As I've been watching my kids play LOTRO and TOR, I've been thinking about my own history with MMOs.
Has it really been almost four years since I began playing? It feels like even longer. I did try a Middle-earth MUD back in the mid-90s --as well as the MMO-like online game that GEnie had (that used the old Rolemaster system for the ruleset)-- I never really dipped my toes into a modern MMO until the end of Summer in 2009.
While I can't remember all of the details regarding the first time I logged in, I remember one overwhelming emotion: fear.
It seems silly now, given what I know how MMOs work, but I was expecting an "emperor has no clothes" moment when I signed into WoW for the first time. I'd read up enough to know that there was a starting zone, but beyond that the WoW lore left me so confused that I figured I'd fail any surprise "geek test" that might appear before I got my bearings. The one thing I didn't want was the "Hey, look at the noob!" and "L2P noob!" pursuing me on my first screw-up.
I also was painfully aware that the magical "pause" feature I loved in Baldur's Gate I, II, and Neverwinter Nights was non-existent. I did not like RTS games very much because they forced you to think faster than I wanted to; like any long time boardgamer, I was accustomed to examining the board, thinking out strategy, and playing things out slowly. I was not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants player, and here I was playing the ultimate RTS game.
The narration that's supposed to set the scene for my new toon made absolutely no sense, either. I now know that it was referencing events at the end of Burning Crusade, but I had no idea what on earth the narrator was talking about. I kept wanting to say "Wait! Wait! Who the hell are you talking about? What treachery? What disasters?" But there was no time to stop and look up the WoW lore on the website. It was time to start playing.
Naturally, less than a minute after seeing my toon appear in front of the first questgiver in Sunstrider Isle, I received an invitation to a duel. I had no idea what the hell it meant, but I knew I wasn't going to say yes to anything. The would-be duelist ignored me and began harassing the next bunch of new toons as they ported in.
It took a bit, but I slowly worked my way through the first few quests. The format was different than what I was used to, and the concept of an arcade-like push the button to attack took some getting used to. By that time, Soul's wife had appeared and she gave me some tutoring while we moved in the general direction of Silvermoon City.*
As we passed Falconwing Square, I had no idea of the size of Azeroth, and the on-screen map meant absolutely nothing to me. Neither did Silvermoon City itself, where I was introduced to the Auction House and a few other places.** But when Soul popped in as a Death Knight, I was stunned. Here I was, used to the old D&D system of L1-20ish, and here was a toon with L56! And remembering what little I understood of WoW lore, weren't we supposed to be fighting these Death Knights?
I kept my mouth shut and just let things go.
And the music.... The music was disquieting. Silvermoon City's theme was dramatic, but the background music in Eversong, that stuck with me. I had this vague feeling that all was not right, and the fact that monsters were so close by bothered me a lot as well.*** Here was this supposed big city in WoW, and yet the enemies were almost literally at the gate in what you could (charitably) describe as a time of peace. This is not what you'd expect in the D&D worlds I've campaigned in; usually you had to travel a day or so (and often longer) before finding some nasties to fight.
Truly this was a place where civilization was teetering on the edge of destruction.
After I'd logged, I still wasn't sure what to make of WoW or MMOs in general. They were... different than what I was used to. But one thing that definitely surprised me was how little I was noticed by the populace at large. This became even more apparent when I entered into Org for the first time; when I was surrounded by people who truly didn't give one whit about my toon at all. (Except those who wanted to recruit me to a guild; there were way too many of those out there.)
There was enough interest in the game to keep me going until I got my sea legs, but it was definitely not love at first sight. WoW really had a learning curve, and even though it was a slight one comparatively speaking, it was enough for someone completely uninitiated in MMOs to have second thoughts.
But in the long run, I'm glad I stuck it out. I often wonder, however, just how many people were like me but didn't keep trying until they got the game.
* I also learned all about how Priests were squishy, and the concept of a Cleric as an armor wearing and mace wielding healer from my pencil and paper RPGs met the WoW version of reality.
**Travelling to Org came on my next session, and I very nearly ended up taking a zeppelin to Stranglethorn by mistake.
***In the original Baldur's Gate, there's an early cutscene where you see an idyllic farm with a little girl going out to play, and as she wanders down the lane you see two kobolds appear behind the hedge in the foreground. It's that sort of foreboding that I got while playing WoW that first time.