Like most people, I am affected by the changing of the seasons. Winter depresses and tires me out, spring makes me feel energized and enthusiastic, summer grinds me down and soaks me with sweat, and fall…well…for some reason, fall makes me want to play World of Warcraft.
Don’t get me wrong, I love fall for all the right reasons. Great weather, leaves changing, the return of new TV and football. But I also start getting the itch to return to Azeroth and fight gnolls or nagas or elementals or whatever the hell it is they’re up to now. It’s not something that makes a great deal of sense to me, and the only real explanation that I have for it is that I started playing WoW in the fall…almost seven years ago.
I got bored with it here and there, stopped playing between expansions, or simply didn’t have either the time or excess money to fool with it. I’ve played through The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. I quit sometime in 2009 and haven’t been back since. But for some damn reason, every autumn of every year, I want to fire my account back up and blast some things. Or, in my case, heal the other people who are blasting things.
Another expansion, Cataclysm, has come out since then, and yet another is due later this month. Mists of Pandaria brings a panda-like race and their Eastern-style culture as playable characters into the game, which – I will admit – I’m kind of a sucker for. Both the ridiculousness of humanoid pandas running around killing things with fireballs, and the idea of walking around a mystical Asian-themed continent strike my fancy.
I’m an atypical WoW player. Which is to say I’m not the stereotypical WoW player. I hate PvP, I never screamed profanity-laced gibberish on Barrens chat, and I’m not big on groups and guilds. I am at once amazed and repelled by the idea of the MMO; amazed by the technical aspects and scope of the project, and repelled by the sociological aspects of it. I play games to have fun, not be at the mercy of some foul-mouthed 12-year-old with delusions of grandeur. Like the Joker in The Dark Knight, it seems like too many players just want to see the World of Warcraft burn. And even when like-minded folk get together and make a fairly-cohesive guild, I dislike the idea that I need to be on at X time so I can run Y dungeon for a slim chance at Z loot.
Which is to say I kinda wish WoW was the most sprawling, magnificent, single-player game in all of history.
It really is beautiful. Though much has been said about how “dated” the art style and graphics are getting, I love the world. Blizzard took that simplistic approach and did absolute wonders with it. Feralas, with its unrelenting greenery, is still my favorite zone. The Blood Elf starting area and capital is stupidly pretty. Even the places I didn’t like I didn’t like because I wasn’t supposed to. Blasted, red, gloomy, or desolate zones like the Barrens, or most of Outland, were still psychologically effective. Even as a veteran player, sometimes I just liked to walk around and look at things. I enjoyed being a tourist in Azeroth, and sometimes wondered why things were always trying to kill me.
I even find the meandering, often ridiculous or contradictory storyline compelling. Every little feller in the world has a tale to tell, even if you do have to go fetch 20 [Bear Livers] to hear it. Every landmark has borne witness to hundreds of thousands of battles over thousands of years. And every other strange NPC name or odd artifact in the middle of nowhere is an in-joke to something that happened in some distant internet forum.
So I tend to see the World of Warcraft as a giant, living novel and as a weird sort of travel agency. I do like “accomplishing” things, leveling up, and getting teh phat lootz, but it was never my primary motivation for playing. And on the occasions that it did, I generally quit soon thereafter. A grind is a grind, after all, and there’s only so much prettying-up that can be done to offset it.
Predictably, the times I’ve played WoW the heaviest were the times I’ve had the least going on. Now that I’m employed and em-girlfriended and em-bloggened, my time for running around in a virtual world, however stunning and captivating, is very limited. That, and I like doing other geeky things like watch movies or TV and read books and look at dumb pictures or videos on the internet…or, hell, play a different video game. As atypical as my WoW habits may be, the game does tend to bring the worst kind of obsessive tendencies out in me, especially when I first get back to playing. I don’t want to be dead to the real world while I go exploring this fanciful one.
So I face a choice. Give into my weird seasonal craving and return to Azeroth once more…or ride out the jonesin’ and let more sensible, adult pursuits take precedence.
Whaddaya think, folks?