A friend of mine said it was like knitting. Unless you’ve played World of Warcraft you’d say that was a nonsensical metaphor. You’d have zero understanding of why it made perfect, perfect sense.
It’s the grind. The pure grind. In a sense World of Warcraft is a passive gaming experience. I’ve had conversations whilst playing. Full-blown conversations. I’ve blah blah blahed my way through levels, blah blah blahed my way through entire quest lines. World of Warcraft doesn’t always require your fullest attention. It’s not like other games and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t remember being able to have conversations whilst playing Dark Souls.
Some people take knitting seriously. Some people take WoW seriously. But a lot of the time spent, I have to imagine, would be spent in a fairly passive state. Surely.
Someone made a comment on last week’s Idiot in Azeroth post: they’d played the game for 511 days.
Not hours. Days.
So I thought about that -- the 511 days thing. I tried to parse it in real world terms. 511 days – roughly – is about one year and four months. Nine years has passed since World of Warcraft launched but, for argument’s sake, let’s just say that humans spend eight hours of every 24 sleeping.The average human being, therefore, has spent six of the last nine years awake. This means that my friend, the Kotaku commenter, has spent one year and five months of his last six waking years playing one single video game. In percentage terms he has spent 25% of his waking hours over the last nine years playing one single video game.
I haven’t spent that amount of time doing anything. Work? Maybe? That’s literally the only thing that comes close.
I think I’d rather play World of Warcraft than work. If I had the choice!
511 days. 12,264 hours. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that any single person could master anything in this universe if they applied 10,000 hours of their time to it. They could become a professional golfer. They could be an expert stock market trader. A high level martial artist practitioner. Anything.
With 12,000 hours you could have mastered practically anything you could imagine. You could’ve become a world class artist. You could have changed careers. You could have made your dreams come true.
Does that make World of Warcraft a waste of time? Did that person waste his time? Have I wasted my time trying to learn the game? No, I don’t think so.
I’ve never believed video games are a waste of time and I never will. Even in excess I don’t think it’s wise to ‘regret’ time spent with a video game. I know friends who met their long-term partners in World of Warcraft, people who made lifelong friends. WoW can legitimately change lives.
It’s just that, as my time with World of Warcraft comes to a close, I’m thinking about this video game and the impact it has had on people. Individual people. World of Warcraft is such a unique beast in terms of its reach; in terms of the hold it has on people.
And I’m doing that horrible parent thing, I’m asking the question that a thousand clueless baby boomers have no doubt asked of their children: what could these precious babies have achieved if they had applied that time with other ‘real world’ tasks? A pointless question, but I couldn’t help pondering.
But I had to snap out of it. It’s easy to forget that everything we do, in the grand scheme of things, is pointless. It’s easy to forget how good it feels to truly achieve mastery over something – even something as arbitrary and silly as a video game.
“Are you going to keep playing?” Asked one friend. He had clocked up over 300 days in World of Warcraft.
“I don’t know if it’s for me,” I replied. “It’s such a time-sink.”
“It’s a bit crazy,” he said back, “eventually you just meld with it.”
I don’t know that, in my current life stage – wife, child, job – I have the time to meld with anything.
In my naiveté, I had always wanted to close my time with World of Warcraft with a raid, possibly my first raid. I had this idea in my head from the very start, of me being clueless -- an Idiot in Azeroth -- ruining everything in a comical fashion ala Leeeerrrroooooooy Jenkins.
I wouldn’t deliberately ruin things. I would just be hilariously terrible. I would piss everyone off. I would be clueless. I would let my team down. I imagined it as the perfect climax to the story of my time in Azeroth.
But at the time I wasn’t aware of how unrealistic that goal was. I didn’t realise players had to be specific levels to undertake specific raids. Didn’t realise just how long I would need to invest to level a character. It took me over 12 hours to build a character to a pathetic level 15, the level required just to take part in dungeon quests, training wheels for raids.
That was as good as it was going to get. A dungeon it was. My final foray into World of Warcraft would be a quest set in the Deadmines.
I entered the Deadmines as a tank. I had been informed by my expert guide that my stats, gear and character class was best suited to this role. I was a tank, therefore I charged. I charged at everything moving. I clumsily beat enemies down with my brutal shield attack. I was proud of myself for having the vaguest idea of what to do, proud of myself for not being completely useless. I was being awesome at World of Warcraft and it felt so good.
Then it happened.
Like a pack of seagulls chasing a chip, we charged up the decks towards to top of the dungeon, assaulting what looked like sunken ships holed up in broken down caverns. What a spectacular sight. I was caught up in the moment: the spectacular scenery, my shield bashing prowess. I was dizzy with joy. What a perfect ending to my time in World of Warcraft: the joy of mastery, the beauty of self discovery. I was no longer an Idiot in Azeroth. I belonged.
Yeah. That feeling didn’t last very long.
In the heat of the moment I spotted what looked like a cannon. I then discovered that I could jump into the cannon. “This is a great idea,” I thought. “It’ll be like in Halo, I’ll jump in, support my buddies from the rear. I’ll be the hero of the hour.”
I had no bloody idea what I was doing.
I got in there fine. Then I realised I didn’t know how to fire the cannons at all. Worse, I didn’t know how to get back off the thing. I just sat there for about 10 minutes completely clueless, no idea what to do, too embarrassed to ask, right clicking the cannon over and over again, hoping and praying something would happen.
Finally, respite in the form of a whisper.
“Hey Randy Marsh,” said my companion. “Click the button at the bottom right hand side of the screen.”
Oh Lord Jesus Christ. It would be the very last thing I did in World of Warcraft.
By the time I got out of the cannon and found my companions the dungeon quest was over. Every enemy was dead and I just sort of rocked up like, “hey guys, I’m an idiot…
Thanks for joining me for the Idiot in Azeroth series. If you want to catch up on previous entries into the series, click here.