For me, playing World of Warcraft is like meeting up with an old friend. Someone I used to party with when I was younger but now don’t have much time for. Someone who hasn’t changed much over the years while I’ve grown and matured. To me, World of Warcraft is a lot like Gary King.
Gary is the main character in Edgar Wright’s 2013 film The World’s End, played by Simon Pegg. In it, Gary is on a quest to complete the Golden Mile, a legendary pub crawl that he and his friends failed to finish 20 years ago. Time stopped for Gary since that fateful night and he spent the next 20 years trying to reclaim his former glory.
In his youth, Gary was the life of the party, the titular King of his band of brothers. Where he went his four friends followed, whether on a quest for love, battle, or drink.
Over time, however, his friends matured and moved on, while Gary stayed the same, trapped in his quest for past glory. For a time, World of Warcraft was my King and I followed wherever it led.
Like most PC gamers, I had a strong opinion about World of Warcraft before playing it. I’d heard the stories of people losing hundreds of hours in the virtual world.
I had an image in my head of Warcraft players, heavily influenced by South Park’s now classic episode Make Love, Not Warcraft. I didn’t know much about the game but what I did know made me avoid playing it. This all changed when my girlfriend started playing the free trial.
She was having a lot of fun and I couldn’t help watching her play. Against my better judgment, I downloaded the trial and started playing World of Warcraft myself. My first character was a human warrior but he didn’t last very long. After scrapping him, I hit my stride after creating a dwarf hunter. This character quickly became my main, the focus for most of my Warcraft gameplay.
I started playing shortly after the release of the Burning Crusade, the first Warcraft expansion. I loved the massive connected world, with mythology based on classic fantasy like Lord of the Rings mixed with transdimensional scifi. There are two factions, Alliance and Horde, and a number of races split between them. Your character moves through the world, completing quests, killing enemies, and levelling up.
From the ground up, Warcraft is designed to grab players and keep them playing. At the height of my gaming, I’d play World of Warcraft for upwards of 5 or 6 hours a day. The genius of Warcraft, or deviousness, depending on your perspective, is that there’s always something more to do. You can explore new areas, train secondary skills, run dungeons for new weapons and armour, or fight in player vs player battelgrounds. It’s so easy to lose yourself in the world of Warcraft and that’s its greatest strength and weakness.
Much like Gary King, Warcraft is seductive. You’re invited to join a world of your making, where you’re free to do what you want, any old time. You can roleplay if you want, or focus purely on fighting other players. You’ve got a multitude of distinct classes and races to choose from, with good options for character customisation. Over time, however, you start to realise the world you’re offered is surprisingly hollow.
Explore enough of Warcraft and you’ll start to see the same patterns emerge. There are a limited number of quest types, typically “kill 10 boars” or “collect 10 boar livers.” The same models re-appear, sometimes re-coloured or resized. Due to the min/max nature of Warcraft’s combat, you’ll see other players with the same weapons as you and fighting in the same way. Eventually I realised that I was spending all my gaming time playing World of Warcraft and I was missing out on everything else out there.
As Gary’s friends started to mature and change, so did my relationship with Warcraft. I started playing less and less, moving to new games and experiences. I moved through cycles of playing Warcraft for a few months, getting bored of the same things over and over, and cancelling my subscription. I’d come back after a major update or expansion, and the cycle would start up again.
To the credit of the developer Blizzard, World of Wacraft has changed over the years, mostly fostering a more casual approach to gameplay. New expansions offered new worlds, new classes, new races, with tweaks to gameplay and mechanics. The fundamental game has stayed the same, however.
Now when I play World of Warcraft I’m reminded of the good times I used to have. I remember the first time I experienced Brewfest, an Oktoberfest-style festival with oompah bands and beer and sausages. I remember the time my guild raided Icecrown Citadel. I remember when I was finally able to solo Malygos. But I also remember the empty hours, the obsessive and repetitive levelling, the solitude of gameplay.
In The World’s End, Gary gathers his friends again after 20 years for one last shot at the Golden Mile. Unlike Gary, however, his friends have grown up. They’re no longer interested in partying, getting drunk, and brawling in the pub. They look at Gary and remember the good times but recognise he’s trapped in the past, doomed to work towards a quest he can never complete.
I look back at World of Warcraft as an important part of my gaming heritage, just as Gary King was an important part in his friends’ development. I had a lot of fun over the years and the experience has helped me grow as a player and individual, but I can now see that Warcraft belongs in my past.
Gary needs to reach the World’s End in order to finally capture his lost glory. For me, I’ve realised I’ve now reached the end of the World… of Warcraft.