I’d be remiss if I didn’t write a few things about Wrath of the Lich King. For those of you who might not know what that is, it’s the new expansion for the online game World of Warcraft (which some of you may know that I play – mainly on Aerie Peak, with my warlock Saphiri).
Well, you may or may not have noticed that the expansion was officially released yesterday. You may have brushed past a report or two on the news where the reporters were sort of snickering at the people they referred to as geeks; those who had stood in long lines waiting for the doors of stores to open so that they could buy their copies of Wrath of the Lich King.
Okay, before I go any further, let’s talk about that “geek” thing. I’m not obsessed with World of Warcraft. I have a life outside of the game. So don’t dismiss me as a geek without a life who lives in his mother’s basement. It always pisses me off that people who sit on the couch every night, scratching their asses and pissing away their free time by watching television, are so quick to dismiss me as a geek because I play an online game. Forgive me if my brain craves more stimulation than professional wrestling or celebrities dancing.
Look, I’ve known a lot of geeks in my life. I knew people who were building their own computers before most people knew what a computer was. People who were writing their own operating systems long before Microsoft ever released their piddling Windows franchise. You know what those people are doing now? They’re highly paid programmers and systems analysts at Fortune 500 companies. They’re the people who are living in those big houses in the rich section of town. And you know what? They play computer games. So bite me.
With that out of the way, I want to mention how much fun Victoria and I had last night. When she got off work we went over to Gamestop to pick up our copies of Wrath of the Lich King. Then we spent the rest of the evening playing.
The first thing we did was take our main characters over to the new zone, Northrend. We did a quest or two, but I think both of us were sort of overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who were there. You could hardly move in any direction. You could barely see quest givers sometimes because so many people were gathered around them. A lot of them sitting on their damned mounts. What is it with people on some huge mount parking right in front of a quest giver (or sometimes right on top of them)? I mean, if you think some people are assholes in the real world, deal with them when they’re playing a game in which they’re a huge Tauren riding around on a kodo the size of a mini-van.
Well, we expected Northrend to be a mess. After all, World of Warcraft has over 11 million subscribers, and it was the day of the launch of a major expansion. So I suggested that we bail on Northrend and go tinker with the new Death Knight class. Which we did.
We both created Blood Elf females to be our Death Knights, and launched into the service of the Lich King. We had a blast. But it was intense in ways that I never expected. Mostly because we were in the service of a guy who is essentially leading an invading army that raises bodies from the dead to serve as his soldiers. Hell, our Death Knights themselves are literally fallen warriors who have been resurrected from death and forced into the Lich King’s service (that’s sort of what Death Knights are).
Some of our quests we had problems with. On one we had to go into a village and kill the citizens. It was fine if the citizens fought back. But some just covered their heads, quivered in fear and begged us not to kill them. But we were supposed to kill them anyway. We had a problem with that. As much as you can tell yourself “it’s only a video game”, if you have a strong moral code, it’s hard to do stuff like that without feeling at least a pang of remorse. But we killed them. It was the quest, after all.
The one that got me, though, was when we were sent to kill Lady Eonys. I’ll describe this one in a way that’ll be a little easier to understand to someone who hasn’t played the game (taking some of the dialogue from the game).
Knight Commander Plaguefist told us that when our forces had taken over the area from the Scarlet Crusade, they found a bunch of Argent Dawn prisoners in the prison house. He said;
“I was about to go in there and execute the rest of them, but I think you should have the honors. In particular, there’s a real feisty Blood Elf in there that I think you’ll take great pleasure in executing.”
In we went. We found Lady Eonys. She was kneeling, weak from her torture. For some reason, she spoke to me instead of Rayvia.
“Come to finish the job, have you?” Lady Eonys asked defiantly. “You’ll look me in the eyes when …” She paused, staring at me. “Sabelae? Sabelae, I’d recognize that face anywhere … What… What have they done to you, Sabelae?”
I said nothing.
“Think, Sabelae. Think back. Try and remember the majestic halls of Silvermoon City, where you were born. Remember the splendor of life, sister. You were a champion of the sin’dorei once! This isn’t you.”
I said nothing. Watched her. Waited.
“Listen to me, Sabelae. You must fight against the Lich King’s control. He is a monster that wants to see this world – our world – in ruin. Don’t let him use you to accomplish his goals. You were once a hero and you can be again. Fight, damn you! Fight his control!”
Knight Commander Plaguefist yelled to me from outside: “What’s going on in there? What’s taking so long, Sabelae?”
Lady Eonys, weak and kneeling before me, pleaded; “There… There’s no more time for me. I’m done for. Finish me off, Sabelae. Do it or they’ll kill us both. Sabelae… Remember Silvermoon. This world is worth saving!” She watched me, stared into my eyes as I hesitated. “Do it, Sabelae! Put me out of my misery!”
I killed her. What else was I going to do? I killed her. Then I returned to Knight Commander Plaguefist for the armor he’d promised me as a reward.
“How does it feel?” he asked me. “Felt good, didn’t it? You’re not one of them anymore, Sabelae. You’re Scourge. You’re one of us. Forever…”
Yes. I killed her. It was, after all, the quest objective. It was what I was supposed to do. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I’d read where people had been greatly affected by the encounter. But because of the number of people online (and the general lack of civility in culture in general), there were a few players who were trying to jump ahead of us, just wanting to kill her to get their quest credit and move on. This sort of ruined the moment, because for us it was really all about getting the quest credit before someone came along and stole it from us (which they did – three times). Each time she was killed, it took a few minutes for her to come back. Then we had to sit through her dialogue all over again before we had another chance to kill her.
This meant that I had to listen to her entire dialogue three times before I finally killed Lady Eonys. When it was done, I mostly felt relief that I’d finally managed to kill her before someone could steal the quest credit from me again. Victoria and I both got quest credit, and we moved on. But later on, as I was laying in bed and thinking about our experience with Wrath of the Lich King, I kept finding myself thinking about Lady Eonys. Much like my character Sabelae, her words didn’t sink in much at the time. But the more I thought about them, the more they bothered me.
What do you care, right?
The reason I went through so much effort to relate this experience to you is that I want those who’ve never played a game like this to understand at least some of the appeal. While some of you were sitting there in your living rooms with your eyes glazed over, staring at the television and whatever images were flashing across the screen, I was standing in a small building near the Chapel of the Crimson Flame in south New Avalon, getting ready to execute someone I didn’t know, but who clearly knew me. And though I was only finishing a quest for the credit, something deep in my soul felt like I was committing some great wrong. So much so that I lay in bed later thinking about it.
So. What’s my point?
You can call me a geek all you want to. That doesn’t bother me. I contend that what I experienced last night was far richer and more engaging than those television programs you watched. Was it life changing? Well, no. Of course not. However much I might have enjoyed my overall experience last night, it was still just entertainment. I suppose the difference is that my experience left me with a deeper understanding of the evil that the Lich King is supposed to represent, because I actively participated in his crimes. And wherever I got from here in the game with my Death Knight Sabelae, I’ll remember these moments of her past, when she was in service to the Lich King and was murdering villagers and executing old friends.
So … yeah. It’s just a game. But it’s a damned good one, in my humble opinion. If that makes me a geek, then so be it. I’ll offer no apologies to anyone. Except, maybe, Lady Eonys.