Last night I logged into my favorite MUD and was surprised to see that I had logged over 400 hours on one character. I shouldn’t have been surprised, not with how much I played that game, but going back into a text-based world really accentuated how much my tastes have evolved. I spent 400 hours on this… how different my mindset must have been back then. Then I got thinking: I’ve played WoW for nearly as long, I wonder how many hours I have there? So for the first time ever, I logged into each toon and tallied up my total /played. 1,836 hours. Over five solid months of waking days. Puts things in perspective a little bit. What surprised me more, though, was how many hours some of my very first characters had.
The peak has to be my second character: Ulthil Brownbeard, Paladin of Stormwind. He had 133 hours and was only level 33. I look at that now in wonder. How the hell did I spend so much time on that character and not level? Ulthil was special to me, though, that I remember. I made him during my first or second week of play back in 2006, shortly before The Burning Crusade came out. I’d just made the jump from MUDs into full blown MMOs and was absolutely entranced. I roleplayed that character at every opportunity. He wasn’t just a paladin because of his abilities, he was a paladin in every way I played him. I remember bowing to NPCs in the Stormwind Cathedral and replying to NPCs like they were other roleplayers. I even joined a guild where all chat had to be done in character.
The world was exciting and fresh. Elwynn Forest represented every magical wood I’d read about. I remember thinking of how cool it was when I finally found the kobold mine between the farms, this little red ramshackle roof hanging from the side of this bowl in the ground. It was exciting finding it. I didn’t much know where I was going but I knew I was getting close when I started seeing random miners amongst the spiders and bears. It felt dangerous and adventurous. Then when I was inside, another Paladin messaged me in-character and asked if I’d like to join a band of fellow holy men to rid Azeroth of the evil that plagued it. (I wonder when the last time was THAT happened to a WoW player). I died a few times to these level 5 kobolds, calling out random taunts as I used my holy hammer and other abilities, but I figured, hey, why not. So I joined up and started writing short stories and dwarven bar songs that told Ulthil’s history.
Every zone was magical. It was filled with the promise of the unknown. I didn’t even know dungeons existed until someone in Westfall asked me if I would go. I died trying to get there. It seemed easy to die back then but I was also unprepared for anything more than kittens and puppy-dog tails. Dungeons astounded me, though. MUDs didn’t have instances! That there was an option for a focused adventure, totally separate from the rest of the world, that offered great loot blew me away. I went left there with a couple of blue items thinking of how lucky I was. I was going to sell those items and get rich! I was disappointed and confused when I found out that everything was soulbound. What was soulbinding? How do you remove it? Still, I called my friend Orin that night and asked him if he’d heard of The Deadmines and that he had to try it out.
Everything was slow. Everything was discovery. I was tickled to see that different mining nodes popped up as you went between zones and disappointed that spiders in Hillsbrad were the same as those in Dun Morogh. I was captivated by areas out of my level range, especially if they were filled with elite mobs, because what lay beyond must have been amazing. 133 hours later, I was only level 33 and ready to see what lay on the Horde’s side of the world. There was just so much and I wanted to drink in every single second of it.
Looking at Ulthil’s /played so many memories came back to me. Then I looked at my level 35 warlock with his 22 hours played and wonder how much has been lost in the transition. WoW is still WoW, no doubt about it, and I don’t know if I would say that something’s been lost so much as changed. Everything is faster now, everything is more directed, but does it change those first few weeks for the new player, when the world is literally at their doorstep?
I would have to say not. I look back at my memories fondly but I’m sure that lots of more veteran MMO players read my experiences in 2006 much differently than their own. To that end, I think we have to question ourselves when we say such negative things about how WoW has evolved. My memories of that time really don’t have much to do with mechanics as they do with ideas. Sure, it took a while to level and I had to find quests without the breadcrumbs, but any sense of discovery I had was rooted in the mystery of a new world. A new WoW player isn’t rushing to WoWPro to find a leveling guide. They’re not doing any of the things we come to do in our second- and third-hundred hours. They’re there, filled with wonder, wondering what’s over the next rise.
We can disagree with designs, we can disagree with business models, we can become bitter and jaded and too cool for school. But that experience is why we fell in love with MMOs and why thousands of people keep doing so every day. I welcome every new generation of players because they get to experience things I may never be able to again and that’s an awesome thing.