Now by this blog post title I don’t mean griefing players in game. I’ve never done that. I’m not really sure I understand what it means to be honest but I think it’s something to do with level 70s ganging up on low levels and repeatedly sending them to the spirit healer – highly amusing and unfailingly entertaining to some people it seems (move along – no bitterness here).
No I mean grief. Proper grief. As in being very very upset at the loss of something or someone in game.
Now I can already imagine some of you bitterly recalling that loot roll you lost, the one that has cost you a fortune in therapy fees over the years. Sorry. Didn’t mean to bring it all back. PLSD. Post Looting Stress Disorder. There needs to be a support group for it. I don’t mean that. I mean when you lose something in game and it touches you somewhere deep, hidden, somewhere where you are really vulnerable and maybe it makes you cry.
I only ask because it just occurred to me I’ve never cried in WoW. “So what?” some of you might ask. But that’s odd for me. I cry. I cry at TV shows, films, news interviews, adverts, prices, bills and stuff my dog did to my Valentines Day card (messy). Everything. But I’ve never cried at anything that’s happened in WoW.
Now I don’t expect real emotional connection from most computer games. Or at least not sentimental emotion. Yes I’ve been terrified in games (Resident Evil 2- running past those boarded windows where you know the zombies are going to come bursting in always without fail terrified me and I always always screamed when the arms came through). Running in the mist in Silent Hill was not pleasant- not pleasant at all. Excitement has been felt in games galore. Passing my B licence (or was it A- whichever was the easiest) in Gran Turismo (the only thing I ever achieved in that game). Capturing my creature in Black & White (the only thing I ever achieved in that game). Conquering the entire known world in Civilisation (who needs to achieve anything else in any game …awesome). They’ve all been exciting and sometimes scary experiences that are in a sense emotional- but not sentimental emotional moments in the truest sense of the word. Not a sadness. This got me thinking – has there been any of that in any game? And if so why isn’t there any of it in WoW (for me anyway)?
Ok- so games that made me sad. To be a tad flippant for a moment- the entire catalogue of C16 games when I was a child made me sad. I’d look forlornly at the empty shelf and then glance at the Speccy shelves and the C64 shelves and curse forever that bloody salesman who told my mother the C16 was going to be the greatest thing in gaming. Yes tears were cried there. I also cried after watching Wargames and then discovering it was impossible to buy a modem in the UK and I couldn’t tap into the school network. He made it look so easy.
But what games have made me weep?
There are some I must admit. I feel sad again bringing them to mind. There was a moment when I played Creatures and my poor little cute Creature got trapped by this horrible thuggish one. I couldn’t seem to help him escape. And he turned to look at me through the monitor with huge beseeching eyes. As his God and protector I felt I had failed him. I couldn’t help him. The manual was useless. He looked so scared and I was upset. But the real big one for me is The Sims 1 & 2. I loved the Sims and I truly cared about my characters. In the first game I was genuinely shocked when Buffy (always my heroine), married to Paul (my favourite male name apart from my husband’s) got bitten by her hamster and died. The grief Paul felt at her sudden death upset me. I immediately reacted in the only way I could think of. I restarted the game without saving and brought her back to life. If only we could do that in real life. The hamster found himself immediately sold (i.e. deleted). She never knew what I’d done for her but like a kindly god I continued to protect her and Paul as best I could to ensure they came to no further harm. They were my chosen ones. That was until a lightning storm in real life blew my computer and I lost my hard drive. Bye bye Buffy and Paul. At least you were saved the indignity of death by hamster bite.
The worst was The Sims 2 though. I started two characters very closely modelled on my husband and I. I’m sad like that. I like to escape real life by creating an identical virtual one – down to my very last neurosis. I loved playing them and was looking forward to them achieving great things in their life. My Sim self became pregnant- something (to get a little personal here) I would love very much to happen in real life but it hasn’t …yet. She gave birth to a son I called…you guessed it…Paul. He was a little terror because I was a rubbish player and struggled with two Sims and a baby. I didn’t get things like a high chair and so the whole house was littered with green milk bottles (in fact there’s probably a reason why I haven’t had a child in real life yet). But they were my little virtual family. Me and and my husband and our baby. And I loved them. But then Sims me and hubby got old. I hadn’t read anything about the elixir of life at this stage. I only knew that the Sims 2 brought aging. I was sad when they changed appearance. I did not like the fact my Sim self’s face had changed. Husband Sim looked distinguished. If a little stooped. But there was nothing I could do about it I thought. So I pressed on. I knew the end was coming but I didn’t know how or when. It changed my play style. I started taking more photos of the little family. I took them out more. I didn’t even know I was doing it but I was trying to preserve something. One day I sent them all to the swimming pool. They spent some time swimming, complaining they wanted food, desperate for the toilet, antagonising some of the fellow swimmers and then begging angrily to go home and sleep. This game is so much like my real life I thought, as I looked on affectionately. I took them home and they did everything they needed to raise their little green bars – hours of plaintive guitar playing for creative little Paul who was a teenager by then. But just as they all seemed to be relaxing so the Grim Reaper turned up for my Sim self. I – the player- was shocked. My Sim self seemed strangely ok with it. I hadn’t been expecting it that day. I guess no one does. And she died without achieving her lifetime aspiration which was really sad (becoming a super criminal or something). I hadn’t realised on her death a little message would come up lightly rebuking me for her not achieving that. I felt like I’d failed her. If there is a God does he feel that when we die unfulfilled? Does he feel responsible? So there was just the two guys left. They muddled along like men do. I watched on from afar- both their God creator and their recently deceased wife and mother. They had one little moment I’ll never forget . Once -all of a sudden – they started dancing together. Old man and teenage boy bopping around the living room. I took the photo. I know all about the Sims game mechanics. I know why they were really doing that. But at some level that doesn’t matter to me. Their moment of closeness and happiness coming after the death of their wife and mother just seemed so very real, so very touching. Does that make me a sentimental fool? I still think of it as one of the sweetest things I have ever seen. Then it was Paul’s birthday. I got him a cake and placed it on the counter. I was just about to send Paul over to blow out the candles and age and celebrate and enjoy the moment with his Dad when…yes…the Grim Reaper appeared again. “No!” I remember yelling at the screen. My real life husband came over to me. I was horrified. He put his arms around me as my Sim husband died. And Paul. He wept as they all do when their loved ones die, as we all do. Then he aged – and I guess that’s true too. And then- and again this was one of the most profound, apt and moving things I’ve ever seen- he walked over to his birthday cake and threw it in the bin. The party was over. I remember staring aghast at the screen. Then I started to cry. To really cry. My husband held me as I sobbed. I knew I was being ridiculous. I know I’m being ridiculous now as I get all teary eyed again thinking about them. But it made me sad and it still does. I have created many more versions of that family in the game since (and in another post I’ll tell you more about what happened to this Paul after these deaths- he had quite an exciting life- married Buffy as my Paul always does). But these two will always be my real Sim versions of me and my husband and their deaths and Paul’s loss moved me greatly.
(As a footnote to the story I did bury them both in the garden and darkly enjoyed them for a while as ghosts but I in particular turned out to me a very mean ghost. Once when Paul’s then girlfriend Buffy was visiting I leapt out, terrified her and made her die of a heart attack. I was a little shocked my ghost self was such a possessive mother but it’s not entirely unexpected. As I always do for Buffy (and as they did at the start of Season 6) I reset the game. Hamsters and ghosts cannot defeat the vampire slayer, and cannot kill the devoted wife to the saintly Paul. Like the film Poltergeist I then moved Paul and Buffy to another house so the spirits of his dead parents could live in peace.)
So that’s my game grief story. But I haven’t got a WoW one. Yet hours-wise I’ve spent just as much- if not more- on my WoW characters. Why isn’t there this same connection? Would it be there if I roleplayed? Bravetank is on a roleplaying server but has yet to do anything other than watch some other people role playing on the steps of the cathedral and stress about the fact she was running when she moved away – not walking as you’re meant to do. Or is it because there’s no perma death. Totally understand why there isn’t. I have played MUDS with perma deaths and it was a disheartening affair. I’ve also played MUDS with very harsh experience death penalties – and that too was pretty hard going. But I don’t think it’s just that no death in Wow is final. Even in the Sims it now doesn’t have to be. You can be a scientist and build a resurrection machine. You can get enough elixirs of life to keep them going forever. In the Sims 3 you can slow down the aging experience completely. You can always restart without saving. But that game still emotionally connects me in a way that WoW doesn’t.
When I really think about it I think it’s the mundanity of the Sims (alien abductions and pregnant males aside – yes Paul did that too) that draws us in. It echoes real life so closely that it generates real feelings – in me anyway. The fantasy hack and slash of WoW and the easy resurrections distance us from any sense this is real, any sense this can change us. In-game chat furthers that distance. WoW news and endless patches continue this. It is an immersive game, but it remains a game, for me anyway. I don’t have the stories about my WoW characters that I do of my Sims. I don’t get the sense of family and history. There is no family. Their histories tend to be ones of repeated mob killings and quest rewards. On and on. And that isn’t a criticism of the game – it’s a good thing. Because I go on WoW to have fun and escape the stresses of life. I don’t want to go on and see myself change, age, grow old & die. I have the mirror and the passing of time for that.