How much would be (hypothetically) different if you had joined the game later? Would you have made a different main? Picked a different server? Focused on a different aspect of the game? Or would everything be the same, only shinier? Or if you started playing in a later expansion, what would have been different if you started play sooner? Let me know in the comments!
If I had started playing in Cataclysm my entire life would be different in several ways.
Most likely I wouldn’t be actually studying games, which I am right now.
The MMO genre (largely WoW) inspired me to eventually go in the direction of game studies. I had been studying psychology and communication until then, but felt like a change. At that point my education had been very broad, leaving it up to me to direct what specializations I wanted and instead of having a goal in mind, I just had fun with it, making choices out of pure interest. Because I never knew what I wanted to do with my life, I made sure the trip to getting a job eventually would be something I enjoyed, hoping that this would shape up to an equally enjoyable career. I’m not sure life is that generous and straightforward. Now that I’m getting closer and closer to that point, I have to spend some serious time this year figuring out how I can use my game studies background or whether I essentially painted myself in a corner.
It’s silly really, sometimes I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into. My parents were nice and supportive when I told them I had enrolled, but they found it difficult to explain to friends and family what it was I actually did and with what purpose. Not that I can easily answer that myself.
What is even more silly is that I’m not even sure how much I identify as a gamer. Looking at the picture above of the excavated GameBoy Color meant to give an impression about the lineage of video games while also reminding us where it all started, for most of us anyways, maybe at least I had some training.
I didn’t own a GameBoy Color, my parents got me the earlier version, a red brick sized early generation Gameboy. Does this earn me at least a little gamer street cred? I loved this machine and cried when the kid of some friends of my parents deleted my saved file in Wario Land. It was embarrasing, the kid was much younger than me and I was too old to cry over something like this, but I had specifically instructed him NOT TO use the BOMB icon (duh) to explode my saved file, and the kid did it anyways, not out of disgruntlement but pure stupidity, so I wept.
Comparing myself to the other students, most of whom have played videogames extensively since forever, I fall horribly short. I knew it would be like this when I started back in August, but I told myself that I would just have to be strong and have some faith in myself and my strengths, easier said than done when my lack of geekyness is often exposed, or when I’m branded as “the WoW-player”. The latter has been impossible for me to escape, even when I’ve made an effort to accentuate my other gaming interests, fx Minecraft. It’s even worse when the WoW label becomes a derogatory and the stigma echoes within the circles that in theory should be the most inclusive and supportive. As they themselves must have had their passion ridiculed and trivialized by the mainstream, you’d think they wouldn’t be so hell-bent on me being the petty WoW-player, but no.
While I can convey my story as a lifetime gamer too if I wanted, I can also be honest and say that gaming isn’t any more interesting to me than say psychology and sociology, studying games just allows me to combine both.
I’ve not been forthcoming with linking this blog to my study mates, in fact I’ve kept it mostly secret, although I’m not sure how long it will remain so given how often gaming nicks are shared between us all. Then again, I’m not sure they would care, but if they did, I fear it would not be for the better as this isn’t an academic blog. Furthermore, the fact that one of my bigger influences in taking the direction I have, is my history with WoW dating back to vanilla, is not something that will legimatize my choice any further nor something tout-worthy amongst my study mates.
If I had started playing in Cataclysm, I would barely have thought of myself as a gamer, I wouldn’t have raided and probably never would either, I would have stayed at an extremely casual level and eventually quit. I would have been studying something completely different, perhaps the other line at my university called Digital Design and Communication, which I originally thought of applying to. When I went to the student advice office about a year ago to talk about the Digital Design and Communication line, I mentioned gaming and MMO’s to the advisor and he caught the moment and told me about the game studies line. He was not enrolled there himself but talked about it without bias and disparage and treated it as a completely valid choice for a master’s education. This was a revelation to me and I felt like my interest in WoW and more broadly social games and game communities were actual options I could pursue, so I went home and mulled about it.
I knew the biggest challenge would be myself and my insecurities, trying to fit in and not be singled out even though I would be walking around with a huge hunter’s mark above my head. A Robin amongst Batmans.
As a happy ending I can say that I’m glad I started playing in vanilla and took the path I did. Despite the fact I’ve probably painted a rather unpleasant picture of the social atmosphere at my univerisity, this is not the case. The people I study with are extremely nice and surprisingly good at initiating and organizing events for everyone, bursting the antisocal gamer stereotype, they are the most social bunch I’ve had the pleasure of studying with.