Two days ago, I introduced my intertwined Internet-love story. Then I looked further into the enabling aspects of the Internet and virtual reality. Today, I want to put a lens over World of Warcraft, a specific virtual reality that occupied most of my early twenties, and to this day, still captivates me a couple hours a day, a couple months a year.
Because my ex and I avidly loved games, yet didn’t get along with one another, Azeroth became our go-to for more than half our waking hours together.
After spending years under the lock-and-key of an AOL dial-up computer, with one hour of Internet access a day, it felt both exhilarating and unnerving to stay plugged in for two, four, sometimes eight hours at a time, inhabiting the polygonal body of a priest, mage, or druid. And with my trackball, I could maneuver this virtual body better than my poor motor skills ever allowed me in childhood.
In an undergraduate essay, I analyzed the nonverbal netiquette tick “lol,” particularly as a qualifier at the end of a sentence. I was slowly, cautiously accepting virtual reality as a layer draped over my real world—sometimes, an all-encompassing experience—other times, merely background music while I completed my homework assignments.
In the 2000s, tagging “lol” at the end of a statement made cruel and spiteful comments suddenly acceptable to share, and unlike biological nonverbal behavior, I felt competent reading these cues.
I’ll just slap her and tell her to shut up lol
These days, emoticons tag our pathos-heavy sentences instead.
oh isn’t that ring cute on your sausage finger 😉
I’m still getting over my recent discovery of Putin-hired Internet trolls.
Looking back, I wondered if it was easier for my ex to interact with me in World of Wacraft because he didn’t have to watch me binging, weeping, spiraling downward. Or if he struggled with my tone of voice. I know some people think I just talk weird, too forcefully, too emotionally.
We started playing WoW during its beta in ’04, then we quested together, dungeoned together, raided together through vanilla (i.e., the first release of the game) and the expansions Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. You could say I’m a retro player, a veteran.
We also built a guild together, friends who I cared about more than I’d cared for anyone since the sisterhood of junior high; and he screamed at these friends, so I’d have to nurture wounded souls later, apologizing on his behalf, further losing myself in the shadow of someone else, forgetting who I am.
Eventually, the juggling act I’d kept complicating collapsed, and the guild dissolved. So we joined a guild through my real-life friend, where my ex didn’t have as much power. He yelled anyway. I struggled with feelings of embarrassment over my partner frequently, regardless of where we went.
Virtual reality didn’t prevent our relationship from experiencing the natural ebbs-and-wanes that results in explosions of love… or the quasar-like collapsing at the end.
I couldn’t do much of anything in Azeroth after we broke up, at least not without the sensation of a ghost limb I’d lost in Virtual Reality. Yet when I stopped playing World of Warcraft, I felt crushingly lonely, because I had a community there.
Unfortunately, because I struggle making friends, I didn’t connect with many “real life” people in college. I still saw my foster sister from high school occasionally, and I’d made a few friends at work;
Yet most of my social network was in Azeroth—people who, like me, had chosen to escape to a place where we were more powerful than real life, once we’d accomplished the tasks real life set for us, of course—and like a couple separating their friend circle, my Azeroth buddies kicked him out of our guild, which felt even more awkward, empty, anxious. Sometimes someone would oops and ask where he was.
Today I occasionally log into World of Warcraft to remind myself that virtual realities, like real life, have plenty of room for all of us. Also, I PvP exclusively now, since that’s an activity my ex and I could never do together. I never liked when he screamed at me as a result of getting his virtual butt handed to him by someone else. Contrary to popular belief, it usually isn’t the healer’s fault—especially, after all the practice I’d done in modding, shortcuts, and movement with a trackball.
I also played League of Legends with a different ex. You could say gaming is a staple at home, no matter where home is. Now I enjoy Mario Kart 8 and other console games with my fiance, Chase. I enjoy Mario Kart the most, I think because of its fluorescent charm.
I’m hoping to play Final Fantasy XV with my sister next month, although at times, when my agoraphobia is spiking, it’s almost as frightening to join her in virtual reality as it is to go outside into the real world, into the goosebumpy wind, where I can never tell what’ll happen next.
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Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. When she isn't writing or making art, she's moonlighting as a professor at community colleges. Read her writing at Kourtnie.net or Wattpad.com/user/KourtnieNet.