On a cold Sydney winter morning I stand at the train station. The sun cuts through the crisp azure sky and I think to myself, “this reminds me of the sky in Elwynn forest as I wandered carefree as a level 3 noob and was coldly cut down by a bandit near the crystal lake.
“And then eaten by a wolf.
“And two minutes later somehow killed by something that sort of looked like a frog.”
Dear friends, forgive me. I am an Idiot In Azeroth.
Hello. My name is Mark Serrels. I’ve never played an MMO before. Ever.
I also know next to nothing about World of Warcraft.
Okay, backtrack. I know some things about World of Warcraft. I understand that it’s an MMO. I know what an MMO is. I know that it’s a timesink that many have claimed to be addicted to. I understand there have been expansions, I understand it’s a fantasy game set in the Warcraft universe. I know that the maximum level is currently 90. I knew enough to laugh at the jokes in that South Park episode and I know just about enough to blunder my way through a World of Warcraft news post here at Kotaku Australia.
But I don’t know enough.
I’ve always toyed with the idea: maybe one day I’d give World of Warcraft a try. ‘It’d make for a great series on Kotaku’, I’d say.
And now, here I am.
World of Warcraft. A game long past its prime. Populated by a set of players who are ‘hardened’ in a sense — although hardened is the wrong word. What is the right word?
The reasons people play World of Warcraft today are surely different from the pure reasons they once had all those years ago in 2004, when the game was first released. Maybe they play for community, to maintain the friendships that began all those years ago, in long-forgotten guilds, during long-forgotten quests, trying to relive those old jokes, trying to grasp those memories and somehow relive them again, and again, and again…
Perhaps it’s a job. Perhaps it’s a distraction. Perhaps it’s pure habit. Perhaps logging on is just a reflex they can’t fight. But as I wander among the levelled-up behemoths and monstrosities with their mounts and gear, I wonder exactly what it is they’re doing here, I wonder about their motivations for playing a game they’ve no doubt exhausted at least once. This is my first time playing World of Warcraft – ever — almost 10 years after the game was first released, and all these people, they are still here. I don’t understand them, and I don’t feel as though I belong, but I walk among them. Perhaps one day I’ll be granted that insight. Maybe one day I’ll become one of them.
But for now I’m alone. An Idiot In Azeroth.
It’s impossible to describe that moment; entering Azeroth for the first time with almost literally no pre-knowledge with which to form expectations. With nothing to prepare you.
I’m loath to claim that World of Warcraft is bloated – again, that is the wrong word. But my first reaction — after being bombarded with menus, smatterings of key bindings, information, and so much text – is bewilderment.
Fear. Stress. Confusion.
I created my character – Alliance, human, looks like Conan the Barbarian – and that was simple enough, but with tutorials automatically turned off it took me 15 minutes to work out how to attack the six wolf things I was supposed to kill in my very first quest. 15 minutes. I had to find the tutorial box in the options, ‘tick it’ and then return to the game. It took me a long time to do that and everything else has felt like slow progress since.
But that’s fine. Most of my favourite gaming experiences have required a certain amount of patience, then reward.
On Friday night I was cooking dinner, but was feeling lazy. I chucked some corn on the cob into a saucepan of boiling water and logged into World of Warcraft. ‘I’ll go for a wander,’ I thought and aimlessly trudged into the wilderness to explore.
Elwynn Forest. The sky is crisp and clear, the palette is otherworldly. Trees sprout to touch it in low polygon spindles and somehow I don’t mind. I gaze up and get lost for a second. This world is beautiful still, in its own way. It’s hard to explain.
The forest gives way to a village, I can’t for the life of me remember its name. Creatures great and small and strange in shape congregate in a bizarre collage of impossible colours and lines that seem almost unimaginable. I can’t imagine a context in which this would make sense outside of this one, specific particular moment of time. They duel with their wizardry, pets and lightning bolts and I just walk past oblivious to what is going on or what is even happening in front of my eyes — because I have understanding of what it took to get there. To get to the place where that fight was possible.
Then I smell burning. In real life.
I quickly peel off my headphones. I run into the kitchen. I had been playing for a whole hour without realising and the water that was once in the saucepan has evaporated. All that’s left is four lonely, slightly charred clumps of corn. This, I realise, is how time passes when you play World of Warcraft.
I am an idiot in Azeroth. I am also, it turns out, just an idiot.
Stay tuned throughout the month for more entries into An Idiot In Azeroth.