I was home, but I had to eat fast—three men in Texas were waiting for me. It was more like ten, eight for sure—we’d pick up the last two if necessary—but three of them were in Texas and they were ready to get murderous. Dammit, I forgot the caffeine, things are going to get heavy once these Bagel Bites start turning to mush and overworking my bowel, it’s probably going to bring me down in a slump before 8pm, me in a chair with drool on my shoes. This was a special job, and we needed bodies with specific skills, each person bringing that special something to the work. I don’t care what you want to do, you’re here to do what you do best, and this gang has a no bitchy-bitch rule, you’ll be on mute faster than Nine Inch Nails in a sketchy neighborhood. We’ve been here before, so the layout is painfully familiar, it’s just those last two parts that are wringing our necks and rag-dolling us closer and closer to an ephedra addiction. Where’s the hillbilly? Why is he late? We’re short one- wait, there he is. Alright, things are set for motion. Clear the channel of chatter. It’s time for World of Warcraft.
Now that we’re through that unnecessarily vague and dodgy first paragraph, and now that we’re knuckle-deep into this geek foolery, let’s take our shirts off and sink to the knees. To date, I’ve officially quit the game four times, starting up again generally around whenever the next expansion pack arrives, and staying as long as my interest is held from that date. It’s a dance I’ve been fat-footing since 2005, which tells you how powerful the stuff is, or perhaps how weak I’ve become. It’s not like they keep making revolutionary new leaps in video game technology, they just keep putting boxes on the shelves with fire, dragons, and something other-worldly looking fit and destructive. The boxes really don’t contain anything of note. No discs, manuals, or little warnings that you’re about to enter a gaming coma for the next few months, only to awake in a jobless stupor, covered in white sheets and surrounded by beeping sounds and dead flowers. No, the boxes are filled to the brim with white powder, and their intention is to have you pull it into your sinuses until every relationship you’ve ever known has dissolved along with that diet you were working so hard on. I know, you don’t have to tell me. This game is awesome.
I’ll save you the play-by-play on how things work, both because you probably already know, and because I don’t want to write a book about the mighty Tauren cow-people and ancient shamanistic magics just now. I suppose I could, all this free brain space a byproduct of not having to log on to a computer and blink the day away. The only thing I really miss is the confusing and rewarding relationships one builds when playing an online game like World of Warcraft. It’s not a terribly fly-by-night thing, like a shooter, getting matched up with a few strangers for a round or two of blow-em-up, then after a couple exchanges of, “Good game,” and, “Your mom is a whore,” everyone logs off or finds a new batch of strangers to play with, ever increasing their de-sensivity to the feelings of others—and possibly—sunlight.
In World of Warcraft, you generally seat yourself on one server, possibly two if you’ve got that kind of time, and this is where you make an online home, set with all the fixins—a good chair, that vanilla yogurt you like, some soothing music, and a legion of the undead at your command. The people here are real and of all ages, strangers in spots on the globe you’ll never visit, peoples of other cultures and ideas. Time zones dictating, you’ll probably wind up with a batch of folks in your general geography, and the more you play, the more you start to learn about them. It’s a surreal exercise, never seeing a photo, only hearing their voice and learning about their day, a green or purple beastly avatar serving as their body. It’s the magic of today, the way we’ve bent technology to, in some small way, lift away disability or disfigurement, and give a four hundred pound orc a southern accent.
It’s just softball practice. It’s the after school meeting, it’s your chess club, it’s training for a marathon. You come home, log on at an agreed time that works with everyone’s timezones, and you play the game together. Online games are generally considered better when connected with others, but this isn’t the requirement. I found myself drawn in, setting alarms on my phone and arranging my marathons in a careful way as to not damage relationships or responsibility. You’re friends of a cadre, they don’t know about your day, you can’t tell your real-life friends about them, so the whole thing becomes even more otherworldly. Things get fritzy sometimes. You do your best to keep calm, that winged thing that keeps killing you and everyone is making the room all heated, let’s come back in ten minutes, get that bio break in there and fix up the coffee situation. The dash up to the kitchen is rapid, you’ve got eight minutes to piss, set some dinner to fire, and get things back to the computer. You’re only in this group because you’re reliable. Eleven minutes in and you’re going to get a text message on your phone from an area code you’ve never seen before. “Hey. Let’s roll, everyone’s buffing,” it says. Quickly a reply is typed, “Pizza Rolls.”
It can be grueling, this fun you’re having. Coldmaker is a little late, not like him, but I think his game privileges were limited, something about a math test. He’s in gun country, the kid’s got a backyard full of broken washing machines now reserved for beer bottles and bullets. Ravheart will be on in a few, this is our third practice this week, one boss, and he’s trying to watch Rescue Me before the evening goes all lumpy. Ichoras is here, the raid leader, and we can hear his son crying in the background. He had to log off for about thirty minutes—cable modem in the freezer—wedged between frozen peas and spare formula, taking a break from one hell of a battleground. Still can’t get Tarsis in this one, he’s not letting go of the old ways. Besides, I think he’s at a comic book convention this week and we hear there’s some serious cos-play tits floating about. I think Foxxie’s on her way. Foxxie, my dear. God how we aren’t just living in this black hole. We’ve spent countless hours getting to the top of the top, the gear, the specs, half-chewed food and gaping jaws while we study tech articles and video training on suggested patterns. Someday soon, the earth will require these specific skills. It had better, all this grinding needs more of a goal than a neck-beard and bed sores.
There’s no fanfare when you finally quit. There’s other things you need to get done, new responsibilities that cut into your chess club. When you come back, years later, things pick up as though you’d stepped out for just a moment. The gang is here, they’ve never left, an online world as if held on pause in anticipation for your return. Now all you’ll do is re-learn the workings of Oz, find the new Wheelers and see if their vulnerability is fire.