Before I was interested in a more mindful way of life, I was enthralled by the temporary joy that was dispensed through the entrancing art and interactivity of video games. I use to play upwards of 8 hours of video games per day. Only stopping to eat or sleep — sometimes not even desiring to stop for that. Most of my childhood memories happened to come from these virtual worlds. At school, I would only be imagining them, and when I spoke to others, I said nothing unless it was about a video game. I was constantly escaping my mundane existence for any kind of involvement with these pixelated dreams.
With the release of the highly anticipated “World of Warcraft”, my enchantment grew even more. This massive multiplayer online role-playing game barely needs any description, because of how pervading it has been for our culture. When this game came out, I was mesmerized. As the expansion pack was released, I started to play a ton of PvP (player versus player). I went as far as making my own PvP movie (with my usual internet psuedonym ‘Rokazulu’) that shockingly got me close to 200k views, and was well received by the community. People would log on to my server, with a new character, just to say how much they enjoyed my video. It actually gave me a sense of worth that I have never been able to live up to this very day (mind you, this was all in a virtual reality). It was my “15-minutes of fame” that I will likely never see again.
It felt good to be noticed in this way, but was kind of like a brief high that demanded more. Similar to how we crave the likes and comments we receive in social media, this type of renown became very alluring. So much so, that I decided to go even further within the Player versus Player aspect of the game.
During the earlier days of World of Warcraft, there would be a hierarchical ranking system, where lavish titles and gear could be obtained if the player engaged in enough PvP. Every week, the game would tally up how many PvP points the player received and then dispense a commensurate amount of progress towards their PvP rank. The highest rank was known as “Grand Marshal” of which, only one person per week could obtain. As a Grand Marshal, your virtual character would be ornamented with the highest quality (and coolest looking) gear in the game. It was sought by every PvP player, but only one person per server could hold this title at any given time.
So, during one summer, I decided to create a warrior on a server and do nothing but engage in Player versus Player. After receiving so many accolades from my PvP video, I thought it would be even cooler if I was able to make a PvP video where I had all the gear of a Grand Marshal. Intensively, I stayed up day and night, on my computer, playing the game for as long as humanely possible — while doing very little of anything else.
I spent the whole summer, alone in my room, slowly watching as my character accumulated digital points for a virtual title, within a simulated world. I basically avoided all contact with anyone I knew during this time. However, on one occasion, my friend decided to show up to my house uninvited. I was a bit disturbed by this, since I had been assiduously ghosting everyone on the internet and not even bothering to pick up my phone to answer a single call.
I shamefully invited my friend into the house and instantly I could sense his concern. I had not showered for days, probably lied about not answering his calls and I likely seemed on-edge or anxious to get back to my game. After some friendly exchange, I basically told him outright that I would rather play World of Wacraft than hang out with him, at the moment. Probably, I apologized for this, but my desire for higher ranks outweighed any guilt I had. I quickly ushered him outside, and saw a great reluctance on his face. As though he felt some sort of obligation to help me do something else, as I slowly closed the door on him. Yet, at that time, I am glad he didn’t bother to “help” me— because I wanted nothing else but to see the flashy golden letters of “Grand Marshal” next to my name. I raced back to my room, and continued to play like nothing happened.
The Secret Group
During this era in World of Warcraft, one would queue for battlegrounds in order to PvP. I would exclusively play by myself in Alterac Valley, which was the biggest battleground at the time, that pitted 40 players on each side. Since it was such a massive playing field, I often found myself AFKing (away from the keyboard) only to leech PvP points from nearby allies who happened to defeat other players while I was watching TV, eating food or reading something on the internet.
This allowed me to rack up an insane amount of points and I was able to become highly ranked with this tactic alone. It required basically no skill, and only demanded that I played the game constantly. While, of course, I was aware of how cheap this was, it seemed to be the only way I could compete as I figured everyone was probably doing the same thing.
One day, while I was guarding some flag in Alterac Valley, a gnome rogue began eye-balling my character sheet. He then sent me a message and asked how I got so many points. His name was Husker, and apparently he was a part of a PvP group that recruited all the highly ranked people from the server. He made it seem as though it would be impossible for me to be so highly ranked without a PvP group. I shrugged and gave him a small assessment of my current strategy. Intrigued by my commitment, he invited me to PvP with their secretive group. Where instead of Alterac Valley, we would mainly play Warsong Gulch, which was a type of capture the flag with only 10 players on each side. I was then introduced to a druid by the name of “Snoball”, and many others (names of which I have since forgotten). They made it seem as though this was my best chance at getting Grand Marshal.
However, there was a catch. Since only one person could be Grand Marshal at any given week, they decided to take turns in receiving the title, simply by making sure we all limited how many points we got unless it was our turn to receive the title. As I was just initiated into this secret gang of thieves, I happened to be dead last in the line up. For whatever reason, this didn’t bother me, because I assumed we would all help each other out in the end.
Spoiler Alert: They Didn’t Help Me
As it turned out, once someone got Grand Marshal, they usually quit the game shortly afterwards. It was a deadly cycle that left our group with less and less players that were willing to help the people further down the lineup, obtain the same title. Not only that, but there were many weeks where someone outside the group would sneakily get more points than any of us. In the end, our organized PvP group eventually broke up, and it was everyone for themselves, once again. I was but one rank away from Grand Marshal, but lost all desire to get there. Summer was ending, and it would take me many more weeks to likely raise my points high enough. The game just felt dead to me now. I am not sure, but it seems to me that if I had just continued to play the way I was, by myself, I probably would have received the title.
At the time, this left me rather bitter. It was the first time in my life where I felt truly cheated out of something. Constantly, I felt regret of not choosing to simply obtain the rank in my own way. However, when I look back at this whole experience, I am actually glad that they invited me to their group.
Our group spent many hours in organized settings. We had many spectacular victories against very challenging opponents. It was also fun and often hilarious to interact with them. We formed a deep kinship and had many interesting conversations with each other, as well as battles with opponents from other servers. It seemed as though, since I chose not to venture out into the real world, the universe felt it necessary to at least bring me real people into the virtual one.
Had I endeavored to obtain the title by myself, this entire experience wouldn’t have been very note-worthy nor would have it left any kind of impression in my mind. It would be like playing any other game or form of entertainment, where the experience would have remained mediocre at best, with nothing else to make it seem more real.
In the end, I was able to sell this character online for $1000 (someone really wanted to have all the fancy gear of a Field Marshal). As well, I came into a real world situation that only had virtual consequences. It taught me how prestige is just something for fun, nothing that anyone needs to struggle to obtain. The real adventure is experiencing the moment with anyone you happen to be nearby. And if there is no one, you spend it by yourself and worry not about what you lack or what you could obtain in the future. In this way, whether we spend time playing games, watching shows or creating some kind of art or content — we can always feel good in the journey, because we are taking action for the fun of it, not to gain anything in particular.
Since this time, I have only allowed myself to play video games for a few hours. Additionally, I tend to veer away from anything that is even remotely violent. Yet, playing this game isn’t an experience I regret. Yes, I ignored my friends for a whole summer and became addicted to a video game for a virtual title that I never received. But, holy blazes! After all that we say about how we are supposed to live in this way or that way, it was still exceedingly fun to play World of Warcraft, non-stop, for one summer.
All the same, having gone through this virtual experience, I can better appreciate being outside. Not having to worry about how many points I receive or what is the best PvP button rotation against mages.
Instead, I can stay aloof and gaze at the trees. Real trees. Perhaps, that is where the real magic lies. Where the real title is secretly held within every moment.