Welcome to another edition of “The Casual Gaymer!” This is a weekly column from AiPT! Gaming in which I’ll share my thoughts, questions, and concerns about video games and the gaming industry as a queer person with limited free time. Missed last week’s editions (plural!) where I waxed poetic on Katamari Damacy‘s killer soundtrack and blessed my lovely readers with a companion playlist so they could get rolled up in those bops? Two links this time. Eat. UP! This week, I want everyone to hop on their 40g mounts, run–don’t fly–across The Barrens to the dungeon’s summoning stone, and take turns porting in the rest of the party so we can run this dungeon over the course of the next hour and a half.
What do you mean you can just teleport into dungeons now? Group finder? Wait, mounts are how much? Which Barrens?!
That’s right readers. We’re talking World of Warcraft.
Alright, I confess. I was definitely playing WoW after they implemented the group finder and everyone was handed a mount at level 20 like gift bags at birthday parties. However, my jokes about having to walk across Winterspring uphill both ways in the snow are connected with a very real feeling I have about the game: I miss what it used to be. More specifically, I miss what it used to be for me.
My relationship with WoW was on from late middle school through early college. I’d miss it, we’d get back together for a year or so, end up with different priorities or different levels of disposable income, break it off again for a year or two, you know how it is. My mid to late high school years were when I played the most and had the most fun with the game because those were the years when I was heavily involved in a tight-knit roleplaying guild. See, theater was my life in high school, and roleplaying in WoW felt like more improv. In Azeroth, however, I got to play a glamorous blood elf warlock instead of continuing to be typecast as the kind of boisterous men I played in school productions of Arsenic and Old Lace and Alice in Wonderland. Belonging to a small guild where I could meet up with my online friends and develop our characters in Silvermoon City while hanging out on Ventrillo’s voice chat was the most fun I’ve had with WoW, if not any video game. It’s a feeling I chased every time I tried coming back to the game and ache for to this day.
Why did I have to keep chasing it? Well, one fateful summer I visited my grandma for a few months and when I got home to my computer, my guild had disbanded and a lot of my guildmates had transferred to other servers. From what I heard, there wasn’t even any juicy drama or infighting; the guild leader didn’t have time to manage the guild anymore and rather than a new leader being picked from the officers, a lot of my friends went off to more PvE focused realms to run raids. It’s almost like they wanted to experience more of the game they were paying $15 a month for outside of the Blood Elf capital city? Couldn’t relate.
I was devastated at the time and felt like I had been left behind by people I really connected with. I mean, I was comfortably, openly gay with real people on an online game in like, 2009 for Light’s sake! I couldn’t lose that! But I did; and I’ve never been able to capture that feeling in a game since.
For years I’ve been looking for that feeling of belonging to a tight-knit gaming community where I can hang out, be myself, and–if possible–serve a look or two even if I was fully subscribing to western beauty standards at the time. See this official Blood Elf art to the right? My character basically looked exactly like that women, except she was holding the staff. Harmfully unachievable beauty standards aside, each time I came back to WoW, I was determined to find another guild, make a new group of friends, and recapture that Feeling from my heyday.
The thing is, it’s a lot easier to nurture an online friend group when you’re in high school. You don’t pay any bills, don’t work any crappy retail jobs that drain the life out of you, and can get away with shrugging off socializing with friends because you see them plenty during the day anyway. I mean, did I literally turn down seeing a movie with my irl friends to attend an in-game wedding between a couple guild mates?
Now here I am: graduated from college, moved out, working five days a week and spending my two days off recovering from my mentally and physically draining job while trying to generate #content for you, my lovely readers, each week. Do you think I have time for a guild, much less the time it would take to run whatever dungeons I’d need to get that belt that really pulls my look together? Plus, during one of my years-long breaks from WoW I learned a ton about representation and appropriation and boy am I unable to look at the Tauren the same. Like…how did I play this game for years without once wondering why the freaking cow people wore headdresses and literally offer a stoic, “How,” as a greeting. Colonialism, that’s freaking how.
In short, there are several reasons why I feel I can never just hop back into WoW and access the same feelings I had as a teenager. I’ve thought now and then about trying other MMOs. I dabbled in Guild Wars in the past and I’d give Final Fantasy a try if it didn’t have a paid subscription. I just know that where I’m at now, I wouldn’t have the time or energy it takes to grow that online friend group I once had.
How does one find and connect to community with limited free time and an exhausting job? How does one do that when they’re queer and have to navigate the hostility gaming spaces are rife with? Why the Dark Lady-loving hell do the trolls have Jamaican answer? America, explain! Yeah, I know. They live on islands, just like how the Tauren are nomadic and “inspired” by Native Americans. It’s just a little, erm, unfortunate when people who have suffered colonization, genocide, white supremacy and more are represented as “tribal savages” and cow people that more closely resemble Greek minotaurs anyway?! This is what happens when you get an English degree and try to play World of Warcraft again.
Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got for you this week. What I wish for us all is to find safe, non-toxic gaming communities where groups of adults can magically meet up whenever the stars–and their schedules–align to allow it. I’ve recently joined some Discord servers and such in my latest attempt at reaching back in time for that pre-bill paying, carefree feeling. So, let’s hope I’m writing an update soon about how I have tons of friends, manageable debt, clear skin, and excellent mental health.
Can you imagine? With an upcoming election cycle? I have to laugh.