The day I was recruited to the Guild I still remain a part of after 12 years, I’d learnt an important lesson about random people in Warcraft. A person’s history is undoubtedly tempered as much by the people you don’t want to emulate than those you consider as heroes. When faced with humanity acting badly, it just makes you all the more determined to move past those attitudes and do the best you can for everyone… and having left yet another Guild where the only interests seemed to be other people’s concerns over the greater good? I realised that there was probably a reckoning coming. There would never be a perfect group of people to be a part of, when I knew no-one on the PvE Server I’d picked to re-roll on. So, there came the need to compromise. Ironically, I was swayed by the Guild name in my decision because it was the complete antithesis of all the super-serious other options being waved in Trade on a Thursday night in Stormwind.

That name would eventually cause my downfall over a decade on, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The GM were a husband and wife from Holland, who (with their best mate) had formed a Guild that was asking for only female toons to join. The alarm bells rang, and I immediately joked with my new boss that if he wanted a place for his friend to meet real women online, maybe they’d be sensible enough not to roll same-sex avatars to begin with. The irony of the mentality behind the Guild’s foundation was that eventually, after a number of failed relationships often conducted on line, the GM’s friend did meet someone, got married and stopped playing. In that regard at least, the initial modus operandi of the Guild was a complete success. The insistence that my Husband be invited along too even though his Paladin was very much a bloke in both regards was the best thing I ever did in all my years of playing. He’s been doing this on our home server only slightly less time than me, and without him I’d have give up a long time ago.

Those early months were glorious and frightening in equal measure. I can remember being stranded outside Gnomeregan when the GM and his wife, who were boosting our toons with another character, suddenly disconnected and never came back. It was only afterwards it dawned on me that they’d abandoned us after nearly four hours of constant wipes and issues… and it wouldn’t be the last time that happened. Dungeons took an entire evening to complete, but sometimes that effort would be utterly worth it. Uldaman for the first time remains an experience that is etched on my memory: the parallels with Indiana Jones, revelations that my race were evolved from the Earthen… and suddenly the game had its lore claws so soundly stuck into me it would be some time before I successfully escaped. Those early levelling experiences were significant, and without that foundation I’d have not learned as much as was taken in. Ironically it was one of the ex-Girlfriends of the GM’s best mate who was a primary teacher of key skills: her influence in my Warcraft life will never be forgotten.

Back then of course, there were no server clusters: your reputation rose and fell on the one place lived on. There was a good reason our server was renamed Dramasong, and for many years a website ran alongside the place to allow you to keep that good, sweet bile and anger bubbling even when not online. I don’t miss those early days nearly as much as some people do, because I wasn’t very good at all, and that made life really hard in stressful situations. Blackrock Depths stands out as a nightmare in my 50’s the like of which I doubt would ever be designed by anyone ever again, but the joy when you finished puzzles or got the item you wanted to drop… there was nothing else quite like it. It was, I realised quite quickly, an addiction like no other, and that was when alarm bells began to ring. The day I realised I was hiding in the game to avoid reality was pretty soon after it dawned on me that to be really good, I’d have to start putting in extra hours when I should have been asleep. When I missed my daughter’s first steps because I was in a 5 man, it was time to change focus.

One of the reasons I’ve gotten so angry over those who think a return to Vanilla servers would be a great idea is that back then, so much stuff really was shit. Mostly, it was the time taken to get anywhere or complete anything that ended up making this game as damaging as it ultimately became for so many players: and entire afternoon for 40 people to complete Molten Core might seem reasonable, but it remained only the very best players back then capable of doing this. I’ll talk more about my early raiding experiences next week, but it would take us two nights to clear MC, if we were lucky, and that was part of a six Guild Raiding alliance. To commit to that level of immersion even back then was demanding, challenging and ultimately destructive. However good you believe you are, it is your least skilled player who draws the level for everyone. When that person’s been afk coz his mum called him for dinner an hour ago?

By far the fondest memories however are in PvP, which may come as a surprise to you all, but this allowed me to practice in what was, for the most part, a completely judgemental free environment. It taught principles I still adhere to even now, and made an average gamer into a competent one. It was, of course, Hillsbrad that pushed the Company into introducing battlegrounds, and there’s a separate blog post on the joy of Alterac Valley which we will save for a few weeks hence. I laugh when I listen to the complaints about this side of the game a decade on, as if these people would have cared about being overpowered back then. You played Hillbrad for the Honor and ranks, sure, but it was far more about the enjoyment of true, organically developing content. Like all those kites of Kazzak to Stormwind from the Blasted Lands, you did what was fun at the time, and nobody really cared too much what was right and wrong, because having a good time was what mattered more.

On reflection, that’s what I miss about Vanilla Warcraft most of all.

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