I began my Warcraft life, believe it or not, as a Night Elf Druid. The PC was in the Kitchen/Dining room back then, tiny screen affixed to the wall in my first concession to vanity. I was stuck in Teldrassil for a while too, because my machine was so old it would crash whenever a character ventured into a capital city. That meant, in those early days, I’d spend my time avoiding centres of population whenever possible. I soon grew quite frustrated of the Druid playstyle, mostly because all those forms were hard to grasp and I wasn’t really cut out to be at the front in fights.
Therefore, once I had a new PC, I rolled a Dwarf Hunter on a PvP Server. My first character was called Garassah, and I discovered quite quickly how much I loved not only the starting zones and those early levels, but the gathering side of the experience. I rolled Leatherworker/Skinner on that first character and pretty much didn’t look back in the early days. In fact, a strange calm was found in killing the Wendigo, boars and bears on and around the frozen lake in Kharanos. At what was a very difficult point in my life mentally, this instilled a calm and relaxation I can recall even now. It probably explains why I’ve been back there so many times in my Warcraft life: I was safe, yet in control.
The run from starting area to Ironforge is one I’ve taken with various bankalts, with my Warlock: now, thanks to Cataclysm, they fly you there in a chopper. It’s not the same as fighting every mob on the way, but it is easy to see how such simple repetition would cause people to give up and never escape the gravity of Level 5. When I was sitting recalling memories for this part of the Guide, I was amazed to grasp that I can remember feeling cold in a manner that never happened anywhere else. Dun Morogh is as vivid in my mind as the point over ten years ago when I first met a Troll, that I killed a Dark Iron spy or when I made the trek on foot to Loch Moden for the first time. These places, like it or not, are where a part of me calls home.
I know why I invested so much emotional importance in that first character and those early days. I’d often be playing after a 2am feed with my daughter, knowing she’d want more at 4am and that I’d be more co-ordinated if I didn’t go back to bed. So while she was cradled in my lap, I’d pick my way across the two continents and I almost made it to endgame. I left Garassah at L5o, if memory serves in Ironforge, a place where she was waiting for me in Wrath when I came back to play on that server again. A lot happened in that first six months, some of which is difficult to recall, because it involved drama with people I didn’t need and couldn’t cope with. However, the enduring memories that remain still make me smile over a decade on.
Garassah went to Southshore in her early 30’s and for a week I stayed there, watching World PvP with both awe and amazement that people would waste so much time dying over and over again. I didn’t grasp how the PvP ranks worked back then either, but it didn’t matter, the ebb and flow from place to place was enough. Then there was my time on Kalimdor, Darkshore and Ashenvale, the amazement of people that a Dwarf wasn’t levelling where they should be. All of this back then was without stepping foot in a dungeon, too, I only really experienced them when I moved to PvE. I didn’t need anyone else anyway: I was free, and no-one could be critical of my ability.
I still go back to those moments even now, especially when I listen to people telling me there’s a right way to play this game, that I can be either hardcore or casual. I was neither in those days, I became an explorer. This world was real and important and I lived this secondary existence with a significance which, looking back on it now, would probably be considered unhealthy by many. However, without that safe space, I’d have never recovered from Postnatal Depression. Although some friends were quick to judge my choices as ill-advised, I know the truth from a distance. Those early days gave me the confidence I required to pull myself out of a dark and very oppressive place.
This was also the first time I understood just how powerful music can be in invoking a reaction at the brain’s most basic chemical levels. This music above can play and in my mind are the images of a bustling, living city with the environs surrounding it full of industry and effort. Ironforge became my second home, and these sounds would soothe my daughter to sleep. I’d stand by the Great Forge and imagine the heat from the lava fuelling the creation of weapons, understand why I’d gravitate in Stormwind to the Dwarven District without thinking. In my mind I can stand and salute the Stormwind flag, will support the Gnomes and the Night Elves (remember, nobody else until TBC) but in my heart I am and always will be a Dwarf.
The next time someone almost gleefully informs you they’ve been ‘here since Vanilla’ take five minutes to ask them exactly what they first rolled. Quiz them not about how easy combat was or how hard things were ‘back then’ but instead press them for an emotional reaction. In those early days, did they invest a part of existence into these lands and their stories or was it simply about bragging rights to their friends? Gaming is not just about playing everything and earning the badges: without at least a measure of yourself placed back into the experience, you will not truly understand the joy and pleasure a good virtual experience can provide. I may not agree with everything Blizzard Entretainment chose to do with the franchise from this point onwards but at the beginning, dear Deity, I lived this game with my heart and soul, and it was glorious.