Today (well, yesterday now) was the Reddit AMA for one Ion Hazzikostas. Hosted on the WoW subreddit, which has been notorious of late as a den for those most dissatisfied with the systems in Battle for Azeroth, and, well, it went pretty alright, all told. The questions asked followed similar themes to the front page of the subreddit for the last several weeks – lots of Azerite questions, lots of Warfronts, lots of Island Expeditions questions, and questions on meaningful character progression and how the game has made a lot of that feel moot.
To those of you reading this first, this was, like it was for me, an event that was anticipated. Communication lines from Blizzard were eerily quiet as the initial polish of the level-up experience gave way to some less than ideal components that were bolted onto the things the game usually does well. Yet, for many outside of the game – this game, our game – or outside of gaming, the question might be asked, “why does it matter?”
Ultimately, I guess this is what I’d rather talk about, because the AMA, while helpful in many ways, was ultimately light on content and very clearly deliberately thought through (we’re going to work on Island Expedition content, starting with a hotfix TODAY, Azerite traits aren’t hitting the mark, so we’re going to be redesigning a bunch of them and trying to bring them in line to offer more interesting choices, Warfronts could use some tweaks and we might like to bring the cycle time down, etc).
I guess, to me, a 13-year WoW veteran at this point, why does it matter to me?
The Nature of a Hobby
To start with, for many of us, WoW is not a game that is simply played to be exhausted of story content and then discarded, but rather a pillar of our free time (and other excess moments that can be pulled into making a session last just a little bit longer). At this point, I have, indeed, been playing this game more or less consistently for 13 years. I cannot name a single relationship, save for family and friends, that has been a presence for that long in my life. Not to suggest it is on the same level at all, but rather, to point out that to many of us, WoW was released at a time in which it could take deep root into our lives. I began playing the game as a 19 year old, living in a nice apartment with a bunch of friends who all took to the game much faster than I did. I was the last one to be bit by the bug. Two of those friends are in my guild still, today – one is my co-tank and the other alternates between being a bad hunter and an okay resto druid. Would my friendship have been maintained as well with these people and others were it not for the game? I don’t know.
But it’s hard to imagine what our friendship would be like today if the bug hadn’t caught hold of me, if we didn’t have class balancing, raid mechanics, and content patches to talk about when conversations lulled or died out. For the years we didn’t raid together, there was definitely more distance there than when we were part of the same guild.
The Timeline of Life, As Told By WoW
The other thing that occurs to me is that so much of my life experience can be related to events in WoW.
I dinged level 40 on my first real character, Syladylin the Night Elf priest, at Blizzcon 2005, right on the show floor. I was in Stranglethorn Vale, questing through the massive heap of quests the zone offered in Vanilla, skipping the Offspring concert that headlined that first Blizzcon. The show floor was a different world then compared to today, quieter, much smaller, and everyone was off at the classic Battle.Net stage watching a Warcraft III finals match or in the aforementioned concert. I started dating my first girlfriend when my priest was level 12, and I lost my virginity by level 14 (keep in mind that levels took much longer back then). I moved into my own apartment at level 35, and I was raiding about 6 months after starting the game, fresh into level 60 but playing the in-demand healer for those Molten Core raid nights. I remember Meko, the mage who would only wear shirts and pants in game at a time without transmog, meaning he was often undergeared for raids, but it didn’t matter much then. He was also the raid leader and guild leader, so it REALLY didn’t matter. I can remember Lornla, the paladin who I played with then and losing track of him during Burning Crusade only for him to come back into the guild I was in during Wrath of the Lich King where he healed alongside me again until he vanished from the game. His name on my old WoW friends list on my priest has letters and numbers after it now, meaning the weeds of digital name reclamation have taken him. His real name was Jeff and he drove a Prius, and he was noticeably softer and nicer than Meko, which was good since he was an officer.
I remember quitting raiding during Burning Crusade when a run with a new guild of work friends took 5 hours in Karazhan to get to Curator and my girlfriend at the time got pissed. I remember eating asparagus and being in a post-argument anger haze. I later proposed to her in the month Dragon Soul came out and we broke up one month before our wedding, during progression on Horridon in Throne of Thunder. He almost broke our guild up too, the bastard. That week, I left the game for a bit, and we did a steamroll run in Blackwing Descent, not for any good reason, but just because rolling over mobs could potentially be cathartic, and for a brief moment, it was.
I remember my guild leader during Wrath, Meren, real name Rob, who was a casino dealer in Missouri and was, similar to Meko, a very rage-filled asshole who often yelled and did dumb things on Ventrilo. Characters whose names start with “Me” leading your raid is a red flag, let me tell you. His wife was the healer leader, who never spoke on Ventrilo except for literally 3 times the entire duration of my time spent with them. We had long nights filled with Meren raging while the other officers constrained him, something of a running trend for the guilds I joined in those early days before I led them. I remember pulling my Ethernet cable during the fourth week of Trial of the Crusader to have an argument with my girlfriend at the time, the same one from above, just so I didn’t have to waste time explaining I needed to go so I could handle this situation. We had awesome people in the guild though, like Hrothulf, who was a paladin tank who told us to “keep up” when we started Heroic dungeons. I later found out his name is James and he is a US Marine, who we’ve almost met at a handful of Blizzcons but always miss because while he is stationed nearby, the trip is still about an hour into and out of Anaheim and so our times available have just never overlapped.
Meren raged so hard he went to play Rift (remember Rift?), so we took over the guild – me being one of two officers still playing after that along with my friends, the ones I lived with back in Vanilla, and their friends, who are now mostly my friends. Cataclysm started with us having leveled that guild to level 25, and as Guild Levels had just been added, that was very important. But Meren would not cede leadership, even going as far as to log on every 30 days so that he could not be removed as leader. So we made our own guild, which is where I have played ever since. I learned a lot about myself in the formative days of that guild, developing skills as the raid leader that would lead me to success as a classroom facilitator at work. Herding 10 internet friends to kill the dragons and be nice to each other taught me the skills I needed for a company to give me a corporate card and send me around the country, how bizarre.
I was the co-leader of the guild with another friend, Fromwarpath, whose name is solely derived from the fact that he left the guild Warpath – he is From Warpath. Odd. It’s much easier to call him Scott. I went to his wedding to another of our raiders, Missginger, because she’s a girl and her hair is red, and this happened about a week after my hiatus from the game – from the dissolution of my own wedding. We had a good time, and I very nearly forgot about the shambles my life was starting to be in at that time. Ginger did not, however, pay for a name change to be Missusginger. Or would it be Missuswarpath? Missusfromwarpath? Man, that’s tough – I wouldn’t pay $10 for that either.
I rejoined my friends for the Siege of Orgrimmar, moved out and into my own nice apartment, ready to raid again. We killed Sha of Pride when I met a new girl that I knew from work and started a relationship with her – we killed Nazgrim three days after that relationship ended, two days after I almost committed suicide, and one day after I lost my job. We took a holiday hiatus, and I went on a trip around the world for 19 days in January of 2014, coming back as they began progression on Garrosh. They moved quickly without me, it seemed!
Blackrock Foundry opened when I moved out of that apartment and into a house with some relative strangers, and by the time Legion beta started, I was living with my guildmates again, until Tomb of Sargeras opened, when I moved into the apartment I currently reside in. At the same time I got an invite to Legion beta, I started dating my current girlfriend, who is asleep in the next room as I try to not let the volume of my gaming wake her.
I’ve been in pugs, matchmade groups, raids, battlegrounds, arenas, and world content with thousands of people, some of whom I’ve met at Blizzcon or elsewhere, some of which I haven’t, some of which I never will, and some of whom are likely dead as I write this, some whom I know, and some that I do not.
Playing a game for 13 years means something – or for 5 years, or 3 years, or 10 years, or 10 months, if you engage with it sincerely and take something away from it. WoW, as many MMOs so often are, is not as much about the content in the game, but is rather the canvas upon which you can paint these social interactions.
I recounted these things above….well, mainly because it was cathartic, in a way, but also because I think it demonstrates something interesting about a game like WoW, or any persistent, live service based game. Many times playing is not anti-social, or escapist, but rather a way to connect. So many of us interact with friends, forge bonds, and meet new people through the game, and relate those events in-game back to our lives.
So why does the state of the game matter? Why do people flood an AMA thread on a weird social media site with comments asking for the game to be better, to do better?
Because it matters to us.
It sucks to see a friend disappear one day with no explanation. To see a person you play with log off and never log on again. Maybe they just have other things going on in life – my old friends Fromwarpath and Missginger, well, they just had a third child and I see their posts on Facebook – under their real names, thankfully. Meko still plays and is in Boralus a lot lately, but he’ll never recognize me, same for Meren, because I don’t play my priest as much anymore and I didn’t really start playing alts much until Cataclysm. Lornla hasn’t been on since Cataclysm, and I don’t think I’ll ever see him log on again.
Azeroth, good, bad, or ugly, is escapist entertainment that allows us to remain anchored in a place where we interact with real people and forge unlikely friendships with many of them that can transcend the game. When rough edges of the game grind down our ability to interact with it, it can negatively affect us in many ways, and it can mean that the friends we’ve made disappear to the ether, lost in a haze of raid nights past. I’ve recounted life events, good and bad, that I can link to moments in the game I enjoyed. I shudder to think of what I would do if my mind made an association between something like “getting engaged again” and “being really mad that I got a 370 Azerite piece on my priest because I can’t take any fucking traits on it.”
So it can be easy to look at the angry passion on a thread like the AMA with Ion today and think negatively of those who would post angrily about the state of a video game, and to some extent, sure, it can be amusing the extent to which people get mad. At the same time, however, to many of those people, Azerite armor is not just an annoyance that requires them to download Pawn, read theorycrafting on a class Discord server, and decide not to take the upgrade – it may be a thing actively paring down their relationships, in a way.
Most of my friends play this game currently, and during times when I might not be keeping up with the shows they watch, the movies they’ve seen, or the restaurants they’ve been to, at least I know that I’ll see them online Wednesday and Thursday nights for Uldir. Perhaps my only hope for the game is that it continues to facilitate that friendship, since I suck at phone calls and text messages.
Also, Ion didn’t answer my wall of text and questions and that isn’t okay. (kidding!)