Why I Hate... World of Warcraft • Page 2

Elf warning.

Then there's the raiding itself. Imagine any other scenario where you engage in a hobby that consumes around four hours of your evening, several nights a week. One that benefits you enormously and requires 24 other people who just happen to be your best buddies for life. Wouldn't that be incredible?

I think it would, but I also know deep down it would be bullsh**. Allying your own character development to the wants and needs of two-dozen other people merely compounds the compulsion to play and retain your place in the group. As with gambling, the more you put in, the harder it becomes to walk away from the table.

If you feel I'm overly cynical about the social experience, take a break from tanking for a few raid rotations or hang up your healing gloves. Tell the guild that you're burning out and you need a break. Then measure your friendship when you return, having created an obstacle to their next shiny gear upgrade.

All of this nonsense should have come to head at the end of 2007 when I embarked on a year of travelling. Instead, while fellow travellers endured 15-hour coach journeys by necking Zopiclone pills like they were soporific Skittles, I passed the time happily playing mental PVP behind closed eyes. It was uncomfortable madness. Somewhere in the bottom of my subconscious a voice demanded that no matter what, I mustn't think about a pink elephant.

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'Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go'.

My compulsion to play had not dulled by the time I returned home. However, I was surprised to find myself bored and aimless in Azeroth. So I did what any rational idiot does in this sort of situation and upped the dosage.

Now in possession of five accounts I began multi-boxing and, with a set of characters at max level, spent several months doing nothing but running dungeons by myself and gathering gear. All under the laughable pretence that this would allow me to play without being dependent on others, and therefore better able to manage my playtime.

It was the Achievement system introduced just before the second expansion which finally forced me out of the game. Faced with the deepest grind yet, I had nothing invested and so nothing to lose by walking away. I didn't so much quit as just stop logging in one day.

Almost 12 months after going cold turkey, I must confess I dipped back into the game on a whim. But I was relieved to feel nothing. The magic had vanished from my veins.

Since then I've revisited Azeroth - mainly for professional purposes - and found the well of addiction remains dry. When I play now, I sit in that happy category of player who perceives the game for what it is: an extraordinary accomplishment which should entertain, not enslave.

I hated WOW, but I'm not sure I hate it any more. It's more accurate to say I hate the way I threw myself into the abyss - the one that will only engulf you if you choose to let it. I recognised the moment when I was no longer having fun but I couldn't, wouldn't, walk away.

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Achievements - it just had to go.

What saddens me most about those years is that, for all of the incredible and memorable times I had in WOW, I missed a hundred other great gaming moments. I wrote countless other, undoubtedly excellent games off because I saw them as being pointless and lacking a persistent purpose. I forgot how to have fun for fun's sake.

Fallout 3 may have been an embarrassment of riches and I'm sure that Super Mario Galaxy was an ecstatic, surreal sugar-high. But, along with so many others, those games sat next to my television gathering dust during the WOW years.

I couldn't tell you a thing about them that wasn't third-hand knowledge. I only remember glancing guiltily at my consoles and seeing piles of games accumulate like the possessions of a spoilt and greedy child, eagerly awaited but discarded after an hour's attention.

I still believe World of Warcraft is the defining title of the MMO genre. In fact, there's an argument to be made for holding it up as the defining game of the last decade. But a game that good holds up a mirror to your life. If you don't like what you see, turn away.

Reflecting on my own experience, today I view WOW as the ex-girlfriend you thought you'd never get over. The one you bump into, years later, and realise you were happier before you'd ever met.

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