2: The next steps – Apr. 23, 08

THE NEXT STEPS
After the first day – a Wednesday, I believe – my friend’s play schedule was a bit different than mine, and so I ventured out on my own. On Thursday I played by myself for a few hours, and realized a few things.

WoW is *isolated*. Playing alone on those lower levels is very much a solo endeavor, with little ambient chat at all, few other players around, and basically empty of that social feel that is so prevalent in TSO. It felt somehow hollow, and I was sad that I was a low level and thus couldn’t go to places where others congregate. (It takes higher levels to have access to other areas – as you quest you discover more of the map and can move among cities).

I think I played twice all on my own that first week, just concentrating on getting my character to rise in levels and getting to know the interface and game world. Suddenly being a low level was a sad burden, and a bit depressing: the source of my isolation.

I had some advantages: my friend had given me some gold and a few more extra bags for collecting things – one runs out of space all too often – and I was able to buy the best equipment available in that area. It wasn’t much, but it helped. I rose about two more levels that lonely night, I think.

I didn’t venture onto the voice chat system that evening – still too new to do so without my friend.

The next time I played, J. was on, I joined the voice chat, and I talked to the gang while I leveled my (newly) lonely little troll. After a bit of that, joy of joys, my friend and two of the veterans joined me in my little corner of the map and we went to “power level” through an “instance”. That’s a dungeon-type area separated from the main world by a load screen that has good items dropped from monsters and generally involves some sort of quest. Because the veterans were level 70, they would kill everything with one blast, and my friend and I would soak up the experience points we received by virtue of our association (“being grouped”) with them, and follow along to “loot” everything (clicking on dead monsters allows you to pick up their goodies, including weapons, armor, scrolls, and bits like sellable fangs, skins, etc.). This was a generosity on the part of the veterans – we needed the XP and items, and they were helping us out. They didn’t benefit from this at all.

THAT was fun, oh my goodness. P. – the one who had helped my friend a lot when she started – is a quiet, but funny and – importantly – very respectful guy. He was joined by the rather more impatient but edgy and lively M. The latter and I quickly developed a running banter with hysterically sexual overtones (“You have a big red snake!”, “Why yes, I do! Try petting it!” [it grew when my character did – “Lan pets Niblet”, no actual depiction of the petting on-screen]) M. got a bit more frustrated with my newness, griping good-naturedly quite a bit, but over time responded more and more to the banter.

That’s my way, of course. I was a terrible flirt, and he was so much fun to flirt with. It had already been established that he is married with two small children – the exchanges between M. and my friend about kids’ shows and the like were fascinating – but he is clearly leaving a “Warcraft Widow” behind. I had also confessed my motherhood at some point in voice chat, with little response – almost as though it was still a bit taboo, or strange, in spite of the acceptance J. and M. had in that regard. P. in fact, commented (voice) at some point, “when did I join the family guild?!” That was the evening when my daughter came in and talked into my headset mic a bit. This was after M. had his 5 year-old on the set, controlling his character and actually talking to us some, so I knew it was okay. Folks made little, “awww, cute” comments when mine spoke, so it was obvious this was acceptable at that point.

So M’s and my flirtation – which was really rather racy at times – was, I think, within a somewhat safe space of “game only”. Nonetheless, it was thrilling in that online way – made my heart race and stomach flip. More on this later.

Subsequent play sessions were in part founded on that night’s flirtation with him for me. Because he was clearly a leader in the guild and social set, his acceptance of me was meaningful in a broader sense and eventually resulted in my promotion to a guild member with access to items, the bank, and overall far more legitimacy.

Things were becoming less isolated – voice chat with those playing together even when I wasn’t with them was more fun than the totally quiet solo play I had done before. Still, I felt a bit of an outsider. My friend wasn’t joining me anymore as a character, and was rather silent on voice chat. She was feeling a bit cranky because she had left a high-level character behind on another server (inaccessible to our current characters) for interpersonal reasons, and I was still totally in the dark about much of what folks in Vent were talking about. I could giggle at the jokes, but I couldn’t really follow much of the task-oriented conversation (which was most of it – more on this next section).

To finish up with these initial sections I should note another social development. One night – Thursday? – I had gone into a cave to kill some harpies and finish a quest, and I got myself killed over and over and over. I was determined to finish this quest, but was getting really frustrated at my lack of success. Finally, another player on the same quest (everything is simultaneously accessible to all players in this regard) helped me out, killed the baddies, and instructed me on collecting the required “head of the goblin” to complete the mission. Mores, his character name was, waited for me to finish, then went back to the town with me, exchanging a few (very few, but enough) lines of chat. I confessed my “noob” status, and he said he had a high level character on another server, but this was his first Horde character (vs. Alliance – humans, elves, etc.) and he was leveling it.

In gratitude, I gave him one of my gold – a very precious commodity at this level. He was shocked, and said, “why? – but I like it”

“I have a benefactor” I replied. “And you saved me! I had been killed literally like 9 times when you got there!”

“Thank you so much” he said. “I was so poor” We both logged off, and that was the end of that, I thought. I felt really good for having helped out, and for that pleasant exchange. Wouldn’t you know, though, the next night I played… there he was! He greeted me, “why hello again,” and I recognized him. We decided to quest together (grouped up, sharing loot and XP) and did some quests that would have been really too tough for either char. alone. At some point I died, and we got separated, and then both of us just died over and over, so the need we had for the teamwork became very clear – we couldn’t survive on our own.

That incident would start a regular pattern of us grouping up for an hour or two over the next few nights and doing quests. My power leveling with M. and P. had gotten me ahead of Mores in levels, so I was even more helpful to him, but it was always fun for me. It was far less social that my other interactions, though, because we were only text-chatting, not voice – that’s a far more intimate interaction seemingly reserved for a different type of (or perhaps just more established, we’ll see) relationship.

I’ll move onto chat and voice in the next section, but finishing up Mores: he’s Canadian (and correspondingly very polite, respectful, somewhat reserved, and calm), and apparently not a 13 year old boy, as he was flying from Toronto to Vancouver for his job (read to me as upper level at his organization, thus not 19, either) . His careful responses at first made him seem quite a bit older – perhaps even considerably older than I, but later brief interactions about politics, of all things, made me revise my estimate. He mis-spelled Obama (“Abama” – Galactica?), and asked me if I was “republic” or “democratic”  . Might have been typing issues, but I sensed that wasn’t quite it. I’m very curious about him, but he’s gently steered conversation away from too much personal information, aside from that rather uncharacteristic – and out of the blue, apparently he was watching CNN – question about politics. I confessed to be “Dem” and for Obama, and called myself a “flaming liberal, actually”. I figured (and I was right) that being Canadian he had no love lost on Bush, and that he wouldn’t have quite the knee-jerk response to such a statement from me. He too, he said, “support obama”.

Some few tiny things have made me wonder if he’s not quite a bit younger than I thought, but still I have no idea, really. A few exchanges about his “allegiance to my lady” and then, “your [sic] good at teaching children the rules” – which totally baffled me but I didn’t want to ask too much what he meant. Very little personal information has been exchanged, and although I made a point of mentioning things like, “I have to teach tomorrow, so I need to go soon” to communicate my own age range, we still know very little about each other.

Oh! One rather incredible thing did happen with these two independent social worlds I have been cultivating. M, who by Sat. was clearly quite enjoying our little flirtations, was leveling a new character Kleptonius, in the region where mine was, and he came upon me standing with Mores. M. asked me if I wanted to group with him for questing, and I said couldn’t leave Mores in the lurch because I was grouped with, but would M. like to join us instead. “Out loud” (public chat, with a dialog bubble over the char. head – a rare occurrence) M. said, “you, orc. Shoo.” and then, “buzz off”. I think he was actually a bit jealous! Then, running off, “I thought we had something special!” I responded in character, “oh my Kleptonius, my elf! He means nothing to me! we do have something special!” and then, “please don’t leave me!” then, mistakenly in party chat (M. couldn’t see, only Mores), “this orc is nothing! nothing! he’s just some orc!” and then, when I realized what I had done, I said to Mores, “Oh no! I mean…. :)” Mores gave me an “lol”.

I literally felt guilty when M. ran off, as though I had been caught at something improper grouping up with Mores. I had to turn down M.’s character – and M., really – and so I became the troll betrayer, infidelity of the quester. I still feel guilty.

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