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And indeed, the summer after I abandoned WoW, I learned much more subtle pleasures. I took a basic Spanish class. I purchased a book on drawing. I woke up at 5 a.m. and ran through Central Park. But still, I felt like I had left something behind, something old and essential, that went back long before I started playing WoW.
I was born into a big family with four brothers, and it is no stretch to say many of my great memories are virtual. We were all very different, some of us bookish, some of us athletic. When I was seven, my father brought home a used Commodore 64, and it almost immediately became a bonding point for my brothers and me. Our contests were no longer as simple as who had the best natural jump-shot, or an innate feel for chess; video games featured all sorts of contests, and thus became a lingua franca for us all.
But while some of my fondest memories are based around video games, it's the people involved that I remember the most. Even with WoW, my best times were spent playing with my younger brother. We lived five hours apart, and saw each other only a few times a year. But when we were online, it was almost as if we were sitting in the same bar, presiding over the same pitcher.
What I came to understand was that WoW was not necessarily an escape, but a surrogate for a community that is harder and harder to find in the real world. I lived further from my parents and siblings than my parents had. I wasn't raised in the church. In my 20s, I built a shocking amount of community around illicit substances and bars. But with age and a child, that was no longer as attractive or even possible. Into that void, I brought WoW, which instantly connected me with the worldnot just mine, but others I could never have imagined or found on my own.
It may not shock you to learn that by September of last year, I had returned to WoW. I missed the orcs, the swords and the small hamlets of make-believe. But more than that, I missed my guild, Gnomeland Security, a loose cross-section of military guys, history majors, high school students, writers and singers. They were the place where everyone knew my nameeven if they didn't.