What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been - Cleat's Journey into World of Warcraft
My first foray into Azeroth was with my character Taliesiin. She was a Draenei, a race of horned aliens from Argus, and she was a Hunter. I created her thinking I’d have fun taming animals and playing a crossbow wielding badass. I was wrong. I hated her. After 67 levels I could not stand to play Taliesiin anymore. I wanted so much to like her, to be the best darn hunter there ever was, but we just didn't vibe. I'd spent so many hours grinding to get her to where she was that each time I died it felt personal. It was frustrating. Sure I had my turtle pet to tank for me so I wouldn't die as quickly, and sure I had a stable full of pets, but I wanted more. I didn’t want to lose all the time and effort I’d put into leveling and start from scratch, I wasn’t an alt-o-holic yet, so I took an easier route; I made a Death Knight.
Cleatorus is an Orc Frost Death Knight who is currently sitting in Dalaran waiting for me to start leveling her in Legion. (I am so sorry, Cleat.) When I created Cleat she was a Draenei, taking names for the Alliance, and she was thoroughly badass. I mained that FDK all though Cata, Mists, and Draenor. I’ve run through Stonecore countless times with her trying for the Vitreous Stone Drake, I farmed a crazy amount of cats for the Crazy Cat Lady title, I’ve fought dragons, and pandas and Orcs—Oh my! With Cleatorus I ran my first raid, I petted our faithful Dog at our farm in Halfhill, I tore through Tempest Keep hoping to get the Ashes of Al'ar. Finding a class I enjoyed playing cemented my obsession with this digital world in which there were endless things to do.
How did I end up in Azeroth, obsessed with collecting mounts and taking names, you might ask? Why, I did it for love! I started playing World of Warcraft in college, at the behest of my then boyfriend, now husband, Michael. I was busy on the weekdays with college and my job and I wanted more time with my beau. Michael has been a Warcraft player since vanilla and he made no secret of his enjoyment of the game. I could only see him in person on the weekends and I thought, "Hey, maybe if we start playing together it will feel like actually being together". So I set aside some funds, picked up a copy of WoW and all its expansions, and got to work. I made my first toon, logged into Azeroth, and started a new life.
I was hooked. Warcraft had everything I loved about games in one vast digital universe. There are several different race and class combinations to choose from, with more being added periodically, there are titles to be earned, achievements to be gotten, mounts to be farmed, and pets to tame. In current gameplay, you can even collect pieces of armor, create, and save outfits via the transmog system. There are hidden, and not so hidden, pop culture references, treasure chests, and a tricky to find little bird named Pepe. It’s like Ariel would say, “I've got gadgets and gizmos of plenty, I've got whose-its and whats-its galore”. I could collect to my heart’s content, I could explore a vast world, I could kick ass! No game has pushed as many positive buttons for me as World of Warcraft has. And to think, I only picked the game up to sneak in a few more hours with my boyfriend.
Although that’s when my passion for Blizzard games started, it was actually my dad who first introduced the game to me. Games have always been a part of both of our lives. As a child I collected Pokémon cards like they were mana and I was a Nightfallen who would go insane without them. I was beyond excited when my dad bought us a PlayStation. He’d gotten it mainly so our family could watch DVD’s but when he went to pick it up he also purchased Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for himself. I watched him play a few times and I loved it. I wasn’t much into watching DVD’s but I would ask to play Castlevania so often that my family saved up to get me a few other games like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. If I wasn’t out trying to catch lizards in our San Diego neighborhood, or sorting Pokémon cards in our driveway, I was playing on the PlayStation. Somehow in between moving from California to Pennsylvania and the accompanying yard sales, the PlayStation, our games, and my Pokémon collection were sold and, honestly, I haven’t fully gotten over it.
My family moved to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania when I was 11. I was entering middle school. Now, I’m not sure if my collection of Pokémon cards, or my essay length blog post about my love of Word of Warcraft gives it away, but I’ve always been a nerd. In middle school in predominately white, mostly country, very conservative, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, my predominately nerdy, mostly weird, very chunky self was not a coveted friend to have. I did have a few precious friends, one of whom is my best friend to this day.
In middle school I was completely engrossed in anime culture. Outside of Pokémon, which I was playing on a little red Gameboy Advance SP, I wasn’t really playing games anymore. I was too busy avoiding people from school. I created an account on an anime forum, I started RPing, I ‘dated’ someone I met online. I got into Photoshop and started creating avatars, signatures, banners and sidebars for people and even ‘designed’ some fan forum pages for people I’d met online. Yeah, you could say I was Cool Online. The day came, as they do when your father is in the Navy, that my family had to move again. Teary goodbyes were had, belongings were sold or packed, and we headed south to Chesapeake, Virginia, where my love of video games would blossom once again.
In Chesapeake I started high school and went through a brief stint as a goth in some very roomy pants, a drama kid on stage, and ultimately a mall rat lurking around the food court. While perusing the local mall, Greenbrier, memories of my childhood love of games pulled me towards the arcade. There I would meet the group of friends who would become my Nerd Group. I hung around so much that I befriended the arcade employees, arcade regulars, and some of the non-game playing mall rats who would stop by to chat with the arcade crowd. I met my first serious boyfriend at the arcade. I befriended a group of dedicated rhythm game players and after spending hours talking them and watching them play I became interested in playing rhythm games.
I took up trying to learn the popular rhythm game Dance Dance Revolution. I got pretty darn okay at it, if I might say so myself. We had an old Xbox that my Grandparents had given us for watching DVDs and I got a copy of DDR and a plastic mat to practice at home. I also picked up Marvel VS Capcom 2, Street Fighter, and Gears of War. I upgraded out of my SP into a pink Nintendo DS Lite (which became a red 3DS and now is a blue 3DS XL) which I took in my purse to the arcade so I could play Pokemon while waiting my turn for DDR. I had songs I knew all the steps to, I had a strong MvC team (storm, sentinel, cyclops, in case you were wondering), I knew the combo for my favorite finisher in Street Fighter, I delighted in chainsawing monsters in half in Gears of War. I would go to school, go to work, and go to the arcade when I wasn't at either. What started as a background interest from my childhood became my primary form of social interaction and escape. Escape from a shitty relationship, a stormy family dynamic, school, and my depression. I was fully invested in the friends, and the relationship, I’d made through the arcade.
After a messy, emotional, not very good breakup, I stayed home and spent the majority of my time playing games. It was during this period of my life that my dad bought World of Warcraft for me. He had played games, the Half Life series, Castlevania, and Baulder’s Gate, and while we had never played together he saw that his teenage daughter was sad and hoped to cheer her up, distract her, and hopefully create a family bond through this common interest. It didn’t end up going anywhere. I didn't enter Azeroth that day. We had difficulties installing the game and we gave up trying to get it to work. I was disappointed; I had wanted to play this new game with its multiple classes, races, and genders, I had been intrigued. My dad doesn't play many games these days, and he isn't interested in joining me in World of Warcraft anymore, but I owe him a thank you for cultivating my love of games and planting the seed of wonder towards World of Warcraft. Each friend I spoke to, each new person I met, who played or had played Warcraft only served to nourish that seed. Until, on one warm early fall evening I asked Michael, “What would you think if I started playing WoW with you?” the seed bloomed into a Heartblossom.