Nostalgia is possibly the greatest of the lies that we tell ourselves. It is the glossing of the past to fit the sensibilities of the present. For some, it brings a measure of comfort, a sense of self and of source, but others, I fear, take these altered memories too far, and because of that, paralyze themselves to the realities about them.
R. A. Salvatore’s ‘Streams of Silver’ Forgotten Realms
Nostalgia. That’s simply the largest reason why I’ve decided to come back and play World of Warcraft. No matter how many times I quit the game and swear it off, I find myself secretly cruising the fan and data sites for information on how the game is doing, what large new happenings are currently being explored, and what kinds of cool gear could drop for my toons. Nerdrage and Rage-quits aside, Blizzard’s financial flagship has a certain appeal to former and current players that may be largely ignored. And that, my fellow gamers, is nostalgia.
Let’s go back in time about three years ago. The Lich King expansion was in full swing, I had finally geared up my Paladin to become my progression guild’s main Off-Tank, and I was proud of the role and responsibilities. I had to know all the raid fights (at this time, we were just coming out of Ulduar and moving into TOC10) and know them not only as a tank, but as melee dps as well. This meant I had to know the fights inside and out. I spent countless hours studying fights through Tankspot videos, reading forum postings on strategies, and pouring over Best-In-Slot gear. As the guild progressed and got our members geared up, the beginning of the new year was at hand, and Icecrown Citadel opened up, revealing the final raid for the expansion. We spent a solid two months raiding ICC. Helping out the lower-geared guildies through the raid bosses we had no troubles with. Sindragosa and Lich King were both hair-pullingly difficult for my guild. But the moment when we all perish at the hand of the Lich King (at 10% life remaining), our Ventrilo server was filled with cries of celebration. We’d finally done it. We finally defeated the Lich King. Countless feasts, flasks, potions and hours spent attempting to master this complicated fight were rewarded. At the end of the cutscene, with everyone in the 10-man raid high on excitement closely watching the bottom centre of our screens, it finally happened:
Fast forward a few months, and Cataclysm has released. Less and less excitement pervades our guild as a few members (the most active ones) become less and less consistent with logging on and planning content as a guild. Part of our frustration was the initial difficulty of the Heroic dungeons in Cata (as well as Raid content). Part of it was real life making it more difficult for people to log in. And maybe part of it, was we’d achieved what we had hoped and worked so hard to do, that there might have been something in the back of our minds telling us we wouldn’t reach that same peak again. In any way you look or analyze it, we drifted apart. Some of us leaving WoW for Star Wars, some of us recanting MMO’s all together and other various reasons. At one point, not even the guild master was logging into WoW anymore. We had maybe one or two players that would occasionally play.
The guild would send each other Facebook messages joking about our Lich King fails, or drunken things said over Ventrilo during our raiding times of old. The fun was always in the back of our minds, but it was just too difficult to get everyone back together again. I was playing off and on during Cataclysm, most consistently once the LFR tool was released. Through LFR I was able to defeat Deathwing, claim shiny new gear, and mark a few more achievement points into my total. I ended up taking my main Paladin and moving him over to a different guild in hopes that I could start raiding Normal and Heroic mode raids. The guild was a very tight-knit group, great together, but I always felt like I was an outsider; invited to join, but never really a part of the group. Even more so, I felt like I wasn’t being true to my original guild. Regardless of the point that only one of two of the original guildies were still playing, it felt like I wasn’t being faithful to them.
When Mists of Pandaria was announced and more and more content was being shown and showcased, I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t enjoy it. I played on the PTR a few times, never really pouring into the content, story or changes to the game,; merely there as a shadow of the player I once was. It wasn’t right. I wasn’t with my guild mates and friends. So I blew off World of Warcraft yet again. I uninstalled my game client, cancelled my subscription and got rid of all my addons. It was time to play Guild Wars 2 and tinker with Rift. My Blizzard days were done.
Something miraculous happened at work, not but a week ago. A co-worker of mine has been in the same shoes, guild mates leaving the game and a general sense of malaise and bitter after-taste hanging around. The difference lies with the fact that he kept playing. He’d convinced a few guild mates to come back and get into MoP. With those few familiar faces, he was back into a raiding schedule. It was through a few conversations with him that I had a thought that I might enjoy coming back to the game. I wasn’t sure if I could justify the investment ($40 for the expansion and another $15/mo to re-subscribe), but I found that I qualified for a 10-day MoP Trial account. I basically am allowed to play all my characters up to just before I hit level 86 (MoP allows the level cap up to 90 now) and I can experience all of Pandaria (that I can survive). Sure enough, I went home, downloaded and installed the game and was immediately playing again. Even more to my surprise, beyond enjoying the content that I have explored so far in MoP, was I found a couple of my guild mates still playing. This lead me to post on Facebook that I was hoping to see more of the old guild back in game. Something incredible began to take shape, the old guild was dusting off their headsets, updating their add-ons and getting back into the game.
As it would turn out, the epiphany that I had wasn’t that Pandaria is an amazing or excellent expansion (I haven’t played nearly enough to make any claim at a review here), but that playing with my old friends was the motivator. It was because of all the collective nostalgia we have from playing during Lich King together that we have (for the most part) come back to unify and combine into a small, but familiar, team of kick-assery. The guild was back.
In a later conversation with my co-worker, another epiphany was reached. This time it was about the downside to nostalgia. I remembered the troubles we had achieving those raid-progression kills. I remembered the jokes, the laughter, the vague outline of frustration from wiping over and over again because someone didn’t move out of defile. What I didn’t clearly remember, was all the true frustration being a progression-raiding guild had. The constant upkeep of the guild bank so the raiders had their repair bills covered. Farming all the mats to make the feasts and flasks so everyone had the right buffs. Constantly going over the same mechanics again and again because people weren’t remembering to stay out of the bad stuff. Being a progression-raiding guild actually sucked! I didn’t like it! I felt like if I didn’t want to go to the raid that night I was letting everyone else down. It wasn’t fun to show up night after night only to wipe and waste time. It wasn’t fun having to explain fight mechanics to the people that didn’t do their homework like I did. It was frustrating to no end. Something’s different now. Something powerful. We are playing simply to be able to play together. To share our quests, our trade skills, and our humour No more progression raiding for us as a guild (let’s face it, at this point, there’s only 5 people, and that’s no raid). We play because we love to play. We play because we get to experience a whole new set of quests, dungeons and activities together. We play together because we share that nostalgia of the past and wish to recreate it in the present.