It was a cold and dark winter night. Struck with boredom, I collapsed down onto the sofa in our family room and turned on the television. A couple of weeks into winter break during my first year of high school was turning out to be a bust. Aside from some outings with friends, I found myself in absence of motivation and direction. A commercial came on in between shows. Little did I know that this commercial would change my life for years to come.
A fifteen day free trial for World of Warcraft.
Those who've indulged themselves with World of Warcraft will have memories flash back upon reading this - nostalgia. For those unfamiliar with World of Warcraft, it's an online video game.
When I saw this promotion for World of Warcraft, I knew absolutely nothing about it. All the circumstances were right though. I grabbed my 2007 MacBook and went to the website, downloaded the game, and within minutes was loading the game that enticed me only moments earlier. Technology and the spread of information is an incredible phenomenon.
I gave World of Warcraft a shot. It took some patience. I almost quit a few times. I was young and inpatient, but I stuck with it for about a week. Then it happened. I started to see the big picture. I did not consult Google. I just played the game. I explored. I saw lots of alluring things. It was the beginning of a lifestyle that ended up leading to lots of good and bad in my life. That is what this post is about. Heed my call, video games are amazing - possibly too amazing.
When I was growing up, my father was into electronics. I've got memories of printed circuit boards laying arounds on desks. All sorts of doodads and gizmos that I had little understanding of as a child. Consider this quote by Arthur C. Clarke:
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
I was mesmerized by electronics. Perhaps the most alluring was an original Nintendo Entertainment System that my father owned.
From an early age I had the opportunity to play video games on this console. It was a blast. I remember waking up early in the morning, going into our office where it was hooked up to a small television, and playing it until the sun rose. It was the first exposure I had to video games.
At this point in my life, I had two intertwined interests - electronics and video games.
One year during middle school my brother and I got a Nintendo GameCube for Christmas. It was the first time that I experienced 3D in a video game. There was a new controller, and games came on discs instead of cartridges.
This new toy, while captivating, had negligible effects on the actual amount of time I spent in front of the television. For some reason - perhaps it was because I was young and had no responsibility - it seemed like my days were spent doing a healthy variety of things. I went to school, I played outside with friends in the evening, I spent time with family, and whatever time I had leftover I would occasionally use for playing video games. It seemed like a good balance. This is all in retrospect of course, as a kid I never made these considerations. When high school hit, everything changed.
It began. High school, and an unprecedented passion for something - a game. World of Warcraft (WoW) defined most of my leisure time during high school. There are two types of people in this world. Those who have played and enjoyed WoW for some amount of time, and those who have not played it or disliked it. People in the former group all share a common form of nostalgia. It's a feeling that is difficult to convey in words. Wonder, exploration, excitement, teamwork, rarity, and glory all combined.
My devotion to this game had some significant consequences on other aspects of life. Some good and some bad.
WoW, like many other video games, is designed to be complex. To enjoy it requires lots of skills that carry over into real life. Some examples include planning, resource management, collaborating with others, patience, and creativity. The more that one can demonstrate these skills, the more successful they'll be playing this game.
When I first started playing WoW, I lacked many of these skills. It quickly became apparent that I needed to gain some of them if I wanted to enjoy my experience with the game. I learned the skills - some within days, others over years. These skills stuck with me. I still use them in day-to-day life.
It also turns out that WoW is what sparked my interest in programming. The game supported community-developed software modules (called addons) that enhanced certain parts of gameplay. I always used addons and wanted to make one of my own. I never ended up actually making one, but it unquestionably led me to pursue a degree a computer science.
There are a couple of downsides to devoting so much time and energy into a video game. The most notable for me was forfeiting physical fitness. Not physical health. I was healthy, but lacked fitness. Good posture eluded me, and still does today to some extent. This is something not too difficult to fix at my current age. It just requires good ergonomics when in front of a computer, restricting the time spent in front of a computer, and routine exercising.
Another downside that I came to peace with after the fact was foregoing other activities at a young age. Simply put, if most of my free time is spent playing WoW, then I forego the opportunity to experience other things. While true, I realized that the same could be said for any other activity. Perhaps a better balance could be struck - pursuing numerous interests at once instead of becoming deeply rooted in one. But at the time, I enjoyed the mastery. I liked having just one thing to focus on. It is something to be weary of, but may not apply to everyone.
World of Warcraft lasted only throughout high school for me. During that time, I put somewhere in the neighborhood of four-thousand hours into the game (this is an upper estimate due to passive time not playing, but having the game running in the background). I had the privilege of utilizing the game for schoolwork. My best friend and I put countless hours into producing movies for math classes with the game. It was a significant part of my life.
College & The Pinnacle
During college I was gifted a video game called Guild Wars 2 by one of my best friends. This game is quite similar to WoW and I put a fair bit of time into it as well, but much more responsibly.
I took college seriously. I maintained high grades and graduated with an awesome degree in computer science. Throughout college, Guild Wars 2 provided countless memories. It ended up becoming my all-time favorite video game.
After college, things changed in a big way.
An Aside - Addiction & Video Games
Some people are under the belief that video games are addictive. These people are mistaken. They confuse addition and lifestyle. People like myself who've spent significant portions of time playing video games have done so because they've taken on the lifestyle. A lifestyle can be replaced by another. Most of us experience many different lifestyles throughout our lives.
Something Ends, Something Begins
After graduating college, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona to work for the man. It was incredibly exciting and a change that I most definitely needed in my life. A little after a year in Phoenix, I met the love of my life.
These two non-trivial events caused lifestyle shifts. They were successful because I embraced the change. I wanted it. I saw that there was more to life. That statement can be misinterpreted. I don't look back on video games with abhorrence. I look back on them with a smile on my face. Present me would give past me a high-five if that was possible. I'm proud of my history with video games. They taught me so many critical life skills indirectly.
What I know now though is that I've gained all I can from them. Realization of this fact coinciding with my lifestyle changes was a stroke of luck.
What Tomorrow Brings
As of late, my time with video games has been incredibly minimal. At most, I put a couple of hours a month into Guild Wars 2. It allows me to keep the memories alive while allocating the rest of my time to other endeavors. I've got a few pieces of art to commemorate this part of my life. I'll always have a little something to remind me of it.
With that said, my priorities are now centered on experiencing the other pleasures that life has to offer. For those who have not experienced video games, try them out. They are fun, there is a lot of hidden knowledge in them. Just don't overdo it.
Time is fleeting, but memories are timeless. Make the most of your time.