I'm probably the only person in the world who aggressively dislikes Diablo II. That's not to say it's a bad game; far from it. I even beat it twice. The story was better than most you'll find in a videogame, as was the music - and the atmosphere was dark and brooding, just how I like it. But I still hate it. And I hate it because it didn't change my life in any discernable way.
Let's return to the spring of 1997. I was in eighth grade, and just getting my gamer wings. Some friends turned me onto Warcraft II, which I managed to make my way through earlier in the year, and I'd discovered Civilization II in the software Radio Shack bundled with my family's Pentium 75; but I hadn't yet given up sleep, food or love for the siren song of digital entertainment.
But then, on a bus ride home, I overheard a few acquaintances talking about demons and dungeons and "trainers" and "PKs." Interested, I forced my way into the conversation - they were talking about Blizzard's Diablo, and the picture they painted of a dark, gritty fantasy world ensnared by a Satan-like Lord of Terror had me picking up a copy at my local Best Buy by the end of the day.
Based on my bus-riding friends' suggestions, I bypassed the single-player portion of the game completely and hopped right into Blizzard's online service, Battle.net. I created a Warrior and lost myself inside Tristram for the first of many nights. Before I knew it, it was 6:00 a.m. and time to get ready for school.
There was something special about the game. Everything just seemed to fit. It came at a time in my life where the world was opening up in new ways. I was 14, in the midst of puberty and thinking about girls; waiting to turn 16 so I could get a car and act on those thoughts, and figuring out what I wanted to do if I managed to survive high school. But in Tristram, there was no question about who I was or what I was supposed to do. Struggling with a nagging teenage agnosticism (one that's yet to go away), Diablo's moral directive was a comforting one: I'm good, hell spawn are bad - it's up to me to save everyone. Boy meets world. Boy saves world. Teenage escapism at its finest brought to you by the good people at Blizzard Entertainment.
And being connected to thousands of kids sharing the exact same thoughts and notions made my time with Diablo all the more special. My family was always connected to something digital; we were "online" before there was an internet. I literally grew up on the notion that when my computer made hissing sounds, I was entering a new, intangible world. But until Diablo and Battle.net, that world consisted of post-graduate papers and weather reports.
Suddenly, I was in a world with a unified purpose, and it was glorious. If I wanted to kill Diablo, I'd just toss out a few lines of chat inviting people along, and I'd suddenly have three buddies willing to lend their swords. If I just felt like chatting, I could bitch about school or girlfriends to people who, by and large, were in the same boat. I expanded my circle of friends into the five-digits. The world opened up in a way similar to when I first learned to read: There was so much communication I'd previously been without, and then, something clicked, and everything imaginable was on offer. Even jerks. And my God, were they a dime a dozen.
I adopted a crusade to defend my new universe from people who seemed hell-bent on destroying it. I thought of myself as a white blood cell, fighting off "Battle.net diseases" like semi-literate pricks and people who'd spam chat rooms trying to recruit guild members. Most arguments spilled over into the game world, where my opponent and I would duke it out to see who would shut up when we got back to the chat room where the fight originated. In my early days, I'd win quite a bit more than I'd lose, but as time went on (and the duration between game patches increased), I found myself getting one-shotted by characters using spells they shouldn't have. Something was rotten, and my lack of gaming experience meant I had to play detective to uncover what everyone else already seemed to know: Everyone was cheating. Even me, despite the fact I didn't know it.