It was probably an appropriate portent of the sustained disaster to come, that my first serious raid would piss off the ol' roommates.
That was fine. It was, after all, part and parcel to allying myself with these choicest of deviants. Collecting your garden variety games data was easy. Any ten-year-old could putter around until they miraculously arrived at level sixty. But there wasn’t much solid research on what it felt like to raid. To do it with the people who made it their lives. The Hell's Angels of the virtual world, that one prurient percent that demanded a special brand of lifestyle.
But only a handful qualify, and what self-disrespecting biker invites (unironically) the university researcher on a moped? For weeks I’d tried to get an invite to one of a few guilds with the real clout: those forty or so individuals among thousands, sometimes all the millions playing Warcraft, with the honor of being first. First to successfully destroy the nastiest, most vitriolic black dragons or molten-hammer-wielding gods. Since a new finish line for first arrived every half-year or so – from the black dragon Onyxia to Ragnaros the Firelord, from Nefarian to C’thun, and Kel’Thuzad – the first to kill them would hold that title, and respect associated with being the best, for months. A Worldwide First – or sometimes even Server First, on large enough servers – meant a new life of professional gaming, minor nerd celebrity and product endorsements for game developers and high-end consumer electronics. On smaller servers, first endowed a guild with permanent respect, an invitation to join is suddenly A Big Deal.
Piroshky, an old guildmate, could get me an invite. The quiet Russian had risen to the hallowed position of main tank in our server's number two Horde guild, the Eternity Dragoons. Despite having a guild name which evoked imagery of sparkles and ponies, they were big news. Making a run at #1, Horde-side, on one of the thirteen original World of Warcraft servers. They needed a healer, and Piroshky had some pull. He’d gotten me an invite at 9PM – for a teaser – a mini tryout-raid in a place called Zul’Gurub. But at 9:45, my roommates were still clawing to keep me.
Rewind to dinner at around 5PM, where conversation predictably turned to Warcraft. Curtains draw that old familiar glaze over the eye of every non-gamer in our social group. The spunky Palauan, a blonde California girl, and one of South Korea's rare non-gaming males. It was in those throes of WoW cant that self-declared “Lawful-Evil” roommate, Pat, and his soft-spoken, rotund Asian friend Kai, appraise me like famished cannibals. “So you’re totally going to help us get the three gemstones we need for the Unadorned Seal of Ascension to unlock Upper Blackrock Spire, right Neils? Should take a couple hours?” “Bro, at most. Yo, Neils, you healin’ us rite?” “Umm, I've got this tryout, at 9, so I need to be there on time. For science.” “Haha, yeah whatever won’t take but two hours. But like, that ain’t actually part of your degree rite chief?” “Actually, it is part of my degree. It is research. For science?”
It should be mentioned that sitting through LBRS – their desired night's destination – was not unlike undergoing an unanaesthetized root canal. With neither of them certified for the operation. At 8:30, not halfway done and three hours in, half a dozen healers had (understandably) declined my friendly invitation to replace me mid-procedure. At 9, Piroshky urged me not to hurry, that they were still waiting on three or four guildmates. No big.
At this point Kai types, “Yeah, good thing you’re stayin. Get to see where your loyalties lie.”
At 9:30, the Eternity Dragoons raid was forming up. No need to freak out, said Piroshky, but you should definitely wrap up with the roomies.
“Hey guys,” I type, “That tryout is starting. I've got a replacement for the dude who left (because you are both bad at games). Were any of you able to find a healer? In the last hour?”
“We ain't ask nobody. Wait the FUCK, you LEAVING?” types Kai.
In person he typically says nothing, preferring instead to stare intensely from shadowy corners. Though he did later showboat that comment, and similar choice tidbits of the night's discourse, by saying jovially, “Haha, how you like my dark leader personality?” Pat, one room away and fond of turning light conversation to interpersonal vivisection, had hardly typed or spoken once we'd logged on. Eking in on 9:45, Piroshky said that someone from The Dragoons was about to instantaneously summon me to this Zul’Gurub tryout raid.
“So that’s how it’s gonna be?” Asks dark leader Kai.
“Uhh, yep!” I type,
And vanish into a spray of light. Not classy gamer etiquette, conducive to smooth sailing at cafeteria time, or good for my spoke in the wheels of MMO karma, but fuck it. One must heed the call of rational inquiry. And mind-controlling voodoo skull piles. And aquatic Godzilla knock-off novelty bosses. And every other new and wonderful thing I saw in Zul'Gurub that night. In the tryouts I’d handily outheal the competition, but more importantly I'd impressed Piroshky’s friends, officers in Eternity Dragoons (ironically enough because of how long I'd manned a sinking ship in LBRS).
That night set me up to experience, first hand, the race to be the very best in the World of Warcraft.