Amidst these new surroundings and rowdy new roommates, i did leave behind another of my best friends from high school, Nate, who was basically the only friend i had had for that preceding year. And so, in an effort to keep up with him while away, he convinced me to start playing World of Warcraft and join the guild he had found, the Hammer of Go'el.
I should point out - with apologies to the girl in question - that Warcraft also fulfilled another need in my life at that point. You see, dear reader, i had been dating a girl at the time who, in her immaturity of that age, wanted me to spend all waking, non-working hours on the computer, talking to her. Myself, also immature and trying desperately to make the long distance relationship work, usually agreed. This unfortunate interaction ensured that i was spending more hours a day on the computer than i really care to reveal, and i desperately needed something to DO while "talking" to my girlfriend. Enter, Warcraft.
Now, in this reflective state in which i find myself, it would be appropriate to comment, for a moment, on the game play that Warcraft demonstrated - some could argue "pioneered" - but such musings are not for me and mine. For me, the important part of my time in WoW is almost entirely the Hammer.
I particularly remember one terrible time in Shattrath, the major city of that expansion, during prime time hours. My computer - which i had built myself with some help from various friends - was currently ROCKING out on half a gig of RAM, which up until that point, hadn't been more of a problem than my considerable patience could handle. But that night... that night it took me over an hour to get from one end of Shatt to the other. I was trying to hold a conversation in Guild chat, sending messages as if by carrier pigeon, the rest of the Guild carrying on in between my sporadic missives. Finally relating the reason behind my perforated existence in Azeroth, one of the officers - whom i only knew as Tuula, the female troll hunter - offered to send me some spare RAM he had lying around.
I tried to pay him, i did, but he refused. Maybe a week later, a manila envelope arrived in the mail for me containing two gigs of ram and a short, hand-written note signed, "Tuula and Sylvaina". I could barely believe the freely bestowed generosity and trust, but that was the norm in the Hammer of Go'el: genuine, human attention and good-will. It was there, piloting my undead warlock avatar across the non-existent hell-scape of Hellfire Peninsula, that i bumped into a community that i never knew existed and - even more inexplicably - in which i was welcomed with open arms.
The following summer, Nate and i did something that leaves the average person rather disconcerted: we made the journey into Massachusetts to attend the Guild's annual barbecue at our Guildmaster's house. There, we put faces on people's voices and characters. Elves, orcs, trolls, zombies, and cows all suddenly became real people with real names and real jobs and real lives. I met Todd and Ethan and Duane and Jenn and Joe and so many others that it was honestly a little overwhelming, but i guess that's why our Guildmaster makes sure that there's alcohol at these things.
Today, the Massachusetts branch of the Hammer are some of my best friends. I have more shared history with them than i do most coworkers. With them, i've crafted legendary sets magical robes (which took me weeks and a fairly epic string of quests), invaded fortresses of demon princes, fought for control over important resources and staging grounds, led the first wave of a continent-wide incursion into enemy territory, trained a team of highly organized and efficient assassins, and eventually toppled the terrible Lich King - the same Arthas Menethil from Warcraft 3.
I see the Mass. folks once a month now as we embark on a new set of adventures in the tabletop realm of Dungeons and Dragons. Together, we represented the Hammer at PAX East '11. Joe and i recently romped our way through Portal 2 and have plans to record some future gaming sessions for the entertainment of the Internets at Large.
I left Warcraft earlier this year not for any social reasons, but because of a terrible plague that sometimes effects regular MMO players. Currently unnamed, this affliction makes a change in the gamer's conception of the value of game time. Before infection, a player may feel that any time spent enjoying a game is inherently worthwhile. After a certain period of festering, however, it becomes difficult to justify playing any game EXCEPT the MMO because we are faced with a terrible choice: spend X time working on the next goal in the MMO, which yields permanent - albeit intangible - rewards, or fritter away the same time in a different game with nothing to show for it afterward. This scourge, combined with the very real argument that i'd already accomplished everything there was to accomplish in the game, led to my eventual decision to cut the cord and ditch WoW.
Yes, it would be difficult for me to argue against the idea that i had "wasted" a great many hours playing a video game, but it would be impossible for me to assert that i left the game having gained nothing. I gained friends, insight, a community, new skills, and, while it is definitely a story for another post, a new lease on life and will to keep living. WoW, and the people i played it with, got me through a very difficult time in my life and i have nothing but gratitude for my time spent in Azeroth.