My Virtual Life

It all began because I really wanted a griffen. For two years now I’ve been watching my son play on World of Warcraft and have always loved the flying griffens to distraction. They are used for traveling across the virtual world and fly with such hefty elegance over the changing landscape of the realms, their fat, heavy paws bouncing softly in the air currents created by the swoop of their huge wings. Going through my relaxation exercises at night, I would imagine myself astride their considerable girth, soaring through the sky in regal splendour. I used to joke to my son that I wanted one for my birthday, or for Christmas, so that I could beat the city’s rush hour in style. In the absence of a furry, winged beast appearing in the back garden with a bow around its neck, I began to think that maybe having a ride on one in the virtual world wouldn’t be such a bad idea. And anyway, I’ve found myself becoming very curious about the whole creation of virtual worlds lately; I wonder what kind of life is on offer, what kind of society is chosen, when anything is possible. I’m also intrigued to know what keeps my son rattling away at the keyboard for hours at a time.

First we have to choose a character. I’ve been looking forward to this as I’ve always known I wanted to be a mage. Initially this was a wholly superficial decision based on the cool dresses they get to wear, but when my son told me that mages in battle are called upon to perform extravagant magical attacks, after which they are pretty much useless and have to be invalided out to lie in a virtual darkened room for a bit, my every instinct was confirmed. That’s been the story of my life, after all. My son is a rogue, characterized by their stealth, subversion and expedience, all of which means they are tough little cookies who are almost tireless. This is almost uncanny as it represents my son to a tee. My husband also has a character but I hesitate to mention it in this context as for reasons unknown to us he elected to be a hunter, a big bull-like nightclub-bouncer type, all brawn and no brains. It’s probably best not to analyze this. Anyway, I was thrilled with the deep purple frock my character gets to wear, cut on the bias, obviously, flattering deep v-neck, flowing sleeves, skin-tight and, best of all, molded onto a figure that my husband would describe as ‘pneumatic’. ‘What kind of face do you want?’ my son asks me. We flip through the options. Mages seem to favour either snarling ferocity or gentle bewilderment, so I go with the bewilderment, which I imagine is going to be apt. I can choose my hair and find that no, I have no desire to go blonde. How about that? ‘Piercings?’ asks my son. Piercings? Well, okay, in for a penny, in for a pound. I end up with a discreet little nose ring that I can only hope will not get snagged in the thick of the battle.

My son cheerfully declares we are going to get me started, and my figure trots off into a sylvan wooded landscape dotted here and there with rather luscious buildings. Now my son knows everything there is to know about World of Warcraft, and I mean everything. He has two characters both at level 70, which is as high as you can train them, and is involved in raids every evening with his guild, a bunch of hardened warriors who chat to one another in incomprehensible code over a party line called ‘team speak’. He sits at the computer with his head set on, looking for all the world like he’s in charge of mission control, only he doesn’t speak very much, hoping against hope that his voice will break soon so his age will not be quite so obvious. I couldn’t have a better guide to help me in the initial stages, but there’s such a thing as being too helpful. I am sitting under a torrent of information that never falters for a moment over the next two hours, until I think my head might implode with the sheer weight of knowledge. At the controls he keeps up a running commentary whilst maneuvering my figure with rapid dexterity, taking out a few of the odd beasts that are roaming the forest with nonchalant calm. Of course when he hands over to me, I can’t even keep the perspective on my character steady and find I have zoomed in so close to the back of my head that I can’t see past myself. Or else an attempt to turn around has me staring up my own virtual nostrils. I tell my son it’s worse than learning to drive. ‘Never mind,’ he says kindly. ‘You’re a different generation, aren’t you?’

Eventually I find I can move about without rotating in circles and we start to progress by quests, which are little tasks, mostly involving shooting animals which will gain me money and items like meat and claws. When I complete a quest the transaction brings me experience and useful items like better armour or clothing. My son finds it hard to get me to relinquish my purple frock, however, no matter what. What’s really strange is that my own character is transferred without the least alteration to the virtual realm. I’m quite happy performing my little tasks (ridding the valley of vermin, it would appear), but I’m deeply uneasy with social interaction. When my son suggests a duel, I’m rather horrified, having no desire to interact with anyone, let alone aggressively, and I have no instinct as to who is playing on the world and who is staff, as it were. There are several moments of utter confusion while I try and hand a completed quest into an innocent bystander. I rather wonder whether I suffer from a form of virtual Asperger’s Syndrome. Still, every once in a while my character is suddenly enveloped in a blaze of golden light and it transpires that I have gone up a level. ‘We call it a ding,’ my son explains, ‘because that’s the noise it makes.’ And he adds with invisible quotation remarks, ‘you know you’re obsessed with World of Warcraft when you say grats to the microwave!’ ‘How’s your mother doing?’ my husband calls through from the other room. ‘Not bad,’ my son replies, loyally I feel, wandering in to give him a progress report. ‘But now I’ve left her on her own for three seconds, so I’d better get back and see what mess she’s got herself into.’ This turned out to be a very prescient remark.

What surprises me most of all is how tiring it all is. You need one hand on the keyboard and one on the mouse, both working independently, and about five separate eyes, it seems to me, keeping track of different information on the screen. Trying to take it in and master the controls at the same time is more exhausting than a whole day’s teaching. I start to make feeble noises about how easy it is to conjugate French verbs in comparison. ‘Do you want to stop now?’ my son asks, deftly finishing off my quest, selling my excess items at the market place and storing my latest rewards in about a half a nanosecond. ‘Why don’t you go and write something. Go and put some words together, that will make you feel better.’ In fact I had to sit quietly for quite some time before I even felt capable of picking up a book. But I do want to go back, partly because I want to understand the underlying rules of this virtual world, partly because of that purple frock, but most of all because I really want to get on the back of a griffen.

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20 thoughts on “My Virtual Life

  1. Oh, this is a beauty of a post. Why read a newspaper when you can read something as amusing, entertaining and deft as this? You deserve accolades and fame and large advances in the “real” world of publishing, Litlove, and I seriously hope you get them.

  2. I had some great times in World of Warcraft. My two favorite characters where notably horrendously ugly and fearsome looking. I got my rogue troll, Lysergica to about level 67 I think. I found it very awkward to begin with too and even as I got more used to it I mostly always quested with my husband as I tended to end up getting slaughtered or lost when I was alone. I never, never dueled with anyone apart from him & was generally reluctant to interact with other people for fear of transgressing the norms. I’m trying to remember any of the jargon to pass onto you but “ding” and “gratz” are all that come to mind. I seem to recall /ignore command is useful if someone is persistently challenging you to duels or generally being annoying but I expect your son is well on top of all that. Good luck with getting to the right level (level 10?) for a griffin ride!

  3. I tried Second Life to understand this whole virtual world thing. But I never got the hang of it and anyone can talk to you whenever they like. It’s worse than real life! So I fled, leaving my poor half-dressed avatar hanging around the entrance for the rest of her days.

  4. I’m not sure I could manage a game like this (too many things to remember and too many places to keep your hands busy!). Your son is definitely a digital native, whilst you and I (well, certainly I am ) are digital immigrants. It really is all foreign to me sometimes. Talk about multitasking! :) I can barely handle the easy games that come with the computer, but it sounds as if you have an excellent guide. I hope you get that ride on a griffin, and that purple dress sounds pretty cool to me, too.

  5. LOL! Sounds like my 12-year-old son would probably get along with your son. And I can’t believe I’m admitting this to an adult, but I have a level 70 night elf druid! Love riding the griffins myself, but now I have a flight form, so I can turn into a bird. Which is a little like dreams of flying I’ve had all my life :) My husband and sons also play, and are sociable online, but I mostly play solo. And it goes in waves, sometimes don’t play for months, as it’s a bit addictive, and if I’ve got anything to get done, I really don’t want to be playing WoW. I don’t find it tiring, but actually relaxing in a zen sort of way. And of course my kids are way better at playing than I am and picked everything up a hundred times faster than I did. My husband and I make fun of the fact that we play at all–for example, when I mentioned that it was annoying that my younger son was just running his character around and not accomplishing anything in the game, my husband looked at me and said, “Honey, you know it’s a game, right? You’re not actually accomplishing anything. Azeroth doesn’t actually exist.” As the gamers would say, at that I was ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) or LMAO (laughing my a*% off).

  6. How funny! I love your son’s comment at the end of your session, ‘Why don’t you go and write something. Go and put some words together, that will make you feel better.’ That’s just what words do for some of us!

  7. Great post! I can just imagine you as an Aspergers-inflicted but stylishly-clad purple mage. P and I played our first computer game of the modern era on Saturday when we tried to be detectives in CSI. We’re still at the level of rookies and we stumbled badly in the second game. World of Warcraft sounds way cooler and that was funny about the microwave. Grats indeed ;-)

  8. I would be no good at this at all, I’m sure! But that’s okay … it IS funny how our “real-life” personalities get transferred into virtual worlds — maybe there are useful things we can learn about ourselves by playing video games!

  9. Charlotte – what a lovely, lovely comment – I will cherish that one, thank you so much! Ms make Tea – I’m seriously impressed – level 67 is amazing, and it’s reassuring to think you can make that whilst not duelling and still getting lost from time to time :) I like that command and will commit it to memory. My son spoke the other day about ‘tanking and spanking’ which is apparently a battle strategy, and that made me laugh out loud. The jargon is just hilarious, I think! Musings – lol! Being on permanent public access with every Tom, Dick or Harry able to approach you sounds awful. Well, it sounds like living in France, to be honest, and I’m not surprised you made a break for it. My friend went to a conference that was simultaneously held in Second Life, which makes my head spin. Danielle – that digital native/digital immigrant terminology is just wonderful and I love it. I find the older I get the more I need to do one thing at a time, and slowly! :) I wouldn’t even attempt this without a guide, and the purple dress is a big incentive! Ms Bluestocking – thank you so much! And you made mine! Gentle Reader – oh wow! Level 70 is incredible! I really like the night elves – do you have those lovely pointy ears? I must say, I had a moment of being torn when choosing. Our sons would most definitely get on, and I’m entranced by the idea of gaming in a zen way. How nice would that be? I remember reading somewhere that some people play just to go and sit in nice landscapes and relax there. I rather like the sound of that. Your husband’s comment at the end there is just hilarious – rofl right back! :) Booksplease – that did make me laugh and at first I couldn’t quite believe he’d said it. But he must pay more attention to me than I think he does :) It was a blessing to have a nice quiet screen with words on it, after the hubbub of the virtual world! Pete – well the best of luck to you and P in CSI. Being detectives sounds fun, too, and nice to learn with someone. I can see how it would be a lot of fun once you’ve got the hang of the controls. And the dress is to die for (probably literally and many, many times). Dorothy – I can promise you I’m not a natural :) I was tickled to feel myself behaving like me in the virtual world – you should have seen me hesitate over my piercings! I rather wondered whether I would be different (my son says he is very different in his virtual form), but no, it would seem the old habits are hard to break! :)

  10. Oh my gosh, Litlove, your son is a hoot! I was sipping some water and almost choked when I got to the ‘You’re a different generation, aren’t you?’ part. You’ll have to take a screen shot of your character and post it so we can all see you lovely purple frock :)

  11. Ain’t gonna study war no more, Ain’t gonna study war no more,
    Ain’t gonna study war no more.

    A pierced and purple-dressed school ma’am on a griffen is almost enough to make me want to join in. Though, if a griffen is all that is on offer for aerial thrills, I may give it a miss. My mount of choice is a – let me rephrase that – my FLYING mount of choice is a Golden Dragon.

  12. Lovely post! Your son is quite a nice little man indeed, to be so understanding and patient! How courageous of you to venture into this virtual world. I do not consider myself “another generation”, but the only computer game I ever tried was sailing races, and I got virtual/real sea-sickness only from looking at it! (not to mention I never won any race…)

  13. I’ve always wondered at the appeal of these games…you render the appeal beautifully, although admittedly not enough for me to join in quite yet! I think I would find the skills you mention…the dexterity, the multi-tasking, all a bit too much…

  14. Stefanie – I find him hilarious! He is always cracking me up. Although we have had to have a very serious talk about homework tonight :( What a good idea to take a screen shot! I’ll ask him to do that for me, the next time I’m on. Archie – lol! Do tell me if you ever come near Azaroth and I will gladly hang out with you virtually. I don’t blame you for wanting a Golden Dragon – how cool would that be? Smithereens – I can only wish he’d be so patient about things he wasn’t obsessed with doing! :) But he was very kind to his old mum. The sailing game sounds very nausea-inducing – you were brave to give it a go! Courtney – I can’t honestly say that I can ever see myself spending hours on the realm, but I’m intrigued by the experience of a virtual world. I imagine that once my curiosity is satisfied, that will be enough of that. But getting to hang out with my son now he’s 14 and growing up is also quite a lure!

  15. Loved this post! When my son started playing WoW I hadn’t heard of it & was a bit concerned. The name sounded a bit scary for an adolescent boy to be playing — especially when I woke up at 5am one morning and realized that he had played all night (he was on school holiday, at least). I spent every free second at work that day trying to understand this game. It was still very new at the time. I was then more comfortable with it and picked up a bit of the lingo. That night, I used some of the lingo I had picked up to tell him to rest his character for a few minutes so he could walk his realworld dog. He wasn’t at all happy that I had co-opted his domain! Later he laughed about it though. He says that he still plays it on study breaks and it helps him to relax, but he misses all the free time he had to play before he went to university.

  16. Emily – you would love riding on a griffen, I am quite convinced. If I ever get that far, I will most certainly be hovering in the sky over PA and ready to take you for a spin! Cam – I’m going to read this comment to my son who will undoubtedly feel very much a kindred spirit to yours! I remember when my son first started playing we did wonder what he was getting into, but my husband knew about the game, even though he didn’t play himself and that helped. I wanted to be involved in this part of his life as it matters so much to him – but I am a bit hopeless so we’ll have to see how far I get! Still, it’s a source of great anecdotes for blogging. :)

  17. Priceless, Litlove. I never thought I’d live to hear you say you were a Mage in WoW. But then, stranger things seem to have happened ;-)

    BTW, the conference in real/second life made my head spin too :-D

    Caz

  18. You hit the nail right on the head with this post for me. See, I first got into World of Warcraft when I was pregnant with my fist child. I was placed on bed-rest throughout most of the pregnancy, and I had such severe headaches I couldn’t read, which is my favorite thing to do. My husband got me involved in World of Warcraft. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed, but after playing for a few months, I found myself just as adept as everyone else. Its a fun game, you just have to make sure you don;t get addicted, as I have seen many people become.

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