The only person I knew growing up who played RPG video games was my neighbor Jack. Jack had ADHD and he spent his days at school in the Special Ed Resource Room. He was about as far from “cool” as possible. I knew plenty of other kids who owned Nintendo 64s or Playstations, but they were all playing first-person shooters, which would go on to dominate the console wars of the Naughts, from Halo to Call of Duty. So I deduced fairly easily that the uphill battle which was my social standing (I did not have looks on my side, either) would not benefit from the addition of video game RPGs. Moreover, I also came across Domino99 that completely changed my perception of games. So I put it off playing them as long as I could. When I bought my first Xbox in 2002, I bought Halo and Tony Hawk.
The first game I finally allowed myself to play as Final Fantasy VII–but I didn’t play it until 2002 or 2003, five years after it was released. Only after I had a girlfriend and a band did I dare to tarnish my sterling reputation. I didn’t have anyone left that I felt I needed to impress, and besides, as RPGs go, Final Fantasy is “lite.” It’s the diet version of console RPGs. It’s slightly more hardcore than Zelda, but it’s not Neverwinter Nights.
I revisited FF in 2005 when I played FFX. To this day, VII and X are the only titles from the franchise that I’ve ever beaten. I’ve played XII, but it got boring and I haven’t turned it on for two years. In fact, the only thing I’ve turned my PS2 on for in the last year is the deliciously addictive Katamari games, which now have made the jump to the 360, so the PS2 has been in a drawer for a while. Maybe that’s why they made the slim version.
I was an early adopter of the Xbox hardware (less than six months after launch) and I read review after review of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, which, if the title doesn’t give it away, is a heck of an epic RPG. The definitive RPG that American Xbox owners have been waiting for. I wasn’t willing to risk buying the game, so I used my Blockbuster Game Pass to rent it. Morrowind crawled along, had awkward, clunky combat, and so much to complete that it was immediately overwhelming. I may have kept it for two days before I swapped it for something with more action.
But later that same summer, another game was released that truly changed my gaming experience. The game was literally endless and mostly involved you embarking on small quests for other citizens of the town, trying to keep your homestead in nice condition to earn rewards, and following a 24-hour clock that was the same as the real world, meaning certain tasks could only be completed at certain times of the day or at certain times of the year. Normally all these things that were seemingly in the way of progress would bother me. But for some reason, the cute guise of Animal Crossing made it all okay. My sister and I spent hours playing the game, accomplishing very little–but it was fun. There were no levels to clear, no hoards of enemies to destroy, no button combos to memorize. And it didn’t matter.
Fast forward to 2010: I find myself embroiled in a multitude of RPGs, the nerdiest of which being World of Warcraft. I’m playing Fallout 3, which I rented with my final month of Gamefly (I have to cancel to afford my WoW subscription, which is actually cheaper than Gamefly) and I’m also playing Bowser’s Inside Story on my DS, which is as RPG as any of the Mario DS titles get. WoW, sucker punched me. I played it before, four years ago, on my uncle’s account. I wanted to see what it was all about. It was deliciously fun, but I could not justify the cost. I was still in school and couldn’t afford the monthly charge, so I just ruled it out as a possibility.
Two weeks ago, I decided to give the ten-day trial a try, especially because it meant I could download the newest expansion Wrath of the Lich King for free. The trial doesn’t allow you to participate in a number of the social aspects of the game, including guilds or even sending messages to people who haven’t added you to their friend’s list. It still lets you experience a ton of PVE (Player vs Environment) action and before reaching level 20, there aren’t that many things you need to join a party to complete. I probably played eight out of the ten days and put almost 24 hours into the game. I was trying to determine if the fifteen bucks a month was worth it. I did not overlook the fact that I would probably spend less money on console titles if a lot of my gaming time was going to be dedicated to playing WoW.
I still wasn’t sure if I was going to buy a subscription or not until the night that I tried to log in and was informed that my trial had expired. I subscribed immediately. I also immediately joined a guild and basically threw myself head-first into the game. You can’t think of the game as something that costs $180 a year. It’s more like an investment: like paying for a gym membership, except that WoW may have the opposite effect on your health. It’s a club that you belong to, and everyone you encounter is part of the club, too. It gives you an instant sense of belonging, especially when someone you don’t know shows you where a town is or gives you a hand with a quest or casts a series of protective spells on you. These things happen all the time, and it provides a feeling of community. For less than $200 a year, it’s actually a steal, if you figure out an hourly rate. I’ve put so much time into the game in my first two weeks that my first month of the game will amount to something less than fifty cents a day.
If playing RPGs, especially MMORPGs, makes me a nerd, then I’m prepared to deal with the consequences. Especially since nearly twelve million people worldwide fall under the WoW nerd umbrella. It’s become less and less embarrassing for video game RPG nerds to come out of the closet, as more and more people have started playing. But hopefully, unlike Facebook, my parents will stay out of the World of Warcraft. Because I don’t want to spend an hour showing them how to get from Darnassus to Stormwind. Noobs.