Growing up third-culture, one of the things you miss most is stability. You move around a lot, schools and countries differ, and your friendships change year by year. A lot of people that grow up third-culture find shelter by throwing themselves relentlessly into their studies, and some into partying. Me, I found shelter in Azeroth.
I started playing World of Warcraft in 2008, just after Wrath of the Lich King launched. I’d just moved to Indonesia, and was about halfway through Year 9 (Grade 8 for the Americans reading this). I’d made one or two friends at this point, but nobody that I could really be myself around. There was a distinct lack of people that were into video games as much as I was, and the people that were into them were playing things like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or the original Warcraft 3 DOTA, which very much weren’t my speed.
When I loaded up Lich King for the first time, I was greeted with that spectacular loading screen. Sindragosa was there in all her fury, and I logged in and made my character. She was an Undead Warlock named Iyagovos, and into Tirisfal Glades we sprung. I had no idea what I was doing, of course, but after a short while of questing, I’d gained my imp and Voidwalker, and was sent on a quest into the Undercity. My small, sheltered mind was absolutely blown away by what awaited me there.
People! Trade chat was bustling, and characters were running around trading. I’d only previously played Runescape as an MMO to this point, and had dabbled in Guild Wars Nightfall, neither of which had the massive social spaces that I now saw before me. Players trading, people crafting. Messages about selling items and looking for groups to run Icecrown Citadel, which had opened in the same month I started playing. But there was something else. These weren’t just people looking for a group to do some one-off content, they knew each other. They were a community, and you could tell that there was history between players. On Muradin, the server I was playing on, there was a player tank that was known for spinning Onyxia during the 25-man raids. You’d have players joking about it in trade chat, but it was a shared history, and that sort of community made it really feel like a home to me.
it was here that I discovered what the real draw of World of Warcraft is, at least to myself. Conversation, and social interaction. At their core, MMOs (and MUDs) before them are glorified chatrooms. You can quest, and kill monsters, and craft pants and shirts, but at the very core of it, WoW has always been a facilitator for relationships. It’s about team-building, overcoming adversity together, building friend groups, and overcoming drama.
I never really had the opportunity to form long-lasting relationships in “real-life”, due to the constant flux of the relationships I was in. A friend would move away a year after meeting, them, I would move country the next. As a child, it’s incredibly damaging to not be able to form those friendships. Friendships in a virtual world, though, they were always there, and you always have a social goal to stick together. It provided me with a hook, a situation that I knew I would have people to rely on in, and I believe is instrumental in my social well-being today.