Who am I?

Who we are in the personal sense doesn’t really matter, or at least it shouldn’t, to a larger audience. What matters is who we are intellectually, because, within the virtual space of the internet, we’re nothing but a floating conscience. In that sense, I’m a gamer whose discontent with games and gaming culture grows alongside his curiosity and love for the medium.

I’ve been gaming for more than twenty years. Never will I forget the low piano keys and ghastly violins that Matt Uelmen used to embed the first Diablo games with a vibe of calm but ominous darkness. The sound of magical potions flipping through the air. The dark and mysterious murmur of the Fallen and their shamans. The growl of the undead.

I must have been nine or ten years old the first time I played David Brevik‘s terrible yet fascinating masterpiece and still can’t forget the night I walked home enthralled by the call of mysteries awaiting in the dark, within a gaming world that was to me more real and exciting than anything before.

Needless to say, I had played something before that. If I remember correctly, I had my cousin’s old Nintendo, but it didn’t matter, because those little childish games and their Italian plumbers lost importance and I was now waging war against the demonic hordes of the Lord of Terror with my champion, the paladin “zealer” named “Wars”, whom I reached Hell with, a few months later.

Life was strange back then, and scanty and unfair: I had to wait in a line, from early morning to late afternoon, for the local PC gaming club “Space” to open. The place was so dreadful it soon earned the nickname “The Misery”. And miserable it was: there were only four computers, three of which were working properly, none of which had an internet connection, and one was always occupied by the boss. Without an internet connection, thus without Battlenet, the clients played singleplayer and on Lan, which is when you connect multiple computers through a cable, and had to remember on which PC they had played last in order to download their characters from its hard drive, before resuming the pursuit of the Wanderer. When night fell, the boss, his girlfriend and a select few amongst the clientele remained drinking and gaming, while the rest of us were thrown outside, with the taste of sweet video games lingering in our minds.

Nevertheless, “The Misery” was my Obi-Wan Kenobi, my only hope, without which I wouldn’t have been able to tap into the digital wonders of Diablo. Back in the time, people in Eastern Europe were too poor to be able to buy a home computer and I was in no way any different. Thus I stayed and soon my interests expanded: I did building and busyness with games such as Roller Coaster Tycoon and Simcity; I jumped, juked, blew, flew, mangled, sawed, shot, burned, gassed and lasered people in Half-Life and Quake; I learned preemptively the atrocities of family life with The Sims; I dwelt into fantasy realms with Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Knights and, last but surely not least, relished the sweet taste of victory playing Starcraft and Heroes of Might and Magic.

The truth is that I was born in a hospital somewhere somewhen, but I became myself in “The Misery”, with a keyboard under my fingers and a mouse in my hand.

Times changed, other clubs opened and closed and, as my homeland was sampling the lavish fruits of capitalism, I had my first home PC. Needless to say that social life and school became a pure waste of time, nothing but a nuisance, and although I had other interests, that are not pertinent to this article.

It was around 2004 that I first encountered Kreia, seemingly rising from the dead, in the morgue of the Peragus Mining Facility. Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords changed my perception of games drastically. Its predecessor was an average game, narrating the story of an amnesiac protagonist, enamored in a lovely female Jedi, trained at the academy, fighting a sith lord with an evil laugh and an iron mask, who discovers, in a totally unexpected plot twist, his or her dark past. The sequel, left in the hands of Obsidian Entertainment, masters of the RPG, was nothing short of an introduction to the world of philosophy, mainly but not solely, conveyed through the main companion of the protagonist, Kreia: a hooded, elderly woman with a cryptic past, sophisticated vocabulary, questionable morality and an impeccable British pronunciation. Kreia deserves an article of her own, which she shall get, but the reader is best left with a citation. When asked indirectly about the nature of the Force, she responds that it is like “…a cloud, a mist that drifts from living creature to creature, set in motion by currents and eddies. It is the eye of the storm, the passion of all living things turned into energy, into a chorus. It is the rising swell at the end of life, the promise of new territories and new blood, the call of new mysteries in the dark”. Games are not art, but they can be just as elegant and cultured.

My thirst for games was unquenching, but I always thought about their future. A frequent thought of mine was that games should’ve leveraged the power of the internet to create persistent worlds, full of players, interacting with each other on a massive scale. Little did I know that games of this kind existed in the likes of  Meridian 59, Asheron’s Call, Everquest, Runescape, Dark Age of Camelot, and of course Ultima Online. Ironically, the idea in my head had already become reality elsewhere and had a name: MMORPG. These first, relatively niche MMORPGs were not tainted by the coarse massification of later titles.

When I played World of Warcraft, in 2005, I was, for the second time, madly in love. Sleepless nights and unending days passed before I could play it because there was a subscription fee in addition to the retail price. I played on semi-legal private servers. These realms, unlike the modern private server scene, were filled with bugs and glitches, poorly scripted, often pay-to-win and extremely laggy. I still remember having a hunter on a server where pets and traps didn’t work and the latency was, at best, around 600ms. When I finally bought the real thing my sole desire was to live in a cave, with a pc and an internet connection, away from the vulgar, organic, mortal sacks of flesh, known as family and friends, so keen to disturb my existence in Azeroth.

I played Daiana, a night elf huntress, engrossed in finding groups for the Deadmines and the Scarlet Monastery, venturing forth into an unknown world, at a time in which gaming sites and blogs, online guides and Youtube were not the landmarks of the gaming community they are today. Thus the world of Azeroth seemed full of perils and endless possibilities.

Two expansions came. I played them both. WoW had given us so much, but it was ready to take away everything and more. Wrath of the Lich King had already made the game more “accessible”, which stands for easier, a herald for the horrors that were to come. The oversimplification of the franchise became rampant, especially after Activision acquired Blizzard Entertainment, and hasn’t slowed down until this very day. As many, I lost interest in the game. A curious fact is that, although the vulgarization of the game drove away many subscribers, today’s WoW makes much more money than the previous, because Blizzard has employed more aggressive monetization tactics to milk their gullible player base.

World of Warcraft’s incredible monetary success made the Themepark MMORPG model so popular that gaming investors are not willing to invest in other kinds of MMO projects. Today the big sandbox MMOs I so long for are mainly crowdfunded and have excruciatingly long development cycles.

In the aftermath of my disillusion with World of Warcraft, I have played a rather large number of games. Amongst the singleplayer titles, some of the most notable are the Thief series, every game made by Obsidian Entertainment and a handful of indie titles. I have enjoyed very much competitive online gaming, playing Starcraft 2 and League of Legends and have been following with great interest the World of Warcraft private emulation scene.

Why do I game?

With a gaming community more gullible and childish than ever, seemingly ready to fall for every single shamelessly obvious cash grab, obsessed with semi-automated, oversimplified, over monetized products, it’s quite easy to lose all hope and retract from gaming for good. But I keep in mind that for every Warlords of Draenor there is a Nostalrius, for every Batman “game” there is a Pillars of Eternity, for every Call of Duty an Arma, for every Tomb RaiderDark Souls, for every Clash of ClansStarcraft, for every Star Wars: Battlefront II Kingdom Come: Deliverance, for every mobile abomination a League of Legends, for every Diablo III a Path of Exile, for every laughable, dull, clunky, poorly optimized mess of a game a Warframe, for every fast, immediate, obvious experience, modelled for the man-child of today, a Dota II, for every Leah a Deckard Cain, for every Mario and every Luigi a Kreia, for every Pewdiepie Joseph Anderson.

I game because I remember every single hardcore character in Diablo II and Path of Exile that I have lost forever and I remember every time that my healer has left the party halfway through Gnomeregan in Classic WoW. I remember the bitter and the sweet. I have not survived “The Misery” just to give up now.

With developers such as Citadel Studios and their Legends of Aria, Portalarium and their Shroud of the Avatar, Bossa Studios and their Worlds Adrift, and with the love and passion surrounding many other projects, big and small, such as Ashes of CreationDual Universe, and Chronicles of Elyria a new world of gaming is expecting us.

Games are amazing, marvelous and exciting amalgamations of technology and creativity and one can explain why they game as much as they can explain why they read good books or listen to beautiful music.

I game because I can choose. Can you?