Nine years ago, I logged out of World of Warcraft for the last time.
I left all my gold in the guild bank, made no effort to remember my password, and informed my guildmates that if they ever saw any of my characters active again, they should assume my account had been hacked.
There's a part of my brain that never quite left. It's been mostly quiet for a long time. But recent events have caught its attention, and it has charged straight into a whole room full of memories like an excitable paladin. Memories are tricky things, you know. Whole batches of them can sit dormant in a room for ages, until you nudge one of them, and it hatches, and nudges all the ones nearby, and they hatch too, and it wouldn't be so bad if it was just this little piece of your psyche that ran in there, but God damn it, the whole rest of your mind had to charge in after it.
I was surprised at how little withdrawal I felt at the time. But now it's all happening at once and I never expected it would hurt this much.
It started off as a good thing. I had a boyfriend who was graduating college before I was. We needed something we could do together even at long distance. I was a hunter; he was a warlock: perfect for leveling together. Other college friends joined in; we leveled as a group. We ran dungeons together the whole way up.
Here be dragons:
Remember when you 4-manned the Deadmines with a pet for a tank?
Remember how there were no target markers and you stepped your way through dungeons with the rogue saying, over and over--"Trap my target"--"Seduce my target"--learning your crowd control perfectly because you still didn't have a real tank?
Remember when you all ran Stockades, which is a useless instance, but it didn't matter because you could all laugh at it together? "He drops less than 3 silver? Your next flight to Westfall, courtesy of Hamhock!"
Remember when you finally had a paladin, you still had to finish killing Herod by resurrecting your pet twice so he wouldn't destroy your healer, and you won, and then the paladin unexpectedly let you have the mail helm, even though you weren't quite level 40 yet, because he was going to switch to plate at the same time you switched to mail?
After a while we had a fairly solid group of people, but this was Classic WoW, and there was only so much we could do that many of my friends hadn't done ad nauseum already. But we managed to ally ourselves with a raid guild, and got to run some Molten Core.
Remember what a big step it was when you passed guild leadership to an alt and created a separate custom chat channel to keep your friends together, because the only way to ally yourself with this guild was to formally join them?
Remember how your heart was racing when Majordomo Executus' last friend dropped dead with your name at the top of the DKP list, and you had one...last...moment before finding out whether your Ancient Petrified Leaf was in that chest?
...AND IT WAS!!
Remember how you didn't care two arrow shafts whether getting a warlock's help was "cheating", because he was YOUR warlock, and facing adventures together was what you wanted in the first place?
The imperfections started to show.
Remember when the guild leader turned your helpful tip into a mandatory raid preparation, and raid attendance started to drop because people didn't want to be pushed that hard?
Remember when your boyfriend's friend transferred a level 60 to join you, and you managed to completely alienate him because you got all uptight about some loot that dropped in a five-man dungeon that shouldn't have mattered so much, to the point where he left the same day he joined?
Remember how it was hard to get your homework done because you were grinding for a Wintersaber?
Our association with this raid guild attracted more friends who hadn't been able to play at that level before. When 10-man raiding became a thing in Burning Crusade, we had enough people in our little group to break off and be our own guild again.
Remember how you could have handled that transition a little more diplomatically?
Remember how you should have shown a little more backbone when your main tank bullied the other warrior into letting him have that item because of his main tank status, even though you all had specifically decided that wasn't how your guild was going to work and you would just roll Need/Greed for everything?
Things were still fun, though, even when it was hard for us to get a foothold in Zul'Aman because the devs assumed people would be coming in from 25-man raids, not just from Karazhan. We had a lot of flexibility because we all had such well-geared alts.
Remember Silly Hat Karazhan?
Remember how your two healers lived together in Nebraska and the raid depended on their Comcast connection not getting taken out by an actual blizzard?
Remember how your feral druid got three pieces of Tier 4 armor in a single weekend? And made that glorious failed last stand against Gruul in bear form and cat gear?...but rescued multiple PuG Karazhan groups in the same setup?
But for me, in other ways, things were getting worse.
Remember how you once missed dinner with your family because you were raiding?
Remember how you were so bad about communicating with your project group in grad school that one of them literally hunted you down on Azuremyst Isle to ask where your contribution was?
Remember how your plans for your real life were falling apart, and this game was the only place left where you felt competent and needed and valued--as long as you played perfectly?
Warlock boyfriend became warlock fiancee. We lived together when the hike to level 80 started. For our guild, this was a golden age of sorts, because real 10-man progression was finally a thing.
Remember how you scheduled a special Naxx10 run for your new friends who had just hit level 80, so that they would be able to join the rest of you in Ulduar, and so they would know that the guild appreciated them?
Remember soloing the Zul'Gurub bosses?
On the other hand...here be dragons.
Remember when you weren't devoting much time at all to a job search? You remember why.
Remember when one of your guild's founding members led a PuG Blackwing Lair run--and you'd never seen past the first fight before--and you really should have left the AQ quest line's starting item for him because he was the one who had the initiative to lead it? But you just ran forward and took it? Do you remember whether or not you knew that only one such item dropped regardless of how many people were prepared for it? You didn't really care, did you? And you never apologized properly. And that wasn't even the first time you'd stepped on that particular player's toes.
It's too little, too late. But I'm sorry.
Remember when you got all frustrated about someone being more helpful than you were re: the guild bank and you locked him out of it just because you were feeling pissy about it? This being someone who wasn't around too often but had stuck his neck out to defend your reputation previously?
I'm sorry about that too.
Remember how you were always so defensive around everyone because not only are you a perfectionist, the fact that random players demanded perfection from each other made you feel constantly judged by everyone around you? And how you still feel that way?
Remember when you and the warlock broke up?
The breakup lit enough of a fire under me for me to finally get a job, and move out on my own. As time passed, I became more involved with my new church community, and as my best friends' lives got more demanding, leading them to leave the game, I finally realized that keeping up with my daily quests was feeling more and more like a chore. It wasn't a game anymore. When I checked my billing schedule I discovered that I had only a few days left before the next month ticked, so in the space of less than a week, I announced my retirement from the game and took a last victory lap around Azeroth, taking screenshots of me on all my favorite mounts and of all my favorite beautiful places.
Remember when you opened that weekly egg for the last time, with perhaps 48 hours left on your subscription, and it gave you [Reins of the Green Proto-Drake]?
Nice try, Blizzard.
Remember all those WoW forum threads about all the people angsting over what they should do if one of their members was skilled, but a jerk?
I didn't start out as that jerk, but I let myself turn into her.
There are parts of my mind that ask: are you really running your life any better today? Is losing sleep to Surviving Mars or Stardew Valley any less pathetic than losing it to the Wintersaber Trainers?...Maybe not, I answer, but at least those games have pause buttons, and I don't disappoint anyone when I spend the weekend doing something else, nor disappoint myself for not doing devoting as much effort as my peers.
How could I not have strong feelings about the revival of something that was both so good and so bad? How could part of me not yearn for a second chance? But it wouldn't erase any of what was bad from before, and it wouldn't bring back what was good.
The calm part of me that wrote this sits outside the room full of memories, watching the other parts run in. A hunter, feigning death outside the room, is perfectly safe. I can watch the chaos without completely losing myself to it, and collect my thoughts outside again.
Can we move on this time? Can we skip this room today?
No? I still miss the good times, and I'm still afraid that the lessons I learned back then didn't stick hard enough?
All right. Off with you.
I'll ask again when you come back.
But I'm not following you in there.