>>> Fringe Benefits
By staff writer J.M. Lucci

December 12, 2007

From the Letters of the Fresher Prince:

Never buy weed on layaway.

Recently, there has been a resurgence of television commercials promoting the online fantasy game, World of Warcraft (WoW). Folk heroes such as the insatiable Mr. T and the ever-valiant Captain James T. Kirk have taken up the shaman’s totem and rallied the masses into trying out the online game. Every time I see one of these ads, however, I shiver. See, even though I’ve been clean of WoW since 2006, addiction never truly leaves the body, and the shivers are reflexive spasms aimed at getting my hands to pull out my credit card and reactivate my account. I’ve resisted so far, but who knows how long I can hold out. Since I have a spot of free time before finals, I’ll chronicle the highlights of my WoW addiction.

My journey with the WoW smack began in November 2004, when my relatives came into town for Thanksgiving. My jovial uncle, not the type you’d normally pin as a gamer, had brought his laptop with him, complete with the newly released game, World of Warcraft. Before this point, I’d never played any warcraft games, nor did I care in the least about massive-multiplayer-online games (MMOs). All I knew about MMOs was that Everquest was the Devil Incarnate, and some idiots committed suicide after their games crashed and their characters were accidentally deleted. Or something. Who cares? Back then, I believed all MMO gamers to be retarded humans—devolved, pale, hygiene-deficient creatures who still lived with their parents.

“I was paying the pushers at Blizzard 15 bucks a month for access to the fantasy smack.”

My uncle eagerly showed me the game, “logging on” to the world of Azeroth and giving me a few hours to explore this brave new world by myself. This sample taste, peddled by my dealer-uncle, sky-rocketed my interest in WoW over the next week. That December, I picked up my own copy of WoW. I remember giggling with delight as I ripped open the box, inserted that first installation CD into my computer, and pushed off into a palpable menagerie of angelic figurines. My God! The colors, the textures, the sounds—they made the real world seem like a dull shell of emptiness by comparison! I was enraptured by a resplendent horizon of images that could only be found in the sweetest of fantastical dreams. Even the login screen, shimmering with reddish radiance, smiled at me and whispered promises of enchanting pleasures I dare not repeat for fear they may entice other innocent souls to “log on.” I created my (first) account that cold, December morning, and for the next seven months, I was lost in the haunting melody of the siren’s calling.

Of course, like any good drug, one’s first time isn’t that memorable in and of itself. I was inexperienced and didn’t know the first thing about Warcraft or its denizens. The MMO scene was new to me, but luckily I made friends quickly—like-minded souls who also enjoyed “logging on” and exploring the chromatic landscapes of this fantasy land. At first, I was a recreational user, spending maybe an hour or so online a day, more on lazy weekends. But as time passed and I developed a tolerance, I realized I needed longer and more productive doses of WoW to sate my cravings. The more my character grew and the more experience I gained in-game, the longer I spent logged on. Hours turned into days, and days eventually morphed into timeless blurs as the in-game quests I partook upon became more difficult to accomplish.

Eventually my cravings were so intense, I found myself joining a hardcore guild of WoW junkies who could hook me up with the good stuff: epic armor, epic swords, and access to end-game dungeons—the ultimate, purest of highs one can experience on a WoW trip (like cocaine, you have to try it to understand it). By this point, I was hooked. Bad. I was paying the pushers at Blizzard Entertainment (the developers of this awesome drug) fifteen bucks a month for access to the fantasy smack. By comparison with drugs and alcohol in the real world, WoW was (and probably still is) the cheapest high on the market. And with my cable connection in full swing, I was scoring primo product, free of lag and glitches. Each hit off the WoW pipe was a pure, unadulterated orgasm of mental stimulation. By the summer of ‘05, I was soaring high. My guild was well-respected on our server, I was decked out in stylish armor and weapons (my character, actually—the line became hazy by then), and the good times were a’ rolling.

Unfortunately, my blissful rise to power came to a jaw-shattering halt in the Fall of ‘05, when I had a bad WoW trip with some other junkies—these folk being more violent and less sociable than my kin of my early WoW days. The event left a sour taste in my mouth, and it gave me time to think about what I was doing and how my addiction was changing who I was as a person. I had to take a break.

For a while, it worked. I had gone cold turkey by cancelling my account and uninstalling the software, and things were looking to return to normal. By November, I’d forgotten all about my days logging on. Unfortunately, the siren’s call has a way of reaching you when you least expect it.

It was January of ‘06, a cold winter, if I remember correctly. I was standing in a Circuit City, browsing for a bargain game to pass the time until the real work of the semester began. Lo’ and behold, I spotted a single, slightly worn copy of World of Warcraft on the shelf. It was marked at $19.95. Considering that WoW gives you one free month of gameplay (retailed at $15) included with the game, the price was a steal. The dealers had dropped their prices, I thought. This product must be watered down. It couldn’t be the same, pure caliber of familiarity I’d once mentally imbibed on a daily basis. I stared long and hard at that box for almost thirty minutes, weighing the pros and cons of logging on—what impact it’d have on my psyche, if I’d be able to quit once I started, etc. In the end, my addiction overwhelmed me.

I shook excitedly as I took the box to the register, smiling at the clerk as my greedy, twitching hands clutched the box tightly to my chest. I went home and immediately logged on. Hard. For a while, I was back on track, getting high from the new additions the developers had put into the game. But…it just wasn’t the same. I was flying solo, and WoW is a best served as a party drug. I found myself depressed and angry each time I logged on.

It had only been a month after lapsing back into WoW that I realized that my days of partying online were over. Too many people were now hooked on the product, giving rise to a new generation of ignorant, recreational users who couldn’t help an old vet like me achieve that mystical WoW high of the earlier months. My tolerance for the game’s activities had grown, and too much time was spent just trying to squeeze out even a moment’s worth of bliss. The Asian gold farming syndicates were buying up primo product, re-cutting and diluting it, and selling it back to desperate junkies who didn’t know the true meaning of logging on. “Logging on” isn’t about how quickly you can get the high—it’s about how you get that high, and how long you can ride it
out before you pass out.

In February ‘06, I cancelled my account and uninstalled World of Warcraft for the last time. I’ve never looked back until now—these new commercials are daemonic taunts to a former WoW junkie, a new siren’s calling. As much as I know in my heart I can never go back, the yearning will always remain, and I fear one day I won’t be able to hold back any longer…and succumb to my addiction once more.

P.S. Hounds of War on Cenarius, FTW! (/nerd)