Friday, December 5, 2008

Et in Silverpine Ego

Once in a while, driving through town, I see something that gives my heart a tug, something that makes me a little homesick.

This is an unlikely concept since I've moved all over the country and never stayed long enough in any one place to consider it my hometown.  Currently I'm based in Minneapolis and have been here for twelve years, besting my previous record by seven years.  This should be "home" for me.

But once in a while I see a fiery bush with tiny, bright red berries, or a tall, slender coniferous tree in dark green and my heart whispers, Silverpine...

While this may be lost of most people, I hope a couple of you winced in sympathetic embarrassment for me.

Where is this place, I'm imposing asking upon you?  Silverpine Forest lies south-southwest of Brill and the castle Lordaeron, beneath which is the necropolis Undercity, home to thousands of my fellow Forsaken.

It's a territory in World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game with over 12 million subscribers around the world.  Yes, it's that awesome, and yes, I'm that much of a geek for missing it.

I can't help it!  I spent a lot of time there.  It started when I finished training my warrior in Deathknell and went to Brill to continue.  I ran into a female mage who needed help with some quests: I could take the damage while she unleashed the firepower.  We worked well together and progressed rapidly as a team.

In the course of these quests we had long, usually drunken conversations and became close friends.  I even visited her during a trip to California and it was strange to finally meet someone I'd known so well for so long, but it was also natural.  It was just another channel of communication: we'd hung out in the game and we'd chatted over GTalk (during a murloc swarm, it's much easier to talk (or scream) at your combat buddy than it is to attempt typing while panicked and drunk), so sitting across the table from her wasn't that much of a stretch--though our conversation did tend to run straight back to the game, time and time again.

After we'd cleared everything there was to do in Brill we ran down to Silverpine Forest for a new brace of challenges.  We spent a lot of time there, fighting off grizzled bears and mottled worgs in the Ivar Patch, fending off the maniacal and mindless undead (not like us, of course) in the Dead Field, fighting our way down to the Sepulcher where at last we could recoup and repair.  We planned our next missions, we prioritized our personal goals, or we just hung out in the graveyard and chatted some more.  Those were good times.

It was the company as much as the setting that attracted me.  I loved rambling over the crags and tors, racing through the underbrush, fighting the assorted moonrages on North Tide's Run.   During quiet moments my companion would forage for herbs and I'd mine copper or tin for my blacksmithing hobby.  The foliage was lush and dark like a gothic Victorian Christmas.  Run in this direction and you're deep in the woods; run in that direction and the fields spread open; run too far and you're in Pyrewood Village, a seriously bad time unless you've got a lot of friends.  I loved the architecture of the buildings and the feeling of pioneering as we Forsaken scratched and clawed out tiny glades of respite in a world where the chips were stacked against us.

I have no such affection for Hillsbrad, where the treacherous, honorless Alliance relentlessly assaulted players far, far below their level.  The Arathi Highlands just seem flavorless.  There are some monsters there, and Horde goes here and Alliance goes there, and then some stuff happens.

After a year of friendship and travel, my mage friend and I rode back into Brill for some reason.  It's a useful training ground with decent facilities, and it's right outside Undercity as I mentioned, but there's no real call for high-level types to hang out there.  Usually they're running between Undercity and the zeppelin portal, but one day we rode into Brill and paused.

I asked, "Does this feel like... a homecoming, somehow?"

She replied, "Yeah, it does.  I know what you mean."

I'm glad I wasn't alone in this.  We discussed what it meant to be homesick for a video game, how weird that was.  But it's all the same to the psyche, I've read, whether you read about an experience or study drawings or blow weeks and months within a gorgeous MMO like we did.  Other video games easily induce vertigo, even though you know you're sitting on a couch in your living room.  A friend told me about a WWII game he was playing and during a sadistic streak he knocked a civilian down and started kicking her.

"Why are you doing this?" the computer-generated automaton cried.  "Please, I'm sorry, just stop hurting me!"  It was the addition of this recorded speech that unnerved my friend and made him promptly desist and suddenly extend his empathy to other characters in the game.  Usually you can do whatever you want to a crowd and they'll yell and run, and you accept it as token gestures.  But this one character reached out to him and expressed confusion and fear, and that made all the difference to him.

So it's not weird to feel tense when scaling the side of a virtual mountain, gazing down at the virtual rocks below.  It's not weird, after flying around the world on sundry quests, to return to your original training grounds and experience a measure of nostalgia.

Despite, I don't know how much sympathy I could garner from my real-life friends when, in driving around town, I see a dark, dilapidated home surrounded by arching pines and express a desire to return to Silverpine.

Silverpine, where my heart belongs. 

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