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This week’s Poll, currently running on Twitter, asks if you’ve ever been verbally abused in game. I’ll be making a separate, objective post on the results tomorrow but for now I am reminded of all the times when I was GM and I ran raids in which exactly this happened. Sometimes you’d get emotional blackmail, other evenings would involved undiluted hatred, and it set me thinking that so much of this game over the years has had nothing at all to do with content or progression, and everything to do with humanity.

I’ve been reading a lot of late about perception and individual understanding: how you’ve been bought up, what you like and don’t… all of these end up having a direct bearing on how you deal with other people. When those people don’t exist in your personal space but are voices in your head or words on a screen, the way humanity manifests is different. There is always once incident that comes to mind when I want an example of how that works: not from the piles of loot drama, rage quits, or the various challenges to my mental state across the years.

There was that time in Trade when I challenged an individual directly via whisper. They’d been raging over a PuG Raid that had gone sour, and would not stop filling the channel with abuse against those people concerned (who to be fair were complete charlatans, and have long since departed our server.) I don’t remember the details after what is probably eight years, but two lines from that dialogue will remain forever ingrained as a metaphor for how all of us have played Warcraft at least once in our lives.

ME: It’s only a game.
THEM: Not to me it isn’t.

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I don’t care who you are: at some point, that’s been you. Every game, at some point, stops being a collection of pixels and becomes something to be beaten, or immersed in, or simply the distraction required after a long day’s work. Warcraft’s longevity, the massive industry that has grown around it, goes to prove beyond a doubt that this stuff matters more than most people will readily admit in public. However, in moments of anger, joy and passion, that significance inevitably seeps out. You can pretend you don’t care, but often that’s even worse than embracing the joy or anger of the moment. After all, both emotions have merit in analysis.

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Faction inequality made me angry for several Expansions. This quest in Pandaria, for instance, where I could only free my own faction and had to leave the Horde to die always rankled, and still does. The Class order hall of course is supposed to somehow assuage this by creating the illusion we’re all one big happy family, but that is all it is. Things like this mean it becomes increasingly simple for me to see this is indeed just a game, because the immersion I once had has been slowly eroded. That’s not just the designers fault however. I have to carry my own share of blame for the realisation that gaming is great, but only if you choose to play.

That attitude will colour a lot of things, I realise now, and it can make looking back at my obsessive past sometimes as an uncomfortable experience. However, the lessons learnt remain useful, and are being utilised on a daily basis. What I take from Azeroth is as important as what was given, and had an enormous amount to do with the overwhelming breadth of positive experience I’ve had there. If all you ever wish to see is the negatives in everything, that’s how you’ll ultimately end up perceiving the World long term, and as I’ve said on many occasions that’s not something that will ever be either acceptable or palatable.

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However, now I spend protracted periods of time away from the same levels of immersion previously experienced, there is time to better reflect on what matters most. It’s helped me to find a peace with what exists to do, what I can expect to achieve and ultimately what is sacrificed due to lack of time. Like anything else in life, Warcraft is prioritised in favour of what matters most. In that regard, all that remains unplayed is a suitable metaphor for humanity along with so much else. If anything that happens to you is enough to move you to tears or anger, it is time to step back, work out why, and then do something about it.

You are very much the arbiter of destiny, never Azeroth.

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