking around the Eastern Plaguelands as Doogiemac, a level fifty-five gnome rogue.

Going back to WoW has delivered in more ways than I could have expected. The last time I left the game, roughly nine months ago, I was at level fifty and questing through a desolate world. The Dark Portal had been opened to Outland, but was only available for players of the highest level... a long ten levels away. In that nine months, Blizzard has drastically decreased the time needed to get from level one to sixty by ramping up the experience gained from enemies and quests in the lower level zones. I have now quickly worked my way up to level fifty-six, and fifty-seven is just over the horizon. More importantly, I have joined the ranks of the GWJ Alliance, and my brother has come along with me. WoW's inherently fun and addictive gameplay and it's masterful design and storytelling are reason enough to be continually drawn back in, but the social ties and relationships that are so core to the experience make it a foregone conclusion - I will never stop playing this game.