In the Trenches

Going on hour 65 I got up and crumpled to the floor. It’s f–ked up, I know.” Zach Hydusik, self-proclaimed reformed World Of Warcraft addict, has played 78 days of WOW,as it’s affectionately known to its players, since February – once for 65 straight hours.On the evening of Nov. 24, 2004, fans of the Warcraft computer game series lined up outside video game stores across the country, waiting for the stroke of midnight.It’s a gamer’s wet dream; a “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. In an MMORPG, thousands of players exist in the same game world at the same time,” according to the official WOW website.UVM student Josh Miner has been playing the four-game Warcraft series long enough to be an expert on the subject.”It’s essentially an online community set in a world that’s been ravaged by war for many years,” said Miner, a 22-year-old computer science major.The first step in entering WOW is designing an online persona. When creating an in-game character, a player must choose from one of two factions: the Alliance or the Horde – good versus evil, respetively.The two sides are mutually exclusive, meaning a Horde-based character cannot join a “guild,” a smaller group of players,comprised of Alliance members. Quests, missions players go on to gain items and gold), are broken down into four types:escort quests, where players escort people from point A to point B, fighting creatures along the way; mob quests, where players kill a certain number of enemies; collecting quests, where players must find one or several types of items; and finally, a combination of these, Miner said.As a player gains experience by completing quests, known in the game as “leveling up,” they learn more about the history and current events of the game world. More importantly, leveling a character makes him or her more powerful. For “n00bs,” – a derogatory term for inexperienced players – “there’s instant gratification because you level quickly,” Hydusik said.”The initial attraction is the ease of getting into the game. It’s easy to get into because … interface is user-friendly, and everything is linear and implistic, “Miner said.One of the biggest attractions of WOW is the player’s ability to completely absorb him or herself in the game world “People use it to escape from reality,” Hydusik said, and therein lies the addictive power of WOW.”People get so immersed in it that real life isn’t fun. They’d rather play WOW thando stuff in real life,” Miner said Problemsarise when people start taking things tooseriously and get too deep in it.”WOW has become almost synonymous with addiction. It’s spawned an entiresociety unique unto itself where addictsand casual players alike can chat, questand do battle with each other.Relationships are formed, weddings held, and funeral services performed. “People can have a social life without having a social life,” said Ben Mandera, an English major at UVM.Although isolated at one computer, players don’t feel completely anti-social because they’re doing something with other people. “The social factor is the strongest part of the game,” Mandera said.For example, certain responsibilities areinnate to being a guild member. If one is on a quest with a guild, leaving before the quest is completed could spell doom for the group at large. Some elite creatures can only be slain by a minimum of five players.”If you just leave, then everyone else also has to stop playing. The risk of MMORPGs is that because you’re playing with other people, you’re obligated to keep dates,'” Mandera said.However, Drew Hennemuth, a UVM sophomore and another reformed WOW addict, thinks the social aspect is the worst part. “You’re like ‘these people are lame – wait, I am too,'” he said.The addictive properties of WOW stem from the amount of time that must be invested if a player wants to level his or her character. “You can’t pick it up and put it down. You need time to put into it,” Miner said.Sometimes this means investing at least one or two hours of playtime. “I usually play for two to three hours per day,” Minersaid.WOW is neverending. Although characters stop leveling once they reach level 60, there are still things to do, such as gain better equipment and earn gold, the basis of WOW’s monetary system.An entirely independent economic system has evolved in WOW. Players can bid on items in auctions similar to eBay, and will even pay real money to get more WOW gold.In China, people have gone so far as to make World of Warcraft a profession. Known as Chinese gold farmers, these men and women can make up to $100 per day simply for playing WOW.By killing creatures and gaining gear, gold farmers accumulate currency and sell it for US dollars. “Usually, 1,000 pieces of WOW gold can go for approximately $150 to $200,” Miner said.Not only do gamers spend real money to buy WOW gold, they can also purchase characters online. “A level 60 priest with epics could go for $1,000 because they’re hard to level,” Hennemuth said.The game itself isn’t even finishedgrowing.”One area to be implemented soon is the ‘Blood Elf’ territory,” Miner said. The game world is continually expanding.Oceans, mountains and locked doors act as temporary boundaries as new areas are reated.With the game constantly growing, it’s little surprise that the player population has exceeded seven million worldwide. WOWisn’t just a phenomenon amongst students.”The majority of upper level players arebetween 20- and 40-years-old and have families,'” Hennemuth said. “There was one guy with 10 kids, who played WOW all the time. His wife got pissed, and said he had to stop playing and start being a father,” Hennemuth said, “There are even husband-wife teams.” Thus the darker side of WOW is revealed as players begin to forsake real life for the game.In his former days of WOW-playing, Hydusik was in danger of failing one of his courses due to skipping class. “The way I reasoned it, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the only class I had was Chinese Philosophy,” he said. “If I skipped Monday and Friday, that would give me a four-day weekend to play WOW.”World Of Warcraft addictions often lead to isolation and a lack of connection to the real world. “People lose their jobs and fail out of school with that sh-t,” Hennemuth said.”If you don’t go out with friends, don’t sleep, or don’t do things for school, it’s getting dangerous,” Mandera said.Sometimes, online fighting transcends the game’s digital boundaries and permeates real life. Miner remembered a story about two friends whose relationship was threatened over an issue regarding ownership of an in-game item.”People start taking things too seriously, and that’s the darker side,” Miner said. “World of Warcraft is depressing. It sucks your life away. You’ll never escape!” exclaimed Sarah Lubold, a UVM freshman whose perception of WOW has been influencedby similar stories.But Miner opposes this perception. “It can be addicting, but like everything else, you need to take it in moderation, especially in a college atmosphere,” he said. “It’s a fun time-waster, but a time-waster nonetheless; you need to know when to put it down.”Miner would know. Having once played for 12 consecutive hours, he now says he’d never do it again. “I’ve wasted weekends playing,” he said. “You don’t get outside or get exercise.”But Miner has simply gotten better at managing his time. As he says, “There’s always room for Jell-O, there’s always roomfor WOW.”