or, How you can check out of Video Games any time you like, but you can NEVER leave...
There was a joke that did the rounds when I was a regular World of Warcraft player. For those of you who don’t know, Warcraft (as we will now refer to it as) was rather important in the early Naughties for not only creating a world where player immersion was redefined, but in how Massively Multiplayer Online gaming would evolve in the next two decades.
The joke was simple: once you became immersed (or addicted or compelled or any of the other words people had to use when it became REALLY hard to stop playing) it didn’t matter when you left, because you never did. The game had such a lasting effect on the people who played it that a number of them subsequently went on to work for the company who produced it and are now making it for a whole new generation of players. You could never truly escape Azeroth’s influence.
Welcome to the Hotel World of Warcraft, and what will be our first LONG READ.
This was me, back when I started blogging about Warcraft, back in February 2009. This image is one of the earliest I ever posted to Blogger. There were over 3000 blog posts, and I finally shuttered the site in 2020. Alternative Chat (I played a lot of alt characters as well as my main) begun with two main aims. Firstly there was a desire to share what playing this meant to me. On reflection, that wasn’t the main reason. I felt desperately lonely and needed to know I could write things people might want to read.
2009 was the year I contemplated suicide. This is neither the time nor the place to go into any more detail than that. One day there will be more: it has occasionally appeared in poetry as I worked through the process of getting to the here and now. There is one poem where it is discussed explicitly which was submitted for a major contest, and it failed to place, and so this was taken as a sign before being put away. That was it, until a personal incident this month disturbed the space again.
There are a LOT of Substack posts that could be written on that time. There are stories of unbelievable generosity, immensely petty snobbery and pretty much every single human good or bad trait in-between. Looking back from where I stand, however, the singular experience for me that mattered was learning. The gameplay was a constantly evolving process, and the experiences inside (and increasingly outside) Azeroth came to define who I now am as both person and crucially a poet.
However, Warcraft didn’t begin for me in 2009. It started in 2005 when my youngest was born. That four-year period has been alluded to in several places, but not nearly with the consistency of the period where I played and blogged. In that time there is pretty much silence, and that’s what we’re actually here to address today. No, I’m not going to do that in prose. However, there’s a VERY good chance now it is going to happen using the medium of poetry.
The more observant of you will know that I play games from time to time and post about them on social media. That currently includes simulation games (Two Point Campus) and open-world survival/sandbox games (Valheim) and it is the latter that, at the weekend, inspired me to write a poem. It’s not a great thing, not by any stretch, but it was enjoyable to write. That’s the key here. I enjoyed it.
There has been thought given to what might happen if I wrote Warcraft poetry, but I literally had no idea where to start. There was a distinct disconnect between how to present a concept most people would have no idea about with thoughts and feelings that had resurfaced after Christmas. My brain was struggling to connect moments that, for many years, I had very intentionally avoided.
Then, a poet called Clare Shaw showed me the way.
I am vaguely aware of other people writing poetry about video games. It’s not like this is some massive revelation and I only just accepted it… except it is. Clare shared a poem in the daily writing Zoom I’m involved in entitled I Knew I Loved You when you showed me Your Minecraft World by Hera Lindsay Bird. I have tried Minecraft a few times over the years, but it gives me motion sickness. I kid you not.
As someone who knows only too well what happens when they are exposed to random shit without warning, there is a tendency to not try, read or watch certain things. As I am still very much aware of the pain and trauma that’s wrapped up in Warcraft for me, hearing this poem could have gone one of two ways. I could very easily have logged out of the session and walked away. Except I didn’t, and leaned in instead.
The poem that I wrote as a result reduced me to tears, off and on, for the rest of that day. 48 hours on, after a LOT of sleep, there are five poems in a scratch document. There’s some explanatory prose in between for those people who won’t ever have played Warcraft before. There’s been a conversation with a RL (real life), non-gaming friend too about whether this idea has legs or not… but that doesn’t matter.
Up to this point, I’ve written work for other people before writing it for myself. There, I said it. I’ve proved I can get accepted for magazines and journals, be shortlisted for mentoring opportunities and have work published. What has not yet happened is the assuaging of my mortal soul which, let’s face it, IS WHY POETRY ACTUALLY FUCKING EXISTS IN THE FIRST PLACE.
The next step, therefore, seems reasonably simple.
We’re gonna write poems, and see what happens. I’ve already asked some questions of the virtual Warcraft community to keep me on track, so I know what matters to them when they are playing. It’s granted some really significant insights into why it matters to be part of a community where you literally live and die to make progress. It will help as a breadcrumb trail too should I get mired down in too much emotion.
I’ll talk about it here too, but I will only be sharing the briefest of details publicly. The people who follow me on Ko-Fi (all of whom are friends from my playing days) will see more because of who they are and that they may well be able to provide context on things I have forgotten. I have no idea how long this will take, how many poems will be involved and when it will be done. This is irrelevant.
What matters above everything else is the writing.
The joy this gives me whilst sitting here is unlike anything I’ve felt for some time.
This story is here, in long form, for a few reasons. There needs to be a timeline of this because I’m often dreadful at dates. More importantly, it’s significant right now to acknowledge where this work is coming from and what, ultimately, it will lead to. Mostly, however, I’m feeling lonely right now and would like to connect with people. That part of the equation has never been fixed, and it’s been nearly twenty years.
This is the moment to do something about that.
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