#Mv27: World of Warcraft, A Casual Turned Casualty (Part I)

Several months after its launch, I finally realized that EverQuest II wasn’t the second coming of EverQuest. A great game in its own right, I had actually managed to get a few real life friends involved. Toward the end of my experiences with it, one or two friends had joined me in Ultima Online, and I made new friends who had been big EverQuest fans. With EQII, we all joined under the same banner, but our shared adventures were few and fleeting. Something bigger and bolder loomed on the horizon.

Slowly or immediately and one by one, my friends kept disappearing to this other game, a game I had zero interest in playing. It was called World of Warcraft and no one knew it was about to become synonymous with the MMORPG genre.

I clung to EverQuest II like a life preserver. I desperately wanted it to be everything I had hoped a sequel to EverQuest would be. In some sense, it was, but in too many ways, it wasn’t. As my friends departed, my grip slacked and my hold slipped. Afloat once again in that dark sea between MMORPG worlds, a great current pulled me against my will to Blizzard’s shores. Landing in Durotar, I took the form of a troll on the Maelstrom RP-PVP server, the place many of my friends and friends of friends had already made homes – a place in which I’d make my home for a long, long time.

In the earliest days of World of Warcraft before The Burning Crusade, I maintained my roots. I was a hardcore fan of the genre but not a hardcore player. Similar to my love of science fiction novels, I probably know more book titles and authors than your average reader, but I am far from an expert on the texts themselves or the genre on the whole.

Most of my real life friends were more serious and better established – I was months late to the party. They had joined a bigger guild with a recruitment policy and scheduled raiding. I followed as a casual member, but soon left for a guild more befitting my speed with people playing at the same time or as often as I was. I settled with the <Raging Warlords>, a guild consisting mostly of people twice my age with families, jobs, and other responsibilities. They were like the eye of a hurricane, perfectly calm and devoid of much of the chaos and madness afflicting the wider, far more immature and unreasonable communities of WoW.

While I wanted to maintain my loathing of it for not being EverQuest II, World of Warcraft seemed like a better sequel to the EverQuest that I had loved. It never had the depth of world of either EverQuest or EverQuest II, but it made up for it by being a much smoother gameplay experience with more interesting, distinct classes. EverQuest II had excellent class lore, but the way classes sprung out of various archetypes muddied them all together for much of the gaming’s opening levels. In World of Warcraft, a rogue was a rogue almost from level one, and I think the game benefited greatly from having such an early hook into its gameplay and leveling experience. I know I couldn’t resist it.

World of Warcraft also popularized instances, which made grouping more accessible, even if I missed having open world dungeons. It also retrained my attention onto the holy trinity, which existed in EverQuest, but wasn’t nearly as fine tuned as it was becoming in WoW. It seemed more efficient and straight-forward, while also maintaining a lot of the depth and strategy via threat management, crowd control, and the extensive buffing system.

Finally, I have to credit Battlegrounds as being the first MMORPG PvP I really enjoyed. I had flirted with it somewhat in Ultima Online (mostly guild wars and dueling tournaments) and a bit in Dark Age of Camelot, but Battlegrounds resembled the FPS gametypes that I knew and loved. They felt familiar and more welcoming.

While leveling my main, I did a lot of Battlegrounds on the side. This was before cross-server queuing, so lines to get into a round of Warsong Gulch remained fairly long. On the few occasions I did get into a match, it was almost always against the same Night Elf Druid. We never exchanged words, but our continued skirmishes cemented an intense rivalry that remained for several tiers of BGs before we lost one another forever.

Battlegrounds in general were a mixed-bag. At the time, Maelstrom was a very Alliance-heavy server with a few decent raiding guilds. Most notable of all, The Thundering Legion, were an ever-present entity at the entrances to late game dungeons, raids, and often combatants as pre-made groups in Battlegrounds. You couldn’t escape their overgeared wrath as a Horde, lowbie or otherwise, and I grew to be weary of their vary name. This meant that my gameplay was often interrupted or halted altogether due to their influences, but it also meant that playing World of Warcraft was a dynamic, exciting experience in a living world with its own unique heroes and villains. I loved it but there were days where my love soured into acidic hatred.

My feelings about the game began to change once <Raging Warlords> started doing some lite raiding in Molten Core and Zul’Gurub. We weren’t very good or very organized. You might think it would turn me off from raiding, but the opposite is true: I wanted to do more, see more, and be more. Our repeat failures and shortcomings were fun in their own right – even faltering, as long as you do so with good people, can be fun. But every half-done raid left a lingering taste in my mouth that only made me hungrier.

Worse, the few we did complete were such ‘punching god in the chin moments’ that I was riding the high for days. World of Warcraft wasn’t exactly the sort of game I talked about at school like I had done with Pokemon, Halo, or Morrowind. As I was reaching my latter teenage years, gaming became more compartmentalized as I explored things like having a girlfriend or the freedom to go wherever in my car. Celebrations, water cooler moments, and wistful reminiscing all belonged to the online world of Azeroth, further engrossing a fraction of my being while I was otherwise distracted. I did what most teenagers did and fractured my psyche into convenient, context-specific parts.

Online, with <Raging Warlords>, I had a big family of like-minded gamers. We adventured and fought together. We traded items in-game while we traded stories out of game. My real world self was still in flux, but my avatar was defined and distinct. We were not a collection of winners or top tier players. We didn’t have the best stuff or the best titles. We were acquaintances and with common causes. We were friends.

I played World of Warcraft then as much for the company as I did the game, and that wouldn’t change, though the company soon did.

This month, I’m doing a retrospective series about my life as a gamer to celebrate my 27th birthday. Each post will be written and published in a loosely chronological order. I am calling this series Murf Versus 27.

#Mv27: Steam Rising


In contrast to the early days of Xbox Live, Steam’s launch was a nightmare. I got in on the ground floor, but for the life of me, I don’t understand why. I wanted Half-Life 2 and I wanted the great bundles Valve was offering as exclusives for pre-ordering the game on Steam, but the whole concept of paying for a license to access a game only over the Internet was outrageous. Even now, despite coming around wholeheartedly on the idea, I still see people express similar concerns. If Steam hasn’t convinced you yet like it has me, then I am not certain what will.

Half-Life was a favorite game of mine when I played it, but I played it a lot later than most. By the time I finished it, the sequel was right around the corner. I didn’t have time to digest the expansions or offshoots. I hadn’t even tried Counter-Strike! (I’ve since rectified that and learned that I really dislike Counter-Strike.)

My hype for Half-Life 2 was especially fresh. I forget the name of the format, but Valve used this really detailed video file to help market the game’s brand new engine. It worked wonders on me. I spent hours upon hours downloading those clips to see the game in its fullest glory. The Source engine was a revelation, its physics an imminent manifestation of the divine deities which had constructed it. Seeing the lighting in those Half-Life 2 marketing videos was like seeing the light, literally and figuratively, for the first time. Never before had I ever been so excited by the fidelity of a game.

Despite all of this, I almost gave up on Half-Life 2 when it first launched.

Steam was a mess. It was confusing, ugly, and connections were always timing out or giving me errors. I had pre-ordered the game well in advance – this being a time when I thought pre-ordering far in advance of a game’s release was a smart finance decision.

The Source Engine also took my computer to its knees at times. This became readily apparent in some of the game’s earliest stages or any area where Half-Life 2’s evolutionary approach to physics was on display.

Together, these were old school problems (system requirements issues) mixed with entirely new issues. They were enough to sideline my interest in the game for a few months until I found some additional money to make a few upgrades. Even once I got to play Half-Life 2 and realized that not only it had lived up to its hype or that it was worth my patience, my opinion of Steam was at an all-time low. My opinion began to turn around with a game called Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic was a solid game and one I didn’t mind loaning to friends. I had that privilege because I had purchased a physical copy of the game. Yet, for some reason, I felt compelled to try the ‘add to Steam’ function anyway. Considering I was loaning it out so much, I figured it would be nice to have a backup option in case anything happened to my disc.

This was several years after Steam’s launch. I had largely ignored the service other than a means to download and replay Half-Life 2 or Half-Life Source. Dark Messiah was the first opportunity I had to see how Steam had come along, how it might be more relevant.

I was blown away almost immediately by how smooth things had gotten. My game added easily, joined the vast library of Valve games already present in my library, and seemed to somehow be more permanent than the boxed version ever did. While Steam may do away with the need for the physical forms of games, it managed to make permanent the part that matters, the soul of a product once imprinted on a frail form. With the connection issues and service outages seemingly a part of the past, Steam looked a lot more palatable.

Biases and disagreements now severely diminished, I began looking at Steam objectively once again. It had some of the best elements of Xbox Live, namely a cross-game friends list, but it also worked infinitely better as a store and a library. It was hardware agnostic, assuming your hardware was good enough for the basics – you didn’t need to re-buy anything or maintain old hardware for older purchases.

Almost over night, Steam became the de facto way in which I purchased games. It’s rise was only furthered by the reduction in floor space dedicated to PC gaming. I remember the days when I’d wander software aisles looking for new PC games. I spent my youngest years in Walden Software, then EB Games, then Gamestop perusing the few titles they did have on the shelves. I even remember looking for games at office supply stores or big box chains, places that still sell PC software but look quite quaint doing so.

Don’t get me wrong: looking for video games was a major pleasure throughout my young gamer life. Even to this day, I sometimes walk through Gamestop just to feel those feelings again. In many ways, Steam destroyed this experience for good. With its rise, digital storefronts and online purchasing rose with it. The idea of going to a store to browse for a new game is as foreign to me now as buying gaming’s online in a purely digital format was to me in 2004.

That was all inevitable, of course. With or without Steam, gaming would’ve been swept up in the digital software revolution all the same. It may have taken longer and I would argue the end result wouldn’t be as awesome as Steam is today, but it would have happened. Thankfully, Valve has made browsing their storefront a mostly pleasurable experience – though looking through bad box art is a thing no more, I get similar feels searching Greenlights and indies for great games I have never heard of.

Steam also changed the way I play games, or better expressed, don’t play games, with the amount of titles it has convinced me to purchase. I won’t gild that point further: we all know it to be true.

This month, I’m doing a retrospective series about my life as a gamer to celebrate my 27th birthday. Each post will be written and published in a loosely chronological order. I am calling this series Murf Versus 27.

#Mv27: Xbox Live, or The Biggest Gaming Game Changer Ever


Don’t let the title fool you: this isn’t chronological hyperbole, it’s a statement I would have made then and continue to make now. Xbox Live completely rewrote the script of multiplayer gaming and made online the only place to be on consoles. It’s time to give the Devil her due.

I had my flirtations with online gaming with the Dreamcast and a few non-MMORPG dalliances on my PC, but true romance only came from Halo 2 and Xbox Live. No more sifting through servers looking for a non-bot match or a map I didn’t have to download. No more faulty connections. Xbox Live single-handedly pushed online gaming into a new century, when everyone else was (or, in Nintendo’s case, still is) content with an analogue worldview.

In my own lifetime, there has been no single gaming game changer as big as Xbox Live. That includes Steam, which I adore. Xbox Live did for online gaming what better consoles did for arcade games: it brought it into every household, made it something everyone would play, and starting breaking down the physical barriers of playing with friends.

I cannot imagine a better game to start the revolution with other than Halo 2. My young self thought much the same. While opportunities to hang out and play Halo games with friends were still there, I was never the life-of-the-party type. I demanded alone time, more than anything, and I wanted freedom from my social anxieties, my fears, and my worries. When the weekend rolled around, I wasn’t the teenager looking to drink and run wild, I was the kid happy to finally get a break from five days straight of dealing with other people. Weekends were a blissful escape.

That’s a big reason why MMORPGs appealed so much to me. While social, they didn’t require me to take on the weight of the costume I had to wear in front of other people. I was a young, fragile thing, scared of my peers, but even more scared of being myself. I wasted so much time on worries of being judged and my insecurities flourished because of it. I wasn’t surrounded by hateful, spiteful gossip-mongers – that’s just the way I was at the time, despite the great friends I had.

The anonymity afforded to me by MMORPGs allowed me to participate in multiplayer and experience new styles of gameplay that were otherwise quite alien to me. In turn, Xbox Live brought that same anonymity to my bedroom television, and gave me the opportunity to experience many other types of games without even taking a shower. It was a viable, and quickly necessary, alternative to local multiplayer.

In its wake, every console has followed suit and launched similar networks. Even the PC, once a Wild West, has been tamed by its own equivalent to Xbox Live, Steam. Apple managed to create a walled garden with its appstore which threw out everything that had been written about selling and marketing software. Xbox Live did something similar, planting a new Eden that forever altered the course of gaming. Instead of hardware companies, Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, and Valve are also service provides. We can thank Xbox Live for that.

2015-03-31 15.50.13

We can also thank this recliner. In it, I spent hundreds of hours playing Halo 2 and other games on Xbox Live. If you look closely enough, you will see the slight indention of my younger form. Or not. Either way, I still remember the hours wasted away as competition finally came into my home without eating all of my pizza or drinking all of my Mountain Dew.

This month, I’m doing a retrospective series about my life as a gamer to celebrate my 27th birthday. Each post will be written and published in a loosely chronological order. I am calling this series Murf Versus 27.

#Mv27: To Morrowind

I hadn’t played anything quite like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind before. It was my entry point into the series and one of the most daunting games I had ever experienced. I was so hyped to buy it on my Xbox but felt completely lost and un-engaged by the game. After the first five hours in I very nearly gave up.

By default, Morrowind was a strange game, and it seemed even stranger on my Xbox. Few console games before it were as open-ended or creative. While the game definitely had a quality plot, its do-anything attitude was diametrically-opposed to other console RPGs, such as your Final Fantasy games or even what Bioware was offering.

While I had played open RPGs like Fallout before, the first person nature of The Elder Scroll series made everything seem bigger, larger, and scarier. In Fallout, traveling meant an overworld screen which casually ignored the otherwise boring parts of the ‘getting there’ aspect of any adventure. Yet, in Morrowind, the journey to and fro was as big a part of the game as what you did when you got where you were going.


The game was also strange because of its subject matter and own style of fantasy. The island of Vvardenfell is a weird place where people travel via giant fleas and argue a lot about attaining godhood. The setting makes Morrowind one of the few games I can think of to feature predominantly non-white characters since the area’s primary race are dark-skinned elves called Dunmer.

My friends were all equally hyped for the game (I suspect our hive mind had echoed some initial interest into a louder roar), but, like me, shared similar misgivings and concerns after finally trying. We were all lost and confused. While the game does have a tutorial, it is brief, and as soon as it is over, you are free to wander in any direction you choose. The main quest points you to a specific city, but there’s also more to do in the game’s first town. Even walking just outside the perimeter of that first city reveals some surprising things, such as a mage falling out of the sky or caves which give you the unusual feeling that you may have never found them if you hadn’t been walking by with nowhere specific to go.

One by one, the game began to click with each of us. The chaos of Morrowind’s confusion yielded to a neat, self-imposed sense of order. We began making our own goals and plans. We developed different interests, followed different pursuits, and mastered different areas of the game. And then we talked about our adventures, over and over again, each with something new or exciting to tell from their own unique perspective.

I realize now that the magic of Morrowind was in the storytelling and playing a part in a uniquely told story. For my run through the game, I did things in a certain order with a specific mindset that no one else would repeat. My journey through Morrowind, unlike so many video games before it, was mine alone. The same goes for my friends, so getting to share our stories with one another shined a new light on corners of the game I had ignored. Morrowind became this shared, social experience that transcended the immense quality of the game itself.

As a profound experience, Morrowind carved into stone two laws about gaming for me. First, The Elder Scrolls series is a must play, no matter what. Second, even single player only games are better with community and sharing your experiences.

That latter has made Morrowind a central argument for why maintaining social networks or even blogging have been so important to me. In adulthood, I don’t have the same daily lunchroom chats to talk about fresh gaming experiences like I did when I was in school. The Internet has provided an imitation of that which lets me continue to live out my goal of games as social experiences. It has also guaranteed that I am a participant in a broader culture, not just a consumer consuming products.

This month, I’m doing a retrospective series about my life as a gamer to celebrate my 27th birthday. Each post will be written and published in a loosely chronological order. I am calling this series Murf Versus 27.

#Mv27: Halo, The Gun Pointed at the Head of the Universe

Halo’s reputation stands somewhere between over-hyped and gaming revolution. For me, it was most definitely the latter and, to this day, stands as not only one of my favorite game series but the source for many of my best gaming memories. While Pokemon was integral to my socialization as a young gamer, Halo has no equal when it comes to my teenage years. It stood alone as the de facto game among my friends and I.

I suppose I saw it as a pseudo-successor to my Dreamcast, but I was a day one Xbox owner. I purchased it at Gamestop where they had bundled it with an extra controller and three games of your choice. I picked Halo, Dead or Alive 3, and Project Gotham Racing. At $500 dollars, it was the most of my own money I had ever spent at once and represented an overall shift where I became the one to purchase my video games and hardware without my parents as an intermediary or assistant.

The Xbox could have easily been a disappointment. Honestly, besides the graphics, I thought Dead or Alive 3 was a boring game and I quickly tired of Project Gotham Racing as I am prone to do with racers in general. Halo was the sole survivor of that original bundle after the first few months as an Xbox owner. Why? Because Halo is a once in a lifetime game.

I had played FPS games on PC and older consoles. I knew the concerns of controls, how inaccurate a controller will always be when compared to keyboard and mouse, etc. That’s the sort of technical mumbo jumbo that’s a hallmark of PC gaming, but it is also the sort of blinding perspective that prevents someone from opening their mind to something new. Halo’s controls were absolutely perfect and its design innovations to the FPS experience were forward-thinking enough that they rewrote the course of the entire genre after.

While I am a huge fan of Halo’s story (especially the original game) and I loved the campaigns, Halo’s greatest strength was in its multiplayer in conjunction with the Xbox’s ability to be linked into a Local Area Network multiplayer network. With all my closest friends owning Xboxes as well, Halo became the default game to play at birthday parties, sleepovers, and after school events.

I was an absolute beast at it too. I can remember holding down the opposing team in a single base in Blood Gulch because they feared my sniping skills. I recall a time where my friend’s father joined us. A respected member of our small town community as one of its two town doctors, I had him swearing in that humorously Christian way of doing it from spending a little too much time picking him off in teamfights. The Halo series became so necessary that I once had friends of friends crash my birthday just so they could get in on the 16-player, all-in-one room multiplayer action. I didn’t have that kind of popularity otherwise.

It may be impossible to separate Halo from all the great memories I had because of it, but if the game hadn’t been objectively fantastic, I highly doubt we would have been as enamored as we were. The series had a lasting impact on my life as a gamer, and was one of the primary reasons I not only maintained my role as a console gamer longer, but remained an Xbox fan with the Xbox 360. It was also one of the few games that kept me connected with my diminishing group of real life friends, since few shared my passion for MMORPGs or PC gaming like my Internet friends did.

This month, I’m doing a retrospective series about my life as a gamer to celebrate my 27th birthday. Each post will be written and published in a loosely chronological order. I am calling this series Murf Versus 27.