If you would have asked me in 2019 if I would sit behind a screen and play a video game for days at a time, I probably would have laughed at you. While I understand that some people have always found their escape and socialism in video games, I was always more interested in leveling up myself in real life. I would get my healthy doses of friendship at conventions, malls, and in-person escape rooms. I would take trips to places like the Grand Canyon or the Florida Keys.
Enter Covid-19 and everything changes.
Suddenly, I find myself one of the final characters in a deadly virus outbreak movie where my friends and family just might kill me. Nobody is safe. Malls became desolate waste lands like they were in a scene of George Romero’s “The Night of the Living Dead.” My life had changed.
First came the resistance. I withdrew from everyone and stayed in my room, stuffing my face with endless deliveries of Door Dash and Uber Eats. Then came invitations to do things digitally…
Having done digital larps with the Geek Initiative in the past, I knew that they were viable escapes. Soon, that became the trend to go digital, once it was understood that things weren’t going to return to our fantasy normal anytime soon. But that’s another story…
The focus here is on how video games became the new reality – and for me – I found that in World of Warcraft. My friends from New York, New Jersey, California – they all had the ability to log on and we could go on adventures together. Sure it wasn’t to places we could experience physically, but the massive amount of exploration we could do in game was unique to itself.
Much like moving to a new city, I found myself doing all of the same wandering about, and making wrong turns. I had to learn where the local supermarket was (or in this case the Auction House). I learned how to follow in game maps, and even ask for directions when I wasn’t sure how to get where I was supposed to be going.
The game itself boasts limitless environments that I have to wonder if anyone has fully experienced. You can go to lands of fire and brimstone, under the sea, forgotten islands where dinosaurs dwell, to caves filled with dragons, and so much more.
To capitalize on the influx of new players, Blizzard (the makers of World of Warcraft), recently enacted some changes to help sooth the grind to max level. They have implemented more practical tutorials, along with lower leveling guidelines (changing max level from 120 to 50). As a result, progress in the game can be placed more on story and environment – rather than killing the same monsters thousands of times over. Having created several characters to max level, I can verify that there are unlimited paths to follow.
Another huge part of 2020 has been politics. I’ve been very happy to escape to a world where the largest political rivalry is between the two factions – Horde and Alliance. And even then, when the fate of the world rests on coming together, the Heroes of Azeroth (the name of the world in World of Warcraft) always find a way to put their differences aside and come together for the good of the realm. While there are channels that players can talk about anything, the Realm I play in is largely roleplay based, and as a result – we tend to keep things relative to the story specific at hand. Not feeling a specific storyline or quest? You can always abandon it and move on to something else… something I sometimes wish I could do in real life as well.
Now, instead of meeting up at a restaurant for dinner with friends, we meet in a local inn to explore some new areas we’ve never been to before. Instead of doing an escape room, we go through a legendary raid area. And instead of running around in the woods shouting, ‘lightning bolt’, we form guild groups and enter into PVP challenges. Instead of going to the mall for new clothes (because let’s face it – I wear pajamas most of the time), I work on getting new ‘transmogs’ in game. These are visual representations of outfits that you can piece together and are far easier on my wallet.
Despite the changes that 2020 has brought with it, the ability to adapt to a digital life – albeit in a fictitious game – has helped me keep my sanity. I’ve managed to stay connected with friends and see fabulous places, and even make memories and inside jokes that we will probably laugh about in person years from now.