Two years ago, I logged onto World of Warcraft for the first time. Until then, I’d never properly played an online game – and had barely scratched the surface of gaming, period.
Growing up as a girl in rural America, I had an uneducated view of what a gamer was – informed entirely by the handful of people I knew who played. A gamer was always a he, and was probably someone who was an anti-social, uninterested nerd. I never owned a console, or played games with my friends, or asked for a Game Boy at Christmas. Video games and I didn’t have a relationship, and they didn’t exactly compete with Barbie’s Dream House (it had a working elevator, alright?).
In other words, I was a noob.
That’s not to say I came into gaming totally cold. I mean, I played some games. Zoo Tycoon. The Sims. The Nancy Drew PC series (specifically The Haunted Carousel, if you’re wondering – and yes, I did look up hints to solve the mystery). I briefly had a Neopets account. I knew a girl at school who got in trouble for playing Runescape. I’d watched my uncle play Myst.
Games were in the periphery of my life. (Mostly) bad games. But games nonetheless. Even so, the first time I logged into an MMO felt overwhelming. I had put off creating an account for months, and when I was finally worn down and convinced to play, I felt nervous – not just because I had no idea what I was doing, but because I was afraid of being judged. I knew enough to know that being a noob wasn’t a good thing. But with the first strike of my bow into a boar on the fringes of Elwynn Forest, I was hooked on online gaming. And there’s been a learning curve ever since.
1. Sometimes, it's better solo.
My partner has played WoW – and just about everything else – for years. He’s a veteran gamer with more ‘/played’ time than he cares to admit. So it would have been tempting to have him escort me through my levelling, keeping all the scary Horde away (For the Alliance!). But instead, I played solo. And if I hadn’t, I’m not sure I’d still be playing. Going it alone meant I was forced to build up my confidence, learn the story and come to grips with controls without relying on someone else. We’re able to play new MMOs together now, but if I hadn’t learned the hard way at first, I don’t think I’d play as active a role as I now can (even if I do still occasionally scream in the presence of scary Horde).
2. Always play a class you love .
Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV, Lord of the Rings Online, ArcheAge… No matter which MMO I’m playing, I always start out as a hunter, archer or ranger, and it all goes back to my first character in WoW. Yeah, I get it, human hunters are boring. But as someone who didn’t know anything about the game, I just wanted the class who got to play with a cute pet. My opinions on that matter haven’t really changed – I mean, who doesn’t want a bumbling bear who’s willing to take a digital bullet following them around? But I’ve also found that I really like playing ranged DPS classes – so no matter how many times I’m unnecessarily called a ‘huntard,' I’m going to stick to my bow and arrows. Playing other classes doesn’t work for me, and if I’m not enjoying myself, there’s no point playing.
3. Dungeon anxiety is real…
Maybe it says something about my personality that I’m so caught up with what other players think of my gaming abilities. I was not excited about running my first dungeon: all I could think about was how I was going to screw up, let the whole side down, and become a human hunter pariah. And to be honest, I still feel this way every time I run a dungeon, even when I’m outlevelled and won’t find it a challenge. Maybe it’s the word ‘dungeon’? Let’s be real, it doesn’t exactly sound like you’re going to have a good time.
4. …Time is not.
You log in, kill a few mobs, hand in a few quests, maybe plant a few trees or gather some berries. And then bam, you’re four hours in, dehydrated and unsure of how you’ve got to this point. Time is an abstract concept, and free time no longer exists. There is only game. Nothing but game. (But seriously, what did I do before gaming? Browse the web?)
5. It's really not about the destination.
…and I realise how cliched that sounds. But no matter how tedious questing can be (I can't even talk to you about ArcheAge defender quests), it's my favourite part of online gaming. It's the meat and potatoes. It's the chance to explore. The wind in your hair. The... you get it. Patience is not a virtue to which I'm naturally inclined, but online games have taught me just how sweet it can be. Grinding through to level cap is a huge sense of achievement – and all the little bits you pick up along the way are what makes online gaming golden. And let's be honest, I'm still a noob. I have a lot more exploring to do.