hen reading MMO blogs and reviews, praises and rants on games, I am always struck with the thought that we’re all chasing a falling star. As much as we hurry and chase it about, we can never catch it. Just about every MMO player I know fell in love with the first game they played. The game changer. Inevitably, no game can ever live up to the first heady days of MMO-dom. The veterans long for their dream sandbox like Ultima Online. PvP fanatics wax nostalgic about Dark Age of Camelot. Others wistfully remember their glory days in Everquest. Me, I wax poetic about how The Burning Crusade was my time of glory in World of Warcraft. I am not sure if I know any one MMO player who’s not nostalgic. We all try to re-create the wonder of our first days of playing.
Now, let me give you a little backstory about my involvement with online games because I do love to ramble. I started using the Internet in 1995 when I stumbled into the public lab of my university, and one of the first things I did was to look around for games. For years I had heard of those mystical games called MUDs, games where people played together in one fantasy world, leveling their characters. I thought that was fascinating. I have to say, it didn’t help at all that one of the first books I found in the university library was an English book about computer games on the Internet. Or maybe it was fate. I tried a couple MUDs and thought they were terrifying. When rats killed me yet again, I fled for greener pastures. That book from the library also mentioned PernMUSH. Unlike MUDs, they’re completely RP-based, and as I always enjoyed writing, that’s where I found my new home, and eventually my now-wife. Imagine WoW on a roleplay server, just without any combat opportunities whatsoever. You just roleplay, all text, all the time. A MUSH in a nutshell. Did I mention how awful using plain Telnet was? And yet that’s how I played. Took me years to actually find my first specific MU* client. One of my friends from my MU*ing days is the terrific Kathleen Shea, author of SimpleMU.
I played MUSHes for a decade. As technology advanced, I started craving something that was not just walls of text. Ultima Online was released in 1997, and of course I was very aware of it, but it was very much not mainstream. I was actually a member of the Ultima Dragons, as the Ultima games were my first game obsession, so I really wanted to play in the world of Britannia. Today, I am glad I never did, because I don’t care for sandbox games, and I most certainly do not care for PKing. At the time, I thought it was ridiculous to consider paying monthly fees for a game, when the monthy dialup costs were already crushing my tight budget. In the broadband world of today, it seems hard to remember that I didn’t allow myself longer than 1-2 hours online a day because it was too expensive.
As time progressed, a lot of my MUSH friends moved on to Star Wars Galaxies. I had a co-worker who played DAoC. When I was in the middle of yet another Diablo 2 playthrough, one of my co-workers told me about the amazing beta he was in, for a game called World of Warcraft. I was intrigued, because I loved Blizzard games, and the hype around WoW was impressive. I read up on it, and there was enthusiasm all around. I debated for a long time. Could I justify the fee? No, I still couldn’t. But hey, you got a free month of game time. I was able to justify that to me. In February 2005, WoW was released in Germany, and a month in, I picked it up, firmly convinced I would only play for that first free month. Right!
I went straight for girly stereotype (I had no idea that this would be so popular with female players as it turned out to be): female nightelf hunter. My reasoning was sound, I thought. I never completed the night elf campaign in Warcraft 3, but I liked their setting. I liked ranged combat. I felt based on WC3, my best nightelf fit would be a hunter. I never particularly cared for their looks and the bouncing, but I thought their jump was cool. I remember running around in a rather crowded Teldrassil because a month after release the start area was still packed. I had no idea what guilds did but I heard they were important, so I joined the first one that advertised in local chat. I won’t lie, I still get chills listening to the nightelf music from vanilla WoW. I still listen to the soundtrack quite a bit, I find it very soothing at work. Everything seemed huge and filled with danger, and I played like a dummy. A whole breed of melee hunters was born in that time, when you didn’t get any pet until level 10. I gaped at the NPCs in Telanaar with their riding kitties and wanted one. I died a million times in the barrows filled with furbolgs. I mean, seriously, who designed those? Close quarters, a maze, high respawn rate. It was a death trap for noobs like me. I was in there for literally hours.
I remember how mad I was at the satyr who had me pick up stuff for him and turned out to be evil. I firmly recall how purple the trees were, and how the ground shook when an Elder stomped by. I ran around Darnassus like crazy, overwhelmed by the size. On my second day of WoW, I managed to fall off Teldrassil, getting completely stuck on the lower limbs of the tree. That’s how I found out that Teldrassil was indeed a giant tree. I had to hearth away, once I actually figured out what a hearthstone was. The game wasn’t that newbie-friendly, really.
Whenever I thought myself an awesome WoW player in later years, I always thought back on that first hunter of mine. Nightelf hunters start with daggers, and so when I found a blue intellect dagger with additional shadow damage, I felt like a queen. That’s how much of a noob I was. But I had fun. I remember the death run through the Wetlands because someone had told me there was an auction house in Ironforge. It was the only one available to Alliance players. Everyone was in Ironforge at the time, Darnassus was so dead compared to it. It was like today’s Stormwind or Orgrimmar in popularity. To get there, I ran all the way from Menethil Harbor to Ironforge, along the road. I was level 12, and the crocolisks came to me like moths to the flame. It took me a long time to make it. Those are the parts I remember best.
I stopped playing her in the mid30s. That’s usually my breaking point in games (and the reason I quit LotRO and Rift both at that point). She was questing in Darkshire at the time as I never took her back to Kalimdor after the death run. Morladim killed her many times. Is he still in the game? I wonder. Darkshire is the one Alliance zone I always loved best. The horde was calling to me, and I switched to play a troll shaman instead. I have never been good at playing alts, I always need one particular character to focus on. Ultimately, the Horde won my heart. By the time my troll made it to the Barrens, I was horde for life, inside.
It was a magical time. WoW no longer feels like in those first few weeks. I actually gave WoW to one of my RL friends for Christmas. She’s a casual gamer who’s into fantasy and adventure games, and WoW is her first MMO. She chose to roll a nightelf druid and I rolled a priest and ran around with her. Based on her pace, she’s probably as overwhelmed as I was at the time. I was bored with the zone after ten minutes, as a veteran I could not take any joy out of it, and I found myself jumping around like a ferret on crack, restlessly. My friend said she dies a lot. Isn’t that fascinating? I would give anything for being back in her shoes because lack of challenge is one of the things that see me out of love with the WoW leveling game. I hope she’s having as much fun as I had at the time.
I think we all likely have fantastic memories of our first days in an MMO. If we didn’t, we likely wouldn’t have stuck around. As a jaded MMO player, we will have to come to terms with it that no game will ever feel like that again. SWTOR does not feel like WoW in the day, though it comes fairly close for me. Guild Wars 2 won’t feel like that either, I am sure. We can only ever hope that we can still approach games with the sense of wonder and openness we felt when we first started playing. Before we went into a game thinking ‘I hope there’s enough content at endgame’. Stop to smell the roses. Be open. Don’t buy the hype, but also don’t go in expecting to find disappointment because someone on the Internet said this and that game sucks. Find your own enjoyment. No game will ever be like our first one, but there’s no reason we can’t keep on looking for fun.