It was four AM in my Hawaiʻian dorm, and I’d been killing stunted manbears since midnight. As a break from writing a thesis about excessive gaming. Ironically enough, after scoring the most powerful hat and pants in the game – during that first week of raiding – for weeks thereafter a pair of decent boots eluded me.
If I became “Friendly” with a tribe of bear people called the “Timbermaw” (by killing roughly 1,000 of their “corrupted” brethren, who bore bone-chilling names like “Gardener” and “Pathfinder”) I could get my hands on “Mooncloth Boots.” They weren’t the greatest, but the Eternity Dragoons were constantly teasing me for sporting a pair of particularly weak-ass boots.
Killing Furbolg was dangerous. Not because the Furbolg themselves were any particular worry. It was dangerous because at any time, goodie-goodie Dwarves or Elves could swoop down, securing this scant resource, catching a Furbolg grinder mid-battle. Having a semi competent buddy helped everything go faster, and it gave some slight protection against ambush. When a rogue-class character offered to join me, I was all too happy to have the company.
We didn’t talk much, in that first hour. After that, he started by name-dropping some of the rare gear he had on his alternate characters. A greatsword called Ashkandi, on his warrior, nearly everything he’d need for the legendary mace: Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros. Full tier-one armor on his priest and shaman characters. I had tier two hat and pants, which were strictly better, but tier one meant he’d been at this roughly a year longer than me. Once he was level 60, he’d switch this rogue away from the random leveling guild it was in now. No-name guilds usually have one or two wealthy players who suppose they’re ‘mentoring’ lowbies (who often, like this player, are all too happy to take their gifts and goodwill before a swift exit). He’d switch to his main guild soon, and they’d have this rogue geared out in a few weeks. This rogue would be his main character. He said he loved it.
Then he started talking about his personal life.
He was Australian, had just turned seventeen, and had stopped attending school a couple weeks before. His mother had no way to force him. He played twenty hours a day, which struck a little close to home. For another half hour, while we wiped out Furbolg on a clockwork schedule, I just listened.
His home life sucked, or at least, couldn’t hold a candle to his raid life. He was making fundamental changes to his living arrangements, he said, so that finishing high school wouldn’t be necessary. He didn’t mention what he’d do for money. Maybe a classmate had a spare room, he didn’t say. It did sound like he’d be living with his guildmates.
For a long while, just meditatively killing these oversized Ewoks, it bothered me that I didn’t know quite what to say. There aren’t any magic words. And I hadn’t been researching games or dependency for long. When I told him to finish school, that it was important, he finished killing one last Furbolg, then politely excused himself. After a few hours grinding together we parted ways, and I never saw him again.
I never could quite forget that.
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