Quite often, when we face an uncertain future or an uncomfortable present, we retreat into the safety of the past. Perhaps we look at old pictures or videos, listen to favorite music, pay a visit to an old haunt. We loll about in warmth and golden light, bathed in the memories of good friends, good fun, good food, good times. It can be nice to get away from the pressures of today and the gnawing fear of that space on the calendar marked 'tomorrow.'
But sometimes, even a trip to the past is not the sanctuary we're looking for. On a drive through the old neighborhood, you find the new owner of the house you grew up in has painted it a different color, built a garage on top of the garden, or cut down the tree you used to climb. The empty lot you used to play hide-and-seek on has a strip mall on it. The old elementary school is now a community center, an office complex, a senior citizen complex. Even the past can get run over.
This was illustrated clearly this past weekend when I took advantage of an offer from Blizzard Entertainment and dropped in to check on the world of the World of Warcraft, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) that took our world by storm. My wife and I played over the course of about five years, from the mid- to late stages of the game's first expansion, The Burning Crusade up until about halfway through the Cataclysm expansion. I dropped out due to a combination of factors (I may have blogged about this before, but I don't remember): waning interest in the game, rising interest in writing, and technical problems on Blizzard's end that for a time made loading in and out of different zones frustrating at best, impossible at worst. To my surprise, I didn't miss the game as much as I thought I would (I missed the people, though; I was fortunate to fall in with a good bunch), which in itself says it was a good time to get out.
But I did miss it, and would find myself thinking about it with the hazy glow of nostalgia. So, when I saw Blizzard was offering a free weekend of play to inactive players (including a free upgrade* to just short of the most recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth, released last year), I decided, why not? It might be fun to peek in, get the lay of the land, and maybe have a little fun.
As you can gather, it was not all rosy glows and warm fuzzies. The game has changed, which I knew. The abilities I had gotten used to over the course of seven years of playing my paladin (and my warlock; can't forget him) were...there? Sort of? Some of them? I had to spend time rearranging the location of all my spells and abilities on my toolbar because some things were gone (Hammer of Wrath? Exorcism? Holy Wrath? Where are you?) and there were new things that I didn't even have a clue about how to use.
But that wasn't the worst of it. Heck, every expansion brings changes. The paladin I left alone in Stormwind was very different from the one who started out swinging a wooden mallet in Elwynn Forest five years before. No, the worst of it, the most disappointing of all was losing my name. Blizzard seems to have a policy that they'll keep your character forever, but after 2 expansions of inactivity? They'll release your name. And it was gone, just like that. I was surprised at how much it bugs me, even though I was there for a weekend, nothing more.
Actually, there was one other thing that bugged me.
When I left the game, I was in a guild. An active, chatty guild. Log into the game, and there would be a bunch of greetings in guild chat, a constant conversation running as background text like a CNN chyron, only instead of the news of the day, it was the news of the guild. Jokes, snippets of personal information, in-game accomplishments, requests and stories. More than the other people running around you in the game world, that guild chat let you know you were part of a community, not alone. And it was gone.
I know that some of the people I played with way back when are still in game, but I have no idea if they're still on the same realm or moved off, or if they switched factions or started playing other characters. I do know the guild has been disbanded, and no one I knew was around, and that even if I did figure out how to play my character again, it wouldn't be the same.
At least I've got my memories.