This week an academic study came out that said that 12 per cent of online game players displayed symptoms common with more familiar kinds of addiction: cravings, withdrawal symptoms, neglect of other activities and other physical and psychological problems. Dear God, I thought, what exactly have I let myself in for?
I can't say that I'm experiencing withdrawal symptoms after two weeks of fairly casual World of Warcraft play (a couple of hours a night, tops. Honest, doctor), but 'neglect of other activities' made me rather worried. Last night my girlfriend got hold of an extra ticket to Wicked, the new musical. "I, er, I'm going out tomorrow night, I'd like to stay in and, er, get an early night," was my pathetic effort at hiding my spiralling dependency on WoW.
A jolly West End extravaganza, or trying out my new Bear-transformation power? Not. Even. Close. Sorry sweetheart, Oz has got nothing on Azeroth.
What's pushing me forward in my engrossment in WoW is not the formal structure of the game -- get quest, kill monsters, find MacGuffin, return, get experience, level up -- but the beauty of the world itself. It's lovely, and atmospheric, and absolutely, jaw-droppingly vast. It takes about 10 minutes or so to walk across Teldrassil, the Night Elves' island starting area. Then you move to the Kalimdor mainland, a continent with 17 regions of roughly this size. And then there's another continent. It's so big it has its own version of Google Maps.
To keep you busy while you're travelling across this massive landscape, you have two professions you can learn and improve at. My druid, Kilgallon, has Skinning and Leatherworking, so he can skin beasts he kills and then turn their hides into leather armour to wear or sell. The more he skins and tans, the more complicated pieces he can create. He's also learned cooking, so he can start a campfire, cook the meat of animals he's killed and eat (to regain health) or sell these gourmet charred haunches. Again, the more raw meat he cooks, the better the recipes he can attempt, which he can learn from other cooks. It sounds mundane, and it is, but it somehow imbues the world with a depth and -- dare I say it? -- reality that is utterly compelling.
Right, that's enough typing, I'm off to level up my fishing. Then I have to find a ghost. Then... -Nick Hide
Level: 12. Location: Darkshore. Best new thing: My big-ass Bear form.
Update: Part three of Diary of a Warcrack addict is now live.