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In the past, I’ve been accused of taking other people’s comments out of context. Knowing this, I wanna write today about how this comment from someone in my timeline makes me remember Warcraft as a game that works best when you are the one in control.

Someone I knew very well for many years in game, but was never met in reality, once described Warcraft as being like a part of the armed forces. At the time, his explanation made sense, too: the only way anything functions successfully is through teamwork. Without the implicit process of give and take, nothing is achievable. To be a true part, you must always take part, which is great until something comes along that disturbs that process. Then, everything must be reassessed.

The concept of institutionalisation crops up again and again in game, not just within the grind. If it’s not Azeroth it’s the Nexus, or Ranked Play. Nothing happens via the Blizzard launcher without an element of effort v reward. It’s the key tenet in player retention, fuels the esports behemoth, separates you from the money at Blizzcon. All of it relies on an equation that, when disturbed, can have some quite serious psychological consequences.

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That seductive combination has become a joke, fuelling countless memes: the people who leave then always come back, because their friends are playing, because they feel like they’re missing out. That guilt that is implied when you decide to stop raiding, that you’re somehow letting your mates down. By being the person with other priorities, you become the flaky, unreliable idiot that no-one will want to play with.

You’ll never make progress without commitment, I used to say to people when they showed less of it than I felt was shown in me. As a GM, the biggest issue was always  finding enough players to do what we wanted, on our terms. I realise now what a horrible person this made me, and that the game’s influence on me was, like it or not, a dangerous one. What made it worse, after giving all of it up, was the inescapable feeling that nobody ever really took me seriously again.

I couldn’t be a casual player without people who weren’t judging that choice.

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Of course, the game now’s pretty much built around the notion of ‘casual’ game play, undoubtedly in response to those people who refused to become hardcore to participate. Except, that vein of progression remains an indelible factor in so much that takes place: World First and M+ are too significant as marketing tools to ever be removed from the equation. That’s exactly the way things have always been, key tenet of this MMO’s makeup.

It’s why, despite all those people swearing otherwise, so many people will play Classic when its released, just to see if shit was as terrible/brilliant as everybody says it was. It becomes the equivalent of being able to say ‘I was there’ at the dawn of (insert key Internet event here) and I have an opinion on it. It is the virtual mirror of owning that original vinyl album, holding onto your favourite concert ticket stubs. Everybody gets to create their special moments now, then tweet them from in game into the World.

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What you choose to do with your time is, of course, entirely up to you. Don’t get upset when the people you used to play with start ignoring you when you give up raiding: they’re not friends. The real friends are  the ones who don’t judge the M+ Keystone collection or gear level. They don’t mind that you decided to go study or work extra hours, because they grasp that gaming isn’t everything.

The real friends look past memes and Twitter dicksplash comments, accept that a healthy life includes all the things that Azeroth provides and so much more beside. They’re the ones in it for more than Achievement spam and a mount that looks like a boat but only flies, never floats. They are reality, reminder that when a step is taken away from the heart of obsession and desire, stuff can appear very different indeed.

How you play the game should never matter, but almost always does.

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