I was walking through my house yesterday, and had one of those moments. I suddenly realized “this is my house”, realized that something I imagined for so long was actually real. I was overwhelmed by that weird feeling of “how did I get here”? It’s the most potent kind of Deja Vu – living something you once daydreamed about.
I look back and actually remember sitting on the school bus, gazing out the window as I so often did, and imagining what life would be like at this age. Imagining how it would feel to have a spouse, a home, a real job. At the time it felt so utterly far away. The pressures of the moment weighed on me so heavily – an upcoming math test, a childish crush on the boy sitting across the aisle from me, a fight with a friend.
I daydreamed a lot as a child and teenager. When I wasn’t daydreaming, my head was buried in a book. I lived vicariously through these books, and through my imaginary future self. Being a shy, slightly nerdy, bookworm, I wasn’t exactly socially popular. That escapism helped me get through those awkward years. I filled pages and pages of diary entries. I even wrote (terrible) stories – full of Mary Sue characters, clichés, and angst. I was always the main character (but she was far more attractive, adept, and heroic than I).
One particular story surfaces in my memory now. It was about an online fantasy game – a vast virtual world full of centaurs and magic, elaborate quests and rare items. The main character (me), was one of the top players of this game, as were her friends (which were literally my RL friends, plus the boy I had a crush on). We had the best in-game items, and defeated the toughest monsters. I believe I was an elven sorcerer, and the boy was a polearm-wielding centaur, but the others classes/races I have forgotten. The basic plot was that a strange storm swept through our hometown while we were playing, and a freak accident led to us being physically sucked into the game.
It wasn’t a good story at all. But what still sticks with me is that this imagined virtual world greatly resembles… World of Warcraft. And this was back in 1996, when Everquest was still in its early development. I certainly hadn’t heard about it, or any of the text-based MUDs that were its inspiration. I wasn’t exactly in-touch with video games at all, having no consoles and only a few educational computer games. Our internet was provided free from the library – meaning it was the worst possible dialup speed available. At the time, the idea whole idea of connecting to a virtual, realistic 3D world via the internet seemed very revolutionary.
Basically my point is that I can remember a time when the whole concept of an MMORPG was more like fiction than reality. It was like jetpacks, or self-driving cars – something that existed in some form, but was completely unobtainable and something that we could really only daydream about. In such a short time span, the MMORPG exploded and became this colossal and truly amazing thing that almost anyone can access.
Now we’re here, twelve years after the launch of Everquest. Even WOW itself is over six years old. Many players are growing jaded, and bored with the game. That magic that we once felt, the awe and wonder that something we dreamed about was finally real, is somehow getting lost. The vast glory of Azeroth and its incredible details, rare items, complex combat systems, and persistent existence – we have come to take it for granted. As much as I try to deny this, I feel that magic slowly slipping away from my grasp.
In the six years of WOW there have been vast improvements to the controls, to the interaction, to the graphics and the social frameworks. These improvements have moved the genre forward with big leaps and bounds. But is it time to start imagining the next thing? If we can go from text-based MUDs to this beautiful world of Azeroth in such a short time, then where do we go next?
I wish that my current imagination was as strong as my eleven-year-old self’s. To me, this IS the future… and I’m feeling rather short-sighted.
I will continue to play, and to search out pieces of the game that I still find enjoyment in. And I will hope… hope that someone out there is brainstorming something amazing that will bring that magic back.