And then the Alliance stormed through the hills. A guild called Serenity Now caught wind of the event and came in droves. They rained arrows and lightning, hellfire. They struck the funeral, waited for their resurrection, and murdered them again. The participants tried to fight back but they were outnumbered. In an instant, the funeral became a war zone. And within days, the story of the onslaught spread around the world, through hearsay on forums and YouTube clips, even a press article here or there.
The immediate catch was that this was a travesty, tolerated within the game’s Player vs. Player limits, but despicable at bottom. But now I wonder if this is what the woman would have wanted. To be part of the tradition, a legend discussed and debated, is remembered and poorly remembered years later. Bring people together, out of love or cruelty, one way or another. What more could you ask for from a video game.
But that game has changed. Beyond the floating debris in the Barrens, World of warcraft had been redesigned to support less social play. Taking dungeons had once meant intense preparation: Kano and I would shout “LFG” (group search) in regional chat rooms, repeating it for hours on end until we found other people doing the same; travel together across a continent or two to these dungeons; and killing boss after boss, often erasing and starting over. The people we found would stay with us afterwards; the monsters were difficult to kill and the quests together resulted in fewer deaths. After years of playing, we formed a tight group of friends, all of them digitally gathered, who talked about everything from their parents’ divorce to playing football. As we progressed, we congratulated each other like it was a birthday.
But now the game is effective. A dungeon finder puts you in a queue of other dungeon lovers, and when enough people line up, you teleport there together. Monsters die easily. And the experience points are fast. When I level up now, I burst with golden light and it’s calm.
I flew to Orgrimmar, the capital of the Horde, and saw more Ashes of Al’ar, purple beams everywhere. I asked one of the horsemen where they got this, and they told me they bought it at one of the in-game markets for 40,000 gold – that’s about seven dollars, if you had billed your credit card for an in-game voucher.
I wanted Azeroth as it was, where gold was not for sale and every achievement of a mount to a higher level was something amazing, crushed over days and months, that required you to sacrifice your relationships and create new ones. Something over seven dollars. So, I also left this world. I installed World of Warcraft Classic, Blizzard’s pixel-by-pixel restoration of the game as it was in 2006, when gold and XP came slowly, when you died easily, when you had to call other people for save, but in the grind , your world and Azeroth have become indistinguishable. “Immersive” sells the short-term experience. As I remember my childhood with Kano, I don’t remember looking at a screen; I remember our avatars as ourselves, wandering the planet.
In Classic, I created a new character, a new level 1 Undead mage. Throwing gels at bats and wolves in the night brought other memories back. I found myself slipping into a familiar trance – a runaway state killing one monster after another, loosening my hold on time, walking from one town to the next, dying and walking like a spirit toward my corpse , resurrecting again and again.
I skipped meals to play with Kano all the time. It was during these trances that we talked the most. I forgot what our fingers were doing and we talked about crushes and things without consideration. We covered how to show a girl you love her (you make eye contact and you have to smile). We came across a discovery of the word sperm when we tried an abbreviated way of telling each other to come help us – and the game’s built-in censors turned the verb into line asterisks. I called my father to ask him why. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “It must be a bug.”