There’s a very charming topic over at Blog Azeroth at the moment, encouraging us all to nostalgia trip about the olden days. It’s a little strange, truthfully, because even as Perpetually Late to the Party Guy I do feel a sense of nostalgia … except it must be for something I never really knew. It’s like missing the days when Rome was a republic. Say what?
The truth is that WoW is an evolving game and a lot of the things we “remember” as being epic and awesome about vanilla are basically impractical and annoying now. Quests that take you from Tanaris to Winterspring to Un’goro to Winterspring to Tanaris to be BRD? Hah, you’d be lucky to get a group together for that these days. I do see the occasional self-styled nostalgia run (inevitably looking for a healer) but that’s about it. But when you have millions of players on the tread wheel at basically the same time, progressing at the same pace, I imagine BRD was tourist central (I aggroed an entire bar full of dorfs and all I got was this lousy T-shirt). Also immense world-spanning quests make more sense at level 40-50 when the level cap is 60, because end-game is just around the corner, and you have both time and inclination to do them. When the level cap is 80, you don’t want necessarily want to be straddling the globe like an uncomfortable Colossus – you want to be collecting monkey bollocks efficiently. Of course, it is human nature to resist change and to resent it, and to always assumes things were worse than they used to be, but I think we need to recognise that the WoW we are playing in 2009 is not the same WoW that was released in 2004.
(All the same, bring back CC, and stop reducing to everything to AoE fests!)
I am, however much I like to indulge it, suspicious of nostalgia. I sometimes think games deceive us. Like pregnancy. Okay, this analogy is more spurious than usual. But people I know who’ve had multiple children (not all at once, obviously) tell me that pregnancy plays terrible tricks on you. While you’re giving birth it’s the worst thing ever and you swear by all the saints and angels that you’re never going to put yourself through this hell again. And then, somehow, you forget… And I suspect that some of the experiences one remembers as being game-definingly great were actually frustrating and gruelling. It’s like when you finally find that piece of fucking aged gorilla sinew – yes, it feels fantastic (having found the sinew, I mean, not the sinew itself, I’m not sitting here with a piece of aged gorilla sinew, rubbing it gently over my body or anything… argh!) but it’s basically just a pleasurable sense of relief. I believe geekademics call this feeling in games aporia, although I think they should make more of the fact it is distinct from, y’know, actual fun.
I had something very similar happen to me between Morrowind and Oblivion. Morrowind was one of Those games for me. You know, the ones that make you misty eyed and lumpy throated, regardless of Actual Merit Of Game. There isn’t that much of a technical leap between Morrowind and Oblivion (although, of course, it is generally shinier) but between Daggerfall and Morrowind there’s, err, literally a world of difference. Morrowind achieves what Daggerfall suggested. There’s a lot the Elder Scrolls games don’t do so well, but in terms of creating an in-game space that feels vast and full of possibilities, they cannot be bettered (except, ironically, by WoW). So, anyway, there I was, rather miserable, and along came Morrowind. And the real world was kicking my arse so I lived in it for a while. I was, incidentally, residing at the time in a dank basement flat so I was, for a brief period, an archetypal gamer stereotype. Things got better, I finished Morrowind, life moved on…
Later, of course, Oblivion came out. I bought it in eagerness, tried to play and HATED it. It was so, err, NERFED. Fast travel? What kind of bullshit was that? Remember those halcyon days when a journey in Vvardenfell was a proper goddamn journey? Remember getting killed by cliff-racers on your way back to Balmora? Remember when exploring meant something? Remember when armour sets came with paldrons? Remember when medium armour was a skill? Those were experiences! That was the real deal.
So, naturally, I fired up Morrowind again. And, err, oh dear. How nostalgia had deceived me. Getting killed by an extremely high level cliff racers on your way to the first proper city in the game? So not fun! Being given quest directions like “the mine is west of the river to the south”? So not fun! Spending literally hours of real time wandering around the wilderness, lost and confused and terrified of cliff racers? So not fun!
This is the trick that nostalgia plays on us. It smoothes over real frustration with remembered satisfaction, blends aporia into pleasure. On the other hand, I think what we genuinely and fairly miss are the things we felt on the journey the first time we made it, regardless of things that frustrated us or were just inherently badly designed (walk across Tanaris, just try it). And I think this what’s worth remembering and worth celebrating.
I was struck by this last night, actually. Cowfriend and I were questing in Outland. We were in the Ruins of Sha’naar, gathering demonic essences, and there’s quite a nice little quest line there about the enslaved Dreghood. Usually what happens is that, once you kill their demonic masters, the Dreghood make joyful noises and escape, except sometimes, of course, they get caught in the cross fire and don’t. In which case they beat you about the head with their enslaved hands until you have no other choice but to, err, euthanise them. I like the Naladu arc so I’ve done this quest quite a few times, and I was pretty blasé about laying into the poor, innocent enslaved Dreghood whenever they got in my way. Cowfriend wasn’t. Really wasn’t. And that was when I realised: there would have been a time when I wouldn’t have been either. I’d like to blame the Prettiest Elf for this (he genuinely wouldn’t care) but it’s the first time I’ve caught myself making no attempt whatsoever to engage imaginatively with the game.
And, truthfully, I was saddened, and slightly ashamed.
But in the spirit of nostalgia here a couple of moments from my WoW journey.
The Perfect Place For a Picnic
The strange hunterly Cow at my side is not, in fact, Cowfriend, but the person who basically took me under his wing and taught me to play the game. He was my tour guide to Azeroth, when I was just a small, naïve druid far from home. And beside us, is our mighty tanking chicken: the redoubtable Clucksworthy. As you can see, we are having a celebratory picnic having downed our first devilsaur (big moment for me!). One of the things that never fails to amuse me about WoW is the ludicrous places you find yourself sitting down for a quick snack or a drink of spring water. On top of volcanoes. In the desert. Surrounded by hostile trolls. I can’t quite remember, but I do believe Comfrey has his Glowing Brightwood Staff strapped to his back, and I believe he’s sporting a lovingly hand-tailored Robe of Power. Yep, it was a good day for small cows.
I am Become Death, Destroyer of Parties
I’ve written before about the pleasures of blacktie instancing. In the good ol’ days we did, in fact, have a full, impeccably presented 5-man team. And here we are, raring to go, at RFD:
And here is Tam celebrating his triumph over the partying skeletons therein:
I think this was an important moment for Tam. He’s not a big fan of, y’know, fun.
Why I love WoW
Because it makes me feel like this:
And I guess when it doesn’t, all the nostalgia in the world won’t help.